Monday, September 5, 2022

"The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self" by Carl Trueman

Carl Trueman published The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution in November of 2020. For a book about philosophy, sociology, psychology, cultural history, and religion, its success has been something of a surprise. But the book’s success is well-deserved.  

The book addresses a question so many of us have had: how did Western culture, and American culture, enter the Twilight Zone so quickly? Trueman’s answer: It wasn’t quick; it’s been coming at least since the 18th century. 


With impressive scholarship, he walks the reader through a history of intellectual thought, beginning with Jean Jacques Rousseau; Romanticism; Frederick Nietzsche, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx in the 19th century; and Sigmund Freud in the 20th. He doesn’t neglect the work of related thinkers, like Simone de Beauvoir and Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer. 


What Trueman shows is that none of these thinkers operated (or still operate) in a vacuum; they influenced each other, they built upon each other; they operated with many of the same attitudes and beliefs. The key connection for what we confront today is that of Marx and Freud, or what Trueman calls “sexualizing the revolution.” What seems shocking but shouldn’t be is to understand the underpinnings of the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s and continues today has roots buried deep in Marxism.


Carl Trueman

What all is ultimately focused on is the chief goal of contemporary humanity, at least in Western culture – the full liberation of the self, usually identified by sexual identity. The idea of “feelings” is central, replacing evidence, fact, or even reality. Western elites appear to have embraced it all. And argument with people of differing views simply can’t happen; the mindset is so regimented that rational argument becomes impossible, replaced by ad hominin accusations, hysteria, and cancel culture. 


Trueman is a professor in the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies of Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He was educated at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge University, and the University of Aberdeen. Before Grove City College, he taught at the University of Aberdeen, University of Nottingham, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He’s an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He’s also the author of John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man, The Creedal ImperativeFools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, and Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative.


The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self doesn’t project where all of this is heading; that’s not Trueman’s purpose. His intent was more to explain where it all came from, because it wasn’t something that happened overnight. And it won’t be resolved overnight. But what is clear is that Western culture, and Western nations as we known them, are not sustainable with these kinds of forces tearing at the foundations. 

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