Seeing history as a progressive narrative, especially one with a utopian ending, is a practice that has doomed earlier civilizations and threatens our own, argues Gray (European Thought/London School of Economics).
Having dealt with the concept of human progress in such previous books as Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern (2003), the author sees no reason to revise his core belief: “Human knowledge tends to increase, but humans do not become any more civilized as a result.” He urges Western powers to adopt a political philosophy of realism. Look, he says, not at the Middle East you want to see—a cluster of none-too-peaceable kingdoms transformed by force into little democracies whose oil wells gurgle merrily to supply the West—but as it really is, a volatile place whose populations have always hated one another and probably always will. Gray spends lots of time painting the historical and philosophical background. He examines the apocalyptical aspects of Christianity and other religions, all of which in his view share a number of traits, most significantly the notion that the end is near. He takes a look at utopian communities of earlier times and notes that inhumane means have almost always been used to attempt to achieve humane ends. In a troubling chapter about the 20th century, Gray characterizes both Communists and Nazis as “children of the Enlightenment,” employing the “scientific” principles of economics and eugenics to justify their political goals. The English author has some harsh words for both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair (equally deluded, in his view), but he bashes Bush continually for reliance on “faith-based intelligence”—with Iraq serving as a compelling argument for the pitfalls of this approach. Throughout his impassioned text, Gray’s prose is thick with allusion and quotation, but even thicker with erudition and provocation.
Makes a discomfiting case that Western liberal democracy just is not suitable for much of the world.