I originally wrote that Newman gives several examples of exactly that--but that's flip, too. It's more correct to say, I think, that Newman gives examples of positions being reversed by the better understanding of the ultimate idea. In chapter 1, Section 2 [in my original comment , I erroneously referenced this as Chapter 2], he gives a series--the Long Parliament, the Elizabethan Settlement, Locke on Revolution as a "true guide". But here's one in particular; in section 2(6), for example, he gives the example:
The admission of Jews to municipal offices has lately been defended on the ground that it is the introduction of no new principle, but a development of one already received; that its great premisses have been decided long since; and that the present age has but to draw the conclusion; that it is not open to us to inquire what ought to be done in the abstract, since there is no ideal model for the infallible guidance of nations; that change is only a question of time, and that there is a time for all things; that the application of principles ought not to go beyond the actual case, neither preceding nor coming after an imperative demand; that in point of fact Jews have lately been chosen for offices, and that in point of principle the law cannot refuse to legitimate such elections.As I take Newman here, the application of the idea of citizenship and qualifications for public service was in error, but experience and time showed that the present application was flawed, and the underlying idea was poorly served thereby. So the change is a reversal of the application, but truer to the underlying principle.
Now, my article linked in yesterday's post is pretty clear that I disagree with the easy dismissal of the prohibition against usury, but it provides an example of a moral doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church being distinguished effectively into the grave after over a millennium of adherence to it. It was abandoned because it did not conform to the felt necessities of the culture, and its rescission made possible a wholly new kind of commerce and economic order.
A Newman-style defense of the development would suggest that the position (the prohibition against usury) was not the idea--the idea was that one should not oppress the financially vulnerable, and that the prohibition was the implementation of the idea. The argument would be that implementation showed that the prohibition was too stultifying and did not adequately serve the purpose, or did too much damage in trying to serve the purpose. So it's about the refinement of the application of ideas, which themselves can cause a reversal of perviously held ideas.
Again, I'm not advocating that particular one, but think it makes more clear what I'm saying, and why I think Douthat is not reading Newman right. The idea is not "ban gay marriage"; that's the application of an idea, "Christian marriage should be the norm." OK, what is Christian marriage--
--now here the conversation can veer off into one of two directions. It can anchor the idea in complementarianism or fertility, and stay in the traditional course, or it can define marriage as the spiritual and physical union of two people for mutual aid and comfort, and find that heterosexual Christian marriage works for heterosexuals, but what do we do about those who do not fit that paradigm? Now, eliminating the prohibition against marriage is not the opposite of the tradition of Christian marriage, it's accommodating within that framework those previously excluded.
I'd like to thank my reader--a regular, if too infrequent, commenter--for once again making me think through a point as to which I was previously too glib.