QUOTE FOR THE DAY: T.S. Eliot, "Catholicism and International Order":

My purpose so far has been simply to put forward that we, as Catholics, cannot simply accept or reject the solutions offered by specialized theorists in the world, according to whether they appear on the surface to admit of a place for us and our faith. We have to criticize the moral assumptions, explicit or implicit, and recognize what are, from our point of view, the limitations and errors of their authors. And we ourselves, I suspect, are liable to fall into boobytraps of our own setting. We are in danger always of translating notions too literally from one order to another. I discern two chief pitfalls. The ideas of authority, of hierarchy, of discipline and order, applied inappropriately in the temporal sphere, may lead us into some error of absolutism or impossible theocracy. Or the ideas 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 two doctrines contradict each other, we do not always remember that both may be wrong.

The identification of the religious impulse with criticism is appealing to me. Last week at a talk, I mentioned my occasional use of deconstructionism as an interpretive technique. This surprised the people there, who assume (rightly) that I have basically nothing in common with the writers who popularized the idea. The reply is to say that the belief in truth and the belief in social construction are not mutually exclusive, and one should be prepared to tear down what has been constructed. Eliot points in the same direction (though he misidentifies it as a Catholic-exclusive impulse; or rather that the Catholic impulse is much deeper than other Christian impulses): because the Christian recognizes how much proper foundations matter, he is unwilling to do with less than the very best. Consequently, every political or economic theory has to be examined from that standpoint.

When it comes to some of his more particular recommendations, I can only say I don't follow them; I ascribe this to the odd features of British life between the World Wars.


Emily Hale said...

"we, as Catholics" doesn't make all that much sense coming from Eliot, anyway (that may be harsh, but I've never heard it made sense of satisfactorily).

Nicholas said...

The essay is from an address to the... let me get the book... Anglo-Catholic Summer School of Sociology at Oxford. So presumably it's the very confused audience he's addressing. It was the very oddest feature of the essay, since I wouldn't think of him as being Catholic, either. He does lean on it a good deal, differentiating between "we Catholics" and "other Christians."