In This Review

Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age
Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age
By John Gray
Routledge, 1995, 203 pp
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In yet another of what has become a flood of books reassessing the Enlightenment-liberal legacy just after the moment of its seeming triumph, John Gray argues that Anglo-Saxon conservatism has self-destructed. The Enlightenment, understood here as the rational liberal principles underlying both modern democracy and capitalism, has undermined the possibility of community in all advanced societies. The author sees the free market as an engine of creative destruction that undermines stability, reciprocity, rootedness, and obligation; advocates like Thatcher and Reagan failed to see the harm it would do to their cherished cultural values. It is not obvious, however, just how incompatible modern capitalism and moral community really are, since capitalism is malleable and can often take advantage of, if not reinforce, the social structures around it. Furthermore, Gray does not put forward his own alternative to the Enlightenment project; most of the existing ones are rather unappetizing.