Monday, November 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 6.1 (T.S. Eliot)

Selected Prose
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Eliot, T.S.
Selected Prose

This, like all of my Eliot books, was purchased back in college. It was purchased for a graduate course I took my senior year on Modernist poetry. We mostly went back and forth between the essays and the poetry of each writer, looking to see what, if any, relation there was between them.

Eliot, to me, is like an ivy league college, that is, a gifted producer of authority. He condemns the lax standards of his time. He bemoans the loss of tradition (and authority) invested in longstanding institutions, especially religious ones. And then he writes from the position of one who would be the bulwark between institutional breakdown and total anarchy. He would save our institutions from the encroaching democratic mobs.

All of which adds up to a pretty successful afterlife as a poet and critic. Institutions take care of their own, ad eternum.

from The Idea of a Christian Society

If, then, Liberalism disappears from the philosophy of life of a people, what positive is left? We are left only with the term 'democracy,' a term which, for the present generation, still has a Liberal connotation of 'freedom'. But totalitarianism can retain the terms 'freedom' and 'democracy' and give them its own meaning: and its right to them is not so easily disproved as minds inflamed by passion suppose. We are in danger of finding ourselves with nothing to stand for except a dislike of everything maintained by Germany and/or Russia: a dislike which, being a compost of newspaper sensations and prejudice, can have two results, at the same time, which appear at first incompatible. It may lead us to reject possible improvements, because we should owe them to the example of one or both of these countries; and it may equally lead us to be mere imitators
a rebours, in making us adopt uncritically almost any attitude which a foreign nation rejects.

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