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(Today’s offering in our Timeless Essay series affords our readers the opportunity to  journey with Bruce Frohnen as he explores T.S. Eliot’s understanding of the role of literature and Christianity in culture. —W. Winston Elliott III, Publisher)

ts eliot

T.S. Eliot indisputably was, and remains, in the first rank of poets of any era and any culture.[1] Eliot is almost as well known among literate persons as a critic and literary theorist. His journal, The Criterion, despite its short lifespan, remains the standard of high modernism. Continuing interest in Eliot is shown in the recent re-issue of Russell Kirk’s Eliot and His Age. But Eliot’s stature as a critic has suffered due to the same elements that make his poetry so highly admired—its call to intellectual rigor and demand for active, learned engagement with the Western tradition and with traditions and civilizations outside of the West. Thus, Eliot’s thought has been dismissed as “arrogant” and “elitist,” even as the products of that thought have been accepted as essential elements of our literature.[2] Least regarded in the mainstream of English-speaking letters are Eliot’s writings on culture. Championed by a few religious and traditional conservative thinkers,[3] these writings also are mentioned in connection with charges of Eliot’s anti-Semitism,[4] or more often, simply ignored.

But Eliot’s writings on culture are important precisely because they grow so directly from his literary criticism and because they so clearly are of a piece with his conception of the purpose and role of literature itself. In Eliot’s view, literature, in addition to its provision of entertainment and personal enrichment, has as its proper end the maintenance and enrichment of culture. In particular, T.S Eliot’s Christianity and Culture is a substantial contribution to our understanding of the nature of culture, the nature of the relationship between culture and religion, and the role of what often are termed cultural pursuits—including literature, the visual arts, architecture, and the like—in making life worth living.

Essays in Definition

Christianity and Culture is a collection, composed of two lengthy essays (“The Idea of a Christian Society” and “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture”) and several appended broadcast talks. The title of the second essay, “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture,” is most indicative. For this volume is neither an exhaustive, systematic treatment of any one topic, nor an attempt to formulate any program of action to fundamentally restructure society. While Eliot’s subject matter of culture and society may differ somewhat in type, and certainly in scope, from that of standard literary criticism, he approaches it as befits a literary critic. He seeks to further a conversation he sees as ongoing, attempting to clarify our terms and understandings to make that conversation more fruitful and enlightening.

As Eliot puts it in the introduction to “The Idea of a Christian Society,” “My point of departure has been the suspicion that the current terms in which we discuss international affairs and political theory may only tend to conceal from us the real issues of contemporary civilization.”(CC, 3) Thus, Eliot seeks not to conclude the debate, but to improve it by helping define its terms. And such, definition of terms is, at its root, a literary endeavor. “While the practice of poetry need not in itself confer wisdom or accumulate knowledge, it ought at least to train the mind in one habit of universal value: that of analyzing the meaning of words.”(CC, 5)

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

Thus Eliot plays the somewhat disengaged role of critic even at a time when disengagement may be taken as disloyalty. Writing during the years leading up to World War II, with Britain facing open war with Nazi Germany and clear hostility from Stalin’s communist regime, Eliot refuses to enter into Britons’ facile though comforting claims that they are a Christian society, facing the onslaught of pagan societies and so charged with defending Western civilization. Britain is, in fact, more a neutral than a Christian society, according to Eliot. But Eliot, though himself a convert to (Anglican) Christianity, does not seek to respond by engaging in a project of conversion. “I am not at this moment concerned with the means for bringing a Christian Society into existence; I am not even primarily concerned with making it appear desirable.” Rather than seeking in his criticism to win converts to Christianity, Eliot is “very much concerned with making clear” a Christian society’s “difference from the kind of society in which we are now living.” That is far from a purely evangelical purpose, Eliot’s is intellectual. He seeks to increase our awareness of the kind of society in which we live, and the kind of life we ourselves are living. And “to understand the society in which he lives, must be to the interest of every conscious thinking person.”(CC, 6)

Eliot clearly is engaged in an intellectual pursuit, explaining and defining key terms in our public discourse. But this puts him no less, and perhaps more, at odds with contemporary standards of intellectual life than if he were merely seeking converts. His central point in this essay is that Britain’s (and by extension America’s) society is neutral, rather than Christian, precisely because the formal profession of Christianity is tolerated, while the structures and aims appropriate to a Christian society are not even considered. While “a society has ceased to be Christian when religious practices have been abandoned,” it also has ceased to be Christian “when behaviour ceases to be regulated by reference to Christian principle, and when in effect prosperity in this world for the individual or for the group has become the sole conscious aim.”(CC, 9–10)

This is not to say that ours has become a pagan society. In saying that ours is a neutral society, Eliot also is pointing out that it remains Christian, though only in vestigial form. Liberalism, the ideology dominant in the West, has emptied out (some might say “secularized”) our society, dissolving many of its religiously grounded structures and aims. Liberalism has done much to neutralize Christianity, but claims the labels “benign” and “tolerant” because it has put nothing in Christianity’s place. As Eliot puts it,

Liberalism….tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards, something definite. Our point of departure is more real to us than our destination; and the destination is likely to present a very different picture when arrived at, from the vaguer image formed in imagination. By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negative: the artificial, mechanized or brutalised control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos.(CC, 12)

Liberalism is fundamentally negative in its teleology. Its inherent purpose is to liberate individuals from constraints of tradition, social structure, and cultural context. It can have good effects (some structures are, indeed, oppressive), but if not checked it will corrode the social framework, producing anarchy and brutal responses to that anarchy. Here, obviously, Eliot is referring to the rise of totalitarianism, perhaps most obviously in response to the anarchy of post–World War I German society. He also points to the discomfiting fact that Western democracies share significant affinities with totalitarian regimes. Totalitarian regimes simply have advanced more fully (and ironically, more efficiently) on the road to paganism, a destination toward which our society continues to move.[5]

Clearly there is a prescriptive element to Eliot’s argument. Few people of sense and goodwill would choose either the totalitarianism or the cultural death naturally succeeding to a neutral society that is not brought back to its religious roots. But Eliot’s explanatory goal is to point out the nature of our choices as a vestigial Christian society. He seeks to eliminate the inconsistency (whether adopted from ignorance or the intention to deceive) of those whose real values “are of materialistic efficiency” yet who claim also to value Christianity.(CC, 16) “The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate themselves to any world which treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable.”(CC, 17) This view is an unsurprising outgrowth of liberalism’s genuine good fruits, peace and toleration.

But the liberal secular viewpoint has become increasingly untenable due to the difficulty of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society.

The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us, and it is a very different problem from that of the accommodation between an Established Church and dissenters. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma—and he is in the majority—he is becoming more and more de-Christianized by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. (CC, 17–18; emphasis in original)

christianityIf the final sentence of this quotation does not make Eliot’s point sufficiently clear, one might consider recent court decisions upholding the right of governments to force Catholic charitable groups to offer contraceptive coverage in their health plans, or those requiring landlords to rent to tenants whose marital status their religious norms cause them to find offensive. And this is Eliot’s central point: A Christian society is not a society that merely tolerates Christianity, nor is it one with any specific set of political or economic structures. It is a society that promotes a particular way of life—a Christian way of life.

In this context we may understand Eliot’s sketch of the “idea” of a Christian society as one methodologically as well as substantively opposed to the kinds of prescriptive tracts we have come to expect from political philosophers. Liberal ideological constructs had become the norm in political philosophy, at least by the late eighteenth century—that is, long before Eliot and long before contemporary works like John Rawls’s influential and rather typical A Theory of Justice. In his tract Rawls posits an ideal of “justice as fairness” (which he only late in life admitted was rooted in his own liberal-democratic prejudices), and then he constructs a society he believes will produce it. Eliot’s idea does not partake of such utopian idealism, so common in liberal political philosophy. Rather, he begins with the understanding that we mean something when we call a society Christian, something more than that it is simply tolerant of Christian religious beliefs. Political philosophy properly understood, understood as Eliot understands it, “is not merely even the conscious formulation of the ideal aims of a people, but the substratum of collective temperament, ways of behaviour and unconscious values which provides the material for the formulation. What we are seeking is not a programme for a party, but a way of life for a people.” Eliot thus explicitly rejects the liberal conceit that we must choose “between one abstract form and another.”(CC, 14) Instead, we must choose what kind of life we shall live; what habits and preconceptions we will evince in our daily conduct.

It is the nature and quality of our “way of life” that is central for Eliot. Culture, religion, political philosophy, and art all are facets of the way of life. They help define, support, and limit one another in ways that can enrich or impoverish our modes of conduct. But we can not do without any of them. Appropriately for a poet, Eliot sums up the situation in the phrase “good prose cannot be written by a people without convictions.”(CC, 15) Such convictions are at root religious, according to Eliot, even as they suffuse political philosophy and artistic pursuits. And, because they inhabit all aspects of our lives, from the most exalted to the most mundane, their loss leaves us in dire straits.

Without Christianity we might, of course, merely sink into an apathetic decline: without faith, and therefore without faith in ourselves; without a philosophy of life, either Christian or pagan; and without art. Or we might get a “totalitarian democracy,” different but having much in common with other pagan societies, because we shall have changed step by step in order to keep pace with them: a state of affairs in which we shall have regimentation and conformity, without respect for the needs of the individual soul; the puritanism of a hygienic morality in the interest of efficiency; uniformity of opinion through propaganda, and art only encouraged when it flatters the official doctrines of the time.(CC, 18)

Such warnings may seem dated or even quaint in our “post-communist” era. But today’s supposedly libertarian culture is made up of structures entirely consistent with the totalitarian democracy of which Eliot warned. The model of proper behavior in our society has become that of the moral slacker, who seeks to “get on” in Eliot’s phrase or, perhaps more accurately in this era of “hooking up,” get it on. Our ideal cultural aim is to enjoy the fruits of material success without going to the trouble of working for them. And the descent of leisure into the mere satisfaction of appetites has brought with it no fewer social constraints than the older, more productive form of materialism. One who seeks to uphold or even argue for more elevated standards soon finds that one can indeed be punished for going against the prejudice of the day. In our increasingly euthanistic age, in which calculations of pleasure and pain determine “quality of life” and can determine the right to life itself, the ruling, permeating value goes by the name toleration, but amounts to an ideology of physical self-satisfaction and cultural disengagement entirely fitting a dying, neutral culture.

Eliot continues:

To those who can imagine, and are therefore repelled by, such a prospect, one can assert that the only possibility of control and balance is a religious control and balance; that the only hopeful course for a society which would thrive and continue its creative activity in the arts of civilization, is to become Christian. That prospect involves, at least, discipline, inconvenience and discomfort: but here as hereafter the alternative to hell is purgatory.(CC, 18–9)

Christian Society

christian societyWhat, then, is a Christian society? To begin with it is culturally Christian. That is, it is by nature aimed toward a Christian life in all its aspects. This does not mean that it necessarily entails a confessional state. But it means that the assumptions and framework of beliefs and practices making up public, social, and even private life are suffused with Christian symbols.

In Eliot’s understanding, there are three elements of a Christian society. A Christian society must have a particular kind of state, one providing a Christian framework or rationale for political conduct. It must have a Christian community—a large number of practicing Christians “whose attention is occupied mostly by their direct relation to the soil, or the sea, or the machine, and to a small number of persons, pleasures and duties.”(CC, 23) And it must have a Community of Christians, understood as a small number of highly conscious, intellectually engaged Christian persons comprising what today might be called the religious and educational elites.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his deep engagement in the life of the mind, Eliot sees all these elements of a Christian society as engaged less in conscious, self-directed, and self-willed Christian thought and more in the following of traditions and habits suffused with Christianity. For example, the Christian state is neither limited in its membership to professing Christians, nor directed by any one church or group of churches. But neither is a Christian state the realm of Great Men reshaping society in accordance with their own reading of the will of God or themselves. A state within a Christian society is one in which those who govern, whatever their particular religious beliefs and personal preferences, are confined “by the temper and traditions of the people which they rule, to a Christian framework within which to realize their ambitions and advance the prosperity and prestige of their country. They may frequently perform un-Christian acts; they must never attempt to defend their actions on un-Christian principles.”(CC, 23) Thus would Eliot undo the greatest damage done by Machiavelli, that of making raison d’etat acceptable, even of making ruthlessness “cool.” While bad things will be done in any age, a society that would foster a Christian way of life must cabin them within Christian assumptions about the common good and the proper means to attain it.

Such cabining would not be the result of propaganda or of a formal institution of censors, but rather of education. Most politicians, like most people in any walk of life, do not hold to a specific, self-chosen, and well-articulated philosophy; they are the products of their education. So it is important that that education form them properly to conform to the needs of society.

The purpose of a Christian education would not be merely to make men and women pious Christians: a system that aimed too rigidly at this end alone would become only obscurantist. A Christian education would primarily train people to be able to think in Christian categories, though it could not compel belief and would not impose the necessity for insincere profession of belief.(CC, 22)

Not theological indoctrination, but intellectual formation would be the goal. Educational institutions would not parrot religious dogma. They would seek to instill an understanding of Christian categories such as teleology, human dignity, and the common good. In a society thus formed,

what the rulers believed, would be less important than the beliefs to which they would be obliged to conform. And a skeptical or indifferent statesman, working within a Christian frame, might be more effective than a devout Christian statesman obliged to conform to a secular frame. For he would be required to design his policy for the government of a Christian Society.(CC, 22–23)

That to which the statesman must conform is not merely a Christian dogma or ideology but a way of life consistent with Christian principles and goals. It is, again, more a matter of habits and assumptions than of well-articulated prescriptions. Thus it should come as no surprise that members of the Christian community, the vast majority of members of a Christian society who neither rule nor spend large amounts of time in religious or other refined contemplation, have their Christianity “almost wholly realized in behaviour: both in their customary and periodic religious observances, and in a traditional code of behaviour towards their neighbours.”(CC, 23) A Christian society must provide such people with the means by which to achieve integrated social and religious lives, some means of attaining a real (though imperfect) Christian way of life in daily activities without such undue sacrifice as to forestall the very attempt.

eliotThe capitalist ideology and materialist structures of Eliot’s era (let alone ours) were not conducive to Christian conduct in everyday life. The desire and need to make money in a society almost wholly devoted to that pursuit (or today, to the pursuit of pleasures formerly, and to a significant degree still, reliant on the possession or claim upon significant amounts of money) make personal conduct that is virtuous in the Christian sense difficult. One obvious response would be to return to a more idyllic, pastoral society in which small, face-to-face communities could be re-established on the basis of Christian norms. This Eliot rejects as impossible, as he rejects the invitation to specify concrete reforms to current social structures that might make them less hostile toward Christian conduct. Rather, Eliot seeks to reaffirm his teleological point:

However bigoted the announcement may sound, the Christian can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organization of society—which is not the same thing as a society consisting exclusively of devout Christians. It would be a society in which the natural end of man—virtue and well-being in community— is acknowledged for all, and the supernatural end—beatitude— for those who have the eyes to see it. (CC, 27)

One can see here the manner of thought Eliot brings to bear on the problem of cultural decay. It is a manner, or method, deeply rooted in the natural law tradition, stretching from Aristotle through Aquinas and continuing among a remnant to this day, but rejected by modern thinkers, with their emphasis on distinguishing fact from value, ends from means, and desires from claims of proper ends. One also can see why Eliot believes that his particular skill as an analyst of the meaning of words is called for under current circumstances.

Most contemporary thinkers are incapable even of understanding the nature of the dilemma our society faces. And they will remain incapable of understanding that dilemma so long as they refuse to consider the possibility that in important ways we live our lives in common with our fellows; that there is such a thing as a real society; that we are joined in a set of social groups that has its own purpose, transcending even as it includes the purposes of each of us, and each of the lesser groups within it. So long as we continue to think in liberal categories, of rights and wants and relations among atomistic individuals, we will be incapable of recognizing the need for reforms to our inhumane social, political, and economic structures. We will be incapable of seeing any proper end for society, and so remain in cultural chaos until or unless a comprehensive, religious vision of some (perhaps pagan and quite brutal) kind is imposed upon us.

The rethinking for which Eliot calls would seem the provenance of intellectuals—ironically, of course, those least likely to be willing to engage in such a project. Yet that irony does not escape Eliot, who, after all, is fully cognizant of the need to reform the habits and frameworks within which intellectuals operate as well as those affecting other members of society. Even those who “think” for a living are more followers than makers of tradition, more engaged in working out the intimations of pre-existing modes of thought and conduct than with replacing them with something of their own making.

In a Christian society the most culturally important intellectual work will be done by Eliot’s “community of Christians.” This community will be made up of “consciously and thoughtfully practicing Christians, especially those of intellectual and spiritual superiority.”(CC, 28) They will play a vital role: “to form the conscious mind and the conscience of the nation.”(CC, 34) But this powerful role will not fall to them singly, or even as a group of individuals, acting on those around and presumably beneath them. Rather, the community of Christians will affect society through its role in forming, protecting, and enriching the framework of education. Indeed, it is only their “identity of belief and aspiration, their background of a common system of education and a common culture, which will enable them to influence and be influenced by each other, and collectively” to influence society.(CC, 34) This community will not be rooted solely in either educational or religious institutions. It will be cognizant of the limits of merely rational constructs. And, if it is to accomplish its inherent purpose, it must form and re-form itself constantly through engagement with other communities and with the wider culture so that a common mind of the nation can be maintained, a common understanding of the purpose of society as well as the groups and individuals within it.

What Eliot seeks more than anything else is coherence. It is a particular contemporary conceit that such coherence is impossible in any free society. Yet it is the modern philosopher who writes the blueprints for the good society explicitly rejected by Eliot. Rather than some supposed vision of perfection to be imposed on the people, Eliot seeks in this essay to urge his readers toward recognition of the need for a fundamental re-thinking of our cultural assumptions; or at any rate an attempt to formulate such assumptions.

Unless we can find a pattern into which all problems of life can have their place, we are only likely to go on complicating chaos. So long, for instance, as we consider finance, industry, trade, agriculture merely as competing interests to be reconciled from time to time as best they may, so long as we consider “education” as a good in itself of which everyone has a right to the utmost, without any ideal of the good life for society or for the individual, we shall move from one uneasy compromise to another.(CC, 50)

So long as we refuse to integrate our lives so as to pursue the good in common with our fellows, ours will be a neutral culture, descending from common goals to a disjointed life of individual pursuits punctuated by occasional “casual” but conflict-ridden hook-ups, be they economic, cultural, or merely physical. Prose will die, and so will our culture and our souls.

To the quick and simple organization of society for ends which, being only material and worldly, must be as ephemeral as worldly success, there is only one alternative. As political philosophy derives its sanction from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike—it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.(CC, 50)

Defining Culture

The second major essay in Christianity and Culture seeks to define culture or, more modestly, to move us toward a greater understanding of what culture is. It constitutes merely “notes towards” a definition because culture is too broad and all-encompassing a reality to grasp in its fullness. Again, there clearly is a prescriptive purpose to Eliot’s descriptive project; he is convinced that culture is important, and that those who come to understand what it is will share this view, and will come to understand better both why it is important and how it can be maintained and enriched in a materialistic age.

Such convincing will not be easy on a wide scale because, properly understood, culture is deeply and irrevocably intertwined with religion. “No culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion: according to the point of view of the observer the culture will appear to be the product of the religion, or the religion the product of the culture.”(CC, 87) Again, the process of secularization, though not explicitly mentioned by Eliot, lies at the heart of contemporary resistance to recognizing culture’s deep interconnection with religion. Eliot points out that culture can be understood in three aspects: individual, group, and society. People today tend to think that one can be cultured, cultivating higher tastes and artistic or intellectual pursuits, as an individual. Whether self-consciously members of an intellectual or artistic elite or merely “consumers” of culture, people in Anglo-American society view themselves as rightfully partaking of a veritable intellectual and aesthetic buffet offered up in a marketplace of experience that includes historical emanations, various group efforts, and (perhaps especially) the products of various geniuses from all over the expanse of time and place. One must simply pick and choose so as to create the aesthetic, intellectual, spiritual, and sensual life one wishes to have.

The elimination of any framework of cultural understanding is, on the liberal view, a positive good. It means the elimination of various potentially confining filters that might get in the way of the production or consumption of various individually chosen baskets of cultural goods. Unfortunately, the result of this orientation is a culture in decline, perhaps unto death. Eliot recognizes the confusion at the root of this vision in its individualism, its failure to take account of the fact that “the culture of the individual is dependent upon the culture of the group or class, and…the culture of the group or class is dependent upon the culture of the whole society to which that group or class belongs.”(CC, 93)

Liberalism’s individualistic reading of culture “liberates” the individual as a cultural being from the group and from the society that, whether we like it or not, makes up the framework of his or her cultural life. Thus, to disassociate the individual from the societal culture is to disintegrate or corrode the culture in all its aspects. Moreover, such false liberation makes people lose sight of the very fact that culture (like society) has an inherent purpose or teleology, and so prevents them from even considering the proper ends of their own cultural endeavors.

Disintegration is an inherent and ever-present danger that grows as cultures become more complex and variegated. “The Dyak who spends the better part of a season in shaping, carving and painting his barque of the peculiar design required for the annual ritual of head-hunting, is exercising several cultural activities at once—of art and religion, as well as of amphibious warfare.”(CC, 96) But religion, politics, science, and art, as they become increasingly refined and distinct in their practice and status, come into conflict. Friction among the various modes of culture can be creative; it can lead to increased consciousness of self, society, and social conduct. It also leads to the formation of various cultural levels corresponding to the formation of various cultural groups or classes.(CC, 97) But such friction also can lead to the isolation of various cultural modes one from another, and thence to the disintegration of culture itself as art and religion, for example, lose their capacity to enrich (and check) one another.[6] Thus it is critical, particularly in times of ever-increasing disintegration, to recur to the inherent nature and purpose of culture taken as a social whole.

derby dayEncompassing everything from high art to “cookery” to Derby Day, culture may be described “simply as that which makes life worth living. And it is what justifies other peoples and other generations in saying, when they contemplate the remains and the influence of an extinct civilization, that it was worth while for that civilization to have existed.”(CC, 100) Despite our artistic conceits, of which Eliot was accused of having more than his share, it is not correct to identify culture simply with great feats of aesthetic value. Rather, the very fabric of symbols and ceremonies that make up our daily life is what makes it worth living, and what, to a discerning observer, makes it worthwhile for our civilization to exist.

Symbols and ceremonies are, by nature, religious. They are ritualized manifestations and evocations of the values of a people. When one recognizes this cultural fact, one can enter into Eliot’s understanding of culture and religion as, when “taken in the right context, different aspects of the same thing.”(CC, 102) That thing is a people’s way of life. Such an understanding makes clear the mistake of liberal secularization, which rests on the claim that it is possible to retain culture even as one eviscerates religion in its public mode. It also, Eliot points out, makes clear the mistaken nature of the opposite view, according to which one may retain one’s religion while casting off or ignoring artistic, philosophical, and other “non-religious” adumbrations of the social framework. Culture and religion are so intrinsically intertwined that neither can survive for long without the other.

Because culture and religion constitute a people’s way of life, it is inaccurate to think of either as “belonging” to any one group or class. Human nature and society, being fundamentally relational, make it impossible for an individual, or even a group, to simply make or remake a culture. At best, the result of such an effort will be a shallow, faux culture practiced by a few, increasingly alienated from their own society. The result, of course, will be further disintegration of culture and society. One certainly can hope to enrich one’s culture. And one has a duty to try to maintain it. But even this must be done as the member of a group that coheres through time; in Eliot’s terms, it must be taken up as a member of a trans-generational class.

The family, according to Eliot, is “the primary channel of transmission of culture.” This is true because “no man wholly escapes from the kind, or wholly surpasses the degree, of culture which he acquired from his early environment.” Of course, the family is not the only transmitter of culture, “in a society of any complexity it is supplemented and continued by other conduits of tradition.”(CC, 115) Here Eliot sketches a view of apprenticeship, much akin to that of British philosopher Michael Oakeshott, as essential to the continuation of any vital way of life:

The apprentice (ideally, at least) did not merely serve his master, and did not merely learn from him as one would learn at a technical school—he became assimilated into a way of life which went with that particular trade or craft; and perhaps the lost secret of the craft is this, that not merely a skill but an entire way of life was transmitted.(CC, 115–16)

Despite the important, though clearly waning, role of apprenticeship, as well as the vestigial role of universities as transmitters of culture, the family remains, for Eliot, central to cultural transmission. But the family must not be considered in the highly atomistic form it takes today, of a “nuclear” core likely to explode at any moment into its component parts, with the children often left on their own to imbibe what culture they can from television, the Internet, and other aspects of mass culture. Rather, Eliot sees the family as a trans-generational reality binding its members to one another and to a way of life.

Eliot does not shy away from the clearly aristocratic implications of this argument, as well as the implication that “lower” classes also will inherit privileges and substantive disabilities along with their own particular level of culture. “There must be groups of families persisting, from generation to generation, each in the same way of life.”(CC, 122) Without such class influence, Eliot asserts, culture simply will not be transmitted; eventually it will die.

An American in particular may be excused for being uncomfortable with Eliot’s very comfort with inherited class gradations, as well as with the attendant gradations of status, privilege, and life opportunities. But it is perhaps useful to note first, that Eliot does not proclaim any class system wholly good or just; he merely deems one necessary for the maintenance of culture. Second, it may be useful to keep in mind the myriad injustices and degradations of our current “meritocracy.” Our current, self-denying class system condemns people to poverty, obscurity, and even humiliation on the basis not of social class, but of monetary wealth. At the same time, we deny the “losers” in the economic race the natural solace and support of local culture and community. We bus them hours away to work, learn, and sometimes even live within the cash nexus, berating them for any attempt to resist the dissolving of “inefficient” local solidarity.

social societyAnd this money-based status persists through the generations. For example, despite our society’s claims to educational egalitarianism (or at least adherence to merit-based criteria) those who must attend (or make the mistake of attending) a “lesser” college will carry that burden throughout their careers. Further, the rash of corporate scandals during the 1990s attests to the arrogance of today’s holders of financial power. It perhaps is worth noting as well that some of the less able children of the rich might do less harm to society if they could count on inherited social status, rather than depending on their parents to secure them unearned economic status through manipulation of various corporate structures.

America in particular has done away with the injustices of aristocracy, but it is far from having done away with injustices in its social, economic, or any other sphere making up its way of life. Moreover, as Eliot points out in an extensive critique of the Marxist philosopher Karl Mannheim, it is spurious to assert that elites can take the place of classes. Such groups, because they are based in “talent,” or at any rate skills of particular kinds, lack the social cohesion and common education necessary to invest them in, and give them the collective means by which to enrich, the culture of a whole people. Elites tend to corrode rather than strengthen the framework of a society.

It would be a misunderstanding of Eliot’s argument to see the role of class in purely top-down terms. While it is the case for Eliot that the upper classes have a more conscious understanding of the culture, theirs is not the only important understanding thereof. The very necessity of class comes about with the variegation of norms and habits among various groups in society. Moreover, a healthy society will consist of a variety of groups competing and cooperating with one another so as to enrich the culture.

This combination of variety and unity necessary for a culture also is manifested in the need, according to Eliot, for regional loyalties and variations. Eliot quotes Alfred North Whitehead:

A diversification among human communities is essential for the provision of the incentive and material for the Odyssey of the human spirit. Other nations of different habits are not enemies; they are godsends. Men require of their neighbours something sufficiently akin to be understood, something sufficiently different to provoke attention, and something great enough to command admiration.(CC, 123)

A culture requires unity. Its people must truly share a way of life, with common traditions of thought, ceremony, art, science, and the like. In particular its people must share a common understanding of their common, religious end in pursuing lives of virtue in this life and beatitude in the next. But the groups making up a culture also must diverge in important ways. A flourishing society requires what Eliot calls an “ecology of cultures.”(CC, 131) This ecology has an international element, but also encompasses the need for local, regional, cultural differentiation. Addressing the British case in particular, Eliot notes the essential role played by Welsh and Scottish culture within British society. Possessed of their own languages, these cultures have produced some of the greatest literature written in English. This is so because of the creative friction between regional ways of life coexisting within a more comprehensive common culture. Region, then, takes on a role akin to that of class in Eliot’s schema. Rooted in family ties, as well as other geographical and personal connections themselves rooted in family ties, regional attachments transmit culture, providing for stability, a patrimony of tradition to enrich, and the means and motivation to engage other regional cultures as well as the dominant culture. In Eliot’s phrasing, “a national culture, if it is to flourish, should be a constellation of cultures, the constituents of which, benefiting each other, benefit the whole.”(CC, 132)

Robert Nisbet

Robert Nisbet

Robert Nisbet has written of the need for a plurality of social authorities if liberty is to flourish in any meaningful sense.[7] Harold Berman has argued that the rise of respect for the individual person and his or her rights is intimately bound up with the existence of a multiplicity of jurisdictions—ecclesiastical, royal, baronial, merchant, and so on—which provided competition and friction among authorities.[8] Eliot too recognizes the need for competition and even conflict among the various elements of society.

The modernist view of politics, dominant in Eliot’s time and still powerful today, tended toward the belief that “society, like a machine, should be as well oiled as possible, provided with ball bearings of the best steel. [People of such views] think of friction as waste of energy.”(CC, 132) The truth is far different. Classes functioning in too much harmony will petrify into culturally enervating castes, just as a classless society will be culturally flaccid. Like classes, regional cultures energize and enrich the national culture by their competitive engagement. And “these are only two of an indefinite number of conflicts and jealousies which should be profitable to society. Indeed, the more the better: so that everyone should be an ally of everyone else in some respects, and an opponent in several others, and no one conflict, envy or fear will dominate.”(CC, 132)

Culture, then, is a series of inter-nested spheres. Towns, cities, regions, nations, and even trans-national regions (such as Europe) all have cultures of varying levels and complexities. Classes, professions, and other groups also all have cultures. And it is as much the conflicts among such cultures as their drive to cooperate that enriches the overall culture, fostering stability through a set of cultural checks and balances even as they foster competition and engagement.

Religion and the Question of Establishment

The one significant aspect of culture remaining in Eliot’s call for diversity and competition is religion. Here too Eliot seems to call for a multiplicity of authorities. In a chapter titled “Unity and Diversity: Sect and Cult,” he points in particular to the cultural problems of more complex and universalistic, and therefore culturally “higher” religions. Such religions (including Christianity) are more difficult for most people to accept, particularly on the intellectual level. They also involve more complex and varied forms of knowledge and ritual, leading to a separate ecclesiastical class. The result is that, while religion and culture remain “aspects of one unity” they also are “two different and contrasted things” which may even come into conflict.(CC, 142–43)

It is not surprising, then, that Eliot applies his call for diversity to the religious sphere. He raises concerns that a Catholic nation without any tendency toward Protestantism will suffer petrifaction, with state and church becoming too closely identified, and thus no longer serving as checks each on the authority of the other. Further, Eliot argues, in such a “well oiled” culture, even barbarous local practices will gain an aura of sanctification. Cultural torpor, however, is only one possibility. The other is chaos, as all divisions within the society take on religious overtones and deepen into serious conflicts even as they spread and fracture society still further.(CC, 146)

anglican_395Yet commonality of religion is necessary for maintenance of any common culture. What, then, is the best religious ordering for the sake of culture? Here Eliot praises his adopted Great Britain and its adopted Anglican Church. England, Eliot argues, suffers less from organized atheism or any form of actual unbelief than do other vestigially Christian cultures. England’s variety of sects, along with the great diversity of belief and practice sanctioned within the Anglican church, has produced a variety of subcultures such that England’s national culture has continued to be enriched, rather than splintering or losing its vitality on religious grounds.(CC, 147) The splitting off of England from Catholic Europe through its Anglican revolution, Eliot tells us, created a particular sub-culture within Christendom. That sub-culture is dominant in one area, though on the periphery of the whole.(CC, 148) It plays a role in Europe, which has its own trans-national culture, even as it has a role in the North Atlantic region and, through its former colonies, beyond.

Thus Eliot appears to be praising the dissension of dissent, the multiplying of sects within a Christian framework, as culturally enriching. This seems all the more true in light of Eliot’s warnings against attempts to reunify Christianity. Differences among English sects actually have been attenuated, Eliot asserts, due to changes in class structure, the decline of rural life, and the decreasing importance of Christianity’s place in education.(CC, 154) Exacerbating this disturbing loss of relevance are movements to reunify sects. Such attempts require, according to Eliot, culturally debilitating methods. Those seeking Christian reunification look to the formation of simpler, more abstract doctrines they believe will capture the loyalty of all concerned. This way lies disaster.

The refinement or crudity of theological and philosophical thinking is itself, of course, one of the measures of the state of our culture; and the tendency in some quarters to reduce theology to such principles as a child can understand or a Socinian accept, is itself indicative of cultural debility. But there is a further danger, from our point of view, in schemes of reunion which attempt to remove the difficulties and protect the self-assertiveness of everybody. In an age like our own, when it has become a point of politeness to dissimulate social distinctions, and to pretend that the highest degree of “culture” ought to be made accessible to everybody—in an age of cultural leveling, it will be denied that the several Christian fragments to be re-united represent any cultural differences. There is certain to be a strong pressure toward a reunion on terms of complete cultural equality. Too much account may even be taken of the relative numbers of the membership of the uniting bodies: for a main culture will remain a main culture, and a sub-culture will remain a sub-culture, even if the latter attracts more adherents than the former.(CC, 154–55)

A society’s main religious culture is the one most in touch with the higher elements of the culture in general. To reduce all religious sub-cultures to a common level, let alone to raise one particular sub-culture to a higher level, is to flatten one’s culture, tying it too closely to less-developed and less-conscious modes of thought and behavior. One might consider here the situation in the United States, in which the various Protestant sects most divorced from high art have come to dominate the religious scene. The result has been a notable stripping away of artistic achievement and even interest from much of American culture and religion. Even many Catholic dioceses in the United States have become openly hostile to aesthetic standards and the need for beauty in their own liturgy.

Diversity means cultural strength even in religion. Eliot asserts that

Christendom should be one: the form of organization and the locus of powers in that unity are questions upon which we cannot pronounce. But within that unity there should be an endless conflict between ideas—for it is only by the struggle against constantly appearing false ideas that the truth is enlarged and clarified, and in the conflict with heresy that orthodoxy is developed to meet the needs of the times; an endless effort also on the part of each region to shape its Christianity to suit itself, an effort which should neither be wholly suppressed nor left wholly unchecked. The local temperament must express its particularity in its form of Christianity, and so must the social stratus, so that the culture proper to each area and each class may flourish; but there must also be a force holding these areas and these classes together.(CC, 157)

Clearly, Eliot is providing here a justification and apology for the Anglican communion of national churches. He is describing in glowing terms the Anglican emphasis on cooperating but distinct national churches, as well as the cultivated tolerance of significant variation of belief and practice within the Anglican church itself.

It seems appropriate at this point to examine more closely Eliot’s views on Anglicanism so that we may assess their implications for religious culture and church-state relations. The state, we should recall, for Eliot is one of the fundamental elements of a Christian society. And a state is good or bad on account of its relationship with Christianity. “What I mean by the Christian State is not any particular political form, but whatever State is suitable to a Christian Society, whatever State a particular Christian Society develops for itself.”(CC, 9) Thus, in Eliot’s argument, a state is good for a Christian society, fruitful for a culture that is Christian, to the extent that it has been shaped by Christian cultures. One of the charges often made against nations perceived as dominated by the Catholic Church (one echoed by Eliot, as we have seen) is that they are “too Catholic.” All of the society, including its politics as well as other aspects of its culture, is seen as being dominated by a particular vision of the sacred. One might argue over historical examples on this point. But the necessary subject here is Eliot’s charge that some (Catholic) churches exercise an unhealthy influence over the state. If this is true,[9] it points us toward the possibility of another mistaken extreme: that of state domination of the church, even if the domination is “friendly” or “good natured.” Such seems, on Eliot’s own reading, to have been the case with Anglicanism. And this raises important issues regarding religious establishment.

In 1947 a committee of which Eliot was a member published a document on “Catholicity” in which it was noted that

political expediency played a large part in the shaping of [the Church of England’s] course, and in the determination of certain of its characteristics. One of these, summed up in the phrase of Queen Elizabeth about “not opening windows into men’s souls,” was the desire of the State to content itself with external conformity, without going on to demand theological consent.[10]

This was precisely the problem Eliot pointed to in the England of his day, of a “neutral” state concerned only with its own end of civil peace. It was a problem characteristic of Anglicanism, and arguably inherent in “strong” religious establishment.

John Cardinal Newman

John Cardinal Newman

In England, it may be argued, the state holds sway over the church, and has done so for centuries. And the results have been problematic to say the least. One example, important for John Cardinal Newman’s analysis of Anglicanism in the mid-nineteenth century, was the so-called Gorham Judgment. In this case the British government’s Privy Council ordered the bishop of Exeter to install Gorham, who did not believe in baptismal regeneration, as a priest. The Anglican hierarchy urged their clergy and flocks to abide by the state’s decision, which was based on the notion that, on matters regarding which there was no unanimity within the established church, clergymen could hold their own opinions. The goal, then, was peaceful disagreement, and the goal was shared or at least acceded to by the church hierarchy.[11]

The same could be said about the secular court judgment, also in Newman’s time, forbidding the censuring of Anglican clerics who denied the inspired character of the Bible.[12] Apparently there was no core belief essential to membership, and leadership, in the English church, at least as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, and arguably back to the Tudors. Even beliefs stated in the Thirty-Nine Articles, such as recognition of the sacrament of baptism and the sufficiency of scripture for salvation, were negotiable. Only the primacy of the state, encapsulated in the oath of loyalty to the monarch as head of both church and state, was not.

Now, according to the document on catholicity, “It would be utterly wrong to ascribe our Anglican unity to the connection with the State: the fact of the Anglican Communion belies this.” But the document itself alludes to the Establishment’s role in the “holding together of diverse elements within a single body.” And that role included governmental definitions of the Anglican Church’s jurisdiction and authority.[13]

As to diversity, the document notes the “very diverse points of view” included in the Church of England, looking to traditions as diverse as the continental Reformers, the Catholic Fathers, and the Renaissance. The document claims this diversity to be a strength, allowing the Anglican Church to call on both the Bible and a variety of traditions.[14] But the central point remains that the choice of traditions was with the state, a choice to which the Anglican hierarchy must submit. Moreover, we need not look to more recent, extreme positions of various groups within the Anglican communion—positions intentionally undermining, for example, the unique status of the trans-generational family Eliot deems so crucial for culture—to see the religious and cultural disarray into which such diversity may lead. During Eliot’s own time the Book of Common Prayer, with the Thirty-Nine Articles as the practical basis of that faith, had been recast, reworked, and in large part rejected by the hierarchy.

Thus Eliot praises the diversity within a state-run religion. But one might be excused for arguing that the state-run nature of the religion breeds diversity, rather than holding it in check, precisely because the state cares about religion only to the extent that religion can help further (or interfere with) political ends. The state demands loyalty to itself. If one’s religion reinforces such loyalty, so much the better. But it cannot be allowed to undermine or even distract from that loyalty.

The separation of church from state authority was critical to the formation of Western civilization, culture, and constitutional government. What Harold Berman has accurately called the Papal Revolution in the eleventh century, in which the pope secured the right to appoint bishops, rather than acceding to royal control over these appointments, opened the way for the development and application of canon law, the balancing of political with religious authority, and the flowering of the higher law tradition. That tradition relies on the separation of church from state, and in particular on the separation of religious from political authority. It began, after all, with Moses’ reception of the Ten Commandments from God, by which the Israelites became a people apart, ruled not by earthly gods who created law, but by human governors subject to God’s law.[15]

None of this is to say that any kind of Catholic establishment is necessary for culture, or that Eliot is wrong in his assertion that variety is necessary in religious culture. Even the Catholic (“Universal”) Church contains within itself a variety of liturgical traditions.[16] Rather, it is to emphasize Eliot’s own point, that diversity and unity must be held in constant tension, and to point up the problem of religious establishment in maintaining that tension. As to Anglicanism, Eliot did not argue explicitly that its official status was a positive good. Instead, he noted:

a church once disestablished cannot easily be re-established, and the very act of disestablishment separates it more definitely and irrevocably from the life of the nation than if it had never been established. The effect on the mind of the people of the visible and dramatic withdrawal of the church from the affairs of the nation—the church’s abandonment of all those who are not by their wholehearted profession within the fold—this is incalculable; the risks are so great that such an act can be nothing but a desperate measure.(CC, 39)

One can understand this fear of being left without oar or anchor in troubled waters. But state-run churches provide neither oar nor anchor. Eliot is strongest as a cultural critic when explaining the “ecology of cultures.” He illuminates the issues and meanings of cultures best when describing the myriad cultures that make up a society and the necessarily conflicted (as well as cooperative) nature of their relations. For Eliot, even education—the fundamental element of cultural transmission—is a combination of cultural forces. The education system only imparts a small portion of the knowledge and norms necessary for participation in society. Family, church, class, and various regional and other groups shape each and every one of us. And the polyglot character of this education is its strength. Even at the “macro” level, diversity of influence is necessary for cultural flourishing. It would seem, then, that a culture’s religions should maintain their power and authority separate from the state so that they may exert their appropriate influence on society, even as they exercise their appropriate influence over their own internal cultural framework.

In a talk broadcast to Germany soon after World War II and included in Christianity and Culture, Eliot referred to the variety of influences on English culture, and English literature in particular, as a central strength, and reason for its high achievements. This led to observations on the commonalities of Europe as a trans-national Christian culture that ought to include important loyalties as well as frictions and competitions. Varying regional differences, produced by varying local circumstances regarding class, profession, and the like, along with cultural crosscurrents and a variety of cross-cultural competitions and influences, have enriched all the cultures of Europe. But central to this fecund cultural ecology has been a common religion:

It is the common tradition of Christianity which has made Europe what it is…. It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have—until recently— been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche.(CC, 200)

Because religion and culture are aspects of the same thing, our way of life, it is not possible to have one without the other. What is more, even those opposed to a given religious or cultural practice or institution must engage it from within its cultural framework.

Ignorance is common regarding the origins of the framework of institutions, beliefs, and practices within which we live. But those structures, including Roman law, “private and public morality,” and “common standards of literature,” as well as much else (CC, 200), are deeply rooted in Christianity, as developed and variegated over time. In this context it is useful to note Paul Griffiths’s devastating critique of those who claim to be operating within the natural law tradition yet reduce our way of life to logical derivations of supposedly self-evident “basic goods.” Griffiths points out that “self-evident” rational principles rely on proper catechesis in order for reasoned discussion to take place. That is, we cannot understand one another’s primary assumptions (even about the nature of rationality) unless we have been educated within the same broad tradition, be it Buddhist, Hindu, or Christian.[17] Griffiths’s appeal is in fact an appeal to history, to the manner in which truths are arrived at, built upon, and taught through time, with practices building upon themselves as a form of cultural knowledge.

To the extent that we continue to flatten out our cultural assumptions, whether or not we do so in pursuit of policy goals also favored by our religion, we destroy what is left of our culture. We sap modes of thought and action that actually make up who we are and what our culture is. And it will take far longer to build a new culture than it did to destroy the old one.

If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.(CC, 200)


911 The 9/11 terrorist attacks have sparked significant discussion of a “clash of civilizations” endangering the West. In one sense, such discussions rest on assumptions that are too true—they trivialize as they overly dramatize a permanent condition of culture. There always is friction among cultures, and civilizations are, certainly in Eliot’s terms, cultural entities. They are commonalities of belief and practice arising from cultures rooted in a given religion. Friction is inevitable between civilizations and has positive as well as negative effects. That violence may be one result of friction is tragic, but best dealt with through compromise and recognition of both human dignity and the inevitability of human failings.

In another sense, however, talk of a clash of civilizations is wrong-headed. It is wrong-headed, in Eliot’s terms, because it leads to the mistaken notion that cultural wars can be won on the battlefield—or for that matter “won” at all. Treating civilizations as monoliths rather than as constellations of cultures leads to a mechanistic, rationalistic view of the need to crush an opponent, when, in fact, cultures flourish not from warfare but from reinvigoration of daily practices. It is understandable, given the violence of current events in the Middle East, that many in the West are afraid of Islamic culture. But there is no single Islamic culture, and moreover, many of those most violently opposed to America’s presence in that region are not Islamic, or members of any religion other than a kind of nationalism.

Perhaps most debilitating has been the rash of calls to further secularize our culture, as if the real danger to our civilization comes from strong religious belief of any kind.[18] Such arguments are merely an extension of liberal secularism. Not only can we do without religious beliefs, on this view we are better off without them because they undermine the very institutions of individual rights and toleration that define our culture. As Eliot might have noted, such claims rest on ignorance, of the historical origins of our way of life, including individual rights. They also show an unwillingness to seriously consider the cultural issues in question.

If we are indeed in the midst of a particularly dangerous clash of civilizations, how can we possibly “win” by eviscerating what is left of our own culture? Ought we to further denigrate our religious framework at the same time that we hand over new powers to increasingly unchecked government agencies protecting “homeland security” and the like?

Near the end of Christianity and Culture Eliot makes the following point:

The unity of culture, in contrast to the unity of political organization, does not require us all to have only one loyalty: it means that there will be a variety of loyalties. It is wrong that the only duty of the individual should be held to be towards the State; it is fantastic to hold that the supreme duty of every individual should be towards a Super-State.(CC, 201)

It is ironic that Eliot is sometimes referred to as a kind of dangerous authoritarian even in these times of increasing centralization of power. For true freedom, the freedom to live one’s life in fruitful interaction with one’s fellows and the various cultures making up one’s society, requires that there be many centers of authority, and this is just what Eliot’s ecology of cultures makes clear.

This essay in our series of “Timeless Essays” was first published here in June 2012.  It originally appeared in the Political Science Reviewer (Volume XXXVII, 2008). Books by T.S. Eliot may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore


[1] One indication of this fact may be found in Eliot’s sharing the honor, with only Dryden and Johnson, of having an era of literature named after him in The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. This is noted by Frank D. McConnell in “Meeting Mr. Eliot,” Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1988, 152–63.

[2] See, for example, Walter Strauss, “The Merchant of Venom? T. S. Eliot and Anti-Semitism,” South Central Review 14, nos. 3 and 4 (Autumn–Winter 1997): 31–44.

[3] One highly useful example is Russell Kirk, Eliot and His Age (Peru, IL: Sherwood Sugden, 1984).

[4] Such arguments stem from Eliot’s satirical use of certain vulgar anti-Semitic stereotypes in a few poems and his reference in After Strange Gods to the cultural dangers of “any large number of free-thinking Jews.” The charge is put most forcefully in Anthony Julius, T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995). The charges are discussed and tempered if not refuted in Ronald Schuchard, “Burbank with a Baedeker, Eliot with a Cigar: American Intellectuals, Anti-Semitism, and the Idea of Culture,” Modernism/ Modernity 10, no. 1 (January 2003): 1–26.

[5] I will have something to say about the continuing relevance of this argument in the current era of a “clash of civilizations” below.

[6] This is different from, if not more potentially dangerous than, the petrifaction of cultural modes into a caste system.

[7] Robert A. Nisbet, “Uneasy Cousins” in Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate, ed. by George W. Carey (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 1998), 38–39.

[8] See Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).

[9] For our purposes here I pass over the obvious response: that even a passing knowledge of Gallicanism, the French doctrine whereby the king asserted control over the Catholic Church in his realm, and the growth of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction in medieval Europe would disprove such assertions. On the legal history see especially Berman, Law and Revolution.

[10] E. S. Abbott, H. J. Carpenter, V. A. Demant, Gregory Dix, T. S. Eliot, A. M. Farrer, F. W. Green, A. G. Hebert, R. C. Mortimer, A. M. Ramsey, A. Reeves, C. H. Smyth, the Bishop of Southampton, and L. S. Thornton, Catholicity: A Study in the Conflict of Christian Traditions in the West; A Report to the Archbishop of Canterbury (London 1947), 33.

[11] See Stanley L. Jaki, The Church of England as Viewed by Newman (Pinckney, MI: Real View Books, 2004), 59–63.

[12] Ibid., 171.

[13] Ibid., 36.

[14] Ibid., 33–34.

[15] See for example the discussion in Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1992), chap. 2.

[16] I seek here to make no brief for Catholicism on either theological or cultural terms. My point is merely that there are different kinds of religious diversity and that establishment is a more dangerous problem than Eliot seems to admit.

[17] Reason and the Reasons of Faith, ed. by Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hutter (New York: T & T Clark, 2005), 151–52.

[18] See, for example, Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve Books, 2007).

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1 reply to this post
  1. Sadly a man of Eliot’s stature today would never get a hearing. Thankfully he is remembered and read by some.

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