The Quotable T.S. Eliot, Redux

The following quotes are from a 1933 speech Eliot gave considering the role of Catholicism (Anglo, mostly) in preserving western civilization.

IMGSource: Eliot, ESSAYS ANCIENT AND MODERN (London: Faber and Faber, 1936).

“I believe that the Catholic Church, with its inheritance from Israel and from Greece, is still, as it always has been, the great repository of wisdom. Wisdom seems to be a commodity less and less available in educational institutions; for the methods and ideals coming into vogue in modern education, scientific specialization on the one hand, and the treatment of humanities either as a kind of pseudoscience or as superficial culture, are not calculated to cultivate a disposition towards wisdom; something which, certainly, educational institutions cannot teach, because it cannot be learnt in the time or wholly in such surroundings, but which they can teach us to desire, which they can teach us how to go about acquiring. The modern world separates the intellect and the emotions. What can be reduced to a science, in its narrow conception of ‘science’, whatever can be handled by sharpness of wit mastering a limited and technical material, it respects; the rest may be a waste of uncontrolled behavior and immature emotion.  I wish that the classical conception of wisdom might be restored, so that we might not be left wholly to the political scientist on the one hand, or the demagogue on the other. For the ordinary politician, wisdom is identified with expediency, for the political scientist it disappears in theory; but wisdom, including political wisdom, can neither be abstracted to a science, nor reduced to a dodge; nor can you supply it by forming a committee composed of scientists and dodgers in equal numbers. And human wisdom, I add finally, cannot be separated from divine wisdom without tending to become merely worldly wisdom, as vain as folly itself.” Pages 117-118.

“And we ourselves, I suspect, are liable to fall into booby-traps of our own setting. We are in danger always of translating notions too literally from one order to another.  I discerned two chief pitfalls. The ideas of authority, of hierarchy, of discipline in order, applied inappropriately in the temporal sphere, may lead us into some error of absolutism or impossible theocracy. Or, the IDs of humanity, brotherhood, equality before God, may lead us to affirm that the Christian can only be a socialist. Heresy is always possible; and where there is one possible heresy, there are always at least two; and when to doctrines contradict each other, we do not always remembered that both may be wrong. And heresy may extend, of course, into affairs of this world which people do not ordinarily judge according to such standards; we might well expect to find it, for instance, in some forms of Fascism as well as in some forms of Socialism.” Pages 118 –119.

“But unless this humanity is considered always in relation to God, we may expect to find an excessive love that created beings, in other words humanitarianism, leading to a genuine oppression of human beings in what is conceived by other human beings to be their interest.” Page 119.

“For truly worldly wisdom leads up to, and is fulfilled in, and is incomplete without, other–worldly wisdom.” Page 120.

 “The Catholic should have high ideals — or rather, I should say absolute ideals — and moderate expectations: the heretic, whether he calls himself fascist, or communist, or Democrat or rationalist, always has low ideals and great expectations.” Page 122.

“What we have to aim at is not merely an order which will not contradict the Christian order, an order in which Christians and non-Christians can accommodate themselves in perfect harmony; any programme that a Catholic can envisage must aim at the conversion of the whole world. The only positive unification of the world, we believe, is religious unification; by which we do not mean simply universal submission to one world-wide ecclesiastical hierarchy, but cultural unity in religion — which is not the same thing as cultural uniformity.” Pages 123–124.

“Our duty, it seems to me, with regard to all purely secular attempts to set the world right, is to welcome them for what they are worth, when they have any good in them, and at the same time proclaim their limitations and the danger of expecting more of them than such human inventions can perform. We’ve been undeceived about developments which at one time or another were expected to bring unity to the world. At one time, progress and enlightenment were expected to do it; and the spread of democracy and Parliamentary institutions. I am afraid that this meant, so far as Britain and America were concerned, a belief that the one thing necessary was for the rest of the world to model itself or be modeled by force upon Britain or America respectively. The fact is that it is very difficult for any of us to know in what ways we are superior to other peoples, and in what ways merely different. At a later time, what was called the conquest of space was expected, by increasing facilities of communication between peoples, to favor understanding. The conquest of space has made it possible for peoples to fight from greater distances, but in other ways has not done all that it should: in America, thanks to the conquest of space, you can get fresh vegetables and fruit at anytime of the year, and none of it has any flavor. Standardization was expected to unify peoples, though perhaps at the price of monotony; standardization has tended to make peoples alike where they had better be different, and you can hear the same kind of music from any wireless station in Europe; but to exist in amity peoples need something more in common than a dance step, or universal mastery of Ford cars. More recently, we have often heard that the economic and financial independence of nations makes harmony and common action, if not inevitable, at least imperative: we must agree, or we shall perish. You can put a variety of savage beasts together in one cage, and tell them that they must tolerate each other and share their food equitably or they will perish: but it would be simpler and more humane to confine them in different cages according to their kind. Such interdependence of peoples of widely different emotional organization begins to appear now to be merely multiplying occasions of discord; and to hope for anything from it is the illusory reward of those who continue to perform oblations to that deceitful goddess of Reason who was only born some hundred and 50 years ago.” Pages 124–126.

“I have little hope for the future of America until that country falls apart into its natural components, divisions which should not simply be those of the old North and South and still less those of the 48 states. I imagine that my general sympathies and tendencies, in the matter of social and economic reform, are familiar to those which individual members of this School have expressed. But one thing I feel more and more sure, and that is that the Catholic cannot commit himself utterly and absolutely to any one form of temporal order. I do not mean by this that he should remain aloof, or refuse to champion any cause or adopt any course to which reason, sensibility and wisdom converge to point; but that his attitude must always be relative, that he must never devote the same passion to any Kingdom of this world that he should render to the Kingdom of God. There are many possible occasions on which he may suitably give up his life for temporal causes, but never his sense of values; remembering the Platonic hint that nothing in this world is wholly serious — that ‘nothing’ including of course the prolongation of one’s own existence in the world.” Pages 127 –128.

“Accordingly, if we are to contribute our share, not merely as citizens, but his Catholic citizens, we must not be content to peruse blue books, newspapers, and political and economic treatises; we must first of all become thoroughly conversant with our own theology.” Pages 128 –129.

“In any public causes to which we may devote ourselves, we are always likely to find ourselves allied with non-Catholics of goodwill; and we have sometimes to remind ourselves of the very different presuppositions which can underlie a common action. I have already suggested that the world is liable to set its ideals to low and its expectations too high; that it is apt to put a blind faith in mechanism; that it is apt to hope that an intelligent recognition of material interests and possibilities, arrived at by conferences and reports, will set things right. It expects too much from vague benevolence, and refuses to face the fact that no great change can ever come without a moral conversion. It lives in the constant expectation of some material miracle, and follows a Willow wisp which to some eyes takes the shape of Prosperity, and to others that of Revolution.” Pages 129 – 130.

“I believe that there is a Catholic habit of thought and feeling, which is a bond between Catholics of the most diverse races, nations, classes and culture.” Page 131.

“I have no more sympathy with the purely humanitarian attitude toward war than with the humanitarian attitude toward anything else: I should not enjoy the prospect of abolishing suffering without at the same time perfecting human nature. In face of any naturally horrifying phenomenon like war we must measure the suffering, direct and indirect, against the spiritual goods which may come of suffering. We may find that the proportion of futile suffering, and the that kind of suffering which makes men worse rather than better, with the which abates their human dignity and deadens their sense of their responsibility, is far too high; and that the total effect is at best one of futility. What we have to concern ourselves with primarily is the causes in modern society, in our industrial and financial machinery it may be, which bring about the kind of war which we have experienced; and to give our adherence to all alterations in that machinery which tend to remove the motives. We do not, I suppose, deny that society is very deeply affected morally and spiritually by material conditions, even by a machinery which has constructed piecemeal and with shortsighted aims. This is not to accept any doctrine of determinism, for it means no more than that society, and the majority of individuals composing it, are only imperfectly conscious of what they are doing, directed by impure motives and aiming at false goods.” Pages 133–134.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: