Toward the Light of Liberty: The Struggles for Freedom and Rights That Made the Modern Western World

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The epic story of the interlocking struggles to achieve the individual rights and freedoms that characterize Western civilization, by one of the world's leading public intellectuals.

Perhaps the hallmark of western civilization over the past five hundred years, writes A. C. Grayling, is the series of liberation struggles without which the ordinary citizen in Western countries would not enjoy the rights and freedoms we now take for granted. They began with the often violent ...

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Toward the Light of Liberty: The Struggles for Freedom and Rights That Made the Modern Western World

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Overview

The epic story of the interlocking struggles to achieve the individual rights and freedoms that characterize Western civilization, by one of the world's leading public intellectuals.

Perhaps the hallmark of western civilization over the past five hundred years, writes A. C. Grayling, is the series of liberation struggles without which the ordinary citizen in Western countries would not enjoy the rights and freedoms we now take for granted. They began with the often violent battle to allow independent thought, uncontrolled by the Church, which led in time to political freedom as monarchies were gradually replaced by more representative forms of government. These in turn made possible the abolition of slavery, rights for working men and women, universal education, the enfranchisement of women, and much more.

Each of these struggles was a memorable human drama, and Grayling skillfully interweaves the stories of celebrated and little-known heroes alike—from Martin Luther and John Locke to the sixteenth-century French scholar Sebastien Castellio and the nineteenth-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The triumphs and sacrifices of those who dared to oppose authority ring loudly down the ages, proving how hard-won each successive victory has been. And yet, as Grayling persuasively shows in a cautionary coda, democratic governments under pressure have often thought it necessary to restrict rights in the name of freedom, further underlining how precious they are. Toward the Light of Liberty is, thus, particularly relevant as we head toward an election season in which our own civil liberties will surely be an issue.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Among the Dead Cities:

"A probing, thoughtful meditation…The excellence of Among the Dead Cities, however, rests less on Grayling's deductions than his provision of enough information and argument for readers with alternate premises to draw different conclusions. That richness makes wrestling with his views a demanding intellectual exercise."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"Grayling brings a fresh perspective to some of the great questions of modern history—including what methods are permitted in fighting a war—and gives answers that should broaden thinking about how the United States conducts its global war on terrorism and its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."—San Francisco Chronicle

"If there was no military justification for the bombings, then there cannot possibly be a moral one, and Grayling's judgment that they were immoral seems to me exceedingly difficult to refute."—Washington Post

Publishers Weekly

Do we take our liberties for granted at the risk of losing them in the war on terror? Grayling (Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius), a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a leading British public intellectual, believes so. This book is, in some respects, an old-fashioned, triumphalist history of the rise of Western liberty since the 16th century (with Martin Luther, John Locke and Elizabeth Cady Stanton playing leading role), but nevertheless serves as a stirring call to arms to defend freedom from its enemies within and without. Grayling argues that the struggle for liberty has been one of sacrifice and hardship on the part of many heroic individuals. Despite the blood and the violence, it has been worth it: "Today's ordinary Western citizen is, in sixteenth-century terms, a lord: a possessor of rights, entitlements, opportunities and resources that only an aristocrat of that earlier period could hope for." But, Grayling somberly writes, the process "of losing our inheritance of liberty might have already begun." Grayling provides a refreshing tonic to any inclination toward apathy or cynicism, and his book will only gain in relevance as the 2008 presidential election looms. Color photos. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

A prolific author and media commentator, Grayling (philosophy, Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London; Descartes) has applied a lifetime of thought and study to the one of the most important questions of our day: can individual liberty, the "light" that illuminates the path to personal and societal fulfillment, be safeguarded and enhanced in an age of terrorism? Stated otherwise, must we enter a new dark age owing to security measures and illiberal legislation permitting us apparent freedom from physical harm but little scope for fulfillment? To answer this challenging question, Grayling conducts a tour-de-force review of the history of the achievement of liberty, with particular emphasis on religion, underscoring with careful scholarship and the occasional polemical flourish the signal fact of Western civilization of the last half millennium: that liberty is achieved at a high price in both blood and material sacrifice. Hence, any reluctance we may demonstrate to continue to bear this necessary cost will surely condemn us to short-term advantage and long-term despair. This is a welcome and cogent study of liberty's fundamental value and obvious fragility. Recommended for all libraries supporting high school social studies and college-level humanities.
—Gilles Renaud

Kirkus Reviews
Just when things were looking bad for liberty around the world, here comes a bracing burst of Whiggish optimism from philosophy professor Grayling (Birkbeck College, Univ. of London; Truth Meaning and Realism: A Personal Philosophy, 2007, etc.). The history of the last 500 years in much of the Western world, and certainly the English-speaking one, yields at least one satisfying conclusion, Grayling writes: Ordinary people "have reached a position which at the beginning of that period was attainable by only a tiny minority of people: namely, aristocrats and senior clergy." The attainment of general freedoms came at that minority's expense, of course. For Western citizens to gain their rights, they had to break the hold of a single church and that of absolute monarchy, by means of a process that, Grayling observes, was mostly evolutionary if occasionally revolutionary. At those revolutionary turns come martyrs to the cause, and Grayling does good service by reminding readers of a few who are little remembered today, such as the rebel theologians Michel Servetus and Sebastian Castellio, who suggested that judgment be left to God. Elsewhere, Grayling develops what might be called a natural history of liberty: "Once people are free to think for themselves," he suggests, "it becomes inevitable that many among them will desire a greater control over their own actions too-or at very least, to have a share in decisions that affect their lives." Thus freedom of religion led to freedom of the press, freedom of thought, freedom of association and other freedoms contingent upon discarding any notion that kings or church elders had a divine right to rule. Tracing this growth from heretics to Ludditesto John Stuart Mill and modern political philosophers, Grayling limns modern threats to freedom-not from those kings and clerics, but from civil leaders eager to battle supposed terrorism by compromising civil rights "in the name of security."Readers may feel a touch of Whiggish optimism themselves, especially when reviewing the various bills of rights that close the book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802716361
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 10/28/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.63 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author

A. C. Grayling is a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of the acclaimed Among the Dead Cities, and of Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius. A frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines, he lives in London.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgements     xi
List of Illustrations and Picture Credits     xiii
Setting the Scene     1
The Demand for Liberty
The Reformation and the Beginning of Modern Liberty     17
Freeing the Mind     59
The Fight against Absolutism     105
The Extension of Liberty
Slaves, Workers, Women and the Struggle for Liberty     163
The Liberty Century     217
Rights out of Wrongs     241
The Idea of Liberty and the Verge of Betrayal     255
Landmarks on the Road to Freedom
The Bill of Rights 1689     275
The United States Bill of Rights 1791     281
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen     285
The Chartists' 'Six Points' and Petition     289
United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights     293
Notes     301
Bibliography     315
Index     325
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