Gray & Demos (not Polanyi)

Thu Mar 11 00:44:02 PST 1999

I was one of John Gray's students at Oxford, but he is now Prof. of European Thought at the LSE.

His intellectual journey is a bit weird. He started off as a Mill scholar, and wrote a dull but worthy book about "On Liberty" that's still a set text Then he went a bit nutty in the late 70s and became an arch free-marketeer -- wrote Hayek's biography.

Then he started to doubt it all. My guess is that two events triggered this 1) he got married and 2) the 1987 miners' strike and subsequent decimation of the UK coal industry. Gray is originally from the North-East of England, and seemed very much affected by the destruction of mining communities. But that's just a pat diagnosis without first getting the whole case history.

By this point, his career in Oxford was taking off, and he was asked to write the intellectual biography of Isiah Berlin. After spending a lot of time with IB, he ended up questioning the basis of liberal thought, its assumptions about human nature etc. etc. etc. (too complicated and too long ago). But he seems to now believe that human beings are based in their own traditions and can't (shouldn't) be changed, therefore univeralist theories (including liberalism) are false. I read False Dawn when it came out over here, and it seemed in tune with his other writings (less dull), and thought the chapters on Russia and Asia were quite good.

He wrote a tract on "Green Conservatism" once, which fits in with the "Red Tory" characterisation.

In the context of this book, Demos is likely not to refer to the ancient Greek concept, but rather to a fairly tiresome think-tank we have which keeps coming out with vaguely techno-leftist working papers beloved of the Blair lot. They seem to basically permute the words "community" "social", "enterprise" "change" "internet" "future" and "society". The Social Market Foundation are similar, but more numbers and fewer exclamation marks.



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