Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Censored Wisdom of T.S. Eliot

Eliot, unfortunately for us, censored himself on at least one occasion. Virginia Quarterly Review explains:
In May 1933, T. S. Eliot delivered three lectures at the University of Virginia, as part of the Page-Barbour Series. By Eliot’s own description, these lectures were intended as “further development of the problem which the author first discussed in his essay, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent.’”...

[T]he lectures, gathered in Spring 1934 as the slim volume After Strange Gods, have gained most of their notorious reputation, because they contain some of the strongest evidence of Eliot’s intolerance for non-Christian religions and his blatant anti-Semitism. At one point, he declared that, “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. What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.”...

Barely a decade later....Eliot had grown leery of having his remarks published in post-Nazi Europe. Eliot withdrew After Strange Gods from publication, and it has remained unavailable ever since.

[O]ne of the lectures, “Personality and Demonic Possession,” appeared in VQR in January 1934.... The following essay is decidedly the least incendiary of the three Eliot delivered at Virginia; however, even here it is clear the degree to which his dogmatic artistic beliefs have blurred into social intolerance.
VQR, being a publication with academic pretensions, evidently takes the position that to it amounts to "social intolerance" when someone has coherent literary and social standards -- as opposed to the morally relativistic stance that all ideas and cultures are created equal. What VQR calls "social intolerance," is really a defense of the kind of civility and civilization that enables VQR and its ilk to survive, which it would not have done in the USSR or could not do in the Caliphate.

Recent events in Europe -- and long-term trends in the United States -- attest to the wisdom of Eliot's statement that "where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate." That really is an understatement, given the barely contained (and sometimes uncontained) state of tension (and sometimes violence) that exists where whites, blacks, and tans rub together in the U.S., and where Muslims and non-Muslims rub together in Europe.

Eliot does go too far in his emphasis on religious homogeneity. Jews certainly can be and have been staunch defenders of Western civilization -- by which I mean a republican government of limited powers; respect for the rule of law; and, underpinning those things, rationality as opposed to emotionalism in political and civil discourse. But it must be said that many Jews (along with many more non-Jews) have been prominent among those who advance and fund ideas that are inimical to Western civilization. But the failings of those particular Jews cannot be laid to Judaism, else the failings of their non-Jewish brethren could be laid to Christianity.

In any event, here is what Eliot has to say about emotionalism, on page four of "Personality and Demonic Possession":
[E]xtreme emotionalism seems to me a symptom of decadence; it is a cardinal point of faith in a romantic age to believe that there is something admirable for its own sake in violent emotion, whatever the emotion or whatever its object. But it is by no means self-evident that human beings are most real when most violently excited; violent passions do not in themselves differentiate men from each other, but rather tend to reduce them to the same state.... Furthermore, strong passion is only interesting or significant in strong men; those who abandon themselves without resistance to excitements which tend to deprive them of reason become merely instruments of feeling and lose their humanity; and unless there is moral resistance and conflict there is no meaning. But as the majority is capable neither of strong emotion nor of strong resistance, it always inclines, unless instructed to the contrary, to admire passion for its own sake; and if somewhat deficient in vitality, people imagine passion to be the surest evidence of vitality.
Thus do demagogues dupe the masses.