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BOOK REVIEWS 331 The Great Dissent: John Henry Newman and the Liberal Heresy. By ROBERT PATTISON. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Pp. xiii +231. $29.95. This extremely provocative and elegantly written study of John Henry Newman's struggle with "liberalism" argues that Newman was a genuine rebel whose solitary voice needs to be heard, as much today as then, but whose project was, in the end, eminently unsuccessful. The preface announces that the purpose of the book is to " establish Newman 's impeccable credentials as a failure," and the suggestion that " the totality of his failure is the measure of his grandeur as a critic of our culture" leads to the appraisal that Newman's true "intellectual counterparts " were Marx and Nietzsche and Lenin, rather than Arnold or Carlyle (vi-viii, 53). As "the single unwavering but articulate voice raised against liberalism in all its incarnations," Newman indirectly offers an " invaluable " description of the thought against which he battled, but his importance, the author suggests, lies in his utter failure to make a dent in the century of thought following him: " the victory of everything Newman despised makes his defeated and unfashionable view of Western civilization interesting not merely as a consistent critique of what has come to pass, hut as one of the few intelligible alternatives to the ideological monopoly of liberalism " (53) . That alternative, a " consistent view of the world opposed to liberalism root and branch, sharing none of its premises and despising all of its works is an inestimable benefit, for no one more than the liberal himself ," for without an "honest and unforgiving voice" like Newman's, the liberal " would smugly assume that the paradoxical tenets of his creed are ... self-evident truths" (215). On the one hand, Newman's value lies in challenging liberalism's complacency, and treating "the ugliest manifestations of liberalism with the contempt they deserve but rarely provoke" (215). Moreover, Pattison allows that Newman offers an " acute refutation of its [liberalism's] major premises " (53) (if " refutation " is the ' achievement ' word I think it is, this seems inconsistent on Pattison's part). On the other hand, Newman's value lies precisely in failing to undermine liberalism-while he reminds liberalism that it is a heresy, thus provoking its vitality, it is only insofar as liberalism remains vital that " the possibilities of relative decency and tolerant forbearance remain alive" (216). The author argues, in other words, that Newman's attack on liberalism hits the mark with respect to liberalism's "ugliest manifestations," hut it is, unfortunately, tied to a theory of belief which entails an intolerant dogmatism. Newman is, in the end, a peculiar figure, described as 332 BOOK REVIEWS important and valuable (and even possibly correct-189), yet, noneĀ· theless, insignificant, "trivial" (8), and even "absurd" (143); like the Oxford Movement with which he is associated, he said to have made an "impression" without making an "impact" (25), and that, according to Pattison, is a blessing for those care about the liberal cause oftoleration (65, 178) . Pattison begins in earnest his exploration of Newman's response to his age by examining his particular response to one critical, yet typical, opponent: "The combat with Renn Dickson Hampden epitomizes the process by which Newman determined the narrow compass of truth and formed his reply to the heresies of liberalism " (60) . The " almost pathological detestation " of Hampden which the author attributes to Newman (77, n.40) is the response to principles put forth by Hampden which Newman saw as "the social expression of Socinianism," which was itself only a reincarnation of the Ari.an heresy (76). Hampden's heresy, on this view, grew out of Arianism-to understand that "is to see how Newman formed the standards of truth by which he condemned the modern world" (76). For Newman, "the modern world is a realization of Socinian beliefs," " the complex of contemporary civilization originated in the distorted beliefs of Arius" (198-99), and Arianism (Hampden's heresy, liberalism) raised the pressing question "what kind of truth could words express" (107). Pattison presents Newman's understanding of liberalism from two somewhat different perspectives-HberaHsm is not only anti-dogmatic, it also claims that one...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 331-336
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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