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The Liberal Spirit and Anti-Liberal Discourse of John Henry Newman

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Ambrose Mong Ih-Ren

Not many cardinals get to be declared saints, and even rarer is one who is known for his controversial ideas and interpretation of doctrinal faith both within and outside the church. John Henry Newman (1801-1890), however, beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010, was no ordinary churchman. Raised an Anglican and a leading member of the Oxford Movement in his younger days, he converted to Catholicism and, through prolific writing and polemics, established an intellectual and spiritual influence far beyond the placid, pastoral domain of the papacy. This book seeks to settle the historical question of Newman as anti-liberal or liberal, and to shed theological light on his liberal spirit and anti-liberal discourse, in order to provide fresh insights into the issue of religious pluralism. In particular, the author examines Newman’s perception of the danger of the liberal spirit of his time and his possession of another kind of liberal spirit that made him so original, bold and prophetic.

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1. Liberalism as an Ideology 9

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9Chapter 1 Liberalism as an Ideology Liberalism in its original form is a moral and political outlook in which autonomy is of great importance; it is against constraint and coercion. For the individual, liberalism means having self-determined thought and action consistent with the principle of not harming others. True liberalism is a social contract in which the right of all individuals to pursue their own good is acknowledged. A liberal thus identifies the political good with the will of the people.1 There are three basic types of liberalism that have emerged over the last few centuries. Historically the first one is now known as clas- sical liberalism or libertarianism and teaches that everyone is entitled to a general right of liberty. It insists on general liberty as the only real concern of the state, and according to John Locke, ‘no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions’.2 That means no one including the state can impose on anyone a line of action ex- cept to stop the person from harming others. To counter fraud or vio- lence is the only legitimate reason for using coercion.3 The second type of liberalism is egalitarianism and believes that the public must impose on everyone the goal of bringing some spe- cific form of equality. This means that we must promote the goods of individuals especially the goods of those below the median. The ideal society thus is when as much as possible everyone is well off. Egali- tarianism...

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