[Paleopsych] TLS: (John Gray) New Labour and global laissez-faire

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Mon Jun 20 00:32:27 UTC 2005

New Labour and global laissez-faire
The Times Literary Supplement, 1.4.27

    Sir, - Let me first of all reassure anyone who might care that I have
    not, as John Gray asserts when reviewing my book Equality (April 20),
    "abandoned Marxism for the more mundane pieties of Anglo-American
    liberalism". I lack the suppleness that has allowed Gray to spring so
    rapidly from one intellectual and political position to another. I
    remain an unrepentant Marxist, but this does not prevent me from
    appreciating other traditions. The egalitarian liberalism that takes
    as its starting point A Theory of Justice by John Rawls has developed
    a rich and sophisticated understanding of distributive justice from
    which those able to listen can learn much.

    Gray doesn't think much of egalitarian liberalism, or indeed of my own
    discussion of equality, which he dismisses as "pedestrian in the
    extreme". I would be more crushed by this judgment, had he shown much
    understanding of the philosophical issues involved. Among other
    egregious errors, he attributes to me a method of testing egalitarian
    conceptions against common-sense intuitions that I specifically
    criticize in Equality. In standard New Labour fashion, he counterposes
    Gordon Brown's version of equality of opportunity to the ideal of
    achieving a "fixed pattern" of distribution, ignoring my careful
    effort to demonstrate that no serious egalitarian supports the latter

    The unifying idea of contemporary egalitarianism is that everyone
    should be provided with the resources required for an equal chance to
    pursue the good life in her own way.

    Gray accuses me of having written a "ranting attack on Labour".
    Ranting is one of his special subjects, so I bow to his authority. All
    the same, it is interesting that he helps himself to some of my
    criticisms of Brown's strategy for re- ducing inequality by pushing
    the poor on to the labour market - namely that providing employment
    isn't the right way of meeting many people's needs, and is vulnerable
    to capitalist economic fluctuations. But, faithful to Treasury
    doctrine, Gray denies that the cycle of boom and bust is among "the
    inherent evils of capitalism", thereby revealing a utopianism at least
    as ambitious as any he claims to have discovered in my book.

    In his preferred guise as a realist, Gray declares that radical
    egalitarianism has no political purchase today. But one of the main
    motivating forces behind the international protest movement that most
    recently swept through Quebec City is revulsion at the obscene and
    growing gap between rich and poor that capitalist globalization is
    producing. In some moods Gray shows himself aware of these concerns.

    Perhaps the vulgarity of his attack on my book is a sign of the
    strains felt by a thinker who somehow manages both to criticize
    "global laissez-faire" and to support a New Labour government that
    relentlessly seeks to impose neo-liberal policies in Britain, within
    the European Union, and on an international scale.

    ALEX CALLINICOS Department of Politics, University of York,
    Heslington, York.

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