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Is the liberal dream over?

The New Leviathans: Thoughts After Liberalism
Forfatter: John Gray
Forlag: Allen Lane/ Penguin Books, (England)
LIBERALISM / Globally and in the West, liberalism is on the retreat. In the West, liberalism has been replaced by an intolerant hyperliberalism, where citizens have problems living side by side with those who think differently.


In this book, each chapter and sub-chapter begins with a quote from Thomas Hobbes. The book is a mosaic of depictions of people and historical situations. It's all meant to show that liberalismns time is pass. This applies not only to the fact that China is surpassing the US as a world power, but also to the fact that liberalism in the West has been replaced by 'hyperliberalism' – identity politics and hatred towards those who think differently. The decline of liberalism is therefore not only a geopolitical diagnosis, but something that also applies to us internally in the West.

For Gray, liberalism was doomed to be undermined when one began to distinguish between liberal values ​​and the Christian-Protestant worldview from which the values ​​originally originated. "Liberalism is a footnote to Christianity," he writes. He elaborates: 1) The idea of ​​the inviolability of the individual is a secularized version of the belief in God as the final authority over men; 2) similarity is also a new way of saying that we are all equal in God's eyes; 3) the idea of ​​universals Verdier which applies to all people, is a continuation of the notion that we are created in God's image; and 4) the belief in the progress can be read as a secularized eschatology, a rational history of salvation.

The dangerous thing about being cut off from the religious context of such values ​​is that they breed fanaticism and single-mindedness. Tolerance is the opposite of fanaticism, and it was a central value in the Protestant context in which liberalism arose. In contrast, Gray believes that it is more difficult to tolerate the values ​​and opinions of others in today's rationalist and secular context, as Christianity was previously able to temper the tension with the dogma of man's fundamental imperfection and fallibility. In this context, only God had the authority to judge who was right, which made humility and tolerance possible. This is missing in the age of hyperliberalism, where politics has turned into an illiberal war of extermination or witch hunts characterized by intolerance.

The international decline of liberalism

The optimism about a coming widespread liberal world seems far from reality. Demolished today USA torn apart domestically and losing the international ideological and economic influence the nation once had. Countries like Russia and China have no desire to become liberal either. Rather, Soviet Communism has been replaced with the Russian Orthodox Church's idea of ​​Moscow as the Third Rome, and China's authoritarian surveillance state has proven remarkably adaptable in a turbulent and late-capitalist world.

A witch hunt characterized by intolerance.

Gray predicts the death of liberalism. He argues for this by claiming that modern liberal thinkers, such as John Rawls or Ronald Dworkin, were wrong to believe that the only thing sufficient for the maintenance of liberalism is the rule of law. But more fundamental than the law are the religious and historical reasons for the rise of liberalism. For him, the lack of Protestantism will Christianity possibly lead to the death of liberalism.

Liberal philosophers have not realized that the state's laws are always dependent on people finding an ideological legitimization of them – which today is lacking. The Bill of Rights (1689) may have been valuable in codifying freedoms and duties, but it was only important because it was able to express values ​​that already existed in society. The Bill of Rights, on the other hand, becomes worthless when the document does not reflect people's actual beliefs.

The death of liberalism is thus both legal and ideological, national and international.

Peaceful coexistence

Gray does not predict a dystopian future with the rise of different regimes in the world. Rather, he believes that we will have to remember Leviathans aim as Hobbes put it: to ensure peace between citizens. As Hobbes realized that peace could be achieved in several ways, he has a more generous approach to political regimes: There are several paths to peaceful coexistence, and we must accept that in today's world. Everyone must not become like the West, because we see that the West also has serious faults and weaknesses. Not least, the environment and the ideological needs vary from country to country.

Soviet Communism has been replaced with the Russian Orthodox Church's idea of ​​Moscow as the Third Rome.

Regarding the future, Gray concludes that we cannot expect to live in one particular way, but that we will have to read what needs and opportunities the people and societies in the world have.

Gray's book can be called a montage of accounts of historical contexts and people. He takes up a lot of different things and tries to link it to a critique of liberalism. However, he does not do so in an in-depth way, which gives the reader an aftertaste of having read a bunch of compressed Wikipedia articles about, among others, Nikolaj Bukharin, Auguste Comte, John Locke and HP Lovecraft.

Along the way, one can often wonder what the explanations have to do with the book's overall theme, especially since the title suggests that the book is about the decline of liberalism. Nevertheless, the book's advantage is that it covers so much variety, which can possibly act as a source of inspiration for the reader to build on the material.

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