Right now is a very appropriate time to be thinking about the prospects for free societies. For many years John Gray has been a critic of tying these in with liberalism, arguing instead for accepting a wide variety of norms and practices, both at home and internationally (sometimes called the 'postmodern' condition). But now one of Gray's contentions of the 1990s, i.e., that liberalism is the political theory of modernity, is now being tested by Crown Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia. Since Prince Salman became de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia his project has been, first, to reduce the country's dependence on oil revenues by modernising, including limited social reforms such as allowing women to drive, whilst, second, keeping full political control. Prince Salman has not the slightest intention of moving toward a constitutional monarchy on the liberal democratic model.

Saudi Arabia, like many other societies also tests another of John Gray's views - that a free society needs stable moral traditions and social conventions. I would not dispute that any society (not least an anarchist community) will be difficult without those things. But it surely depends on which moral traditions and social conventions apply whether a society can be free, not least in political terms.

The very uncertainty about these points indicates that free societies - and some features of 'liberalism' like constitutional government - have better prospects than 'postmodernist' critics might suppose. Has that any connection (along with 'kith and kin' sentiment) with the sudden spirited reponse to Putin's invasion of Ukraine?

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