chapter  13
26 Pages

Reply to Critics

WithJohn Gray

Many philosophers and politicians tell us that they already possess a priori an adequate knowledge of what human needs and capacities are, and that they are really identical in everybody. The contrasts and conflicts in society, and in each man, they attribute to the absence or perversity of education. All men, they say, must find the same moral political and scientific regimen, communism, or constitutional democracy, or the One True Religion, perfectly satisfying. If they hesitate or condemn all such regimens, it must be because they are ignorant of the facts and of their own true good. I think these philosophers and politicians have good knowledge of themselves. They are born dogmatists and congenitally militant. But this disposition of theirs, at once intolerant and uneasy, blinds them to the actual radical diversity among men. This they cannot admit, because, if admitted, it would prove them to be born tyrants. George Santayana (1951: 462)

Introductory Remarks

Much of contemporary political theory is an apology for liberal values. Beneath the rhetoric about respect for persons and the primacy of justice there is very little

agreement, and in fact liberal theorists are deeply at odds. That does not prevent them asserting the universal authority of liberal values, for they take for granted that liberalism is the only alternative to relativism. The larger and longer history of political thought has been forgotten, and with it the fact that most thinkers who remain worth reading were neither liberals nor relativists.