Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

Jul 14, 2021 by

from Christian Concern:

Tim Dieppe reviews the latest book by Carl Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution
Carl R. Trueman
Crossway, 432pp, 2020, £17.30 hardback (Amazon)

How did society ever come to accept that someone can be ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’? This is the question that prompted Carl Trueman to write this book. Just a few generations ago, a claim to be ‘trapped in the wrong body’ would have been regarded as nonsensical, yet today even questioning such a claim is regarded as immoral or as evidence of being ‘transphobic’. How did we get to this point, whereby the separation of gender from sex, of biology from identity – a statement that collapses feminism and dismantles family – became plausible?

Trueman starts by looking at the work of Phillip Rieff whose book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, articulates a simple model to describe how cultures have developed over time. First was political man, exemplified in Plato and Aristotle, who obtained his sense of self primarily from engaging in public life. Second is religious man which describes the Middle Ages when people found their primary sense of self from involvement in religious activities. Third came economic man where the sense of self is obtained primarily through economic activity – this is Marx and modernity. Finally, we have psychological man whose identity is primarily found in the inward quest for psychological happiness. It is this later shift to the emphasis on individual satisfaction, which Trueman calls ‘expressive individualism’, and which accurately describes contemporary culture. It makes our culture highly individualistic, and ultimately relativises all meaning and truth to personal taste.

Here already we can see how psychological man makes the individual sovereign and enables him to make his own identity. Practices and preferences become linked to identities, and since identities are sovereign, they become beyond critique. It is not enough for society to tolerate my identity; it must recognise it and approve of it. Hence, we have ‘hate speech’ which does psychological harm, and therefore ought to be prohibited. Freedom of speech therefore becomes part of the problem, rather than a solution. Naturally there should also be legal recognition and rights for all sorts of identities, which leads to same-sex ‘marriage’, for example.

Read here

Read also: The Road to Sexual Revolution: Carl Trueman and the Modern Self, by R J Snell, Public Discourse

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, Carl Trueman, from Christianity Today

Five books from 2020: prophetic messages for 2021 By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Collin Hansen in conversation with Carl Trueman, The Gospel Coalition

Western culture and the sexual self – the contemporary challenge to the Christian view of human identity and sexual behaviour By Martin Davie, Reflections of an Anglican Theologian

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