Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Thought For The Day: John Gray

Universal values don’t add up to a universal morality. Such values are very often conflicting, and different societies resolve these conflicts in divergent ways. The Ottoman empire, during some of its history, was a haven of toleration for religious communities who were persecuted in Europe; but this pluralism did not extend to enabling individuals to move from one community to another, or to form new communities of choice, as would be required by a liberal ideal of personal autonomy. The Hapsburg empire was based on rejecting the liberal principle of national self-determination; but – possibly for that very reason – it was more protective of minorities than most of the states that succeeded it. Protecting universal values without honouring what are now seen as core liberal ideals, these archaic imperial regimes were more civilised than a great many states that exist today.

For many, regimes of this kind are imperfect examples of what all human beings secretly want – a world in which no one is unfree. The conviction that tyranny and persecution are aberrations in human affairs is at the heart of the liberal philosophy that prevails today. But this conviction is supported by faith more than evidence. Throughout history there have been large numbers who have been happy to relinquish their freedom as long as those they hate – gay people, Jews, immigrants and other minorities, for example – are deprived of freedom as well. Many have been ready to support tyranny and oppression. Billions of human beings have been hostile to liberal values, and there is no reason for thinking matters will be any different in future...


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