chapter  7
16 Pages

Pluralism and its Discontents: John Gray’s Counter-Enlightenment

WithPeter Lassman

John Gray’s recent work is interesting because it raises in ways that are often markedly exaggerated what are for many some of the most central disquiets of contemporary political theory. Notably, he has objected to the excessive narrowness and artificiality of much of what counts as the academically respectable version of political theory that is generally taught in western universities. His progressive disenchantment with the dominant forms of liberalism that are of central concern in much of the Anglo-American academy is one theme of note.1 Much of what Gray has had to say about the state of academic political theory has found a sympathetic audience. However, this sympathy has probably been tested to an extreme degree by some of Gray’s most recent philosophical excursions.2 There is a concern, however, with three interrelated themes that seem to mark out the main direction of Gray’s most recent work in political theory. These are the rejection of those aspects of modernity that are presumed to be the consequence of an ‘Enlightenment project’; the idea that value-pluralism presents a central problem for political theory; and the response to

the challenge that both of these are thought to present which takes the form of the advocacy of a theory and practice of ‘modus vivendi’.