Thank God for liberalism

Jan 6, 2021 by

by Tomiwa Owolade, UnHerd:

Our understanding of individual rights is rooted in religion — not a reaction against it.

Where did liberalism come from? According to Ian Dunt in his book How To Be A Liberal — which, despite the title, is not a self-help guide —  it started with René Descartes. Dunt’s book is a historical account of how liberal ideas emerged, and the subsequent routes they’ve taken up until the present day. It offers the conventional narrative, shared by many on the Left and Right, that liberal thought is opposed to tradition, authority, and religion.

Liberalism, the story goes, emerged with the dawn of science in seventeenth century Europe. Instead of “finding certainty in god”, Descartes found it “in the individual”. Each human became “not a subsection of our family, or class, or tribe, or religion, or race, or nation,” writes Dunt. “We are individuals. We can think for ourselves. We have a capacity for reason. This was the philosophical truth that emerged from the ruins of the world certainties.” 

[,,,]  If any individual could be said to have conceived liberalism, it would be the father of Christianity, St. Paul, in the first century. As Larry Siedentop writes in his book Inventing the Individual, “Followers of Jesus began to claim his sacrificial life and death amounted to a dramatic intervention in history, a new revelation of God’s will”. This, not Descartes’s epiphany, was the insight that gave rise to the concept of the individual:

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