John N. Gray

John N. Gray

John N. Gray (born April 17, 1948 in South Shields, County Durham, England) is a prominent British political philosopher and author, formerly School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.

Gray contributes regularly to "The Guardian", "New Statesman", and "The Times Literary Supplement", and has written several influential books on political theory, including "" (2003), an attack on humanism, a worldview which he sees as originating in religious ideologies. Gray sees volition, and hence morality, as an illusion, and portrays humanity as a rapacious species engaged in wiping out other forms of life while destroying its natural environment.

Academic career

Gray studied at Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and completed his B.A., M.Phil., and D.Phil.

He formerly held posts as lecturer in political theory at the University of Essex, fellow and tutor in politics at Jesus College, Oxford, and lecturer and then professor of politics at the University of Oxford. He has served as a visiting professor at Harvard University (1985-86), Stranahan Fellow at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, Bowling Green State University (1990-1994), and has also held visiting professorships at Tulane University’s Murphy Institute (1991), and Yale University (1994). He was Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science until his retirement from academic life in early 2008.

Academic work

An advocate for the New Right in the 1980s, and then of New Labour in the 1990s, Gray now sees the conventional (left-wing/right-wing) political spectrum of conservatism and social democracy as no longer viable.

Gray has perhaps become best known for his work, since the 1990s, on the uneasy relationship between the value-pluralism and liberalism of Isaiah Berlin, [Citation
last1 = Cherniss | first1 = Joshua
last2 = Hardy | first2 = Henry
editor-last = Zalta | editor-first = Edward N.
contribution = Isaiah Berlin
title = The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2007 Edition)
url =
pages = section 4
accessdate = 2007-07-04
] which has ignited considerable controversy, and for his strong criticism of neoliberalism and of the global free market. More recently, he has criticised some of the central currents in Western thinking, such as humanism, and has tended towards Green thought. He has drawn from the "Gaia theory" of James Lovelock, among others, but he is very pessimistic about human behaviour changing to prevent environmental decay, and he predicts that the 21st century will be full of wars as natural resources become increasingly scarce.

John Gray's view of humanism expressed in "Straw Dogs" has been criticised as a false dilemma [Norman, Richard: "On Humanism", pp.83-84, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-30523-3] .


cquote2|"I should liken Kant to a man at a ball, who all evening has been carrying on a love affair with a masked beauty in the vain hope of making a conquest, when at last she throws off her mask and reveals herself to be his wife." In Schopenhauer's fable the wife masquerading as an unknown beauty was Christianity. Today it is humanism.

What Schopenhauer wrote of Kant is no less true today. As commonly practised, philosophy is the attempt to find good reasons for conventional beliefs. In Kant's time the creed of conventional people was Christian, now it is humanist. Nor are these two faiths so different from one another.

Over the past 200 years, philosophy has shaken off Christian faith. It has not given up Christianity's cardinal error – the belief that humans are radically different from all other animals.

Philosophy has been a masked ball in which a religious image of humankind is renewed in the guise of humanist ideas of progress and enlightenment. Even philosophy's greatest unmaskers have ended up as figures in the masquerade. Removing the masks from our animal faces is a task that has hardly begun.

Other animals are born, seek mates, forage for food and die. That is all. But we humans – we think – are different. We are persons, whose actions are the results of their choices. Other animals pass their lives unawares, but we are conscious. Our image of ourselves is formed from our ingrained belief that consciousness, selfhood and free will are what define us as human beings, and raise us above all other creatures.

In our more detached moments, we admit that this view of ourselves is flawed. Our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves. We control very little of what we most care about; many of our most fateful decisions are made unbeknownst to ourselves. Yet we insist that mankind can achieve what we cannot: conscious mastery of its existence. This is the creed of those who have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind.

But what if we give up the empty hopes of Christianity and humanism? Once we switch off the soundtrack – the babble of God and immortality, progress and humanity – what sense can we make of our lives?
John Gray|"Straw Dogs"

cquote2|The belief that torture is always wrong is a prejudice inherited from an obsolete philosophy. We need to shed the belief that human rights are violated when a terrorist is tortured. ... The UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights embodies the discredited view that torture is inherently incompatible with respect for human rights. Along with other international treaties, it needs modernisation.
John Gray|"A Modest Proposal (spoof article) [cite web|url=|title=New Statesman article - plus audio interview Radio New Zealand May 2008] "

cquote2|The most pitiless warriors against drugs have always been militant progressives. In China, the most savage attack on drug use occurred when the country was convulsed by a modern western doctrine of universal emancipation- Maoism. It is no accident that the crusade against drugs is led today by a country wedded to the pursuit of happiness- the United States. For the corollary of that improbable quest is a puritan war on pleasure.
John Gray|"Straw Dogs"


*"Mill on Liberty: A Defence" (1983). ISBN 0710092709.
*"Conceptions of Liberty in Political Philosophy" (ed. with Zbigniew Pelczynski) (1984)
*"Hayek on Liberty" (1984)
*"Liberalism" (1986). ISBN 0816615217.
*"Liberalisms: Essays in Political Philosophy" (1989). ISBN 0415007445.
*"J.S. Mill, "On Liberty": In Focus" (ed. with G.W. Smith) (1991). ISBN 0415010012.
*"Beyond the New Right: Markets, Government and the Common Environment" (1993). ISBN 0415092973.
*"Postliberalism: Studies in Political Thought" (1993). ISBN 0415135532.
*"Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age" (1995). ISBN 0415163358.
*"Isaiah Berlin" (1995). ISBN 069104824X.
*"Liberalism" (2nd ed.) (1995). ISBN 0816628017.
*"After Social Democracy: Politics, Capitalism and the Common Life" (1996)
*"Mill on Liberty: A Defence" (2nd ed.) (1996)
*"Endgames: Questions in Late Modern Political Thought" (1997). ISBN 0745618820.
*"Hayek on Liberty" (3rd ed.) (1998)
*"" (1998). ISBN 1565845927.
*"Voltaire" (1998). ISBN 0415923948.
*"Two Faces of Liberalism" (2000). ISBN 1565845897.
*"" (2002). ISBN 1862075123.
*"Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern" (2003). ISBN 1565848055.
*"Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions" (2004). ISBN 1862077185.
* (2007). ISBN 0713999152.

Books about Gray

* Horton, John and Glen Newey, eds. "The Political Theory of John Gray". London: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 041536647X.


External links


* [ "After Social Democracy"] , by John Gray, January 1 1996, "Demos",
* [,,25344-2648345,00.html "The disorders of faith and the death of utopia"] : an article in the [ TLS] by David Martin, August 8th 2007
* [ "Enlightenment and Terror"] , The Thomas More Lecture, Amsterdam, 2004
* [ A collection of articles written by John Gray for the New Statesman magazine] , "New Statesman"

The Guardian

* [,,2265446,00.html "The atheist delusion"] , "The Guardian", by John Gray, March 15th, 2008
* [ "Review: The Shock Doctrine"] , "The Guardian", by John Gray, September 15th, 2007
* [,,2138064,00.html "The death of this crackpot creed is nothing to mourn"] , "The Guardian" July 2007
* [,16141,1525462,00.html "Look out for the enemy within"] , "The Guardian" July 2005
* [ "Folly of the progressive fairytale"] , "The Guardian" 9th September 2008

The Independent

* [ Neoconned!: How Blair took New Labour for a ride] , "The Independent" June 2007

The Observer

* [,,2137120,00.html Monarchy is the Key to Our Liberty] , "The Observer" July 2007
* [ We trusted this country. Look how it treats us] , "The Observer" February 2008


*"The Guardian", []
* [ Profile, by Will Self] , "The Independent" September 2002
* [ Profile, by Bryan Appleyard] , "The Sunday Times" June 2007


* [ John Gray radio interview on the 'Philosopher's Zone'] , June 28, 2008
* [ Interview regarding Black Mass]
* [ 'Gray on Gray'] (American Political Science Association)

Reviews Of His Work

* [ AC Grayling reviews "Black Mass"] , "New Humanist" July/August 2007
* [ Ian Hargearves, Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University] reviews "Straw Dogs".
*Terry Eagleton [,12084,786573,00.html reviews "Straw Dogs"] , "The Guardian" September 2002
*" [ F. A. Hayek and the Rebirth of Classical Liberalism] ", "Literature of Liberty" 5.4 (Winter 1982).
* [,1587,794945,00.html Jason Cowley reviews "Straw Dogs"]
* [ Diana Judd reviews "Straw Dogs"]
* [ Has John Gray Returned to Classical Liberalism?]
* [ Greg Clarke examines John Gray's book 'Black Mass - Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia' for a Centre for Public Christianity vodcast]

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