The raison d'etre of a career in academia is to savage your opponents in print under the pretext of a book review, and thereby destroy their life's work within a few carefully worded paragraphs. Hence the spats that occur amongst the intelligencia are among the most entertaining reading.
Since things have been a bit quiet here recently, here is a synopsis of a recent argument conducted between the political philosopher John Gray and the philosopher and prominent humanist A.C Grayling. Some time ago, A.C Grayling attacked John Gray's book, 'Black Mass, Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia' in the pages of the 'New Humanist' (the mouthpiece of the 'Rationalist Association'). John Gray has now returned the favour with Graylings 'Ideas that Matter' in 'The National Interest' (the prominant conservative rag which published Fukyama's now infamous 'The End of History'). In it he writes:
From where, then, do modern liberal values derive? Why, from ancient Greece, of course. Retelling an old rationalist fairy tale, Grayling writes in the entry on justice, “the ancient Greeks were, as with so many things, the first to rate the possession of a sense of justice, and moreover one on which one acts, as a virtue.” Well, so much for the Hebrew prophets. Again, in the entry on Buddhism he asserts that “the Greeks assumed that we are individuals, and as such are ethical agents responsible for ourselves and what we do,” and created a “new ethics of civic, intellectual and moral virtue.” On the contrary, what is most striking about the ancient Greeks is that they had hardly any sense of the human individual as being independent of society, and having rights against it. After all, Socrates never contested the right of the Greek polis to put him to death.
Reading Grayling, it is hard to resist the impression that he believes Western civilization would be much improved if it did not include the Judeo-Christian inheritance. Absurd as it is, there is nothing new in such a claim. It is one of the most venerable clichés of Enlightenment thinking, and Ideas that Matter is a compendium of such dated prejudices.
Grayling has now authored a short reply in response, saying that:
I am delighted to have been reviewed at such length in The National Interest by John Gray, whom I was beginning to suspect of too impervious a dignity ever to respond to the repeated bashings I have had to give his views over the last several years.
Reading this, I am compelled to conclude there is only one way to decide the question of the relative success or failure of the enlightenment project and the contested source of western values and that's IN THE RING. Tickets go on sale next week.
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