Towards the Light Paperback – September 1, 2008
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Grayling places significant emphasis on the role of authoritarian Church and State institutions in oppressing individual rights historically. But he also points out the present danger we face in having our hard won liberties taken away from us by tyrannical government actions such as the ironically named Patriot Act. Meanwhile, a reasonably well read student of history will get a tremendous refresher course in the ideas of John Locke, Voltaire, Kant and others who played a significant role in the West's movement towards democracy. This is the best book I have read in ages and worthy of my highest recommendation.
Top international reviews
Modern technology - like this - makes so many aspects of life more enjoyable, easier and interesting but it also facilitates communication between gangs, rioters and looters. The result may be severe limitations placed on certain aspects of social and other media in the future. Liberty, the first victim again.
Grayling, in a comprehensive summary and analysis of the advancement of freedom across many areas of the globe, charts how freedom expanded in hard fought struggles to become the treasure we have today. This historical sweep, seen through the eyes of an erudite, exceptionally well-researched and clear-headed philosopher, establishes the ways in which these abstract ideas became the reality we live today.
Grayling shows the ways in which these hard-won freedoms can also be lost more easily than they were won, against the backdrop of today's challenging and violent world with all its sophisticated technologies, e.g. much of the hindsight policing is now being done using the ubiquitous CCTV camera footage which constantly monitors us being free, "for our safety and security".
PS For a much less philosophical approach to the same subject but no less interesting or challenging, read Bruce Bawer's "While Europe Slept", Doubleday 2006, ISBN 0385514727. He concentrates on post 9/11 and the effects of radical Islam.
His work is not an exhaustive account of these struggles, and I understand that this was not the author's aim. Indeed, the book offers a brief cover of that story, with an extensive bibliography at the end for those wishing to study further the issues that he raises.
The Reformation and Counter Rereformation, the Inquisition, the Scientific Revolution, The Glorious Revolution in England, the French and American Revolutions; political thinkers like Locke, Montesque and JS Mill, scientists like Galileo and men of action like the Founding Fathers of America; and struggles for the emancipation of slaves, women and workers; these are some of the issues that are being analysed in a clear and accessible way that highlights their interrelationship.
The book delivers on what its title claims to do; it is both a short history of those struggles, and a polemic aiming to wake up Westerners to the danger of erosion their rights are under, under the pretext of the war on terrorism and security. A book worth reading as an introduction to a further study in an exciting period in the history of the West.