Trueman is convinced that the changes we have seen in sexual mores since the 1960s are symptomatic of the deeper changes “in how we think of the purpose of life, the meaning of happiness, and what actually constitutes people’s sense of who they are and what they are for.”
“I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” While this is a phrase we have grown accustomed to hearing in recent years, it is a phrase that would have been incomprehensible to those who lived and died just a couple of generations in the past. While it is full of meaning today, it would have been void of meaning back then. So what has happened in recent decades to make that phrase make sense? What has happened to make it so normal that to deny it today is to be marked as a behind-the-times bigot?
The origins of Carl Trueman’s new book lie in his curiosity about how and why that very statement has come to be understood as both coherent and meaningful. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is essentially a 400-page exploration of the Western world’s evolving understanding of the self. For as much as we might attribute the phrase to the sexual revolution, Trueman is convinced that the changes we have seen in sexual mores since the 1960s are symptomatic of the deeper changes “in how we think of the purpose of life, the meaning of happiness, and what actually constitutes people’s sense of who they are and what they are for.” To understand how a man can actually be a woman trapped in a man’s body we must understand “how and why a certain notion of the self has come to dominate the culture of the West [and] why this self finds its most obvious manifestation in the transformation of sexual mores.” With all that in place, the study could only be complete if it considers “what the wider implications of this transformation are and may well be in the future.”
Trueman divides the book into four parts. In the first he introduces basic concepts and key figures that will show up time and again. Central to his understanding of society’s changes are three philosophers: Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and to a lesser extent, Alasdair McIntyre. By examining their work he introduces concepts like “the triumph of the therapeutic,” “psychological man,” “anticulture,” and “social imaginary.” Each of these terms shows up again and again, so the reader would do well to read slowly and to jot down definitions.