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Liberty in the Age of Terror: A Defence of Civil Society and Enlightenment Values [Paperback]

A. C. Grayling
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jun 2009
"The means of defence against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home." James Madison Our societies, says Anthony Grayling, are under attack not only from the threat of terrorism, but also from our governments' attempts to fight that threat by reducing freedom in our own societies - think the 42-day detention controversy, CCTV surveillance, increasing invasion of privacy, ID Cards, not to mention Abu Ghraib, rendition, Guantanamo As Grayling says: 'There should be a special place for political irony in the catalogues of human folly. Starting a war 'to promote freedom and democracy' could in certain though rare circumstances be a justified act; but in the case of the Second Gulf War that began in 2003, which involved reacting to criminals hiding in one country (Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or Pakistan) by invading another country (Iraq), one of the main fronts has, dismayingly, been the home front, where the War on Terror takes the form of a War on Civil Liberties in the spurious name of security. To defend 'freedom and democracy', Western governments attack and diminish freedom and democracy in their own country. By this logic, someone will eventually have to invade the US and UK to restore freedom and democracy to them.' In this lucid and timely book Grayling sets out what's at risk, engages with the arguments for and against examining the cases made by Isaiah Berlin and Ronald Dworkin on the one hand, and Roger Scruton and John Gray on the other, and finally proposes a different way to respond that makes defending the civil liberties on which western society is founded the cornerstone for defeating terrorism.

Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (1 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408802422
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408802427
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 587,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy and Master of the New College of the Humanities, London. He believes that philosophy should take an active, useful role in society. He has written and edited many books, both scholarly and for a general readership, and has been a regular contributor to The Times, Financial Times, Observer, Independent on Sunday, Economist, Literary Review, New Statesman and Prospect, and is a frequent and popular contributor to radio and television programmes, including Newsnight, Today, In Our Time, Start the Week and CNN news. He is a former Fellow of the World Economic Forum at Davos, a Vice President of the British Humanist Association, an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, Patron of the UK Armed Forces Humanist association, Patron of Dignity in Dying, a former Booker Prize Judge, a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society, a member of the human rights group IHEU represented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva; and much more.

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Praise for Towards the Light 'A rollicking defence of Freedom and Enlightenment in the style of Tom Paine or William Godwin' Spectator 'The even-handed tone of philosophy professor AC Grayling's latest book does not lessen the intensity of its polemical content Grayling underlines the seriousness of today's threats to our liberties' Metro

About the Author

A.C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a multi-talented author. He believes that philosophy should take an active, useful role in society. He has been a regular contributor to The Times, Financial Times, Observer, Independent on Sunday, Economist, Literary Review, New Statesman and Prospect, and is a frequent and popular contributor to radio and television programmes, including Newsnight, Today, In Our Time, Start the Week and CNN news. He is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum at Davos, and advises on many committees ranging from Drug Testing at Work to human rights groups.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear, incisive and immensely relevant 23 Oct 2009
This is a really helpful book if you want to understand and take part in the debates about security and human rights surrounding the "War on Terror", especially the often controversial new powers given to the police and government. The author runs through topics such as ID cards, public safety, censorship, CCTV and privacy in a lively fashion, cutting through to the underlying principles that can often be obscured by political spin and media coverage. He writes very clearly. At times the writing seems hurried and a little repetitive, but it is always extremely readable.

From a practical point of view I thought the book does two things particularly well. First, it takes rather woolly liberal ideas such as "tolerance" and "free speech" and distills them down to clear ethical principles, making them both easier to discuss and to defend. Secondly, it puts forward clear responses to the weasel-words and spin used by politicians as they seek to justify their policies.

The final third of the book - where the author engages with the ideas of other thinkers on liberty, such as Isaiah Berlin and Roger Scruton - is perhaps less effective. Again the writing is very clear and the discussion interesting, but the debates aren't really given enough space to fully flesh out the points at issue.

Overall, highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars TO THINK - OR TO ACCEPT 1 Dec 2009
The arguments for the establishment and sustenance of Liberties and Freedoms are well rehearsed here. There is nothing which might upset the servants or the animals. What there is, however, is a cogent rephrasing and reminding of what we have achieved in the West in terms of social cohesion by respecting the first principles of Democracy - or variations of these. There is also the menacing idea of just how we are destroying these principles in the name of security. Grayling is at his most appealing when he speaks, understandably, of our continued non-thinking inertia, the surrendering of liberties and freedoms due to our complacency: a perception of which is not lost on any of the ruling political classes. I think that he over-emphazises this but, then again, perhaps he is right. If we are losing our rights and liberties in what is classed as an age of terror, then it is surely a moment for deep reflection. And that is what Grayling appears to be inciting us to do.

The second half of the book is concerned with the varying perceptions of liberality which are endorsed - or otherwise - by other philosophers. This is a cogent and necessary reminder of what other political philosophers have to say. Grayling has summarised their views and it is up to the reader to determine whether he has been accurate and fair in this project. His comments and conclusions regarding his resumé are, by nature, arbitrary and peremptory. All the same, I believe that, he has got things broadly right.

This is a superb book: it is a polemic which informs you, provokes you to think and then makes you question the current political orthodoxy which we are - until now, impassively accepting - or worse, unaware.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
AC Grayling eloquently condemns and brings to our attention how our civil liberties are being eroded under the pretext of the 'War on Terror'. He points out that many of the invasive laws in the UK were brought into being before the terrorist catastrophes of 9/11, such as the Terrorism Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000. Grayling does point out how 9/11 has made things worse with even more irrational, draconian, covert and intrusive laws being passed - very much a victory for the illiberal terrorists who crashed the planes and carried out subsequent attacks in Bali, Madrid and London. Now we are all potentially sleeping terrorist timebombs.

Another of Grayling's strengths is to show that radical Islamism is very much a product of the liberal West, as it is a violent reaction against it by people who have been exposed to western liberal education and lifestyles. However, Grayling does not adequately criticise the weaknesses of the political left and anti-war movements, who come up with the over-simplistic arguments that the war in Iraq was about oil (which Grayling agrees with) and that the wars the UK is fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq are inextricably responsible for terrorist atrocities carried out in the West or against Western tourists in Bali or Mumbai

The central weakness of Grayling's thesis is his belief in legalistic measures - he supports the arbitrary and draconian smoking ban; believes libel is an adequate legal redress for 'false' allegations - he should note how wealthy foreign celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, thanks to the UK libel laws, can sue British newspapers even though they are not UK citizens or residents.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Delicate balance 21 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is coming from original columns in the Times, but adapted for this book. It is very readable though carefully thought through and deeply significant for our age. He has trod a delicate balance between a call for freedom of speech and liberty of thought and crossing moral and humanitarian boundaries to libertinism. A necessary read for all people thoughtful about human values in our increasingly pluralistic age.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Sums up the current situation on civil liberties well
Great book that sums up the current situation on civil liberties, privacy and why we need them. Appendix 1, which details the laws passed that curtail the civil liberties and... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Eser
4.0 out of 5 stars Once you get over the panic, it's a good read.
At first I didn't have much hope for this book. It appeared to do a lot of scaremongering and doesn't always provide entire context in its mission to get the message across. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Sophiee *30stm*
3.0 out of 5 stars Not terrible, but the title is very misleading.
I picked this book up after being told that it would be an interesting insight into looking at the balance between current law in the war on terror and the need for civil liberties... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Fred
4.0 out of 5 stars Grayling's Age of Terror
In 2008, he wrote a philosophical history of the establishment of western freedom, a series of hard-won battles, to create the world as we know it. Read more
Published on 15 Aug 2011 by RR Waller
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and thought provoking.
Our politicians tell us that we are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect and preserve our freedoms and liberties. Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2010 by Adam
5.0 out of 5 stars essential and enjoyable
An essential introductory read for everyone, providing clear and detailed arguments on every aspect of how our liberty is today being compromised and why it matters. Read more
Published on 18 Sep 2010 by Ms. Nisha R. Gill
3.0 out of 5 stars and the solution is..............?
This book is a polemic, so the measure of it should be the extent to which it convinces. The case made is that enlightenment values represent the best way for human beings to order... Read more
Published on 11 April 2010 by BB
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I came to this book with great sympathy already convinced that we have given up many civil liberties without a fight. I agree with most of the arguments put forward by Grayling. Read more
Published on 7 Sep 2009 by Michael Lewis
How free should free speech be? I'd have to say, very; and on the whole this is a book who's broad thrust I'd agree with. Read more
Published on 28 Jun 2009 by Hillpaul
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