This is the first in (what will hopefully be) a series of posts summarising A.C. Grayling’s non-fiction text Towards the Light. I have always found it difficult to retain information from non-fiction texts, and so the aim of these posts is to capture Grayling’s main ideas and (hopefully) elucidate his important arguments. This is mainly a learning process for me. As such, I do not intend for these recaps to contain in-depth analysis as much of the history and content in this book is unfamiliar to me. However, I may add some of my thoughts and extra research if I feel that particular points are especially interesting.
Setting the Scene (Summary)
The Big Picture
- Today, many of us enjoy fundamental rights such as education and the freedom to participate in political processes, rights which only the aristocracy could enjoy in the sixteenth century. These rights were extremely hard-won, built on the blood and sweat of those who firstly challenged the dominance of a single church and then fought against absolute monarchy. Religious liberty and representative government were key achievements in the gradual and precipitous path to modern Western liberty. Grayling argues that they paved the way for a more tolerant and educated society with even more desire for liberty, and that from this a multitude of milestones were achieved, including enfranchisement of women and the abolition of slavery.
- However, recently, a new threat to our liberty has emerged. With warfare, clear boundaries can be set; the divide between “us” and “them” is obvious. On the other hand, “terrorism… is insidious, secret, unpredictable, treacherous [and]… comes as much from within a given society as from outside it”. When boundaries are unclear, what do societies do to protect themselves?
“They begin, by small but dangerous increments, to cease to be as liberal as they once were. They begin to restrict their own hard-won rights and freedoms as a protection against the criminal minority who attempt to terrorise society.”
- Today’s leaders do not perceive our freedoms as being precious in a way that previous generations did, and are increasingly willing to abrogate those rights in order to reduce the costs of protecting them. Many of us take those liberties for granted, and even as our rights are eroded one by one, it appears that we are mostly indifferent towards such a significant issue.
- AC Grayling conveys this book’s core message:
“In telling the story of this endeavour I count its cost I hope to drive home the worth of what it achieved; by reminding ourselves of its worth I hope that we can be encouraged to fight to save it…”
- Grayling will first illustrate society in the preceding centuries, a world where religious liberty was not tolerated and explore the brave figures who challenged this status quo. We can only appreciate the colossal achievements of our forebears if we understand the frightening consequences of a general disregard for human rights.
I found Grayling’s writing fairly easy to navigate, and his arguments are relevant to the trajectories of certain Australian laws (such as the consorting laws) which restrict the liberty of individuals for “public safety”. It would be interesting to read Australia’s terrorism laws and analyse them in light of the concepts discussed here. Furthermore, Grayling’s interspersion of imagery and evocative language amongst his arguments instilled in me a sense of pathos and pride for the brave souls who fought for their liberty, and for OUR liberty, at the cost of their lives. The liberty that they secured is now ours to protect, and it is imperative that we do not forget this.
“The great endeavours, the courage, the striving and the persistence with which, molecule by molecule, the rich and powerful had their fingers prised off their monopolies of power and their hegemonies over opportunity and freedom, constitute one of the great monuments of the human spirit.”
A fascinating introduction to a fascinating topic. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this book! I don’t know yet if summarising the key points is the most efficient way to retain knowledge but it certainly helped consolidate my understanding of Grayling’s arguments. Free to comment and provide feedback – I’m always looking to improve! 🙂