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T. S. Eliot, Part 2

T. S. Eliot, September 26, 1888–January 4, 1965

5,734 words

Part 2 of 2

Editor’s Note:

T. S. Eliot was born on September 26, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri. In honor of his birthday, we are publishing this essay by Kerry Bolton, the second and final part of which appears below.

The Criterion

If Western civilization was inexorably heading towards an undramatic, almost indiscernible whimpering dissolution, then at least Eliot was to provide both a warning and an alternative to decline and death. Among Eliot’s most important efforts was the founding of The Criterion, which was published from 1922 to 1939. The intent was to offer a cultural critique of the barbarity of modernism and champion a revival of Christian European culture; to provide an outlet for new writers, and to connect with others across Europe. When Eliot founded The Criterion, his ideas having been well-established since his tutelage under Babbitt at Harvard, he promoted it as a Tory publication representing “reaction” and “revolution,” in opposition to “suburban democracy.”[1]

First and foremost a Christian traditionalist, Eliot did not see the advent of Fascist Italy as optimistically as did Ezra Pound, although he refused to engage in intellectual tub-thumping, even when the treatment of Jews in National Socialist Germany was provoking widespread criticism. He described the prevailing anti-fascism as an “emotional outlet” for liberals, and as distracting them “from the true evils of their own society.”[2] As mentioned earlier, he refused to take a position on the Spanish Civil War,[3] and even criticized Oxford when the University declined to participate in the bicentennial celebrations of the University of Göttingen in 1937, in protest against the restrictions against Jews. Eliot’s position was that public institutions should not be political pawns, and that the associations of academics between nations should not be affected.

However, Eliot wondered whether Mussolini did represent “Authority and Tradition,” in the historical European sense.[4] He considered it likely that fascism was, like Communism, a substitute religion, and probably incompatible with Catholicism. For Eliot, the monarch and not the dictator symbolized the necessary authority, and this was tempered by the subjection of the throne to “one higher authority . . . the Church.”[5] His was basically a neo-Medieval outlook.

In 1928, Eliot came to the defense of Maurras who, as leader of the L’Action Française, had been condemned by the Vatican.[6] Nearly a decade later he came to the defense of Wyndham Lewis, who did not disguise his sympathies for Fascism or his contempt for the Bloomsbury coterie, Eliot stating that “anyone who is not enthusiastic about the fruits of liberalism must be unpopular with the Anglo-Saxon majority.”[7] Even in 1960, Eliot insisted that the word “fascist” is “flung by massenmensch at some, who like Lewis, choose to walk alone.” [8]

In the June 1928 issue of The Criterion Eliot clarified his position, stating that the problems with civilization would be studied. He included in that issue a review of Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt, by the economic reformer Professor Frederick Soddy,[9] whose book was a seminal influence on the thinking of the early banking reformers. The review of the Soddy book (by J. McAlpine) explained that the medieval era had a social order based on the Church, which was organized through guilds, in which “money-dealing,” was condemned, and in which faith was interwoven through the social fabric. The remnants of this traditional order were finally destroyed with the Industrial Revolution and domination by “a cash relationship.” Clearly, Eliot held the same outlook, which was also the outlook of Orage whose influence promoted the careers of many new talents, including Eliot and Pound.

In keeping with this “neo-medievalism,” Eliot sought a return to a rural society, harking back to the organic society that had existed prior to industrialism and urbanization. Hence, in October 1931 Eliot wrote in The Criterion that agriculture ought to be “saved” because it is “the foundation for the good life in society; it is, in fact, the normal life.”

For Eliot, economics and politics must be subjected first to moral and spiritual foundations. From these foundations economic and political problems are resolved. Writing in 1933, Eliot disputes the notion that political and economic reform must arrive first, followed by the moral question. A new economic system must be related to “a moral system.” “Moralists and philosophers must supply the foundations of statesmanship, though they never appear in the forum.”[10] This also alludes to the purpose of The Criterion, in forming a metapolitical school of moralists and philosophers who could reshape the social and moral order (and consequently the political and economic order), not just of Britain, but of Europe, whose culture Eliot regarded as unitary.

Articles on Social Credit published during 1935 dealt specifically with the economic question. The Criterion of July 1935 carried reviews by well-known commentator on economics, R. McNair Wilson, dealing with six books about Social Credit. Wilson stated that European civilization came into being on the basis of an economic system that repudiated usury, giving rise to the flowering of medieval culture, when, with an abundance of leisure (100 holy days plus the 52 Sundays) “small villages” were able to build magnificent cathedrals which endure to the present. Indeed, it is a fundamental principle of Social Credit that its system of economics would again provide an abundance both of general prosperity and of leisure, enabling culture to flourish again. What eventuated in the modern world has not been increased leisure and wider prosperity, despite the prospects held out by mechanization. Rather, there has been an increase in both working hours and in the retirement age. The same problems have only been exacerbated in the present day.

The final issue of The Criterion carried these parting words from Eliot, in summation of his outlook: “For myself, a right political philosophy came more and more to imply a right theology—and right economics to depend upon right ethics: leading to emphases which somewhat stretched the original framework of a literary review.”[11] This was the predicament of Pound, Yeats, Lawrence, Campbell, and all the other literati who saw culture as endangered by mass society engendered alike by Bolshevism, capitalism, and democracy. Men such as Pound saw the answer in a counter-modern doctrine, Fascism; while most, like Eliot, Yeats, and Campbell saw the answer in reaction and looked on Fascism suspiciously as yet another revolt of the masses.

After Strange Gods

Industrialism and the concomitant phenomena of cosmopolitanism and alien immigration undermine the tradition upon which culture is based by breaking the chain which transmits culture through generations. In a lecture at the University of Virginia in 1933 (published the following year as After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy), Eliot stated that the USA had not, and probably would not, recover from the Civil War, which was a victory of plutocracy and industrialism against tradition and agrarianism. He said to his Virginia audience that “the chances for the re-establishment of a native culture are perhaps better here than in New England. You are farther away from New York; you have been less industrialized and less invaded by foreign races; and you have a more opulent soil.”[12]

The reference to New York can be seen as an allusion to the negative impact of cosmopolitanism on culture. Eliot proceeded to comment that the destruction of the soil also brought the destruction of the native qualities of a people, given that there is a two-way influence between race and soil. He referred to his native New England as “the half-dead mill towns of southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts”:

It is not necessarily those lands which are the most fertile or most favoured in climate that seem to me the happiest, but those in which a long struggle of adaptation between man and his environment has brought out the best qualities of both; in which the landscape has been moulded by numerous generations of one race, and in which the landscape in turn has modified the race to its own character.[13]

Eliot commended those who wished for a revived agrarian South who, despite being ridiculed as nurturing an impossible dream, were nonetheless embarking on a worthy cause against “the whole current of economic determinism,” “a god before whom we fall down and worship with all kinds of music.” However, Eliot stated:

I believe that these matters may ultimately be determined by what people want; that when anything is generally accepted as desirable, economic laws can be upset in order to achieve it; that it does not so much matter at present whether any measures put forward are practical, as whether the aim is a good aim, and the alternatives intolerable. There are, at the present stage, more serious difficulties in the revival or establishment of a tradition and a way of life, which require immediate consideration.[14]

In conflict with economic determinism, “What I mean by tradition involves all those habitual actions, habits, and customs, from the most significant religious rite to our conventional way of greeting a stranger, which represent the blood kinship of the same people living in the same place.”[15]

This conception of tradition repudiates the notion of multiculturalism, which is a manifestation of economic determinism, whether in its capitalistic or socialistic forms. Eliot stated that where more than one culture exists in a locality the formation and transmission of a culture is subverted. Eliot was not advocating racial supremacy, which he viewed as clinging “to traditions as a way of asserting our superiority over less favoured peoples.” What is required for a tradition to become established is a sense of place and permanence. “The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate.”[16]

Eliot’s recommendation has, of course, become ever more impossible, as capitalism has developed until we have what is today called “globalization.” There are no settled or homogenous communities, and a new form of economic nomadism has formed a cosmopolitan class devoid of any attachments to locality, custom or tradition. This condition has been lauded by G. Pascal Zachary in The Global Me as virtually a new human species at the service of global capitalism[17]

Against what is today championed by men like Zachary as the unlimited possibilities of economic advance offered by the global village and the global market place, Eliot contends: “We must also remember that in spite of every means of transport that can be devised the local community must always be the most permanent.” This concept of the local community for Eliot even took precedence over the nation, which was only useful insofar as it allowed for the stability of the community, which in turn was a grouping of families, rooted to place through generations. A nation’s “strength and its geographical size depend upon the comprehensiveness of a way of life which can harmonise parts with distinct local characters of their own.”[18] Hence, regionalism, or separatism, will arise when the nation-state becomes centralized and intrudes upon local tradition, for “It is only a law of nature, that local patriotism, when it represents a distinct tradition and culture, takes precedence over a more abstract national patriotism.”[19]

For those who interpret the Right as synonymous with nationalism and loyalty to the nation-state, this repudiation of nationalistic and statist sanctity will appear confusing. However, the Right is a manifestation of tradition rather than of nation-states, which destroyed the traditional principalities, regions, and city-states that comprised the high culture of Western civilization. Eliot points out that “the consciousness of ‘the nation’ as the social unit is a very recent and contingent experience. It belongs to a limited historical period and is bound up with certain specific happenings.”[20] Rather, “genuine patriotism” only has depth when there is a society “in which people have local attachments to their small domain and small community, and remain, generation after generation, in the same place.” [21]

This is a call to reject cosmopolitanism, universalism, and urbanization: all the symptoms of the modern epoch of decay, and to return to the land, to the village, to the produce markets and church; all that which seems evoked by the word parish. One is reminded of the nostalgia for the organic society, stable and transmitting a fixed culture generation after generation, evoked by Knut Hamsun in such novels as Growth of the Soil.

The Idea of a Christian Society

The Criterion ceased publication as the Second World War approached. Eliot saw the rise of fascism and of nationalistic impulses as a disappearance of the “European Mind,” which he had sought to revivify. Fascism and nationalism represent variants of modernity, and indeed spring from the same Enlightenment milieu as rationalism and liberalism, despite the traditionalism found in most varieties of fascism.

Not unlike Eliot, reactionaries such as Yeats and Julius Evola rejected fascism and statist nationalism for the same reasons: they represented mass mobilization; they were plebeian and modern; they were championed by Futurists under Marinetti in Italy, rejecting all tradition; they were intrinsically republican and centralist.

On the other hand, Eliot, as a reactionary in the most positive sense of the word, was a royalist and decentralist. He looked to a Europe of faith, to the gentry and the nobility, rather than the bureaucrat and the technocrat. He preferred farm, cottage, and church to steel and mechanization. Eliot’s Europe, like that of Yeats and others, was dealt the death blow by the Second World War, as it had been dealt an earlier, almost lethal blow by the First World War, from which it had been nowhere near recovery.

Eliot even expressed his reservations about fascism in a now little-known play that was performed at Saddlers Wells Theatre, London, which depicted with equal disquiet contending Redshirts and Blackshirts. Nevertheless, it should not be thought that Eliot had become some sort of liberal who had repudiated earlier views under the pressure of anti-fascist conformity, a position that some have well-meaningly attempted in Eliot’s defense against attacks from Leftist critics.[22]

Eliot’s answer was, as ever, a return to Christianity as the social ethos. Eliot expounded this view in The Idea of a Christian Society, a work published shortly after the demise of The Criterion, in 1939. A society founded on the Christian ethos would “compel changes in our organization of industry and commerce and financial credit,” and it would facilitate rather than (as it does at present) impede a life of devotion for those capable of it.[23]

On the eve of war with the totalitarian states, Eliot did not shrink from castigating the nebulousness of the political terms that had assumed sanctity in the Western world: “liberalism” and “democracy.” In particular, “democracy” has attained the height of popularity, and even those who sympathized with the Hitler regime used the word in a positive sense, while legitimately claiming (in agreement with Eliot) that what governs the “democratic” states is “financial oligarchy.” The doctrine that continued to animate democracy is “liberalism,” and here Eliot maintained his critical attitude, stating that liberalism “still permeates our minds and affects our attitude towards much of life . . . [and] tends to release energy rather than to 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; 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 negation: the artificial, mechanized or brutalized control, which is a desperate remedy for its chaos. [24]

It is here that the fascist can justly interject that “Liberalism is the handmaiden of Bolshevism,” but the reactionary can also point out that liberalism paved the way for both capitalism, with its focus on property relations enshrined as sacrosanct in the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and the American Revolutionary Bill of Rights, and even fascism which arose from the concepts of the nation-state against thrones and altars, of the Revolutions of 1776 and 1789, and those of Europe in 1848.

The most acute forms of liberal dissolution are in states that have become most industrialized. Hence, men and women of all classes are “detached from tradition, alienated from religion, and susceptible to mass suggestion: in other words, a mob. And a mob will be no less a mob if it is well fed, well clothed, well housed, and well disciplined.”[25] Here we see cogently expressed the concerns that took some of Eliot’s contemporaries (Pound, Lawrence, Yeats, et al.) to the Right. The rise of the mob was concomitant with that of liberalism and democracy, and such a society was not conducive to high culture, but rather to barbarity. Today it seems superfluous to make any comment on the accuracy of the predictions of Eliot and company on the results of liberalism on the social and cultural body.

The alternative to the dissolutive impact of liberalism is the basic social unit that Eliot identified in England as the parish, a “unitary community” of a “religious-social” character, which has been undermined by industrialism and urbanization.[26] The parish is:

a small and mostly self-contained group attached to the soil and having its interests centred in a particular place, with a kind of unity which may be designed, but which also has to grow through generations. It is the idea, or ideal, of a community small enough to consist of a nexus of direct personal relationships, in which all iniquities and turpitudes will take the simple and easily appreciable form of wrong relations between one persona and another.[27]

A Christian society would be based on what would be habit and custom rather than law.[28] Alienation from the land caused by the Industrial Revolution, which started in England and then infected the entirety of Western civilization, led to urban drift and both to what Marx referred to as “the proletarianization of the yeomanry,” and to the creation of the mercantile class in place of the gentry. Eliot saw urbanization as ruinous to culture, as did contemporaries such as New Zealand poet Fairburn, Norwegian writer Hamsun, and English writer Henry Williamson. Eliot returned to the question of the rural basis of culture and demographic health, and the ruinous character of urbanization in The Criterion several years after discussing the problem in his Virginia address:

To understand thoroughly what is wrong with agriculture is to understand what is wrong with nearly everything else: with the domination of Finance, with our ideals and system of Education, indeed with our whole philosophy of life. . . . What is fundamentally wrong is the urbanization of mind of which I have previously spoken, and which is increasingly prevalent as those who rule, those who speak, those who write, and developed in increasing numbers from an urban background. To have the right frame of mind . . . it is necessary that the greater part of the population, of all classes (so long as we have classes) should be settled in the country and be dependent upon it. One sees no hope whether in the Labour Party or in the equally unimaginative dominant section of the Conservative Party. There seems no hope in contemporary politics at all.[29]

Again, Eliot is looking to a bygone age, and toward the medieval, where the social organism was cohesive, society was predominantly rural, vocations were organized into guilds, and not only was there no “domination of Finance,” usury was sin.

Post-War Years

Since Eliot had never endorsed fascism his support for Britain against the Axis during the Second World War was consistent with his view prior to the war, rather than a matter of conformity. However, Eliot saw the war as having ruined the unity of European culture, with a world now dominated by the USSR and the USA.[30]

Eliot was not blinded by American blandishments. He disliked Roosevelt and held the USA accountable for both the Yalta accord, which delivered half of Europe to the USSR, and for the disintegration of the British Empire, which was one of several factors leading to what Eliot regarded as an impending Dark Age.[31]

In 1947 Eliot’s first wife Vivien died, and he was in declining health. He went to the US that year and also continued with religious retreats and observances. In 1948 he was awarded the Order of Merit.[32] That year he returned to America, where he continued writing a new play, The One-Eyed Riley, having been granted a visiting fellowship with Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study. This was interrupted when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which required attending the Stockholm ceremony. Also that year, the first of three volumes were published in his honor, T. S. Eliot: A Symposium.[33] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture was also published in 1948.[34]

Eliot had not been compromised by the mania for liberalism, internationalism, and egalitarianism in the aftermath of the war. Writing in 1961 for a new edition of Notes Towards a Definition of Culture published in 1962, he stated that, on re-reading the book, he found nothing to retract.[35] His conception of society continued to be of classes as purveyors of the cultural legacy from generation to generation, rather than specialized “elites” confined to limited functions. This class-based culture was not, however, the property of a single class but of the social organism as a totality, the health and continuation of a culture being reliant “on the health of the culture of the people.”[36] The whole of the population should be active in cultural activities, albeit “not all in the same activities or on the same level,” but on the basis of what he called “group culture.”[37] The social order should allow for the best—whether in politics or the arts—to “rise to the top” and influence taste.[38] Eliot did not view the elimination of class, including the “upper class” in the name of equality, as something desirable. While it might have little effect in a state of lower development, elsewhere, it can be “a disaster.”[39] The danger of elites replacing classes is that such elites have no common bond other than as what we might call professional functionaries who, states Eliot, lack “social continuity.” A class-structured society, on the other hand, is a “natural society.” Therefore, Eliot championed the aristocracy but not an “aristocratic society” per se. The difference is that Eliot’s vision was of a cohesive social structure in which aristocracy played its role, which was as essential and valuable as all the others.[40] This we might identify as an organic society: a social organism based on “a continuous gradation of cultural levels” in which the “upper levels” are distinguished as possessing the highest degrees of cultural consciousness. Each class would have different responsibilities suited to it, rather than the egalitarianism of democracy that becomes “oppressive for the conscientious and licentious for the rest.” The social organism is founded on family, which is the means by which culture is transmitted over generations.[41] I suggest that the way of looking at how such a society worked was via the guilds of medieval Europe, and we might recall here that Eliot had started his vocation as a close associate of Orage, a prominent advocate for both Social Credit and guild socialism, and that Eliot opened the pages of The Criterion with such views.

However, in the aftermath of the Second World War, with the advent of a Labour Government in Britain, and the domination of the US over Europe, Eliot’s focus for change moved from Britain to the Continent, and to the survival of European civilization as a whole. In 1945 he expressed concern that what lay ahead was “centuries of barbarism” ushered in by the supremacy of technology.[42]

In 1946 he gave three radio talks to a German audience, which were reprinted as an appendix to Notes, entitled “The Unity of European Culture.” He began by lauding the English language as the best specifically for writing poetry, but also as a language that itself represented the unity of European culture, in synthesizing German (Saxon), Scandinavian (Danish), French (Norman), Latin, and Celtic. Most importantly to the poet, each contributed its own “Rhythms,” a composite of so many different European sources.”[43] Of the fundamental unity among Europeans, “no one nation, no one language, would have achieved what it has, if the same art had not been cultivated in neighboring countries and in different languages. We cannot understand any one European literature without knowing a good deal about the others.” European poetry is “a tissue of influences woven to and fro.” Those poets who only knew their own tongue were nonetheless subject to influences from wider sources. The vitality of poetry must be maintained by a continual interaction from outside, while also having sources that are “peculiarly its own.”[44]

While there had in recent times been an influence from Oriental sources, and Eliot did not advocate cultural isolation, he nonetheless stated that it is a shared history that provides the basis for a unitary cultural organism where “countries which share the most history, are the most important to each other, with respect to their future literature,” as well as for the other arts. “Wherever a Virgil, a Dante, a Shakespeare, a Goethe is born, the whole future of European poetry is altered. . . . Every great poet adds something to the complex material out of which a future poetry will be written.”[45] Hence, a tradition is accumulated and transmitted, and forms the foundation for the future.

With The Criterion, Eliot had aimed for an interchange of new ideas across Europe, and this had been proceeding through contact with similar journals in France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. What emerged however, because of the political situation and the rise of national antagonisms before the war, was a cultural isolation among Europeans, which had a “numbing effect upon creativity” in each nation.[46] Eliot saw politics as divisive for culture.[47] Hence, we might understand why he chose to remain “neutral” on issues that preoccupied the intelligentsia, such as the Spanish Civil War. What The Criterion had sought, above political and national differences, was “an international fraternity of men of letters, within Europe, a bond which did not replace, but was perfectly compatible with, national loyalties, religious loyalties, and differences in political philosophy.”[48]

Eliot viewed with concern political nationalism that denigrated other European cultures. But for the post-war world there emerged the problem of “the ideal of a world state in which there will, in the end, be only one universal world culture.” Culture was an organism that had to grow and be nurtured like other living organisms, and could not be contrived through the machinery of government, including world government. The cultural health of Europe required that the culture of each country should remain unique, and that each should realize their relationship to the other on the basis of a “common element,” “an interrelated history of thought and feeling and behaviour.”[49]

Eliot sought to define culture to delineate the “material organisation of Europe” and the “spiritual organism of Europe.” “If the latter dies, then what you organise will not be Europe, but merely a mass of human being speaking several different languages.” One thinks immediately here of the artificial construct of the EEC.

Under such contrivances, even differences in language will no longer matter, since there will no longer be anything left to say that cannot be said in any other language. Further, there is a differentiation of “higher” and “lower” cultures, “higher” being “distinguished by differentiation in function,” with a “less cultured and more cultured strata of society.” While the culture of a laborer, a poet, a politician, a painter will all be different, “in a healthy society these are all parts of the same culture,” and all these classes “will have a culture in common, which they do not share with other people of the same occupations in other countries.” [50]

Hence Eliot’s conception of society and culture was organic and repudiates not only cosmopolitism of all types, but notions of class struggle and economic determinism.

As always, the ultimate unitary factor for European culture remained, for Eliot, the Christian faith. “If Asia were converted to Christianity tomorrow, it would not thereby become a part of Europe.” Christianity has shaped the arts and laws of Europe. The individual, although not personally confessing Christianity, will nonetheless have been shaped by that heritage.[51]

This organic, cultural unity is of a different character to that of the political loyalty demanded by statist ideologies. Here we have a reason why Eliot could not support fascism. It is also why he risked condemnation as being “pro-Nazi” for refusing to support Oxford’s boycott of Göttingen University’s bicentennial celebrations on political grounds: “No university ought to be merely a national institution, even if it is supported by the nation. The universities of Europe should have their common ideals, they should have their obligations towards each other.”[52] They should serve cultural, not political ends, to preserve learning, pursue truth, and attain wisdom, rather than existing to fill a state’s bureaucracy.

Eliot feared for the future of European culture, and the advance of barbarism via the primacy of technology. He appealed to “the men of letters of Europe” to transcend differences and preserve and transmit the common cultural legacy “uncontaminated by political influences.” He regarded the “spiritual possessions” of several thousand years as in “imminent peril.”[53]

His warnings were prescient. The nightmare of soulnessness was unleashed and has grown exponentially under the impress of globalization. It is superfluous to comment in detail; it is evident on a daily basis to anyone attuned to the rhythms of history. When one academic can nonetheless still state in a biography of Eliot that “the barbarians did not arrive in his lifetime,”[54] that blindness is itself symptomatic of a cultural malaise.

One of Eliot’s great post-war feats was his leading role in securing the release of Ezra Pound from St. Elizabeth’s lunatic asylum in 1958, “largely as the result of Eliot’s collaboration with Robert Frost and Archibald McLeish in petitioning the American government.”[55]

Unlike Ezra Pound, during his lifetime Eliot seems to have mostly escaped the opprobrium illiberality attracts. However, after death he has become a figure of hatred, and in 1988 The London Jewish Chronicle condemned Jews who were involved in the T. S. Eliot Centenary Fund at the London Library.[56] Such meanness of spirit would not have biased Eliot’s attitude towards others, including Jews, when considering the merits or otherwise of one’s creativity; any more than it did the supposedly rabid “anti-Semite” Ezra Pound.

What the liberal critic is incapable of conceiving is that a cultural luminary such as Eliot, Hilaire Belloc, or Pound could—like the Zionist—be conscious of the otherness of the Jew in the Gentile society, while not necessarily harboring antagonism towards Jews on a personal basis. One such example is Eliot’s letter of December 9, 1920 to Ezra Pound referring to the poetry of Louis Zukofsy as “highly intelligent and honourably Jewish.”[57]

For those concerned with the malaise of Western culture, the great contribution of Eliot was to define culture, and to establish, to use his own word, a criterion for art. It is a counterblast against those—the majority among today’s artists, art critics, patrons, publishers, gallery owners, curators, etc.—who toss about clichés claiming that art is too “subjective,” too personal to be defined; that there is no criterion, no standard, that art can be “anything.” He also showed that tradition is not synonymous with stagnation and does not preclude innovation. Indeed Eliot, Ezra Pound, and others of that milieu were the great innovators of their time.


[1] Ackroyd, p. 143.

[2] T. S. Eliot, The Criterion, Vol. 18, No. 70, October 1938, pp. 38–39.

[3] T. S. Eliot, The Criterion, Vol. 16, No. 63, January 1937, p. 290.

[4] T. S. Eliot, The Criterion, Vol. 4, No. 2, April 1926, p. 222.

[5] T. S. Eliot, The Criterion, Vol. 13, No. 53, July 1934, pp. 628–30.

[6] M. R. Stevens, “T. S. Eliot’s Neo-Medieval Economics,” Journal of Markets & Morality, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 1999, p. 235.

[7] T. S. Eliot, Review of Wyndham Lewis’ The Lion and the Fox (1927) in Twentieth Century Verse, No. 6/7, November/December 1937, pp. 6–9.

[8] T. S. Eliot, “Foreword,” Wyndham Lewis, 1933, One-Way Song (London: Methuen, 1960), p. 10.

[9] Stevens, p. 236.

[10] T. S. Eliot, “Commentary,” The Criterion, July 1933.

[11] T. S. Eliot, “Last Words,” The Criterion, January 1939.

[12] T. S. Eliot, After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy (London: Faber and Faber, 1934), p. 16.

[13] After Strange Gods, p. 17.

[14] After Strange Gods.

[15] After Strange Gods, p. 18.

[16] After Strange Gods, p. 19.

[17] G. Pascal Zachary, The Global Me: Why Nations Will Succeed or Fail in the Next Generation (New South Wales: Australia, Allen and Unwin, 2000).

[18] After Strange Gods, p. 20.

[19] After Strange Gods, p. 20.

[20] After Strange Gods, p. 20. Eliot is here quoting V. A. Demant, God, Man and Society, p. 146.

[21] T. S. Eliot, “Commentary,” The Criterion, Vol. 11, October 1931.

[22] G. Simmers, “T. S. Eliot’s Attack on Anti-Semitism,”

[23] T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society (London: Faber and Faber, 1939), p. 11.

[24] The Idea of a Christian Society, pp. 16–17.

[25] The Idea of a Christian Society, p. 21.

[26] The Idea of a Christian Society, p. 30.

[27] The Idea of a Christian Society, p. 31.

[28] The Idea of a Christian Society, p. 34.

[29] T. S. Eliot, “A Commentary,” Criterion, No. 18, Oct. 1938, pp. 59–60.

[30] A. S. Dale, T. S. Eliot: The Philosopher Poet (Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2004), p. 161.

[31] Dale, p. 162

[32] Dale, p. 168.

[33] Dale, p. 169.

[34] Dale, p. 170.

[35] Eliot, Notes Towards a Definition of Culture (London: Faber & Faber, 1962), p. 7.

[36] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 35.

[37] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, pp. 38–39.

[38] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 45.

[39] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 46.

[40] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 48.

[41] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 48.

[42] Eliot, Horizon, August 1945.

[43] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 111.

[44] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, pp. 112–13.

[45] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 114.

[46] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 116.

[47] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 117.

[48] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 118.

[49] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, pp. 118–19.

[50] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 120.

[51] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 122.

[52] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 123.

[53] Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, p. 124.

[54] Ackroyd, p. 273.

[55] Ackroyd, p. 329.

[56] M. Kakutani, “Critic’s Notebook; Examining T. S. Eliot and Anti-Semitism: How Bad Was It?” The New York Times, August 22, 1989.

[57] Sharpe, T. S. Eliot: A Literary Life, p. 171.



  1. Jaego
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    His viewpoint was a noble one. I’m reminded of a famous book “The Treason of the Intellectuals” where the author says, While no one expects intellectuals to be be able to soothe the savage beasts like Orpheus, at least let them not roll in the mud with them.

    But such neutrality is alien to the 20th century as Yeats expressed better than any. But who was right Pound or Elliot? Elliot was right in his criticism of Fascism but wrong in thinking that Society was healthy enough to regenerate – or that the System would allow any such regeneration. Fascism was the only vehicle available at the time to do battle. Perhaps there will be a better one for next time.

    One of the Popes, Pius the 8th or 9th corresponded with Jefferson Davis. He couldn’t support the Confederacy openly, nor was he enamoured of slavery, but he knew that Yankee Capitalism was by far the greater threat to the future of the world.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 27, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      This is well-put. But put yourself in Eliot’s place: When he moved to the UK, it was a world power, with a king and an established church. He did not grasp how hollow and rotted out that vast edifice was. Others who were more insightful or maybe just cynical did see how fragile and past regeneration the Empire had become, and thus the necessity of a more radical attempt to restore premodern social forms in modernity.

      • Jaego
        Posted September 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Oh yes, hindsight is perfect. And I certainly don’t criticize his personal choice of relocation. He was obviously a very sensitive man and despeately ill from America. My view of him has gone up since reading this piece actually. He was more of a fighter than I thought. I had believed that he had if not recanted, at least shut up completely.

  2. Posted September 26, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Anyone who is now encouraged to discover more about TS Eliot and his works is invited to visit our website at The TS Eliot Society UK, where there is a wealth of links and resources for enthusiasts and scholars.

  3. Sandy
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    That would be revolutionary: A Christian society would be based on what would become habit and custom rather than law.[28]

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