Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism

By Dougherty, Jude P. | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism


Dougherty, Jude P., The Review of Metaphysics


SIEDENTOP, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014. viii + 434 pp.--Does it still make sense to still talk about the West in what some call a "post-Christian world"? Larry Siedentop, Emeritus Fellow of Keble College, Oxford, asks, "Can the West still be defined in terms of shared beliefs?" Professor Siedentop answers his own question with a weak "yes." His answer is qualified because those who live in nations once described as part of Christendom seem to have lost contact with their cultural heritage and certainly with their moral bearings. Yet, it remains a fact that Western culture is founded on a set of shared beliefs that are manifestly Christian in their origin. In Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, Siedentop shows how certain key notions, important to the secular mind, were developed under Christian tutelage. In a sweeping historical review of Western culture, Siedentop argues that it was Christianity that created the liberal ideas of "moral equality" and "natural rights," principles that the modern state takes for granted without reference to their origin and defense.

His narrative begins by contrasting pagan antiquity with the advent of Christianity. The most distinctive feature of Greek and Roman antiquity, he claims, is what may be called a "moral enclosure" in which the limits of personal identity are established by the limits of physical association and inherited social roles. Anyone who sought to live outside such associations and such ideas was called an "idiot." In contrast to class distinctions, which were understood as natural in pagan society, Christianity insisted on the moral equality of the person apart from any class or social role that he may occupy. It is this moral belief, Siedentop maintains, which constitutes a departure from the ancient world's understanding of natural law as "everything in its place," that is the ultimate source of the social order that has made the West what it is. Natural rights and relations of equality became understood as antecedent to both positive and customary law, largely as a result of medieval canon law.

Drawing on Roman law, under the patronage of the papacy, canon lawyers, in university settings such as Bologna, Padua, Paris, and Oxford, from the late eleventh century began to create a system of law for Christians founded on the assumption of moral equality. Canonists, basing their arguments on the "equality of souls in the eyes of God," advanced the notion that there is a moral law (natural law) superior to all human law. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.