December 15th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Christ child: a life lived for the whole world

WATER RESOURCES Murray-Darling management delivers the worst of both worlds

CANBERRA OBSERVED Libs fish around for explanations

ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwanese agree to stick with nuclear power

EDUCATION In support of NAPLAN

VICTORIAN ELECTION Coalition collapse

ECONOMICS AND SOCIETY Mondragón Corporation: humanity at work

BREXIT December 12: D-Day for Britain's EU vote

EUTHANASIA WA Government ignores objections and lessons

TAIWAN Referendum stems homosexual tide

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Free trade and the WTO in the Trump era

MUSIC Teacher teachers: The jarring note in music courses

CLASSIC CINEMA The Adventures of Robin Hood: The one and only

BOOK REVIEW A triumph of determination

BOOK REVIEW An escape from futility and addiction

POETRY

LETTERS

Books promotion page

INVENTING THE INDIVIDUAL:
The Origins of Western Liberalism

Larry Siedentop

$39.95


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by Larry Siedentop

(UK: Allen Lane / Penguin, 2014)
Hardcover: 448 pages
ISBN: 9780713996449
Price: AUD$39.95

 

Book description

This ambitious and stimulating book describes how a moral revolution in the first centuries AD — the discovery of human freedom and its universal potential — led to a social revolution in the West. The invention of a new, equal social role, the individual, gradually displaced the claims of family, tribe and caste as the basis of social organisation.

Larry Siedentop asks us to rethink the evolution of the ideas on which modern societies and government are built, and argues that the core of what is now our system of beliefs emerged much earlier than we think. The roots of liberalism — belief in individual liberty, in the fundamental moral equality of individuals, that equality should be the basis of a legal system and that only a representative form of government is fitting for such a society — all these, Siedentop argues, were pioneered by Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages, who drew on the moral revolution carried out by the early church. It was the arguments of canon lawyers, theologians and philosophers from the eleventh to the fourteenth century, rather than the Renaissance, that laid the foundation for liberal democracy.

There are large parts of the world where other beliefs flourish — fundamentalist Islam, which denies the equality of women and is often ambiguous about individual rights and representative institutions; quasi-capitalist China, where a form of utilitarianism enshrines state interests even at the expense of justice and liberty. Such beliefs may foster populist forms of democracy. But they are not liberal. In the face of these challenges, Siedentop urges that understanding the origins of our own liberal ideas is more than ever an important part of knowing who we are.

From the Epilogue: “This is a strange and disturbing moment in Western history. Europeans — out of touch with the roots of their tradition — often seem to lack conviction, while Americans may be succumbing to a dangerously simplistic version of their faith. On neither side of the Atlantic is there an adequate understanding of the relationship between liberal secularism and Christianity. Failure to understand that relationship makes it easier to underestimate the moral content of liberal secularism. If we in the West do not understand the moral depth of our own tradition, how can we hope to shape the conversation of mankind?”

 

About the author

Larry Siedentop is one of the most distinguished and penetrating political historians. His previous publications include Tocqueville. He is a tutor at Keble College in Oxford.

 

What the critics say

“A most impressive work of philosophical history.” Robert Skidelsky

Inventing the Individual opens up a new and original approach to the Middle Ages and redresses in a much needed way a balance between them and the Renaissance. It has coherence and intellectual drive in rare degree. It also comments incisively on our present time. It ought to come to be considered an important book.” Henry Mayr-Harting


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