Do you ever hear the record scratch on your life as everything seems to pause around you, causing you to wonder, “How did we get here?” You look around you at how the world has changed in the last few years and realize that you can barely recognize how things are compared to the past. When I think back twenty years, I remember growing up in the United Kingdom in a world where things were much different. People with hair dyed in unnatural colors, different sexual orientations, and many genders beyond the traditional two were virtually unheard of.
When we think about all the things which have changed in the last twenty years, it is quite concerning to wonder what will be different in the next twenty years. Where things like homosexuality were once frowned upon, we wonder what will be considered normal in the future, which is currently frowned on today. I could attempt to speculate on what may or may not happen in the future, but perhaps such speculation would be more destructive than helpful.
Seeing this rapid change that happens, seemingly before our very eyes, Carl Trueman has set out to produce a history to explain that silence when the record scratch causes everything to pause. The story in his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self seeks to lay the historical foundation of politics and philosophy, bringing us to today’s modern sexual liberation. It is a long story and very detailed, but very much worth reading. If you have, you are ready, sit back, and read Trueman’s book as he unfolds history before your eyes and shows you the foundations of today’s liberality.
The first thing that should be noted is that Trueman is not writing an opinion in his book. The book is simply a survey of the historical context of what led to the sexual revolution. Readers may be surprised to learn that what has changed in this world since the turn of the twenty-first century is something that has been happening for hundreds of years.
Truman begins his survey with Rosseau, who lived about three hundred years ago. This is the starting point as Trueman shows that: “While Rosseau may well be little read [in fact, you probably never heard of him until now], or even unknown, to the majority of the West’s inhabitants today, it should be clear from the above [the information presented in the book] that many of his ideas have become the commonplace assumptions of Western culture.”[i] As Trueman shows, modern society is bound up in Rousseau’s philosophy of psychology. This philosophy focused on the inward psychological life. This states Trueman: “Should, for example, be clear that some such construction of freedom and selfhood as that offered by Rosseau is at work in the modern transgender movement.”[ii] Trueman reasons this by showing how Rosseau saw himself as separated from the constraints of modern culture in his freedom of psychological expression.
The next step on the road to the sexual revolution is found in two contemporaries: Wordsworth and Shelly. Again, readers of this article have probably never heard of these people, yet their impact on the present day is, according to Trueman, significant. These characters built on the self-love, feeling-based attitude of Rosseau. The story begins to unfold further as Wordsworth builds on the inner sentimentalism of Rosseau. Following this, Shelly takes the same stage, emphasizing naturality as did his older contemporary, Wordsworth. These men lived in the 1800s. It is immediately apparent that the way has already been paved for both freedoms of expression based on what “feels” right and the naturalist movement that cares about “nature” more than morality.
The final three key thinkers are no strangers to most people. The way of naturalistic subjectivism has been paved. Now the world would build on that with entirely new ideas surrounding science, politics, and philosophy. These emphasize come on the heels of Nietzche, Marx, and Darwin. Nietzche continues the self-centered attitude of Wordsworth and Shelly with his egotistical views about his own nature. This follows Marx’s takes on equality. Finally, Darwin provided an excellent escape for anybody who wanted to deny the existence of God, using evolution as an attempt to escape from the all-seeing eye of God.
Trueman shows in excellent detail how the last three hundred years have led up to today. First, the world began to see things in the light of subjective emotionalism, then the idea of self-love came in full force with the light of egalitarianism stretching over the horizon. Finally, people found their escape from God by adopting evolution so that their inner expressions could take whatever form they wanted without worrying about angering a sovereign deity. The way was paved for the sexual revolution.
Trueman, furthermore, goes on to show how Freud sexualized psychological thinking by making everything about repressed sexual desires and thoughts. This led to all of the above philosophy being combined with sex, and suddenly, we have the sexual revolution ready to rear its head and pull the world into its sway. After showing this in detail, Trueman then explains how this led to the sexual revolution. This revolution then created the path for the LGBT movement to be created to respond to what has been deemed further sexual repression of minorities.
This is a very short summary of Trueman’s book’s content, and I hope it serves as a very brief guide to help you understand the “timeline” of Trueman’s book.
Have you ever had that record scratch moment? Do you want to know how society became so hyper-sexualized and how things are entirely different from the world you knew when you were growing up? If you want such a historical summary of this, then look no further than Trueman’s book.
This is a lengthy yet fantastic summary of the philosophy of thought over the last three hundred years. While not easy to read for those who are not used to reading such things, I thoroughly recommend that as many people as possible, non-Christian and Christian, read this work and learn about the foundations of the philosophy of our current society.
I hope that this book will spark off more academic discussion on the subject of sexual freedom. It is not about who is the minority and who has been poorly treated in the past. It is about what is objectively right and objectively wrong. I hope this book will encourage discussion, rather than the “you persecute us” card, which gets thrown down every time the discussion gets a little more than some people can handle. May we all learn how to better engage with the culture around us, and may we be helped to seek the truth in this postmodern culture in which we all live.
[i] Trueman. C. R. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution. Crossway. Wheaton: IL. (2020). 124.
[ii] IBID. 125.