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Inventing the Individual: The Origins of…

Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (urspr publ 2014; utgåvan 2015)

av Larry Siedentop (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
228586,739 (3.53)3
Here, in a grand narrative spanning 1,800 years of European history, a distinguished political philosopher firmly rejects Western liberalism's usual account of itself: its emergence in opposition to religion in the early modern era. Larry Siedentop argues instead that liberal thought is, in its underlying assumptions, the offspring of the church. Beginning with a moral revolution in the first centuries CE, when notions about equality and human agency were first formulated by St. Paul, Siedentop follows these concepts in Christianity from Augustine to the philosophers and canon lawyers of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and ends with their reemergence in secularism - another of Christianity's gifts to the West. -- Book Jacket… (mer)
Titel:Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism
Författare:Larry Siedentop (Författare)
Info:Penguin (2015), Edition: 01, 448 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek


Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism av Larry Siedentop (2014)



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This is not an easy read. Siedentop delivers an almost purely intellectual history, focusing on mental images of people and society in ancient Antiquity and the Western Middle Ages. He jumps from thinker to thinker, constantly probing the concepts they use and what that says about their image of man and society.

His thesis is simple: the origin of secular liberalism, - conceived of as the intellectual current and attitude that puts the individual at the centre, as a unique acting object and as fundamentally equal to other individuals -, its origins don’t lie in the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, but much earlier, in medieval Christianity. "Secularism is Christianity's greatest gift to the world", he states. Christianity, through Paul and Augustine, put the freedom and equality of the acting man first, in contrast to ancient Antiquity, where inequality determined the character of society and each individual found its place in a certain, natural hierarchy. It took centuries for Christian intellectuals to focus on freedom and equality in their thinking and to make it a natural starting point for people and society. The major breakthrough took place between the 12th and 14th century, in the high Middle Ages. That is the central thesis of this book.

Siedentop certainly is not the first one to emphasize the Christian origins of our modern freedom and equality concept, and to revalue the Middle Ages for their contribution to the gradual development of that concept. But as far as I know, he is the first to do it so systematically and in detail. And every so often he shows unsuspected perspectives on developments in the Middle Ages, which I had not read about anywhere else. In short, it is impressive what Siedentop offers us, although it requires some concentration and perseverance from the reader to keep following his line of thinking.

But ... I did not feel wholly comfortable, as I read this work. There are some issues with the approach and focus of Siedentop, and especially his strongly Christian-apologetic undertone, and the teleological scope (exclusively aimed at proving his position). The critical remarks about that I have collected in my review for my Sense-of-History account on Goodreads. Follow this link https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1637620945. ( )
  bookomaniac | Jan 29, 2019 |
The new book from Larry Siedentop, acclaimed author of Democracy in Europe, Inventing the Individual is a highly original rethinking of how our moral beliefs were formed and their impact on western society today

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. ( )
  aitastaes | Aug 21, 2016 |
I was sent this book to read and I struggled to get through it. In fact, I skipped whole sections in the middle. It's very academic, extremely repetitive and, despite Seidentop's massive body of research, it only tells a very partial story. The whole thesis of the book is summed up in the epilogue and I wish I'd just read that. There's no doubt some truth in the thesis that modern day Western liberalism and democracy based on the freedom of the individual owes a great deal to historical developments in the Christian church but a whole host of other influences are left out including the populace of Western Europe (the peasants' revolt?).
As a result, the fascinating dilemma in modern western society which was his starting point for writing this book, is only addressed very schematically in a few pages at the end of the book - namely, the battle between religion and secularism, and particularly between western secular values and religious fundamentalism. ( )
1 rösta stephengoldenberg | Apr 6, 2016 |
1.75 STARS
Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism is an ambitious project. It is nothing less than a genealogy of the ‘Western’ concept of the liberal individual spanning from Antiquity to the Medieval Period, ending right at the birth of the Enlightenment--presumably the moment of parturition of secular Liberalism itself. Siedentop’s historical narrative is motivated by the following thesis: Modern historians of the ‘West’ are mistaken in claiming that the sources of liberalism are to be found in the Ancient Greek or Roman traditions. The undue focus on the classical world obscures the significant role the Christian church played in the formation of modern European consciousness and her institutions. Thus, the Middle Ages, too long considered to be a period of cultural backsliding, need to be rethought as the most significant period in the development of the ideas of universal equality, sovereignty, and free will--i.e. what will become the central tenets of the ‘Western’ secular liberal tradition. “Inventing the Individual” is an attempt to correct this ‘deficiency’ in the literature and give due credit to the impact of Christian canon law on the formation of secular legislation.

Siedentop is motivated by two contemporary concerns, which he addresses only in his Prologue and Epilogue. First, the schism between the ‘East’ and ‘West has been consistently (and dangerously) misperceived as a rift between the religious and secular worlds. By arguing that the locus of secular ‘Western’ thinking lies in Christian religious thought, Siedentop hopes to demonstrate that liberal political philosophy is the ultimate reconciliation of faith and reason. To put it loosely: If only the East would recognize that the West’s ‘secularism’ isn’t so secular, we might not be in such a geopolitical pickle! The second concern, deeply connected to the first, is the rise of religious fundamentalism--within both Islam and Christianity--and with it the (increasingly likely) possibility that WWIII will be an all-out religious war. On Siedentop’s view, fundamentalism gains traction as reason declines. Thus he attributes (American) Christian fundamentalism to the fact that people have lost sight of the ‘rational’ Christian moral intuitions that serve as the bedrock of the very secularism they repudiate on religious grounds.

[Tl; dwtr?: I recommend these books instead: E.R. Dodds’ The Greeks and the Irrational, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, anything by Peter Brown (particularly Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

Siedentop’s scope is, paradoxically, both too broad and too narrow. This is a symptom of a larger methodological problem: lacking a dialectical account of the transmission of ideas leads to a consistently flattened and overly reductive analysis. On the one hand, It is too broad in the sense that any monograph attempting to capture 2100+ years of history tends to be; there’s simply not enough space to do justice to the subject during any particular period of time without eliding salient historical details or producing an unreadably massive tome. Mercifully, LS’s chapters are short--10 pages, every time--but with each chapter devoted to roughly a century, LS lacks the room to develop much more than a sketch of the incredibly complex political, cultural, religious terrain. More often than not Siedentop’s chapters draw heavily on one or two secondary sources (usually powerhouse historians, to his credit) to do the heavy lifting for him. By “draw heavily” I mean that LS block quotes their conclusions approvingly, often without further comment. I don’t know about you, but I was taught that this is bad scholarship.

Perhaps I am too harsh, and this is not to be read as a serious research project, but as a survey--a sort of toe-dip--into the subject? Acclaim where acclaim is due: as a survey, it is indeed a handy primer, particularly w/r/t the Middle Ages. LS conscientiously shies away from treating the more canonical writers with whom we are most familiar, and instead often lets lesser-known voices stand as representatives of their period. This is an interesting and refreshing strategy, which lends an air of scholarly erudition to the book, and helps it stand out from more popular political histories. However, a quick glance at the footnotes attached to the primary texts cited undermines this initial impression. Direct block quotes of primary texts all come from his secondary material. LS doesn’t cite the original or consistently tell his reader the name of the author he cited. The problem here is not an issue of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’--grand surveys necessitate a reliance on forebears--to suggest otherwise would be disingenuous. The problem is that Siedentop does an enormous disservice to his sources by oversimplifying their evidence and their conclusions. At first this struck me as an unfortunate (but perhaps inevitable) consequence of his overly-broad scope, but soon it becomes clear that LS’s selective treatment of the (extremely good) secondary source material is actually directed by his narrow interest in validating his own claims vis a vis Christianity.

On the other hand, ‘Inventing the Individual’ is too narrow in scope insofar as Siedentop concerns himself primarily with the activities of the ‘Western’ world (Europe), minimizing as much as possible any ‘tangents’ into concurrent developments or conflicts in the ‘East’ and ‘Near East’. In his defense, LS does examine the difference between early Eastern and Western monastic traditions, but he altogether ignores the birth of Islam. On Siedentop’s telling, one might think that the West birthed itself ex nihilo. (Of course, isn’t that exactly what a staunch defender of Western liberalism would propose?!)

Siedentop twice concedes that on-going conflicts with the Islamic world surely had some effect on the medieval public consciousness, but the extent of this effect he leaves altogether unconsidered. Of the 12 mentions of Islam in the book, half of them are LS’s speculative comments about the current state of geopolitics in his Intro and Epilogue. Of the six ‘historical’ mentions of Islam (which existed as a religion for at least 800 years of his 2100+ year monograph, i.e. nearly 40% of the period under question) only two are remotely ‘substantive.’ The first, promulgated at the time of Charlemagne, applies universally to any nonbeliever: “Outside the sway of the church and the rites of baptism, people were not considered, in a sense, fully human” (155). In other words, the killing of anyone who lacked a ‘soul’ (in the Christian sense) was justified, and therefore could not tarnish the individual conscience of the killer. The second--and the only direct mention of Islam in LS’s historical narrative--needs to be quoted at length:

“The appeal by Pope Urban II for volunteers to halt the expansion of Islam...created in Europe a new consciousness of itself…’Prior to the crusades, Europe had never been excited by one sentiment, or acted in one cause; there was no Europe. The Crusades revealed Christian Europe.’ [quoting X]...The Crusades were a truly universal event, involving all strata of the population. The revealed ‘a people’ with a shared identity capable of breaking through the skin of feudal stratification...A papal summons released this new European identity, appealing to the consciences and energies of the individual regardless of their social status. It was, of course, intensified by the centuries-old conflict with Islam and no doubt benefited from the aroma of foreign adventure and loot…” (194, italics mine).

As the only ‘substantive’ mention of Islam within a 360+ page book, this truncated (for brevity) passage deserves serious consideration. First off, obviously: it is not substantive at all. The cause of this “centuries-old conflict” is never addressed, which is quite curious. My Fascist Alarm tinkled at LS’s use of the word ‘universal’ to describe what he sees as an essentially newfound ‘pre-nationalistic’ spirit emerging in opposition to the increase of Muslim power in the medieval world. Ignoring the threat of Islam (a perspective only available in hindsight), LS lavishes nearly breathless praise of the papacy’s shrewd political machinations during its Revolution. He views it as *the decisive moment* in the development of Western Liberalism--for this is the moment that the consolidation of papal power pays in dividends; canon law get its “teeth,” to use a favorite Siedentop euphemism. The strong implication is that canon law’s ‘teeth’ were a positive and necessary development in the creation of Liberalism.

As for the Crusaders themselves, “crowds of the populus, who set out...without preparation, without guides, and without chiefs, followed rather than guided by a few obscure knights”?...Siedentop dismisses them as an irrational and uneducated mob who somehow discovered and responded to the threat of Islam with very little nudging from the newly powerful pope. This is very sneaky, especially considering that LS acknowledges explicitly in the quote above that Pope Urban II blessed the ‘mission.’ The problem here is that LS seeks to insulate (read: exculpate) the Church from any responsibility for the Crusades. This view explains why LS can so haphazardly mention ‘the centuries-old conflict with Islam’ as mere afterthought (hooligans v. hooligans!), devaluing its historical significance in the creation of the ‘European’ identity of which LS is so proud.

LS’s thought laid bare is this, if I may: “The uneducated masses who crusaded did not understand the true message of Christianity, and so anything they did ought not be taken as representative of the Christian worldview.” Embedded within is the following assumption: the masses, due to poverty and ignorance, lacked the appropriate moral apparatus to abstain from wrong behavior when the opportunity for lucre was presented to them. But such an assumption (and argument) about ignorance is fundamentally anathema to Christianity. For pre-Reformation Christians, it was not the knowledge of God (impossible!), but hard work, good deeds, and the grace of God which secured one’s salvation. Witness the serfs: you needn’t be an aristocrat, landowner, scholar, nor a saint to lay claim to the Kingdom of Heaven. To diminish the beliefs of Crusaders as ignorant and unrepresentative is to (inadvertently?) reproduce the false dichotomy between faith and reason that LS is so intent to undermine. What we see in Siedentop’s narrative is an ongoing slippage between the history of events and the history of the ideas behind them that ‘enables’ him to conflate the ideals of Christianity and the historical Church when it suits his purpose, and to decouple them when the historical doings of the Church undermine its universal mission.

One must be wearing some seriously rose-tinted glasses not to see or acknowledge the role of the Church in the selective distribution and suppression of knowledge during the early medieval period. Keeping the masses illiterate kept them pliable and dependent on the clergy for guidance. Pace Siedentrop, the church did very little to empower the serfs to fight for their freedom; instead--more pervasively--the church pacified serfs with promises of delayed justice in the afterlife. Now, what can be safely claimed, is that Christian notions of individual worth gradually seeped into the collective conscience of the serfs, leading them to assert that worth in the Peasant Uprisings. However, it is disingenuous to insinuate, as LS does, that the Church played a direct and active role in such developments. I’d argue, rather, that the power of Christianity as a religion triumphed despite the best efforts of the Church to limit the more egalitarian understanding of its meaning.

At the end of the day, Siedentop’s primary thesis--that Christianity played a pivotal role in the development of the Individual is no doubt true. Siedentop’s more controversial claim--that we are wrong to look for the origins of ‘Western’ Liberalism in Antiquity--really cannot be trusted, motivated as it is by a self-serving catholic interest to provide a an apologetic for the Christian Church (and its abuses) during the Middle Ages. Moreover, It is not clear to me why LS needs to advance the controversial claim at all. Acknowledging Christianity’s importance does not require that we devalue significant advancements in the pre-Christian ancient world. It is quite clear from Siedentop’s nearly constant conflation of Athens and the Roman Republic, that he either lacks a nuanced understanding of the significant differences between them, or that he is not troubled to distinguish between democratic and republican forms of government. It is quite odd to tell the story of the origins of the individual without including a substantive discussion of birth of democracy in Athens. And, while Siedentop is correct that the individual was not the primary social unit in Athenian society, it is egregiously misleading to suggest that there was no individual sense of self in Antiquity. One would need to ignore all of Plato and Aristotle’s works to make this the case. Despite how much LS would like to believe that the Christians invented the conscience, wishing it doesn’t make it so.

In summary: LS’s attempt to center the birth of the individual in the Middle Ages is mistaken because of the important cultural contexts and events that are necessarily left out by his unnecessarily narrow focus. On the one hand, Antiquity’s influence is obscured on account of fact that the ‘individual’ was not yet the primary social unit, but this misrepresents Athens’ significance in development of Liberalism itself. On the other hand, LS’s attempt to characterize the medieval Church as a largely benign, civilizing institution is only plausible if he omits or downplays the barbarity of the Crusades (among many other things). Omitting the Crusades requires that he underemphasize the crucial influence of ascendance of Islam in the ‘East’ as a conflicting and co-constitutive ideology. ( )
1 rösta reganrule | Feb 22, 2016 |
Good introductory paragraph on recording history's big picture; individual rights come from the recovery of Pauline doctrine (Acts 22-I appeal to Caesar; Phil 3:20-citizenship in heaven)

The following article is located at: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2016/janfeb/where-individuals-come-from....

Where Individuals Come From
Never mind nominalism: look to the bishops & lawyers.
Alan Jacobs | posted 12/24/2015

...but books with some comprehensive interpretive scheme meant to explain vast cultural movements. Within this subgenre, an especially flourishing field comprises those books devoted to the rise of modernity: to whatever it was that happened in the 16th century. ... But all of them start from the assumption that something transformative happened in the age of Luther and Erasmus and Calvin and Leonardo and Michelangelo—something of which people today are still in some sense the heirs.

... Where does the Western world's universally held idea that rights are invested in individuals come from?
Academic historians today often say that the era of grand narratives—big, sweeping stories offering confident interpretations of events occurring over vast swaths of time—is over. These have anyway typically been the province of the amateur historian: H. G. Wells' The Outline of History (1920), Will and Ariel Durant's 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1935-75). Arnold Toynbee was in and out of the academy but the work that made him famous, A Study of History, which appeared in 12 volumes from 1934-1961, was written for a general audience and never considered, by Toynbee or others, academic work. Something similar might be said of Susan Wise Bauer's recent histories of the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance worlds.

University-based scholars who pursue this kind of Big History are rare, and their work tends to be controversial among their peers, who routinely complain about overly sweeping generalizations, too-confident judgments. (This has often happened to Norman Davies, a professor who writes large books on large subjects: Europe: A History; The Isles: A History.) And often these complaints are justified. Still, it is understandable that readers crave some larger understanding, something beyond the local and focused — especially readers who aren't confident in their ability to do all the dot-connecting themselves.

For such readers, there is a variety of Big History that academics don't shun—that is, in point of fact, flourishing: not the books covering long historical periods, but books with some comprehensive interpretive scheme meant to explain vast cultural movements. Within this subgenre, an especially flourishing field comprises those books devoted to the rise of modernity: to whatever it was that happened in the 16th century. An exceptional number of Big Idea histories seem to focus on this period, and for academic books (sometimes just for books more generally) they get a wide readership. Charles Taylor's big books Sources of the Self and A Secular Age depend for their integrity on interpretations of this period, though they go beyond it. The same can be said for Brad Gregory's The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, Thomas Pfau's Minding the Modern: Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge, Peter Harrison's The Territories of Science and Religion, and Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (which, despite being by far the worst of these books, won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize).

Some of these works (Gregory, Pfau, Greenblatt) are frankly polemical; some (Taylor, Harrison) are relatively detached and even-handed. Some are narratives of decline, some tales of triumph; some are avowedly Christian, some avowedly secular. But all of them start from the assumption that something transformative happened in the age of Luther and Erasmus and Calvin and Leonardo and Michelangelo—something of which people today are still in some sense the heirs.

Larry Siedentop's Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism presents a helpful and often provocative addition to the narratives listed above. Siedentop, an American political philosopher who taught for many years in England, has here written, if not quite a magnum opus, nevertheless an ambitious and assured narrative that covers many centuries and several European cultures but pursues a single question: Where does the Western world's universally held idea that rights are invested in individuals come from? His answer suggests that those who have looked at the 16th century and the immediately preceding period as the key moment are taking too short a view. He would have us look back to far earlier days, and is willing to overcome his profession's resistance to Big History in order to explain why.

Though Siedentop borrows some elements from the declinist narrative—the nominalist philosophers Scotus & Ockham come in for their usual whipping—he mostly avoids the polemics noted above and returns, with nuances and clarifications, to a story that once was relatively common but seems recently to have faded from historians' view: the story claiming that liberalism is the child of the philosophical centrality of the individual; that the great achievement of modernity is the full flowering of the doctrine of the equal value of all individuals; and that overall this is a good thing.

Siedentop would agree with such 19th-century thinkers as Kierkegaard that this rise of the individual is largely the doing of Christianity; however, and here he dissents from the once-familiar story, not the doing of the Reformation. Rather, the Reformation largely inherits and disseminates a model of the centrality of the individual whose foundation was laid down long before. For most of the rest of this review I will try to summarize the story Siedentop tells.

In the ancient world—ancient verging on prehistorical—say, Greece before the rise of Athens, Rome before the establishment of the Republic—moral order and immortality arose from and were guaranteed by the family. It was the household's hearth, which must always be tended, generation to generation, where the fires burned that warmed the spirits of the household gods, and our brief human lives were given value and meaning by their connection to the everlasting home fires. But as human communities grew larger and more complex, the center of moral order shifted from the family to the city—the polis or, as the institutions of civic order grew and spread, the patria, the fatherland. (Note the familial metaphor.) Eventually, as Rome came to govern more and more of the world, it paradoxically lost the ability to generate fervent allegiance: we may be able to extend our affections and loyalty as far as the civitas, at a stretch the patria, but not as far as the imperium: an empire is too big and too abstract to generate loyalty, to guarantee value and meaning.

It was at the very moment that the Empire came into its own—and simultaneously, inadvertently, created this moral crisis for its citizens—that the apostle Paul arrived on the scene. Himself a Roman citizen, and not reluctant to appeal to that status in time of need (Acts 22), he nevertheless declared to his fellow followers of Jesus the Christ that "our citizenship [politeuma] is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20)—and it is by the laws of that country that we must be governed and judged. For Siedentop, the seeds of a radical moral egalitarianism are to be found here.

These seeds begin to sprout in Tertullian's defense of Christianity in the 3rd century. To the pagan leaders of Rome Tertullian wrote, "We worship the one God … . There are others whom you regard as gods; we know them to be demons. Nevertheless, it is a basic human right that everyone should be free to worship according to his own convictions." Siedentop points out that here is one of the earliest articulations of a principle that is so self-evident to us that we scarcely even question it—a right to worship that belongs to individuals—but such a notion would have been an utterly incomprehensible claim in an age, not so long before Tertullian wrote, in which rights belonged to families and piety consisted in faithfulness to one's clan.

Siedentop asks us to consider the rise of monastic life in this light, because what monasticism embodies, when looked at in political terms, is the right of individuals to choose their communities rather than to inherit them. Monasteries by their very existence stand (and at their origin stood) over against the claims of family, of city, of fatherland, of empire. Then, after the fall of the empire, when the conquerors of the Romans attempted to repair the social structures that they themselves had endangered, something interesting happened. Siedentop gives close attention to the legal code first written and enforced in the early 6th century in the Visigothic kingdom—a code written under the influence of Christian bishops who understood, indeed in some cases had been brought up in, monastic communities. The notion that individuals have rights of choice was, for the first time, transferred to the secular order. Thus began the enshrinement in law of a society grounded in "moral equality," as opposed to older legal codes which had been grounded in "natural inequality."

This legal development would continue throughout the Middle Ages. Even by the time of Charlemagne it had developed sufficiently that it embodied "intuitions and beliefs that led the church to lay, almost unwittingly, the foundations of a new world." Eventually, "government would no longer be conceived primarily as a rule over families, clans, or castes. It would be conceived as rule over individuals." By the 12th century, Siedentop argues, this highly "modern" model was effectively in place.

What the bishops and other Christian leaders who planted the seeds, and watered the plants as they grew and spread, never imagined was the possibility of these "egalitarian moral intuitions" being used against the Church of Jesus Christ. But the very concept of individual rights that Tertullian had used to defend Christians' rights of conscience were, 1,500 years later, used to emancipate unbelievers, doubters, and independent-minded believers from church authority: "These moral intuitions provided the basis for what would become the central project of secularism: the identification of a sphere resting on the 'rightful' claims of individual conscience and choice, a sphere of individual freedom protected by law. A commitment to 'equal liberty' was emerging from Christian moral intuitions."

This, in all-too-brief compass, is Siedentop's story. The major elements of it are not original to him. The transition from a social organization based on the family to one based on the city draws on The Ancient City, a treatise by a 19th-century writer, Fustel de Coulanges, whom Siedentop wishes to rehabilitate; his work on medieval law draws on another French historian of the same period, François Cuizot, and also on the more recent work of Brian Tierney. What is distinctive and useful is the way Siedentop weaves their insights together into a compelling narrative.

He says at the outset that he wishes in this book to renew the power of the history of ideas, and in this cause takes Fustel de Coulanges as his model. But if, as Richard Weaver famously said, ideas have consequences, not all ideas have the same consequences. There is often a temptation, among scholars, to think too highly of the importance of narrowly philosophical or theological ideas: thus the aforementioned tendency, which Siedentop briefly succumbs to, to treat extraordinarily intricate and often incomprehensible debates among the philosophy faculty of medieval European universities as though they had world-changing power. But the importance of Siedentop's story arises from his treatment of ideas that were embodied in laws and institutions. If his story is correct, and I think it largely is, then it took the philosophers and theologians centuries to catch up with the insights of the bishops and lawyers.

Alan Jacobs teaches in the Honors Program at Baylor University.
  keithhamblen | Feb 1, 2016 |
Visar 5 av 5
But the book is, once you get past the superficial difficulties, not too hard to grasp, and its basic principle – “that the Christian conception of God provided the foundation for what became an unprecedented form of human society” – is, when you think about it, mind-bending.
tillagd av inge87 | ändraThe Guardian, Nicholas Lezard (Jan 27, 2015)

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Here, in a grand narrative spanning 1,800 years of European history, a distinguished political philosopher firmly rejects Western liberalism's usual account of itself: its emergence in opposition to religion in the early modern era. Larry Siedentop argues instead that liberal thought is, in its underlying assumptions, the offspring of the church. Beginning with a moral revolution in the first centuries CE, when notions about equality and human agency were first formulated by St. Paul, Siedentop follows these concepts in Christianity from Augustine to the philosophers and canon lawyers of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and ends with their reemergence in secularism - another of Christianity's gifts to the West. -- Book Jacket

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