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9. The Victorian Essay II: Cultural Liberalism in the 19th Century Essays: John  Stuart Mill, John Henry Newman, Thomas Henry Huxley

     9.1. Terminological Clarifications

The terms –liberal– and –liberalism–were used with different meanings in the Victorian Age, when they had come only recently into usei.

In politics, the liberal state was the laissez-faire, non-interventionist state, the mere political tool or frame meant to serve the entrepreneurial interests of capitalism and the market place which were democratically shared in principle by means of  the political game that alternated Liberal and Conservative majorities elected in parliament or Conservative and Liberal Prime Ministers and Cabinets holding the executive power in turn. (See the first introductory lecture, p. 9 supra, for the exact chronology of the two political parties succeeding each other to power and of  the two renowned Prime Ministers, the Liberal William Ewart Gladstone, and the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli). The more progressive Liberal Party wanted to extend the entrepreneurial partnership to include the newest, non-conservative forces by opposing the older capitalists and their state policy.

The second department in which the word –liberalism– occurred, as an important discriminating label was within the Anglican or High Church, where there existed an opposition between Christian liberals and Tractarians. One branch of the Christian liberals was represented by the –Noetics– who had let themselves inspired by the scientific and rationalistic spirit of the age and criticized the Church as traditionalist from the inside, turning the Anglican articles of faith, as their opponents, the Oxford Movement Tractarians complained, into mere –articles of opinion– (cf. John Henry Newman, –Liberalism–, p. 937 in –The Oxford  Anthology of English Literature– volume II, from now on to be referred to with the acronym OAEL).

It is the purpose of this lecture to characterise a third brand of liberalism, termed cultural liberalism or intellectual liberalism and including a number of intellectual doctrines that were successfully defined in the domains of civic education, college learning and higher, university education and proposed by, respectively, John Stuart Mill, Cardinal John Henry Newman,Thomas Henry Huxley and Matthew Arnold. The last lecture on the essay will experimentally apply the grid of intellectual liberalism to further domains of  cultural life, namely to the more modern loci of humanism: aesthetics, literary and cultural theory, in an attempt to discriminate between various brands of  Victorian aesthetics and cultural analysis.

9.2. Liberal Intellectualism and Liberal Constructivism  - Their Application to Civic Education, College Learning and Higher, University Education. The General Form of the Liberal Discourse

We can start our discussion of cultural/intellectual liberalism by proposing two novel denominations: liberal intellectualism and liberal constructivism to refer to the two sides of the same conception, as follows: liberal intellectualism, a theory, offers the guiding  principles for the liberal practices of constructivism. Constructivism is a kind of applicative social structuralism AIMED AT CONSTRUCTING WORKABLE, EFFICIENT SYSTEMS devised in accordance with the principles of liberal intellectualism. Liberal intellectualism assumes that, by the observance of RATIONAL PRINCIPLES, by their lucid application, that is, by the observance of rigorous laws, THERE WILL RESULT PRAGMATICALLY FUNCTIONAL, OPERATIVE, PRODUCTIVE, JUST, AND HARMONIUS SYSTEMS. ii

In the domain of social existence, by assuming that all mature men are equal, free, capable of reasonable action, the lucid application of the rational, civic principles will lead to juster, more enlightened and harmonious civic arrangements, as well as to richer, juster standards of social existence.

In the formative branches of  speculative thinking, by constant training in liberal, disintersted knowledge, there will be obtained a more and more systematic and gradual –comprehensive view of truth– ; this will amount to awareness of provable knowledge wholes which can consequently be used creatively, for building up new ideas and for –making a man advance one step forward of himself– (These points are made by J.H. Newman in –The Idea of a University–, Discourse V, –Knowledge Its Own End–, PEV I, pp. 335 – 354 and Discourse VII, –Knowledge Viewed in Relation to Professional Skill–, OAEL, pp 912 et seq.)

Generally speaking, the theoretical side of liberalism is dominated by the key concept of KNOWLEDGE (lucidity), while the constructive, practical side of liberalism places at the centre the idea of UNITY in the guise of  SOCIAL HARMONY, obtainable by reasonable agreement or consensus among responsible, equal human beings.

It is as a result of the consistent theory and practice of liberalism that in the Victorian age there were established, as indicated in the second introductory lecture a number of new corpora of knowledge regulated into systems or departments of knowledge or disciplines, working and expanding according to clearly defined, rational laws. This lecture will look, in what follows, at a few of these new systems as instituted by: John Stuart Mill in –On Liberty– (1859), where he defines the principles and outcome of the just society consisting of equal, enlightened, just members; John Henry Newman, in –The Idea of a University– (1852) and –The Tamworth Reading Room– (1841) where he is indicating the principles, aims and best suited means for modern, liberal learning; T. H. Huxley, in –Science and Education– (1880) and Matthew Arnold in –Literature and Science–, one of his Discourses in America  delivered during an 1882 American tour, where general curricula are constructively and theoretically discussed.

One more general observation is in order here: making the assumption of harmony central  to their conceptions the cultural/intellectual liberals were obviously guided by a lay belief in man’s reasonable humanity and in his possibilities of using the world well, successfully controlling nature.This optimism they shared distinguished them from the Victorian intellectuals of the other fold who were probably more panicked by the critical developments which accompanied their century of material progress, the nostalgic Revivalists, like Carlyle, who turned towards a remote, pure, utopian past for solutions to their present course of history. The consequence of the liberal thinkers’ faith in reasonable man’s capacity of controlling nature is that they wrote a kind of prose that differed essentially from the impassioned, with Carlyle, –tantrum prose– of the escapists. The liberals’ prose of ideas had different themes from those of the emotionalists’ party and it should be classified as purer deliberative prose, taking its model to a varying extent from the discourse of science.

9.3. John Stuart Mill’s Liberal Discourse of  Civic Legitimation

The best theoretical mind of the 19th century, and of all times, possibly (with the highest IQ ever recorded by the American psychologists of today), John Stuart Mill offered in –On Liberty– (1859) an impressive handbook of liberal thinking, in both theory and practical argumentation. The same qualities of harmonious, clear, logically developing, –round– and lively prose of ideas can be encountered in all the texts anthologised in OAEL or PEV I, but we have chosen in addition to the excerpts from –On Liberty–, the essay on –Coleridge– which contains a good sample of his legitimating principles. (–On Liberty– was also translated into Romanian at Iași, by the –Polirom– Printing House)

     In –On Liberty–, chapter II, –On the Liberty of Thought and Discussion– (anthologized in PEV I, pp 507 – 535),  Mill applies the criteria of liberty to the particular case of public opinion. He bases his deliberative discourse, dominated by logical induction arguments, on the ethical imperative of human liberty as the pre-requisite for social harmony. Unflinchingly observed, just like axioms, his principles, conducive to civic harmony and thereby to liberty in the domian of public opinion, are:

1.    Truth is a socially defined function of several truths, pragmatic and synthetic. It is obtained as a combination that results after harmonising several partial truths, as can be possessed by real people in concrete circumstances. In his essay –Coleridge–, Mill shows that:

–All students of man and society (…) are aware that the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies, past or present, in social philosophy, both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though in the wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.– (PEV I p. 458)

And the nuances Mill is capable of detaching in matters of partial turths have practically no end–Thus, it is in regard to every important partial truth; there are always two conflicting modes of thought, one tending to give to that truth too large, the other to give it too small a place; and the history of opinion is generally an oscillation between these extremes.– (Ditto, p. 460)

It is possible to harmonize the conflicting modes, but only in the long run, and very gradually:

–Thus, every excess in either direction determines a corresponding reaction; improvement consisting only in this, that the oscillation, each time, departs rather less widely from the centre, and an ever-increasing tendency is manifested to settle finally in.– (Ditto, p. 461)

There is a kind of physical, mathematical necesity shown to be at work in this extremely rational model of human society, which proves the point made before, about the model of science underlying the clear, persuasive liberal discourse.

2.    Truth prevails over error (or as Mill calls error –human fallibility–), because it is possible to correct past errors and to learn from them, so that all times –there is just enough truth for correct action– (–On Liberty–, in PEV, p. 510).  Here, Mill’s theory veers into the moral and ethical realm, and it seems inspired by one of Jesus Christ’s own reassuring teachings to the disciples.

–There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life. (…) Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.– (Ditto)

The way to incline the balance in favour of truth by correcting error is, therefore, action. Here is the key of Mill’s pragmatic optimism which he inherited by means of a closely supervised education from his father, England’s greatest utilitarian philosopher, James Mill.

3.       Public opinion, discussion, is the complement of thought and experience, which are of necessity limited, just as the individual person is. Exchange of ideas and experience, however, if conducted according to the laws of justice and rationality, or if conducted fairly enough can correct errors and make humanity asymptotically approach in action what it cannot hope to attain in principle.

He (man in general, our note) is capable of rectifying his mistakes, by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong.– (PEV I, p. 511)

9.4. John Henry Newman’s Discourses at the Opening of the Catholic University of Dublin

A similar intellectual, theoretical, ethical and pragmatic view of truth is to be encountered in John Henry Newman’s discourse at the opening of the Catholic University of Dublin, –The Idea of a University– (Newman, the Anglican Oxford Movement mouthpiece in Tracts for the Times, had by this time become a Catholic prelate and was nominated rector of the newly established institution, as the whole of Ireland was, in the 19th century, part of the Union with Britain in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It had been part of the Liberal Party policy to export the successful Victorian institutions to the colonies, and to Ireland in particular, in order to pacify it). 

Newman’s discourse of legitimation proceeds again very judiciously (and therefore liberally) when presenting both what liberal knowledge and liberal education are and what they are not, showing, in addition, their joint effects. Actually Newman is the one Victorian essay-writer who uses the word –liberal– constantly and insistently.

For Newman, knowledge is first –made to consist in a comprehensive view of truth in all its branches, of the relations of science to science, of their mutual bearings, and their respective values– (PEV I, p. 338) . This is precisely like what Mill stated about truth in his essay on Coleridge.

Secondly, knowledge is characterised as being –capable of being its own end–, –not a preliminary of certain arts– (…) because that alone is liberal knowledge which stands on its own pretensions, which is independent of sequel, expects no complement, refuses to be informed (as it is called) by an end, or absorbed into any end, or in order to present itself to our contemplation. The most ordinary pursuits have this specific character, if they are self-sufficient and complete; the highest lose it, when they minister to something beyond them.– (PEV, p. 342) It is interesting to notice how Newman, a theologian by formation, pleads for theory with these words, which, of course, being written by a theologian are more authoritarian than the philosopher Mill’s; at the same time he is offering as an example for legitimately used knowledge theology itself. –Theology–, he continues a few paragraphs further, –instead of being cultivated as a contemplation, be[ing] limited to the purposes of the pulpit or be[ing] represented by the catechism, it loses, - not its usefulness, not its divine character, not its meritoriousness, - but it does lose the particular attribute which I am illustrating; just as a face worn by tears and fasting loses its beauty, or a labourer’s hand loses its delicateness; - for Theology thus exercised is not simple knowledge, but rather is an art or busines making use of Theology (our underlining). And in like manner the Baconian Philosophy, by using its physical sciences in the service of man, does thereby transfer them from the order of Liberal Pursuits to, I do not say inferior, but the distinct class of the Useful–. (PEV I pp. 342-3).

And discriminating further down in the hierarchy that was inaugurated by Mill with his description of pragmatic truth, after discriminating between knowledge as the source of all Liberal Pursuits and the class of the Useful pursuits, Newman affirms that:

      –it is more correct, as well as more usual, to speak of a University as a place of education, than of instruction, though, when knowledge is concerned , instruction would at first sight have seemed the more appropriate word. We are instructed, for instance, in manual exercises, in the fine and useful arts, in trades, and in ways of business; for these are methods, which have little or no effect upon the mind itself, are confined in rules committed to memory, to tradition or to use, and bear upon an end external to themselves. But education is a higher word; it implies an action upon our mental nature, and the formation of a character; it is something individual and permanent, and is commonly spoken of in connection with religion and virtue–

If Mill’s essay reassured people, stating that there is enough truth for the purposes of action, Newman transfers the necessary/sufficient criterion beyond action, back into the spiritual realm of –religion– and –virtue–, in so far as he opposes the Liberal to the Useful pursuits. Still, amazingly enough, they are both of them talking about the same ideally rational model regulating one domain of actual life. They are both of them dedicated to defining, circumscribing and in this way legitimating principles for their respective domains. Mill’s target is civic, as he contemplates the means for achieving harmonious coexistence of people in society; this is why he develops a system of ostensible relationships between truth and action. Newman’s target is educative first and civic only secondly, as he tries to isolate the optimum configurations for the transmission of  knowledge in a place of learning aimed at forming reliable, reasonable, instructed people capable of carrying culture further in a qualified way; this is why he will only employ the criterion of action to test and prove the quality of liberal knowledge in thoroughly liberal education . In Discourse VII –Knowledge Viewed in Relation to Professional Skill–, Newman circumscribes liberal knowledge, however, by indicating its contexts and effects in action. He isolates the man who possesses liberal knowledge in a legitimate way, namely, the man who possesses it from within the edifice, or from within the whole of knowledge. This man, the rector Newman declares, is an insider because he can –build up ideas–; on the contrary, the man who –may have no power at all of advancing one step forward of himself– is the man who reads without comparing and understanding each item of information in its own context.

Furthermore, Newman says: –All Knowledge is a whole and the separate Sciences parts of one–. There is no science but tells a different tale, when viewed as a portion of a whole, from what it is likely to suggest when taken by itself, without the safeguard, as I may call it of others.– (PEV I pp. 335 –6 ) When he speaks of –all knowledge–, Newman actually has in mind liberal knowledge, which can only be acquired in a university. He defines a university as –A seat of learning, considered as a place of education. An assemblage of learned men, zealous for their own sciences, and rivals of each other, are brought, by familiar intercourse and for the sake of intellectual peace to adjust  together the claims and relations of their respective subjects of investigation. Thus is created –a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which each student also breathes, though in his own case he can only pursue a few sciences out of the multitude. He profits by an intellectual tradition, which is independent of particular teachers, which guides him in his choice of subjects. (…) He apprehends the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great points and its little as he otherwise cannot apprehend them. Hence it is that his education is called –liberal–. A habit of mind is formed which lasts throughout life, of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom.– (PEV I, p. 337).

Exactly the same attributes formed the object of Mill’s plea for knowing the grounds of the opinion that an –almost liberal– person holds, in –Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion– (PEV I, pp 517 – 518).

9.5. –The Education of the Majority of Mankind– in Matthew Arnold and Thomas Henry Huxley’s Liberal Debates

9.5.1. Education and Humanism

In the realm of public education, it was again the liberal desideratum of social harmony that prompted those who tried to make reasonable decisions or comment upon them. Man being the target of education, the debates on education sprang from the views held by this or that thinker on the role man should play in social life.

 Education should form a strong, wholly developed man. Matthew Arnold states that education should not be mere training, even when it addresses the whole of the –industrious modern community–/ –the really useful and working part of the community–, (not the gentlemen who, like Pip the Londoner in –Great Expectations– only lived to spend inheritances). In –Literature and Science–, Arnold clearly addresses the various powers which go into the building up of human life:

-          the power of life

-          the power of intellect and knowledge

-          the power of beauty

-          the power of social life and manner 

      –At present it seems to me that those who are for giving to natural knowledge, as they call it [i.e.,  to positive sciences, our note] the chief place in the education of the majority of mankind, leave one important thing out of their account: the constitution of human nature (….) [These, the people who are for giving to natural knowledge the chief place] –can hardly deny that (…) the powers which go to the building up of human life (…) are the power of conduct, the power of intellect and knowledge, the power of beauty, and the power of social life and manners  (…) Human nature is built up by these powers; we have the need for them all. When we have rightly met and adjusted the claims of them all, we shall then be in a  fair way for getting soberness and righteousness, with wisdom.– (OAEL p.  1047).

Education should embrace the whole man; just as discussion was aimed at securing the synthetic truth required for purposes of liberal action, by summing up the various partial truths (cf.the paragraph above about John Sutart Mill’s civic liberalism); and it should aim at wholes just as an ideal university should offer a whole comprehensive frame for the harmonious development of the various departments or particular sciences. The aim of education is the creation of an ultimately powerful human individuality as perhaps the most important principle of liberal humanism. ( When we find quoted in J. S. Mill’s –On Liberty–, chapter VII some of Humboldt’s ideas that resemble Arnold’s almost word for word, it becomes clear that Arnold just like Mill, and like Carlyle, imported German ideas into Victorian Britain, via writers like Humboldt, Schiller and Goethe; liberalism is then, one opening of Victorianism to the metropolitan, Continental spirit dominant in the first half of the 19th century, the spirit of the German (romantic) thinking.) Compared to Arnold’s clear, didactic statements about the powers of the thoroughly educated man, chapter VII of Mill’s –On Liberty– argumentatively adds some pertinently consequent observations :

      –Nobody  denies that people should be so taught and trained in youth as to know and benefit by the ascertained results of human experience. But it is the privilege and proper condition of a human being, arrived at the maturity of his faculties, to use and interpret experience in his own way. It is for him to find out what part of recorded experience is properly applicable to his own circumstances and character.– And –(…)The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the custom makes no choice. He gains no practice either in discerning or in desiring what is best. The mental and moral, like the muscular, powers are improved only by being used. The faculties are called into no exercise by doing a thing merely because others believe it. If the grounds of an opinion are not conclusive to the person’s own reason, his reason cannot be strengthened, but is likely to be weakened by adopting it.– This is the pledge of Mill’s humanism in his views on general education: to strengthen man rather than weaken him by the misuse of reason, either because it is used in isolation or because it is not used at all. John Stuart Mill’s argument continues –He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision.  (…) It is possible that he might be guided in some good path, and kept out of harm’s way, without any of these things. But what will be his comparative worth as a human being? It really is of importance, not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the works of man which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first importance surely is man himself. Supposing it were possible to get houses built, corn grown, battles fought, causes tried, and even churches erected and prayers said by machinery – by automatons in human form- it would be  a considerable loss to exchange for these automatons even the men and women who at present inhabit the more civilized parts of the world, and who assuredly are but starved specimens built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.– (At this point, obviously, humanistic liberalism takes over the Carlylean argument against the materialistic conditioning of life and the labour force in the age of mechanism.)

9.5.2.  Education Targets and Curricula. The Battle Between the Idea(l) and the Useful

In his essay meant as a kind of report on the state of the art in general education at the middle of the Victorian age, Thomas Henry Huxley presents matters very briefly and detachedly, with both humour and clarity:

–In fact, there is a chorus of voices, almost distressing in their harmony, raised in favour of the doctrine that education is the great panacea for human troubles, and that, if the country is not shortly to go to the dogs, everybody must b e educated (…).

The politicians tell us, ’You must educate the masses because they are going to be masters.’ The clergy join in the cry for education, for they affirm that the people are drifting away from church and chapel into the broadest infidelity. The manufacturers and the capitalists swell the chorus lustily. They declare that ignorance makes bad workmen; that England will soon be unable to turn out cotton goods, or steam engines, cheaper than other people; and then, Ichabod! Ichabod! The glory will be departed from us. And a few voices are lifted up in favour of the doctrine that the masses should be educated because they are men and women with unlimited capacities of being, doing, and suffering, that it is as true now, as it ever was, that the people perish for lack of knowledge.– (PEV II, 693)

(This last sentence actually contains a humorous pick on what was presented earlier in the paragraphs about humanism in general or higher education). In response to those who would put passion, their blinding passion, instead of reason in obtaining the kind of education which suited their purposes (which people are obviously prompted by the Useful Pursuits, and not by the Liberal ones, as  Newman would put it in his –Idea of a University–, cf. supra, p 91), in response to these, Huxley makes an appeal to commonsense in his definition of the ideal liberal education: –What is education? Above all things, what is our ideal of thoroughly liberal education? – of that education which, if we could begin life again, we would give ourselves – of that education which, if we could mould the fates to our own will, we could give to our children?– (PEV II, p. 696) Though in the guise of a parenthetical and  rhetorical question, his definition is implicitly given when he repeats that the thoroughly liberal education is the one we would care to give to our own offspring or to graft on our fates and –mould them to our own will–. Secondly,  it is the merit of this essay by Huxley that it reconciles the various contentions about curricula by simply moving at a higher level than that of the individual social practices . We witness again here the liberal good-will, seeking the reconciliation by wisdom and reason of partial truths, that we had encountered in Mill’s essay.  –Education–, Huxley says, –is the instruction of the intellect in the laws of Nature, under which name I include not merely things and their forces, but men and their ways; and the fashioning of the affections and of the will into an earnest and loving desire to move in harmony with those laws.–(PEV II, 697)

But this reconciliation is valid only ideally, at the level of theory, whereas in practice, various schools will propose various curricula, according to the Useful rather than the –thoroughly liberal– ideal of Huxley or the –Liberal Pursuits– of Newman’s –Idea(l) of a University–.  For Huxley, in –A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It–, classical philology and classical history (in the ways in which his Victorian contemporaries taught them) are a kind of palaeontology of man :

–Classical history is a great section of the palaeontology of man; and I have the same double respect for it as for other kinds of palaeontology – that is to say, a respect for the facts which it establishes as for all facts, and a still greater respect for it as a preparation for the discovery of a law of progress.

       But if the classics were taught as they might be taught – if boys and girls were instructed in Greek and Latin, not merely as languages, but as illustrations of philological science; (…) if, lastly, the study of the classical books were followed in such a manner as to impress boys with their beauties, and with the grand simplicity of their statement of the everlasting problems of human life, instead of with their verbal and grammatical peculiarities; I still think it as little proper that they should form the basis of a liberal education for our contemporaries, as I should think it fitting to make that sort of palaeontology with which I am familiar, the back-bone of modern education.– (PEV II, pp. 706- 707)

This obviously implies that for people who respected facts and science, liberal education actually meant the modern education suited to the current knowledge and not to any inherited past models.

     The Victorian mid-century modernes also strove to eliminate something else from the paradigm of the –anciens– (French, in the text). The fact-school and the projectors in view of the Useful also left religious education on a secondary plan, or de-legitimated it as a tool for their ideal university or for their particular practical purposes. It was against this tendency that Cardinal Newman retaliated by writing long discourses in the press in the early 1840s but also by writing one of the greatest documents of modern religious faith that, paradoxically, the Victorian age left behind: his –Apologia Pro Vita Sua– (1863). (It is again paradoxical  that, in one note to his –Apology–, anthologised as a text called –Liberalism– in OAEL p. 937 et seq., Newman should reject liberalism, but not the same liberalism that he had advocated in the 1850s, when he had called liberal his ideal education in the ideal University;  in the –Apologia– he rejected religious liberalism while in his university education he upheld the ideal of the disinterested, liberal love of  knowledge) By expanding the principle of Christian belief into the optimum motor of human action through its power of healing hearts and demonstrating its heroic superiority for the purposes of action over all the other kinds of social cooperation by contract or emulation which liberalism in its most general acception always presupposes, Newman argues, in –The Tamworth Reading Room–, which comprises a series of polemical discourses written to counteract the discourse that the Liberal MP, Lord Brougham had made on the occasion of the opening of the first public library, i.e. the reading room, at Tamworth :

–Why, we are so constituted that Faith not Knowledge or Argument is our principle of action” ( PEV II, p. 327) and – independent of all other considerations, the greatest difference in practical light, betweren the object of Christianity and of heathen belief, is this – that glory, science, knowledge, and whatever other fine names we use, never healed a wounded heart, nor changed a sinful one; but the Divine Word is with power– (PEV II, p. 313).

     During his refutation of Lord Brougham’s declarations, Newman reviewed polemically both his adversaries’ tenets and his own, leaving the reader to infer the juster ideas: ’The old bond, he seems to say was Religion; Lord Brougham’s is Knowledge.’ From here by backward inference, Newman’s discourse would declare, in disregard of the past tenses with a hypothetical value in this context, that –Faith [was] once the soul of social union–… –Once, indeed, it was a living power, kindling hearts, leavening them with one idea, moulding them on one model, developing them into one polity– (PEV II, p. 320) If we leave out, as Newman obviously invites us to do, the opposition of the present with the past, then we should recognise the superiority of the Christian faith over the secular faith in achieving the goal of social harmony, embodied even for Lord Brougham by –the peace and good order of the community, and the easy working of the national machine– (PEV II, p. 319).

Newman becomes very eloquent when he outlines the place that Christianity should occupy in educating moral people: –Christianity and nothing short of it, must be made the element and principle of all education.  Where it has been laid as the first stone, and acknowledged as the governing spirit, it will take up into itself, assimilate, and give a character to literature and science. (…) The evidence of religion, natural theology, metaphysics, -or, again, poetry, history, and the classics, -or physics and mathematics, may all be grafted into the mind of a Christian, and give and take by the grafting. But if in education we begin with nature before grace, with evidences before faith, with science before conscience, with poetry before practice, we shall be doing much the same as if we were to indulge the appetites and passions, and turn a deaf ear to the reason. – (PEV II, p. 316) and he concludes, brilliantly, with an argument taken from the logic of nature which he puts to a spiritual use:

–In morals, as in physics, the stream cannot rise higher than its source. Christianity raises men from earth, for it comes from heaven; but human morality creeps, struts, or frets upon the earth’s level, without wings to rise. The Knowledge school does not contemplate raising man above himself; it merely aims at disposing of his existing powers and tastes, as is most convenient, or is practicable under circumstances.–(PEV II, p. 315)  Newman continues his argument, but for us it is already clear that the spiritual pathos underlying his beautiful prose is still the argument which is incompatible with the reasonable liberal’s view of man as potentially adult, perfectible, as Mill’s argumentation demonstrates so clearly. Newman, just as Carlyle, just as Matthew Arnold, especially in his poem –The Buried Life– assumes that man is –a frivolous baby–, an imperfect being, –not an Angel – a Sinner, not a Saint– (PEV II, p 315 infra). The idealists’ standard of man is placed very high and so their liberalism, even where it is present, is a liberalism in intention or in form  and not a full liberalism in spirit, as we could encounter it in the course of this lecture most rigorously and strongly expressed only in  Johh Stuart Mill’s texts.


i Actually, even in the 20th century there can be noted a similar vacillation in the reflection upon the meaning of –liberalism–, recorded and clarified by Kenneth Burke in the appendix to –The Philosophy of Literary Form–: –Liberalism’s Family Tree– (–The Philosophy of Literary Form - Studies in Symbolic Action–, Third Edition, University of California Press, Berkley, Los Angeles, London, pp. 388-392)

ii The analysis of liberalism into its theoretical and constructivist components was obviously prompted by the more recent American sociological epistemology included in the notes to John Rawls’ lectures on –Political Liberalism–, published in Romanian translation at Timisoara, in 1999. There, a conception is analysed as consisting of a theory and another component responsible for the application of the theory.

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