When I went to Oxford for my doctoral studies, my first supervisor was John Gray. He provided some very competent critiques of my writing, as well as some very good strategic advice about getting the dissertation written. I benefited from his supervision. That said, he was rapidly becoming a very serious crank. (As my later supervisor, after John had left Oxford, noted, “I have had a fairly consistent approach, changing in details over the years as I learned more, but during that time John has gyrated wildly across the heavens, occupying virtually every position in modern political thought.” Almost.)
Carlin Romano’s review of John’s latest book (“The Triumph of ‘Smugism,’” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 18, 2008) provides a useful appraisal of what John has accomplished. But there is so much more to be said, such as how John would write that no serious person could believe X, despite X being the position he had advanced with equal certainty only a few years before. It seems that every viewpoint he discovered and then adopted had….lacunae, flaws, problems!!!….and that meant that it was of no value at all. As my late friend Roy Childs noted in one of his last essays before his death, in a review of one of Gray’s attacks on classical liberalism, one can’t compare a theory to perfection; one compares theories against other theories. Gray had complained that libertarian theories had no clear answer to such questions as when do children become adults and whether abortion violates rights (i.e., libertarians can take a number of positions on the latter issue). But, asked Roy, what theory does answer those questions clearly and without problems?