FREEDOM by Orlando Patterson


Vol. I: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture
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 The first half of a comprehensive history of the development of Western notions of liberty and freedom. Harvard sociologist Patterson (Slavery and Social Depth, 1982, etc.) goes beyond the usual framework of intellectual history to show how European culture gave birth to, and was itself formed by, the concept of personal liberty. Patterson begins with the thesis that the idea of freedom was generated reactively--that is, in response to the daily spectacle of institutionalized slavery. To be free was, most obviously, not to be a slave. The Peloponnesian War, by subjecting an unprecedented number of captives to slavery, brought the awareness of freedom to the fore of society's attention as never before and provided the impetus for much of Greek drama and philosophy, Patterson says. The notion of the slave as someone legally dead, whose life was forfeit by circumstance and who lived only through the will of the master, created an intellectual tension that was answered by concepts of tragedy and redemption. These ideas were later amplified by the Roman stoics, but it was only in the nascent cult of Christianity--and preeminently in the writings of St. Paul and St. Augustine--that they reached their most systematic development. Patterson is at pains to show also that the sensibility to issues of freedom and constraint is a particularly ``feminine'' process, since women always and everywhere comprised the great majority of those enslaved. His examination of the Middle Ages lacks the penetration of his view of antiquity, but he manages to depict the fledgling birth of nationalism and absolutism as they arose out of the struggles for loyalty engendered by urbanization and rising prosperity. A profound and authoritative work that breaks new ground in its approach and will possibly alter the course of social studies for years to come.

Pub Date: June 27th, 1991
ISBN: 0-465-02535-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991