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Toward the Light of Liberty: The Struggles for Freedom and Rights That Made the Modern Western World [Hardcover]

A. C. Grayling
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; First Edition edition (2 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802716369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802716361
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.3 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,385,642 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Arcas 24 Feb 2008
Format:Hardcover
I can't say this book really gripped me in the way I had hoped it would. Accounts of the various struggles for liberty were fleeting and are covered in much better detail elsewhere. Much of it, including its conclusions, seem pretty much a statement of the obvious. Having said that, I would stand alongside the author in the importance attached to the long and painful struggles for human rights and liberties and the threats to losing them from under our noses in modern 'democratic' societies.

I was a little amazed to be informed that William IV was the father of Queen Victoria and then later on in the book that James II was the grandson of Charles I. If simple errors like this can be made in the first place and then be allowed to go forward to publication it indicates a certain lack of polish.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Torquemada to the War on Terror 23 Oct 2007
By Santi Tafarella - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A.C. Grayling is a British philosopher. He is a friend of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, and although he is not as well known as these two authors, his book is every bit as valuable as the writing of his secular compatriots. Prof. Grayling does an excellent job explaining how the West moved from the Spanish Inquisition (in the 1500s) into the relative daylight of liberty enjoyed in contemporary democracies. One of the highlights of Prof. Grayling's book is his clear explication of the importance of John Locke in the story of liberty. Wheras Hobbes' argued that human life in a state of nature is "nasty, brutish, and short," Locke argued that what is most important about individual human nature is not its violence, but its unique capacity (among animals) for reason and freedom. This shifted the debate concerning the role of the state from the Hobbesian one (the state is a "Leviathan" that a people surrenders its rights to in the name of collective safety and protection) to a Lockean one (in which the state is at the service of protecting the ability of individuals to reason and exercise freedom). The book lays out clearly what is at stake for the West if we collectively succumb to the temptation (in the name of security) of conceiving of our world as a Hobbesian one (as opposed to a Lockean one). According to Grayling, we have to be very careful (in the West) not to erode our hard won liberties in the name of "the war on terror," or mute our freedom of speech in the name of multicultural and religious sensitivity. Grayling is a liberal in temperament, not a conservative, and he deals with these issues in a moderate and nuanced fashion, while nevertheless emphasizing the frailty of our liberties, and reminding us of how difficult they have been to attain, and how easy they might be lost in a time of economic or war-time crisis. Mr. Grayling is not as polemical as Dawkins or Hitchens, but he is every bit as intelligent and interesting to read.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong, flawed, important work with a valuable, urgent message (a history teacher's review) 31 Jan 2008
By DWD's Reviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I had to pick up this book as soon as I stumbled upon it. One of the themes in my history classes is the expansion of freedom in the West following the same general timeline that Grayling follows. Who doesn't like to have his own thoughts echoed by a major English philosopher?

Strengths:

I do recommend this book - it is a readable, admirable attempt at covering a vast, important topic. Grayling covers John Locke especially well (although he disposes with the views of Hobbes rather quickly by asserting that people are not necessarily nasty and brutal with one another).

Grayling's most important message is quite simple: the rights that we have are the product of a lot of time and a lot of struggles and they should be cherished and well-guarded. When the reader has completed this book it should be quite clear that this inheritance is too valuable to be squandered.

To his credit, Grayling does not treat Marx and Engels as if they were true prophets. Rather, he successfully counters their arguments and, unlike many academics, expresses no sympathy with their devotees in the USSR - tyranny is tyranny, no matter its political leanings with Mr. Grayling.

Weaknesses:

Grayling has intended this book to be an answer to 19th century English historian Lord Acton's incomplete "History of Liberty" - a work that is friendly to the role of religion in Liberty and Freedom in the West. Grayling is most definitely not agreeable to that point. It is too bad that this bias runs throughout the book. This work is strong in so many ways, but this attitude is over-emphasized

Grayling begins with Martin Luther and the Reformation. The longest argument that Grayling makes is against the uniform power of the Catholic church during those dangerous times, especially the Inquisition. Grayling overplays his hand by painting all religions with the taint of the Inquisition over and over throughout the book. At one point (p. 234) he even argues that religious people are not good citizens because their loyalties are divided between the "secular state" and their religion. Too my mind, his argument comes dangerously close to swinging to becoming zealous opposite of the Inquisition - an anti-religious inquisition, if you will.

The book gets bogged down for about 20 pages in a detailed look at the labor movement in England in the 1800s. I am not quite sure why he focused this intently on reciting this story because it stands in stark contrast to the philosophical and idea-centered writing that fills the rest of the book. My advice - skim and move on to the meatier portions that follow.

Grayling includes photos in the center of the book. Oddly they include photos of Martin Luther King, anti-segregation protestors in both America and South Africa and Algerians being hassled by French troops in the 1950s - these topics are not actually addressed in the book.

A pet peeve - Grayling has lots of endnotes - many of them with comments. Why not make them footnotes so the reader does not have to flip to the back so often?
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Read 12 Dec 2007
By D. Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm something of a Goldwater conservative, so I don't entirely agree with all of Grayling's leftism, but I do agree with his stance on the separation of church and state and the importance of The Enlightment. Read and enjoy and apply his concepts of free thinking even as you consider the author's own opinions.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Franklin 5 Oct 2009
By Andrew Desmond - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A.C. Grayling does, in many respects, remind me of Benjamin Franklin and his famous quote that: "Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one."

Grayling has written a powerful work that covers the slow progress made over many centuries to achieve real freedom as it is understood in the west today. He begins with Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition and moves through the works of Hobbes and John Stuart Mill before finishing with the 20th century and the true flowering of liberty. However, he does not believe that we have any reason not to be vigilant. There are many, even in the west, who would compromise liberty. Witness the Patriot Act and similar incarnations in other jurisdictions. Here, in the name of security, law makers propose reducing some of our freedoms. What a slippery slope this could turn out to be!

Grayling's work is a real tour de force. It is both a work of history and a work of social commentary. He is strongly in favour of liberty and outlines how the benefits that we reap today have come at great cost over many centuries. To give up these freedoms lightly is to denigrate the struggles of previous generations. It is sometimes all too easy to forget the political and religious dogmas that had to be beaten into submission to achieve the modern world as we know it.

I recommend Grayling's book to all readers of history and political thought. It is an insightful book with a clear message. It is also a work of some considerable scholarship. Yet, it is also accessible by the general reader.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesson from history 13 Jan 2008
By Alan Paton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have no hesitation in giving Professor Grayling's book five stars.

It is an education and vigorous refresher for anyone who recognises names like Spinoza, Locke, Voltaire, Milton, de Tocqueville, but has only a hazy understanding of what they stand for, and only a patchy idea of the significance of the Glorious English Revolution of 1688, the Enlightenment, and the American and French revolutions, but has now in these times an uneasy feeling that the ideas and principles underpinning free societies are in danger. In three hundred well written pages he explains it all.

I will let others extol the virtues of the book and here draw attention to one serious flaw, or to be kind to the author, to draw attention to an issue on which I wish he had said a lot more.

His priorities are wrong.

The book is exactly what it says it is "The Story of the Struggles for Liberty & Rights" but the opening and closing chapters discuss the threats to Liberty that we face today.

In the opening chapter he poses the question, in relation to the growing Muslim population in Europe, of how we deal with those whose ideas on Liberty and Rights are different from ours and who if they got their way would bring an end to the Liberty that we have painfully gained over the last 500 years. He doesn't answer this question.

Mistakenly, in my view, in these opening and closing chapters he concentrates on the threats to Liberty posed by the anti-terrorist measures taken by the US and UK governments.

As awful and as worrying some of these anti-terrorist measures are [1][2] they can at least be discussed. Your life will not be threatened, the Politically Correct (PC) roof will not fall on your head, respected national figures can and do state their views. But, these measures and the terrorism that brings them about are only symptoms, symptoms of an underlying religious malaise, and that is Islam as it manifests itself in the world today.

He could say a lot more about the threat to Liberty from Islam. Perhaps his views are constrained by the observations he makes in relation to the persecution of minorities in Nazi Germany.

Religion is a very sensitive subject [3]. It is a sobering thought that a US presidential candidate who said openly that he wasn't too sure about God or that he was an atheist, wouldn't stand a chance. Could it be that the authors of the American Constitution, a beacon of Liberty, would be rejected by today's American voters?

Could we discuss openly and have a debate at a respected political level of the problems and potential problems caused by Islam in Liberal societies, and, in the way we discuss measures to combat terrorism, discuss what we should and will do about it. I fear not.

We have started 2008 in the UK with a prime example of the difficulties. The Bishop of Rochester has drawn attention to the self-segregation of Muslims in the UK and the enclaves they have created which he says have become "no go" areas for Christians.

Of course, the bishop's use of the term "no-go" was a mistake. It has too many wrong meanings. The PC roof has fallen on his head, political figures from right, left and centre are falling over themselves to criticise or distance themselves from the bishop.

But the bishop is essentially right. There are a growing number of places of increasing size in the UK where the culture around you is Islamic. Mohamed in its various spellings is now the most popular name for a boy in the UK. The bishop didn't say it, so I will say it for him. It wont be long before these Islamic communities will be demanding Sharia law. It is already happening on an informal level. What then Liberty?

Not all Muslims, perhaps only a minority, believe and practice the aspects of their religion that are so inimical to free societies:

- women are essentially male possessions

- death is a just punishment for apostasy and insulting Islam or the prophet

- that Islam trumps all other religions

- Muslims have a sacred duty to impose Islam, by force if necessary

to name a few of the worst. But these beliefs and practices cast a dark shadow wherever Muslims live.

The bodies that claim to represent Muslim in western countries are usually part of the problem. Smart suits and PR officials are no guarantee of a modern outlook or reasonableness.

The secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain when asked `Is stoning ever justified?' replied `It depends what sort of stoning and what circumstances". He also thinks arranged marriages are a good idea and we in the UK should try them. His predecessor, whom the UK government rubbed shoulders with, is notorious for having said of Salman Rushdie that death was too good for him.

Perhaps a very great danger for us is not having a clear idea of what or who represents a form of Islam that can truly be part of a Liberal society [4]

These are the sorts of issues that I wish Professor Grayling had given more space to and, from his philosophical standpoint, offered some ideas on how they can be dealt with.

Notes

[1] That a high American official made out a case for torture must have had Torquemada laughing in his grave.

[2] Professor Grayling is spot on in his criticism of the UK ID card scheme. I speak with some authority having studied the subject. Prof Grayling refers readers to the press in general to learn more about this nonsense, to which I would add and strongly recommend the Report and Evidence published by the UK Parliamentary Committee concerned with home affairs. The pages of my copy are stained with tears of laughter and rage.

[3] Having read this book I checked out Amazon readers comments on other works by Prof Grayling. I was shocked at the virulence of some of the attacks on him because he is, apparently, an atheist.

[4] Irshad Manjii in an excellent review of "Arguing the Just War in Islam" a recent book by John Kelsay, writes:

The moderates whom Kelsay has studied "do not in fact dissent from the militant judgement that current political arrangements are illegitimate. Some moderates agree with militants that "democracy" implies a kind of moral equivalence between Islam and other perspectives. And such a situation is dangerous not only for the standing of the Muslim community, but for the moral life of humankind"

[International Herald Tribune, 5-6 January, 2008]

I would add to this that 25 percent of UK Muslims sympathised with the London bombers.
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