In this book John Gray argues that we live in a time of endings for the ideologies that governed the modern period. The Enlightenment projects of universal emancipation animates all the political doctrines and movements that are central in contemporary western societies. Yet it does not reflect the reality of the plural world in which we live. The western cultural hegemony which the Enlightenment embodied is coming to a close. Western liberal societies are not precursors of a universal civilization, but only one form of life among many in the late modern world.
Our inherited stock of political ideas no longer tracks that world. The crisis of New Right thought is as profound as that of the Left. Green theorists and communitarian thinkers have not understood the deep diversity and intractable conflicts of contemporary societies. And postmodernists, whose thought is ruled by the dated utopias of the modern period, do not engage with the real conditions of the world's emerging postmodern societies. Late modern thought occurs in an interregnum between modern projects that are no longer credible and postmodern realities that many find intolerable.
John Gray suggests that some Enlightenment hopes of progress must be extinguished if we are to learn to respect cultural diversity and accept ecological limits. Respect for the Earth and for other species and cultures means abandoning the utopian and arcadian projects that haunt modern thought. We should aim to moderate the impact of human activity on the Earth while alleviating the unavoidable evils of human life. Yet the hubris which treats the Earth as an instrument of human purposes, and which regards other cultures as approximations to a universal civilization, embodies ancient and powerful traditions. John Gray's aim is to question these traditions and thereby to prepare our thinking for a time of beginnings.