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This article is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

Hindhead Highmindedness Clyde Binfield


The slice of history cake to which I am most partial is one which, crumb for crumb, never quite fits, for it is the slice of English religious Dissent. It has long been modish to examine, even to celebrate, dissent from a national church, and the religious discontinuities within a national culture must exert a rare fascination for they can never be solely religious. My present interest, however, is less the extent to which there is dissent from the establishment and more the extent to which there is dissent within it. My concern is less with discontinuities and more with deflected continuities. For English religious dissent, once it was accommodated within the law, was dissent within the established system, tamed from revolution into reformation, directed towards a rhythm of give and take. Dissenters were kept at a distance and they were kept inferior, but they were never wholly excluded from the political nation. None the less, because they were kept at a distance, some of them just within the political nation, more of them in the educated underworld just beyond it, and because their localized religious polity reflected, indeed reinforced, their provincialism, and because the fact of their consciously continuous Dissent had to be consciously accounted for, Dissenters possessed one inestimable social liberty, refined and sharpened by all the constraints of their condition: they were fine-honed at the cutting edge of an emergent, unbalancing society. They were to be found, liberated by their suspicion of ...

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