At the start of the third Christian millenium we are aware of massive political, economic and ideological changes which condition the chances for liberty, wealth and equality. Yet it is surprisingly difficult for us to understand these forces, for we cannot see what surrounds us so closely. This book stands back from our predicament in order to discover some of the pressures which have made the development of human civilizations in the past so slow and then what has radically altered slmost every feature of human experience in the last 300 years. It does so through the study of four great thinkers who lived between 1689 and 1994: Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Tocqueville and Ernest Gellner. By weaving their lives together and through detailed use of their own words we can see how they approached these large questions. Through them we can begin to understand how we are shaped and what conditions our future.


1 The Riddle of the Modern World

I Liberty

2 Baron de Montesquieu's Life and Vision

3 Liberty and Despotism

4 The Defence of Liberty

II Wealth

5 Adam Smith's Life and Vision

6 Growth and Stasis

7 Of Wealth and Liberty

8 From Predation to Production

III Equality

9 Alexis de Tocqueville's Life and Vision

10 'America' as a Thought Experiment

11 How the Modern World Emerged

12 Liberty, Wealth and Equality

IV An Answer to the Riddle?

13 Ernest Gellner and the Conditions of the Exit

14 The Riddle Resolved?