T. S. Eliot’s Conservative Modernism

Terry Eagleton at Commonweal:

By this point, the enlightened reader may well be wondering whether anything of value can be salvaged from this full-blooded reactionary. The answer is surely affirmative. For one thing, Eliot’s elitism, demeaning estimate of humanity, and indiscriminate distaste for modern civilization are the stock in trade of the so-called Kulturkritik tradition that he inherited. Many an eminent twentieth-century intellectual held views of this kind, and so did a sizeable proportion of the Western population of the time. This doesn’t excuse their attitudes, but it helps explain them. For another thing, such attitudes put Eliot at loggerheads with the liberal-capitalist ideology of his age. He is, in short, a radical of the right, like a large number of his fellow modernists. He believes in the importance of communal bonds, as much liberal ideology does not; he also rejects capitalism’s greed, selfish individualism, and pursuit of material self-interest. “The organization of society on the principle of private profit,” he writes in The Idea of a Christian Society, “as well as public destruction, is leading both to the deformation of humanity by unregulated industrialism, and so to the exhaustion of natural resources…a good deal of our material progress is a progress for which succeeding generations may have to pay dearly.”

more here.