A sufficiency of delight
Grayling’s reply to Gray is a much better read.
Anxious to appear original while in fact pushing a familiar counter-Enlightenment line, Gray has often entertained us with his assaults on logic and historical fact, each time repeating the two tenets of his faith, one acquired from Isaiah Berlin and the other from his Sunday school, namely, that we are condemned to live with the conflict between irreconcilable goods, and that we owe everything of significance in human achievement (not, he gloomily adds, that there has been much) to religion.
Concise, sly, cutting, and funny – also accurate. Gray is extraordinarily repetitive and predictable. I knew what his “review” would say before I read it. “Gray has often entertained us” reminds me irresistibly of Mr Bennett’s “You have delighted us long enough” to his middle daughter when she had bored everyone rigid with her relentless
piano playing singing.
That Gray endlessly wears his own two old hats does not get in his way here. But I don’t mind this. What I mind is his attributing to me the idea that the scientific and social advances of the post-sixteenth century Western world are the road to perfection, and that if only we could be reasonable, accept pluralism, respect human rights, defend the rule of law, and apply the findings of science to the improvement of mankind’s lot, we would realize Utopia. No: though I do and always will champion these things (“shrilly” and “peevishly,” with “adamantine certainty” and “high-minded silliness” Gray shrilly, peevishly and high-mindedly complains), I don’t confuse Meliorism with Perfectibilism as Gray persists in doing, though I have before now, in print, tried to help him understand the difference.
That’s important. Gray is risible, but he’s also sinister. The idea that we should not be reasonable, accept pluralism, respect human rights, defend the rule of law, and apply the findings of science to the improvement of mankind’s lot is no joke, and Gray’s endless flirtation with it is a lot more repellent and more dangerous than conformity in Hampstead.
If nevertheless it is high-minded silliness to champion the cause of trying to conduct our affairs sensibly, and to free our minds and lives to the greatest extent conformable with our being social animals who owe one another moral regard, I embrace it with enthusiasm. Gray, with his shallow and rather aimless hostility to this view, is the least likely fellow to talk me out of it.
You have delighted us long enough, John Gray.