BOOK REVIEW – Tirso Virgos
“Inventing the Individual” by Larry Siedentop, 2014.
Shortly after the publication of the book, Larry Siedentop wrote an article in the Financial Times denouncing the ‘moral tepidity’ of the West. The West obsessively equated liberalism with secularism and neutrality, ignoring the Medieval period, which was associated with darkness, ignorance, and superstition. Siedentop’s book, appropriately titled ‘Inventing the Individual’, provides a new genealogy of liberalism, giving a completely novel account of how the seeds for the appearance of this ideology were sown. Instead of looking to John Locke, Adam Smith or the Enlightenment, Siedentop finds the ‘origins of Western Liberalism’ in Christianity.
This book is not a History of European Liberalism, but instead a history of its roots or the preconditions for the apparition of liberalism. Siedentop argues that at present, liberalism is obsessed with ideas of neutrality and non-perfectionism and that this weakened the West vis-à-vis the postulates of ideologies such as radical Islamism, which are at odds with these principles. Part of the problem, he says, comes from historical misunderstandings, including the attribution of secularism to ancient Greece and Rome, and to the aspiration to construct political ideologies that are inspired by these false memories. Instead, we should look at the ‘Dark Ages’ for our origins, an age that has been unfairly mistreated, where the preconditions for the development of the freedoms of today were established.