Nancy Gish wrote:
> I would truly like to see some return on this list to genuine
> discussion based on reasons and analyses--the kind of thing Tom and
> Rickard and Jerome and Diana and a few others do try to inject.
Thank you Nancy. I've made several attempts to write about ASG over
the last week or more but I haven't mustered enough enthusiasm to
overpower the work involved.
In short though I'm a modern heretic in that I do not see anti-Semitism
in Eliot's remark on freethinking Jews.
Russell Kirk, a noted conservative who also knew Eliot personally (and
wrote "Eliot and his Age"), probably had a better idea than most what
Eliot intended by his remark. I'm going to quote him below but first I
want to point out an essay of his online titled "The Moral Imagination"
This essay, in which Eliot features prominently, covers the real points
Eliot wanted to get across in his ASG lectures, something not mentioned
in the recent TSE List posts.
Now for a portion of Kirk's "T. S. Eliot On Literary Morals" as seen
Why have these lively lectures been virtually suppressed?
Chiefly because of an aside on page 20. There Eliot is
discussing the conditions necessary for a tradition to
develop and survive, with particular reference to Christian
tradition and to Virginia. For tradition to endure, he
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.
Howls of rage, in New York especially, arose at this passage
when Eliot’s little volume was published in 1934; the same
fulminations against Eliot were uttered in 1989, when the
first volume of his letters was published. The New York
Times, never forgiving Eliot for his Charlottesville
lectures, thereafter dealt him a knock whenever opportunity
occurred. Actually this alleged “anti-Semitism” was merely
an illustration of the principle that a culture—which arises
from a cult—cannot well abide two radically different
religions. It would be equally true that a community of
orthodox Jews would be distressed and resentful, were they
to find themselves beset by a Comus’s rout of free-thinkers
nominally Christian. The religion, or anti-religion, of the
“free-thinking Jews” that Eliot had in mind was not Judaism,
but rather secular humanism (a term employed by Eliot’s
friend Christopher Dawson). It was the predominance of this
secular humanism (or humanitarianism, the term preferred by
Irving Babbitt) that caused Eliot to remark, later, that the
worst form of expatriation for an American writer is
residence in New York City.
Let me point out that Eliot got back to tradition and religion in ASG
where it appears he was not too happy with the race and religion of
Europeans mucking with Chinese tradition: "China is--or was until the
missionaries initiated her into Western thought, and so blazed a path
for John Dewey--a country of tradition; ..."