Those who hoped that BBC Radio Four had invited a balancing speaker to follow the collectivist Alan De Bonehead, on its “A Point of View” show, were doomed to be disappointed. However, knowledge would help people come to a better judgement. For example, that the BBC idea of “balance” is to invite one collectivist to deliver a series of little unchallenged speeches, after having another do the same thing for weeks. Also some knowledge of John Gray himself would have prevented disappointment (by preventing false hope).
The John Gray of his pro liberty period is long gone. Although some people (Paul puffs up his chest at this point and points at himself) did point out even back in 1984 (when Gray’s “Hayek on Freedom” came out) that concentrating on Hayek’s philosophy (rather than his economics or work in the history of ideas) was odd (from a libertarian point of view) as Hayek’s philosophy was greatly influenced by determinism (the denial that humans are BEINGS – i.e. self aware agents, capable of making real choices) and that, taken to its logical conclusion, Hayek’s philosophy was radically inconsistent with his pro freedom economics and politics. John Gray seemed to see the problem himself – but this thought did not turn in the direction that might have been hoped for.
John Gray long ago resolved the contradiction – by rejecting pro freedom ideas in political economy as well as in philosophy. And becomming someone who would support “New Labour” (before he fell out even with that – by the way when someone says they are “beyond left and right” it normally means they are a leftist, a libertarian may well say “I am not on the right” but they are unlikely to say I am “beyond” left and right – just as only a rather evil person is likely to say they are “beyond” good and evil) and be praised by such delightful people as George Soros and George Walden (the Obama supporting ex Conservative M.P. who, for example, argues that private schools tend to be good and state schools tend to be bad – and therefore private schools should be banned).
However, it should be noted that John Gray has not refuted any of the principles of political economy, for as (for example) Ludwig Von Mises explained these principles are based in the logic of human action so that efforts to refute them are self defeating (such as trying to disprove one’s own existance).
As he can not refute political economy, John Gray (who hates its pro freedom implications) is forced to ignore it – for example in his recent “A Point of View” broadcast for the BBC, praseing Karl Marx and blaming “capitalism” for just about everything.
As well as being a “great philospher” (no comment) Karl Marx was also specifically a “great economist”.
In reality Karl Marx was no such thing – he contributed nothing of value to economics, just taking the errors of David Ricardo (his weak areas – but not his strengths) and taking them further (i.e. further into error). Refutations of such things as the Labour Theory of Value (and there were many – long before the so called “Marginalist Revolution” of the early 1870s) were never refuted by Karl because he could not refute them. It is not a matter of Karl Marx not refuting Carl Menger’s “Principles of Economics” (1871 – Marx was getting on a bit by that time and not in the best of health, so a failure to write a refutation would be understanable). Marx never even attempted refutations of such attacks on the Labour Theory of Value as that by Richard Whately (his Oxford Introductory Lectures on Political Economy were published as early as 1832 – and in them it show that the LVT is based on simple mistakes in logical reasoning) or Richard Bailey (also when Karl was young) or Ferrara in Italy (ditto) Gossen and Rau in Germany (Rau was actually the standard text in German when Karl was young), and so on.
As goes the LTV so goes it all – Marxian “economics” is a series of errors, most of it which were not even original to himself and which were refuted when Karl was still young – and yet he attempted no counter refutation (because he simply was not able to defend his economic ideas).
However, in Gray world, Karl Marx was a genius – who (for example) proved that crises in “capitalism” was “natural”.
Of course, boon-busts are not “natural” at all – they are produced by the expansion of the money supply (a credit money “boom” pushed by government Central Banking creates the terrible “bust”). Indeed, as someone who has studied Hayek, John Gray knows this perfectly well. It is important to remember that John Gray is not making an innocent error – he is LYING.
“But Paul, Dr Gray may simply disagree with Hayek – there may be an honest difference of opinion, nothing to do with telling lies”.
In which case Dr Gray would present his reasons for holding that Hayek (and so many others) were wrong in thinking that boom-busts are not “natural” (some special fault of “capitalism”), but Gray does not do this. Just like his hero Karl Marx, he CAN NOT do this – he can not refute political economy, so he has to ignore it (or admit that his whole attack upon “capitalism” is nonsense). There is not even a sense that Dr Gray is presenting “a point of view” – the entire speech was presented as objective fact from which no one could dissent.
Anyway, according to Gray, the genius Karl predicted the “modern world” where all manner of things (from financial insecurity to social and cultural breakdown) are caused by the vile “capitalism”. Karl Marx was “wrong” about Communism Dr Gray admits (in half a line – we are not even told in what sense Karl Marx was “wrong” about Communism), but otherwise was correct about everything.
“Capitalism” destroys the society on which it depends, destroying middle class values such as thrift by such things as “zero interest rates” (yes, of course, in a free market money lenders would natually rush about lending people money for no interest – this is nothing to do with government Central Banking, not even slightly) and leaving everything good shattered and destoyed by the “inhumane” force that is “capitalism”. The world is dominated by evil money manipulators who undermine everything else……. of course Gray does not attempt to refute the case that the size of the “financial industry” (in relation to the rest of the economy) is due to a series of government interventions (rather than “capitalism”), because that would involve him trying to refute political economy which (like Karl) he is unable to do.
The only good thing of which some shred remains is “what is left of the Welfare State”.
The implication of these words is plain – that the Welfare State (in Britain and other nations) has been savegely slashed by evil pro “capitalism” people.
In reality the Welfare State (in Britain and everywhere else) has grown for many decades and has never been bigger – government now spends vast sums (both in money terms – as a proportion of the economy) on its education, health, old age, income support (and so on) schemes. Civil Society has been effectivly crowded out by the spending, taxes, and regulations of an out of control state (but no – we must not let the truth raise its ugly head, it is “capitalism”, not the state that is the cause of X, Y, Z, bad things).
Again it is not ignorance at work. John Gray knows perfectly well that the Welfare State has been growing (for many decades) not shrinking, “what is left” of the Welfare State is just a vast stinking LIE, by Dr Gray.
However, why should lying bother him? After all he rejects objective truth as part of the “enlightenment” he despises. One might as well try and explaining to him that what he calls “capitalism” or “market forces” is just part of civil society – human beings making choices, voluntarily interacting. That is all this “capitalism” is – and far from undermining “the society it depends on” it is at the heart of it.
Where human beings are free to choose this is their opportunity (and their burden – for freedom is a burden, the burden of choice). As such historians as M.M. Postan and Alan Macfarlane long ago pointed out, the world of the free peasant (say in Kent) in the Middle Ages was no less “capitalist” (in the sense of “market forces” – i.e. human choices) than our own. There to human reason (and human effort) were pitched against pityless (pityless – because mindless, not having a reasoning “I”) nature. The nature of plague, and storm, and drought. People might (and did) pray to God – but He did not alter nature to humour them (in Christian theology there is no contradiction in this – God creates the universe, it has certain laws, God is not a slot machine who one prays to in order to get made-to-order changes in physical reality, God MAY answer a prayer, but if He does it will be in His own way – so if you just pray for food, rather than work for it, you are likely to go hungry).
To survive (let alone to prosper) human beings (yes – beings) had to choose to use every ounce of their reason and every ounce of their physical effort. Some people chose to give in – and they died. Some people chose to do the best they could, but things were just too hard for them – and they died also (for nature, as stated above, is mindless and, therefore, pityless). But some people in civil interaction survived (yes sometimes luck, as well as their own efforts and their efforts in civil interaction with others, played big role) – they developed their farms and their workshops and they developed all aspects of society (“social” as well as “economic”) and passed on their work for future generations to build upon.
This is not money madness (although, no doubt, some people have always been obsessed by greed), or a reductionist way of seeing the world, obsessed with making nature “yield what it has never yielded before”. On the contrary, people were complex – even the poorest farmer, artisan or trader normally have other concerns (his, or her, family, religion, a love of song and story, or whatever it may be). Humans, even the poorest and most “uneducated”, are beings – they are complex reasoning agents, filled with many things both good and evil (and with the capacity to choose between them). But, yes, economic life is part of life – and economic activity depends on human choices and human effort, just as much as any other human activity does.
This is what a thinker such as Edmund Burke or M. J. Oakeshott understands by “society”, ordinary human beings in their daily lives choosing to do the best they can. To work, to have a family, to make their best efforts (in very difficult circumstances – for the human condition has a very dark side) to reject lying and cheating and stealing. To enage in civil (non violent) interaction – whether building up a business enterprise, or helping one’s children learn to read (and some even very poor people could read), or taking part in a church service (or in working men’s, or other, club or society). And thus, slowly, painfully (and with many setbacks) making the world a better (but never perfect) place over time.
Human “beings”, making “choices”, “voluntarily” interacting as part of the very definition of “civil” (i.e. voluntary) society. John Gray would reject all of this, he would point that these very concepts run counter to the basis of fashionable philosophy in academia.
And in (by implication) admitting the hatred of the academic (and other) elite for the very philosophical concept of human freedom – John Gray would finally be telling the truth.