Christianity, Culture, and the Problem of Establishment
T. S. Eliot indisputably was, and remains, in the first rank of poets of any era and any culture. 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 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. Least regarded in the mainstream of English-speaking letters are Eliot’s writings on culture. Championed by a few religious and traditional conservative thinkers, these writings also are mentioned in connection with charges of Eliot’s anti-Semitism, 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, 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.Continue reading at www.imaginativeconservative.org