Interview John Gray
There is no longer a West
“The lack of hegemony does not mean a world of peace or harmony. It means a different pattern of conflicts,” says the political philosopher
John Gray predicted the end of neoliberalism for a simple reason: the US model could not be exported worldwide. In fact, according to the British political philosopher, the capitalist model could not even be implemented in the United States. Gray’s thesis was published in 1998 in his book False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, the decade before the subprime crisis hit the United States. Numerous detractors see Gray as a polemicist, pointing out that he flirted with Margaret Thatcher’s and Tony Blair’s politics. Richard Reeves, the former director of think-tank Demos, argues that he did this because for a while he believed in their ‘quasi-anarchistic’ governments. No wonder Gray admires thinkers such as John Maynard Keynes, who, in Gray’s own words, “was always ready to change his mind and theories to try to deeply get into what was really happening in the world.” Keynes, adds Gray, “shows the shallowness of economic thinking.” Writing in the British weekly New Statesman, Jonathan Derbyshire calls Gray a “visionary.” One should read carefully what this 64-year-old prolific writer and former professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics has to say. In Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Human and Other Animals, Gray argues that dogs and man are alike because they both face oblivion. In the Daily Telegraph, J.G. Ballard named Straw Dogs the book of the year when it was published in 2002. Equally thought-provoking are his two last works, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (2007) and The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death (2011), in which Gray reminds us that science will not solve the issue of immortality. Regarding the future, Gray says in the interview below that besides the US no longer being a hegemonic superpower, the European Union is in decline. The reason? The euro problems are structural, and, moreover, we are seeing the ascension of powers such as China, Brazil and India. In other words, we are going back to the situation that existed in the late nineteenth century, when two, four, six powers commanded the world. The difference is that now some non-Western countries are also part of the geopolitical scenario. The former Western empires, such as the British and the French, will never be in charge again. But this is “normal,” says Gray. “Abnormal was,” he continues, “what we had for the last 200 years.” Interestingly, the political philosopher says that religious beliefs “are more reasonable” than the belief in science’s progress. “But you don’t need any sort of belief in order to live a good life,” he argues. “It is only people who invest their time in nonsense such as communism and neoliberalism who are afraid of nihilism.”
CartaCapital: You say that the 2008 crisis marks the end of US global leadership just as the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall put an end to communism. What is your prediction for the new balance of powers?
John Gray: The United States loss of hegemony in the world has already occurred. It took place when the financial system imploded in 2007, 2008. What is going side by side with this fact is the rise of new powers. Not only, of course, the rise of China but also of India and Brazil. And in time there will be, no doubt, others. So there is no hegemonic power. One of the errors people make is to assume that if the US has ceased to be the hegemonic power another nation will take her place. Throughout most of history there were no hegemonic powers. One could argue that in the nineteenth century Great Britain was the hegemonic superpower, but there were actually three, four or even six countries that were great powers. We are moving back to the end of the nineteenth century, but of course with a crucial difference: India, China and Brazil were then dominated by the West.
CC: You argue in your articles that Americans do not believe in their own decline as a superpower.
JG: The US is in complete denial of this. Just listen to the opinions of thinkers such as Noam Chomsky and the neoconservatives. They claim that American decline is self-inflicted. In other words, what is happening in Brazil, India and China is irrelevant for them. They are not accepting the normal course of history, which is about the rise and fall of great powers. It happened to the Romans, Ottomans, Portuguese, Spanish, French, British and now to the Americans. In due course it will happen to China, India and Brazil as well. The rise and fall of nations happens to all powers. That is the normal course of history. It is not going to change. The US has, of course, made some errors. The Iraq war, for instance, has accelerated its decline.
CC: Is a world without a hegemonic superpower and a few great powers more harmonious?
JG: No. The lack of hegemony does not mean a world of peace or harmony. It means a different pattern of conflicts. This is why this new context is complicated. In some ways, the US still has some advantages over other powers. The European project, for instance, is in terminal decline. It does not mean it is going to collapse tomorrow. Maybe the fractured pieces of fragmented diplomacy will keep the euro on the road for a few more years, but, again, the European currency could collapse by the end of this year. What would happen if Greece left the European Union? Could it trigger the unraveling of the EU?
CC: Why will the EU not materialize as has the US?
JG: The US became a modern state as a result of the Civil War. It is a modern and highly cohesive modern state. True, its political system is dysfunctional, but that happened before and it could conceivably be resolved. Meanwhile, there are only two possibilities for the EU. One is that the euro will limp on with tremendous depression and with unemployment, social problems, and a rise of a kind of toxic politics. It will not exactly be like in the 1930s, but there will be some of the features of nationalism and xenophobia, antisemitism, hatreds like we see now in Hungary and Greece. Then you would have a cataclysm, although I think this would occur in the longer term.
CC: There are no ways to make the euro work?
JG: A smaller euro might have worked. It might still work in the future. But the European project embracing all these countries is finished.
CC: But in this two-tier Europe what would happen with the partnership between France and Germany that is so essential for the unification of Europe?
JG: This is why I say it is a geopolitical and not just economical conflict. What kept Europe together during the Cold War and even after the Cold War was the power of Germany. France is a much weaker economy and it is eventually the leader of the southern zone of Europe.
CC: Do you think that more federalism or governance would help the European economy?
JG: It is impossible. The only reason that the Greeks have tolerated the degree of destruction and control of their economy by the European institutions is that they are afraid of leaving the euro because for them the new currency was a kind of existential confirmation. They believed in the possibility of not being a Balkan power and becoming a European power. We are talking about delusions. Will German opinion accept a diversion of resources for ten, twenty years, which is probably the amount of time and money needed by the southern European countries? Will the southern countries of Europe accept deflation and depression for years and years? And will empty talk about growth in Europe by the new French president, François Hollande, make any difference at all? In the short-term people like the sound of it because it suggests to them that this is the solution for the existing institutions. In any case, the model of more federalism is completely impossible.
CC: So you do not agree with François Hollande’s idea of promoting growth to deal with the economic crisis, instead of just imposing austerity measures?
JG: Essentially the problems of the euro are structural. And what people say, and I am sure this is true, is that in order to solve the problems you need a 20%, 30% devaluation in countries such as Spain and Greece. And what that really means is a drop in their living standards probably of 30%. I don’t believe in these debates that you need austerity but also growth. They are completely meaningless. If John Maynard Keynes were alive now I think he would say that the key thing about the euro is what he said about the gold standard: it should be abandoned. You can’t have growth within the euro as it is presently constituted. It is impossible because, I repeat, its problems are structural.
CC: The EU will not replace the US as a hegemonic power, but what about China?
JG: China has had the fastest industrialization and economic growth in history. Its reduction of poverty for hundreds of millions of people has probably been the most comprehensive ever in history. But there are some basic problems for China, which are connected with the lack of the rule of law. America’s rule of law, I must stress, is far from perfect. But in the US your business cannot be confiscated. The Chinese regime says that unless they can maintain a growth of 6% to 7% per year major social conflicts may occur. In other, words, there is a lack of legitimacy in the Chinese economic and political system. Other Asian countries do not have this lack of legitimacy. Japan had negative growth for more than twenty years and it remains peaceful. That tells me that the institution is somewhat legitimate. In other words, what is keeping the Chinese regime going, despite corruption, despite the lack of rule of law, is a mix of nationalism, which is an important point, with rapid and continuing economic growth. If that falters, their growth may go down to 4%, still beyond the dreams of the US and the EU. China is changing the whole world because whatever happens, it will emerge as a huge and important great power. But it is not going to become what America was. The US case is unique and it is not going to be replicated by China, India or anybody else. Chinese circumstances cannot be exported, except when the Chinese-dominated firms send people to do work in Africa. But they don’t export their model. They are not interested in promoting their model, though they are interested, of course, in its success.
CC: When you refer to the US as no longer a hegemonic superpower, are you arguing that the empire model is finished?
JG: No, they are not particularly finished, although we could not have British, French or Spanish empires again. I don’t actually think that empires do go away. They shift. Portugal, for instance, renounced to Angola, the last part of its territories, only in the 1970s. These changes, once they take place, are permanent. Having said that, the US Empire is different from other empires. The Americans never administered other countries. They followed different patterns. It had to do with military bases, economic control and domination. But that is also in retreat. Numerous countries in Africa infinitely prefer a straight offer of hard cash from China to some mixture of aid and moralizing lecturing from the US. But, again, it does not mean that imperial and great power conflicts will cease to exist. For instance, there will be conflicts over resources among the new powers.
CC: How will the West participate in these conflicts?
JG: There is no longer a West. One idea that is completely mistaken and parochial is that there is a West versus the rest. Europe is completely fragmented. The US is in decline. There are probably more and deeper conflicts within the non-West as there are conflicts between the West and the rest. When I say that we are moving to something like what existed in international relations in the late nineteenth century I mean that there will be new players. China was not a player then, but now it is a big player, probably the biggest along with America and India. But, it is worth stressing again, none of them will be hegemonic. In some ways, this world that is in the making is more diverse and pluralistic. It is a world that resembles the one before the 1800s, that is, before the Industrial Revolution and imperialism. Economic development was then more rapid in China and India than it was in the West. In sum, we are going back to something that is historically more normal. People often say my arguments are pessimistic or even apocalyptic. What we had over the last 150 years is abnormal. What we are experiencing now is normal.
CC: In this new context you argue that capitalism is not dead. The problem is that the Americans believed that their capitalist model could be reproduced everywhere. What do you predict in terms of capitalism?
JG: Remember that the American model cannot be reproduced in America. Their model is over and done with. Parts of the American financial system are nationalized or semi-nationalized, like in Britain.
CC: In fact, already in 1998 you predicted in your book False Dawn, and CartaCapital interviewed you at the time, that the American economic model could not become universal.
JG: People were absolutely aghast. They said: how apocalyptical, terrible, incomprehensible. Less than one decade later the American model imploded in America. So the idea that the American economic model could be transported anywhere else in the world now is just completely absurd. Suppose we had adopted the American model when the Washington Consensus was incessantly lecturing us and giving us sermons every single day of the year about how we must adopt their model? What would our situation be now? Look at China, a country that followed its own economic course. They do have serious problems, but their banking system has not collapsed. Growth is still, even if it is slowing down fast, higher than in America. Had Beijing adopted this so-called American model, the shock of the US collapse would have been much greater in China.
CC: How were you so sure that neo-liberalism would collapse?
JG: The reason was not just rooted in economics. I was looking at the larger pattern of history. If you go back to before the First World War, people were producing books, in 1910, 1912, about how capitalism would produce perpetual peace. People would trade instead of making war. This was absurd. It was pretty clear to me that there would be some major upheaval because connectivity made the whole system more vulnerable. Anything significant that happened in any part of the world would be immediately transmitted to the rest of the world. If there was a recession in the US or in Europe in the 1850s it would be quite serious but it would not affect the whole world.
CC: Why are you so skeptical of economists?
JG: It comes from their false philosophical premises. For instance, they apply methods of rational choice to human behavior. But these methods do not really fit human behavior. There are, however, economists that I admire. I recently did a talk for the radio on Keynes. What I admire on Keynes is not, and I want to emphasize this, what most Keynesians today admire about him – that he was a critic of austerity. I admire him as an economic engineer. I admire the fact that in the 1930s he promoted some ideas which have been adopted, not immediately but after the Second World War. His ideas could reverse the depression. What I admired about Keynes was his deep skepticism. He was always ready to change his mind and change his theories, to try to get deeply into what was really happening in the real world. Unlike any modern university professor, he was also a very successful investor. He invested lots of money at times for his college and for himself. But basically he understood, as most economists nowadays do not understand, the irrationality as well as the rationality of markets. What he understood – these are mine, not his terms – is that the market is an institution no different from any other. It is prone like any other human institution to fits of madness. Remember one of the aphorisms he said: “The market can be irrational longer than you can be solvent.” So do not bet on it becoming rational. Unlike contemporary economists now, he wrote several dozen biographical essays of people like Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. Keynes was extremely cultivated. He knew a great deal about philosophy, the history of economics and ideas. Nowadays very few contemporary economists study the history of economics, let alone the history of ideas. Very few of them have any experience as practical investors. Keynes shows the shallowness of economic thinking.
CC: You also knew and admired Friederich Hayek.
JG: I used to know Hayek in many ways. I admire him strongly for his critique of socialism. By socialism I mean central planning. Hayek was probably the most profound critic of social planning. But the trouble is that he really believed that markets, if they were not interfered with by governments, would achieve stability by themselves. So there is this kind of dogmatism in Hayek. He was less dogmatic than his followers, who were sectarian thinkers. But Hayek believed that if there was any major disruption in markets the reason was that governments had produced them. The market is not some embodiment of superior rationality. It is better, in most cases, than central planning. Anti-communism was an essential struggle, but unfortunately what happened, which I was not surprised by, was that when communism collapsed it was replaced by another ideology: neoliberalism. There are not too many neoliberalists left, except for some Tea Party people.
CC: Who should we blame for the 2007 crisis in the US?
JG: I do not blame the hedge funds for what happened in 2007. I blame the banking system and also the governments becoming incompetent hedge funds. Basically, states have become incompetent hedge funds. If you talk to the more astute hedge funds what they say is that all these systems have their different problems. But what makes the world economy in terms of asset prices different nowadays? American and European financial markets were linked up first by transoceanic cables in the nineteenth century, which could transmit financial information. Now, because all economies are interconnected, this has become a worldwide permanent situation. What makes the country fragile now is connectivity. I see that as a vulnerability rather than an advance. If you go back to the advent of globalization and its proponents such as Thomas Friedman from the 1990s to 2007, increasing globalization was seen as a boon. It had no downside. But one of the greatest downsides is, I repeat, connectivity. If something significant happens in any of the main economies in the world, as it happened with the American mortgage market, the whole world is sucked in. If something bigger did happen than what has occurred so far, in Europe, that would affect China, the whole world. It would make the collapse of Lehman Brothers look like a walk in the park.
CC: Does connectivity mean that all the world economies are converging in the way they operate?
JG: Not at all. Japanese capitalism is still different from American capitalism. Within Europe, Italian capitalism still has a lot of family businesses, which is a different system from Dutch capitalism. British capitalism is different from German capitalism. And although all these different kinds of capitalism are constantly changing and hybridizing, they are not assimilating to any single model. Regarding the American capitalist model – and I mean the previous American model –, it is gone. There will be something else. Or a succession of things: protectionism, economic nationalism, who knows? The US presidential election will be key for this transition. But overall there will be different kinds of capitalism, and then again that is more normal than what we had for the last 150 years.
CC: Your predictions about the new world, as you are aware, leave some people disorientated.
JG: Yes, people are sort of disorientated when I say that the American economic model is over. That is the end of history, they say. But it is the people that say that history ended who are wrong. Let me tell you something that sounds like a joke. In 1989, I published a critique of Francis Fukuyama’s article about the end of history – his book had not come out yet. I said what is happening is simply that traditional history is starting again and wars would be about resources, religion, ethnicity, secession. Numerous critics said: “How apocalyptic, that’s terrible, awful.” What is apocalyptic is that someone said that history had ended. All that I was saying was that normal history was starting again. The depth of unreality in views of the world in Western countries is very profound. Numerous leaders and opinion formers are cut off from history and even from their own experience. And if you point to a future in which the world is becoming more normal, not necessarily better or worse, sometimes better, sometimes not, but simply more normal, the way it has been throughout history up to 200 years ago, they say that that’s apocalyptic. But if someone says history has ended that is normal.
CC: But wars are still taking place. Western powers intervened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now in Syria.
JG: Obviously there are geopolitical interests to do with all this as well as other factors. But I don’t believe that the Franco-British intervention in Libya, supported reluctantly by the Americans, was an issue about oil.
CC: It was about what?
JG: I think it is a case of psychopathology. Europe and America are no longer the center of the world. There is not a center of the world. There is Brazil, China, India, Africa … There are many centers. That produces a kind of painful sense of disorientation and some Western countries have to assert what remains of their power. America still is, as I have said before, a big military power. But its military will inevitably shrink because it cannot afford it any longer. The proof is that it is often inadequate to achieve what they want. What did they achieve in Iraq? A pro-Iranian semi-failed state, that’s what they achieved. This kind of state of perpetual warfare, which has existed for over ten years, is a denial, or a displacement activity from the actual fact that they are no longer the center of the world. Practically all the interventions are self-defeating. It was clear for me what was going to happen in Libya: a failed or quasi-democratic state.
CC: Some observers claim that most of these wars are about oil.
JG: These are conspiracy theories on parts of the far-left. They said there were oil pipelines in Afghanistan. No, the war in Afghanistan was just about Bush Jr. proving that he could do something. And it could be argued that the initial destruction of the Taliban bases was necessary. However, the over ten-year occupation of Afghanistan has achieved absolutely nothing. The only people who benefitted from the occupation were the Chinese, who were neutral and established factories and mines in parts of the country. Many of these decisions to intervene are purely irrational. The only straight oil war since the Cold War was the first Gulf War in 1991. That was successful partly because it was very limited in scope, and partly because it was not about regime change. Iraq, yes, it was partly about oil. Maybe now Libya has become partly about oil. Aside from the 1991 Gulf War, all of the other ones have been disastrous failures.
CC: You say that the Western leaders’ decisions to intervene are irrational. But in the case of Tony Blair and George W. Bush in Iraq they seemed to have been motivated also by their religious beliefs. You even wrote in an article that Blair taught politics and religion at Yale.
JG: Yes, but Blair is not a fundamentalist. He is a sort of progressive Christian. Bush is a fundamentalist.
CC: Is Bush as dangerous as Islamic fundamentalists?
JG: Bush is more dangerous in some ways and less dangerous in others. The Islamists are dangerous. Anyone who believes that their danger has been invented by the West belongs to the category of conspiracy theories. The fundamentalists do bomb people, they are ruthless, and when they take power they can be terrible. Before Saddam Hussein, the British and the Ottomans, Iraq was a different country from what it is now. There were religious minorities that lived there: Christians, Jews, etc. They lived there more or less unmolested for centuries. Most of them have now been driven out or murdered by anarchic fundamentalist Islamist forces that have taken power. If you were gay, for example, would you be more or less afraid under the new regime in Iraq than you were under Saddam? Unless you are in the Kurdish soil, I think you would be more afraid. People say Iraq is the worst country in the world to be gay.
CC: What do you make of Barack Obama’s presidency and what do you predict for the next presidential election in the US?
JG: I never had the wild hopes that some people had for Obama. Not because I did not like him, I do like him. He is a very cerebral and analytical politician. And the kind of paradox is that he managed to generate this image of himself with his charisma. His roots are in the calculating politics of Chicago. He got elected, I suppose, mainly because of the economic crisis. The economic crisis wrong footed John McCain. The Republican candidate did not know what to say about it. This is why I never thought that Obama could achieve much because he came to power during an economic crisis, and also during a period of political polarization. The most he could do was to keep the barbarians at the gates. I am sort of against romanticizing him, but I think he has been rather successful. Can he be re-elected? Maybe. I cannot predict it because things can still happen before the elections, and because it is a complicated electoral system.
CC: What will be the impact of the Tea Party on the scrutiny?
JG: What the Tea Party can do is to make the Republicans unelectable. Tea Party views are more popular now than they could have ever been because of the semi-destruction of the American middle-class. The net wealth of the middle class has been dropped by about 40%. But it is still not a majority by any stretch of the imagination, and the Tea Party is divided in many ways. There are followers of radical issues that have to do with radical fundamentalism. They have no program, it is sheer nonsense. In sum, they could have a constituency for a quarter of the voters, which is not enough to win at all, but it could have an impact on neo-Republicans. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney – who I consider the leader of a witless and empty phenomenon – is trying to sort of retain the support of the Tea Party while trying to seduce the rest of the electorate.
CC: Obama is being pressured to attack Iran. What if he does?
JG: Well, that would be a major upheaval. But you have to look at the larger picture. If Iran is attacked by the Americans, or by the Americans and Israelis, what are the real imperatives for that? What people always forget for some reason, and I do not know quite why, is that the real struggle in the Gulf is between Saudis and Iranians. If the US and Israel attack Iran, the Saudis will be close behind. And then we will see a full-scale proliferation in the Gulf. So the pressure towards an attack on Iran does not come at all specifically from Israel, which is so far not decided to do it. And it is certainly not coming from Obama. He might be for it, but he said he would not initiate it. George W. Bush might have initiated it. The attack against Iran is coming mainly from Saudi Arabia.
CC: But Benjamin Netanyahu has said several times that he would attack Iran.
JG: There has been strong opposition in the Israeli army and in the intelligence services against it. If it does happen, it will be just because of a handful of politicians. And it could be a terrible mistake. Not because the Iranians do not pose a danger, they do pose a danger. And one of the dangers, one that is rarely discussed, is that if they do acquire nuclear weapons before the Saudis, then who knows what could happen next. This is an enormous danger. It is one of those problems in international relations that are not readily soluble. You cannot fully solve it, but you can only mitigate the problem as you go along, which is what the Israelis have been doing.
CC: What is the impact of the “evangelical atheist movement,” as you call it, after 9/11? And how does it compare to the increase in religiosity worldwide?
JG: I think the evangelical atheist movement is a media phenomenon. In terms of numbers, it is traditional religions that are expanding everywhere. Islam is expanding rapidly in Africa. In Russia and Ukraine, and also in Romania, there is a large-scale revival of Russian orthodoxy, including among young people. It is religion that is reviving in many parts of the world. In Latin America, Protestantism is expanding. South Korea still has more Christians than Buddhists or Confucians.
CC: Why, then, do people buy bestsellers written by Richard Dawkins?
JG: There is a paradox there – and there is truth in the paradox which is about the kind of secularization that most European and American intellectuals expected. In the 1970s everybody expected the whole world to become more secular. But it has not happened. In fact, the opposite is happening. In the US religion was stronger a few years ago under Bush Jr., but it is still immensely strong. And that that has produced a moral panic among certain sections of the intelligentsia. There are perhaps a few countries in the world that are more secular. Scandinavian countries are an example. Maybe another one is Ireland, where the church is weaker partly because of the pedophile scandal. Italy, France. In the United Kingdom, agnostic premiers are nominated. John Major was an agnostic. Gordon Brown is a Christian but never talks about it.
CC: But what about Tony Blair’s religiosity?
JG: Remember that Blair’s flirtation with religion was countered by (Alastair) Campbell, his media spokesperson, who said, “We don’t do God, Tony.” And that’s true throughout most of Europe, except perhaps Poland, which is divided on the issue. A leader in Poland who is not religious would lose support. The convergence of the movement that is going on is towards religions. The situation now is post-secular. And secular religions such as communism and free market will be replaced by versions of real religion, sometimes traditional religions, sometimes by fundamentalism. Many aspects of Islamist thinking are taken from the West, especially from anarchism and Leninism. There is nothing in traditional Islamic theology about building a world based on anarchy or on a slogan like “No rulers and no rule.” You will not find that in the Koran. But it is used by some Islamist groups and it comes from Bakunin and European radicalism of various kinds, which were some of the extreme offshoots of the European Enlightenment.
CC: In your book Straw Dogs you say that humans are not unlike animals.
JG: I say something stronger: they are animals.
CC: I wanted to be diplomatic (laughs). One of your phrases, and I quote, is: “Technical progress leaves only one problem unsolved, the frailty of human nature. Unfortunately that problem is insoluble.” So is there meaning to life if man has no religion and science for his salvation?
JG: All the wiser religions and philosophies up to 200 years ago, and I do not just mean Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Darwinism, the philosophy of Plato and so on, have accepted that humans are flawed animals. That is to say that the source of human difficulties is not just based on ignorance, error, misunderstanding, or oppression by government. It is internal to humans. If you want a secular model, there is Freud, who talked about it.
CC: Freud is one of your heroes.
JG: Yes. But Freud is unpopular because he refuses to flatter humanity. He said humans are conflicted internally. They have conflicting impulses for creation, benevolence, love, influence, aggression, destruction and cruelty. They are part of being human. And what a number of theorists, philosophies and religions in history have proposed is that these issues can be sort of dealt with whether or not there is no salvation. There is no idea of salvation in Freud or in Darwin. Whether there is salvation of any kind, it can be dealt with by wisely counting on human frailty. In other words, the way of life that needs to be lived is one based on these frailties and it does not expect them to change. And within those lives you can have a highly meaningful one. Life is meaningless only if you have invested its meaning in nonsense like the free market and communism. The paradox nowadays is that there are probably more people in the intelligentsia who believe implicitly in the European currency as some people have faith in any other religion.
CC: You are not a religious man, of course.
JG: No, I am not a religious person. I don’t practice and don’t belong to any religion. But let me put it like this: the belief in miracles is less irrational than the belief in progress because the belief in miracles is that certain things can happen because they are contrary to the laws of nature. So if you believe that human beings can rise from the dead, God will bring them back, your belief is not based on science or progress. You believe that by a miracle, by a miraculous intervention into nature, violating and suspending and contradicting the laws of nature. So the religious belief in miracles is more reasonable than the secular belief in progress, but actually you don’t need any sort of belief in order to live a good life. Montaigne is an example of someone with no interest in belief who had a perfectly meaningful and rich life. It is only people who invest their time in nonsense who are afraid of nihilism.