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Towards The Light
Towards The Light AN INTENSE, HISTORICAL and ground-breaking read, Towards the Light: The Story of the Struggles for Liberty and Rights that Made the Modern West is thoroughly absor-bing and fascinating I didn't want to put it down.

It is a compulsive explanation of how we acquired our civil liberties and why we are now at risk of losing them in the name of the war on terror.

We all take our freedom for granted. Women now have the vote and the same expectations from their educat-ion and careers as men. But do you know how hard all rights were fought for over hundreds of years? How would you react if your basic rights were taken away? A very human story, Towards the Light: The Story of the Struggles for Liberty and Rights that Made the Modern West is an inspirational and authoritative history of ideas in action, written by A C Grayling, one of Britain's leading intellectuals.

From the conflicts of the 15th and 16th Centuries, the book brings
you closer to the push towards a greater independence and individual liberty. Experience the clashes in 17th Century Europe; The Thirty Years War and the English Civil War — these and other landmark events in history are documented.

When Servetus was burned at the stake it was a turning point: it prompted the 16th Century to question religious liberty and the incid-ent pricked the conscience of distinguished scholar Sebastian Castellio. Two months earlier, in August 1553, Castellio was made a Master of Arts in the University of Basel. His attack on the incident became the rallying cry for liberty in matters of belief and he published a book — Concerning Heretics, Whether they are to be Persecuted — under the pseudonym of Martin Bellius, to protect himself. Religious liberalism was thereafter known as Bellianism.

Under absolutism, the king is answerable only to God. One of the few contemporary French critics of Louis XVI, Jurieu, claimed that there had been a scheme early in Louis' reign to confiscate all private property and rent it back to it former owners in order to fill the royal coffers, but it was (sensibly!) shelved indefinitely. Probably just as well — there might have been a Revolution! As indeed there was, for quite different reasons, in 18th Century France and in America. Monarchies fell to be replaced by representative forms of government; but these in turn made possible the abolition of slavery and, later, rights for working men and women, universal education, the enfranchisement of women and the idea of universal human rights and freedoms. The stories of both celebrated and little known heroes are skilfully woven together and include Martin Luther, John Locke, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King JR, whose leadership of the US civil rights movement was itself inspirational.

Imagine what it must be like to languish in prison for your beliefs;
being a slave in the fields; going hungry in rags to a factory before dawn. Living a life on the edge of society, excluded from success
and privilege.

In 416 BC Athenian forces sacked Melos and massacred its inhabitants because the city would not side with Athens in its war against Sparta. When Melos tried to negotiate with Athens, they were told: "You know as well as we do that right is only in question between equals in power, for the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." And that, despite any Court of Human Rights, is as true today as it has ever been.

How much power does the British House of Commons wield over the country? In theory it can, by simple majority, do more or less anything it wishes. In practice, however, the restraint of public opinion, press comment, the prospect of future elections, tradition, recalcitrant back-bench MPs and — if we're lucky — common sense and humanity restrain it.

The triumphs and sacrifices of hard won victories highlight how fragile and precious these rights are — especially in an age when democratic governments under pressure sometimes claim it is necessary to restrict rights in the name of freedom. Grayling sums up the repercussions of such restrictions in a powerful and "enlightening" epilogue.

There are five Appendixes detailing: The Bill of Rights 1689; The United States Bill of Rights 1791; The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, approved by the National Assembly of France, 26 August, 1789; The six points of the People's Charter; and The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Further notes and explanations and a Bibliography are extremely useful. There are also sixteen pages of colour and black-and-white illustrations.

Towards the Light: The Story of the Struggles for Liberty and Rights that Made the Modern World is published by Bloomsbury in hardback.
It is available now from all good bookshops at a price of 20.00 (ISBN 978074583868).

* A C Grayling is one of the most esteemed philosophers in the UK today. He is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and is the author of the bestselling The Meaning of Things, The Reason of Things and, most recently, Among the Dead Cities. He believes that philosophy should take an active, useful role in society. He has been a regular contributor to publications such as The Times, Financial Times, Observer, Economist, New Statesman and Prospect and is a frequent contributor to radio and television programmes, including Newsnight, Today, Start the Week and CNN news. He was a Man Booker judge in 2003, is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum and advises on many committees ranging from Drug Testing at Work through to human rights groups.