From Torquemada to the War on Terror: A Review of AC Grayling’s Latest Book, “Toward the Light of Liberty”

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 latest book, Toward the Light of Liberty (2007) is every bit as valuable as the writings of his secular compatriots.

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 thus 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 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.

Grayling is not as polemical as Dawkins or Hitchens, but he is every bit as intelligent and interesting to read.

Here’s the book at Amazon:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to From Torquemada to the War on Terror: A Review of AC Grayling’s Latest Book, “Toward the Light of Liberty”

  1. Wim Klever says:

    But came to his consent-theoryby reading Spinoza. He was a Spinozist in disguise.

  2. Pingback: Nietzsche’s checkmate: does atheism lead to totalitarianism? « Prometheus Unbound

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