Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age

Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age

Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age

Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age

Synopsis

Now in paperback, Enlightenment's Wake stakes out the elements of John Gray's new position. He argues that all schools of contemporary political thought are variations on the Enlightenment Project - the Westernizing project of a universal civilization - and that this Enlightenment Project has proved self-undermining and is now exhausted. Fresh thought is needed on the dilemmas of the late modern age.

Excerpt

In this book a train of thought developed in my earlier books, Liberalism: Essays in Political Philosophy, Post-liberalism: Studies in Political Thought and Beyond the New Right: Markets, Government and the Common Environment, is brought to a conclusion. In Liberalisms, I considered the search for foundations within liberal thought, examined the various strategies of argument in which that search had been embodied, and concluded that all of them-including those I had myself pursued-ended in failure. Liberalisms concluded on a sceptical note, in that it suggested that all foundationalist versions of liberalism were bound to fail, but said little as to what then became of liberalism, or how liberal practice was best to be conceived. In Post-liberalism, I tried to remedy this defect, arguing more positively for an historicist understanding of liberal practice in which the central institutions of liberal civil society were theorized as being generally appropriate vehicles for the protection and enhancement of human well-being in the circumstances of the late modern period, but the universalist claims of doctrinal liberalism were firmly rejected. The subject matter of Beyond the New Right was the capture of Western conservatism by a species of paleo-liberalism whose intellectual credentials were slight, and which in political practice was likely to prove self-defeating. In that book, I attacked the political thought of the New Right for its fundamentalist conception of market institutions and its hubristic neglect of the human need for common life. My argument in that book ended with a defence of traditional conservatism, qualified by concerns about environmental stability and integrity suggested by Green thought. The argument of Beyond the New Right was a development of that of Post-liberalism, in that it suggested that the historic inheritance of liberal institutions and practice was endangered, not as hitherto by left-liberal policy and ideology, but by the market fundamentalism sponsored by the New Right.

In Enlightenment's Wake a decade's thinking about liberalism, its grounds, scope and limits, is completed. Against the position adopted at the end of Beyond the New Right, I argue here, most comprehensively and systematically in Chapter 7, that the hegemony within conservative

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