This text underlines the huge difficulty of engaging in political philosophy. It is easy to be distracted from vital aspects of the big picture by contemporary concerns. The disastrous invasion of Iraq and the unwelcome rise of neo-conservatism led John Gray to reject all forms of utopian thinking. The bitter aftermath of the international financial crisis has demonstrated that the ability to imagine better futures is still a productive strategy.
Gray did well to uncover unusual aspects of the neo-conservative mindset. He showed how the neo-conservative perspective has a complex relationship with truth. Donald Trump’s allergy to ‘fake news’ can be viewed as part of this partly American tradition. Further, Gray shone a light on how the neo-conservative thinkers borrowed selectively from other philosophical traditions. While some of these controversial politicians were disillusioned leftists, many of them were inspired by the complex legacy of Leo Strauss.
Francis Fukuyama was confident that liberal democracy was the only valid game in town in part because of the controversial thought of Alexandre Kojeve. In turn, the philosophy of Kojeve was influenced by that of Carl Schmitt. Schmitt was also admired by Strauss during the period of the Weimar Republic. Strauss was of the opinion that philosophers often concealed their true meanings in their texts and can be interpreted as sanctioning deception. Neo-conservative politicians drew on the hostility which Strauss and Schmitt shared with regard to liberal values. Having unpacked the philosophical context which claimed to give some legitimacy to the Iraq War, Gray moved to an unnecessarily negative ‘realist’ position:
“The cardinal need is to change the prevailing view of human beings, which sees them as inherently good creatures unaccountably burdened with a history of violence and oppression.”