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

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

by A. C. Grayling

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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.See more details below


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.

Editorial Reviews

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.)

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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.
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

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