“There is nothing to be gained from refuting a straw man,” writes historian Carl Trueman toward the start of his new book.
Christian authors, take note. Trueman has written a page-turner aimed at laypeople to narrate the historic transformation in how we see our selves that led to the sexual revolution of the twentieth century and gives it such enduring power. And he’s done so with no ax-grinding asides or ad hominem attacks.
Pick up this book and you’ll actually understandRousseau and Nietzsche, Marx and Freud, Marcuse and de Beauvoir. Trueman doesn’t walk in lockstep with them, but he makes you feel the force of their arguments and understand how others could.
The origins of Rise and Triumph lie in Trueman’s curiosity about how and why the following statement is now coherent and meaningful to millions of people: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” He traces the story like this (click the links for short talks from Trueman on each step):
First, the self was psychologised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other Enlightenment and Romantic figures who turned inward to find identity. Oscar Wilde's vision of human identity as a public performance looms large.
Then, the self was sexualised by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis.
Trueman seamlessly shows how each of these revolutions play themselves out in our public debates about pornography, same-sex marriage, and personhood. The book culminates with the triumph of transgender ideology and its uneasy fit with its LGB neighbours. Few books that undertake such a sweeping historical task are as readable and illuminating as The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. Whether you agree with Trueman's conclusions or not, the story he tells is deeply clarifying, even essential for grasping the roots of our current moment. Read an excerpt or check out the book. Trueman is a brilliant teacher too, so don't miss "Makers of the Modern Revolution", a series of eight, twenty-minute talks that unpack the book's ideas.