Towards the Light – The Story of the struggles for and Rights that made the modern West
by A C Grayling Liberty
I was doing my best to resist reading any non-fiction history on top of my recent batch of historical novels but could hardly resist something like this – a long look at the idea of liberty by one of my all-time favourite modern philosophers. Needless to say I was not disappointed.
Set within a chronological narrative Professor Grayling starts with the fight for religious freedom from was, at that time, the only major Western faith – Catholicism. The great schism that produced the Protestant churches (themselves the product of later schisms) was the spark that lit the fuse which blew apart the idea of any kind of unassailable power based on simple authority. From that point there was no going back. After religious liberty was established it, rather inevitably, led to greater and greater freedom of thought – freedom that led to scientific investigation that ultimately began to undermine the idea of religion itself. Once the authority of the church (and even God) had been questioned, challenged and, to varying degrees overthrown, it was not long before these free thinkers began looking at the power and authority (often seen as divine in nature) of those who ruled over us. Questions of their legitimacy soon followed along with calls from greater and greater enfranchisement of the population. Hot on the heels of those questions came the issues of women’s rights, slavery, and the rights of racial minorities. All in all it has been a hard fought and hard won fight for the increasing liberty of individuals within a more just society. Progress indeed!