Inventing the Individual

The Origins of Western Liberalism

  • Engels
  • 1e druk
  • 9780674417533
  • december 2014
  • Hardcover
  • 416 pagina's
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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. Inventing the Individual tells how a new, equal social role, the individual, arose and gradually displaced the claims of family, tribe, and caste as the basis of social organization. Asking us to rethink the evolution of ideas on which Western societies and government are built, Siedentop contends that the core of what is now the West's system of beliefs emerged earlier than we commonly think. The roots of liberalism--belief in individual freedom, in the fundamental moral equality of individuals, in a legal system based on equality, and in a representative form of government befitting a society of free people--all these were pioneered by Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages who drew on the moral revolution carried out by the early Church. These philosophers and canon lawyers, not the Renaissance humanists, laid the foundation for liberal democracy in the West.


A most impressive work of philosophical history.--Robert Skidelsky [Siedentop] has produced what amounts to a high-altitude survey of Western ideas, meant to show that the ideal of the autonomous individual and the fact of a pluralistic civil society are both in important respects outgrowths of Christianity...Larry Siedentop has written a philosophical history in the spirit of Voltaire, Condorcet, Hegel, and Guizot. Serious scholars of history will always pick holes in these works. Yet at their most cogent and pointed, such frankly polemical metanarratives of human history help us to understand better not just the history of the present (to borrow a phrase), but also ourselves. At a time when we on the left need to be stirred from our dogmatic slumbers, Inventing the Individual is a reminder of some core values that are pretty widely shared.-- (05/04/2015) With Inventing the Individual, Siedentop is not trying to reveal a hidden or suppressed religious impulse in Western modernity but rather attempting to trace a lost genealogy. He sees modern secularism, and its freedoms, as Christianity's gift to human society.-- (12/19/2014) It is a magnificent work of intellectual, psychological and spiritual history. It is hard to decide which is more remarkable: the breadth of learning displayed on almost every page, the infectious enthusiasm that suffuses the whole book, the riveting originality of the central argument or the emotional power and force with which it is deployed. Siedentop takes us on a 2,000-year journey that starts with the almost inconceivably remote city states of the ancient world and ends with the Renaissance. In the course of this journey, he explodes many (perhaps even most) of the preconceptions that run through the public culture of our day--and that I took for granted before reading his book. Inventing the Individual is not an exercise in dry-as-dust antiquarianism, still less in pop-historical fun and games. Siedentop's aim has a breathtaking grandeur about it: to persuade us to ask ourselves who we are and where we are going by showing us where we have come from. A challenging epilogue suggests that the answers are not very flattering.-- (09/25/2014) Siedentop's argument should change the way we look at both the Middle Ages and the formation of the modern nation-state.--Randy Rosenthal Tweed's (04/29/2015) In his brilliant book Inventing the Individual, Larry Siedentop paints a vivid portrait of the closed world of pagan antiquity.--Matthew J. Franck First Things (02/24/2015) In this learned, subtle, enjoyable and digestible work [Siedentop] has offered back to us a proper version of ourselves. He has explained us to ourselves... [A] magisterial, timeless yet timely work.--Douglas Murray The Spectator Like the best books, Inventing the Individual both teaches you something new and makes you want to argue with it.--Kenan Malik The Independent

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  • Een boeiende geschiedenis van het individu.
    • Overzichtelijk
    • Heldere boodschap

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    Een onverwachte invalshoek voor een geschiedenis van het Liberalisme en de Verlichting, namelijk vanuit de christelijke wortels en de apostel Paulus als een van de eersten die het individu als zelfstandig persoon herkende. Inspirerend.

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december 2014
1e druk
19,8 x 12,9 x 3,6 cm
Aantal pagina's
416 pagina's


Larry Siedentop
Harvard University Press



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The Origins of Western Liberalism

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