Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism

Larry Siedentop

My review 2016-08-13

This is the most provocative and inspiring book I have read in a long time. It challenges the idea that Western liberalism was born during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Instead, Larry Siedentop maintains that the crucial ingredients are found in St Pauls invention of Christianity, in particular the idea that all humans are equal before God, combined with a modified rationalism from Greece and Rome. The struggle between and within church and state in the context of the dissolution of the Roman empire, and the interaction between ideas and society during the Middle Ages laid the essential groundwork for the idea of secularity, among other things. The main intellectual inventions required for liberalism were already in place before the Renaissance. Please note that the author does not maintain that liberalism requires faith in Christianity, only that it grew out of it. The writing is clear and straightforward. The only criticism I have is that the author hammers home his thesis a little too often.