Letters - Letter of the week

I agree with John Gray (Books, 30 June) that Patricia Highsmith was one of the 20th century's great writers. Like Beckett, whom he cites in support, she makes us question "the secular faith in humanity that has replaced Christianity". However, as Gray says about Highsmith, and Beckett insisted about himself, neither writer was a philosopher, and any system based on their thought would be quite absurd and chaotic. They might persuade us that faith in human progress is an illusion, but we might retort, as is said about democracy, that it is the least-worst option. The artist is entitled to indulge anarchy to the limit, but we should not imitate her unless we can reproduce the skill and economy of her art.

The same principle might be applied to some of the "green" thinking also featured in last week's issue. Unlike the founders of their movement in the 1970s, environmentalists now seem to want to behave like artists, indulging their private mythologies, anarchic personalities and utopian dreams, such as George Monbiot's "world government". But the skill and economy of environmentalism must surely be scientific and philosophical, not mimetic of some artistic creator of the world. The point is reinforced by Jason Cowley's suggestion ("The man who demanded a recount") that Bj0rn Lomborg's critics should apply the rigour of statistics instead of attacking him with Bible-thumping, artist-mimicking dogma.

Gil Elliot
London NW1

This article first appeared in the 07 July 2003 issue of the New Statesman, 661 new crimes - and counting