At the Chronicle Review, Carlin Romano fires a savage volley at John Gray, everyone’s favorite apocalyptic public intellectual:
Gray has been welcomed on the left as a trophy because he deserted Thatcherism, but he’s no friend of any progressive group that believes in action to achieve a better future. His nirvana, in which we all enjoy a nonmystical contemplation of facts — “Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?” — is self-indulgent apathy.
Professor of European thought? Professor of “Eurythermic” thought is more like it. Gray is an know-it-all “organism” (he’d say so himself) who adapts easily to different ideological temperatures.
I too had to read that three times to make sure it didn’t say “Eurythmic” thought. Anyhow, it’s easy to see how Gray can be taken as a pompous, decadent boob. All too easy. It’s much harder to take the man more seriously, read Enlightenment’s Wake, and recognize that beneath the oracular pronouncements and dieoff advocacy (Gray vs. Gerson on overpopulation would be one of the greatest debates of all time) there’s a brilliant political theorist who has been dragged, in no small part by logic, from conventional modern liberalism to the recognition that much of the Western project has failed at the level of philosophy and done much attendant physical harm meanwhile.
Specifically, there is no doubt that scientific humanism is parasitic on the Christianity that it works so dutifully to repudiate and render irrelevant. The impression I get from her critique is that Romano would probably admit and champion this development. But the secularization of utopia and the costs (beyond the benefits) of replacing divine authority with progressive human power seem to me like invitations for a kind of humility that leave Romano, somewhat more than Gray, looking like the smug one.