T. S. Eliot, Notes Towards a Definition of Culture (London: Faber & Faber 1948)

[Source: Copy in possession of BS; includes slipped in signed typewritten letter from T. S. Eliot dated 10th September 1941 acknowledging another from Sybil Le Brocquy of 26th August saying that the Drama League would like to include The Family Reunion among its forthcoming productions and notifying her that the request has been passed on to Mr Ashley Dukes of the Mercury Theatre, with an further acknowledgement that he has met Mr. Liam Redmond. Mrs. Le Brocquy was the former owner of the book.]

And here we may remark that when a dominant class, however badly it has performed its function, is forcibly removed, its function is not wholly taken over by any other. The “flight of the wild geese” is perhaps a symbol of the harm that England has done to Ireland - more serious, from this point of view, than the massacres of Cromwell, or any of the grievances which the Irish most gladly recall. [In “The Class and the Elite”, being Chap. II; p.46.)

A man who, in order to understand the inner world of a cannibal tribe, has partaken of the practice of cannibalism, has proba ly gone too far: he can never quite be one of his own folk again. (p.41; footnotes Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as giving “a hint of something similar.”]

On the whole it would appear to be for the best that the great majority of human beigs should go on living in the place in which they were born. Family, class and local loyalty all support each other’ and if one of these decays, the others will suffer also. (p.52.)

We are, you will notice, primarily concerned with the particular constellation of cultures which is found in the British Isles. The clearest among the differences to be considered is that of the areas which still possess languages of their own. Even this division is not so simple as it looks: for a people (like the English-speaking Irish) which has lost its language may preserve enough of the structure, idiom, intonation and rhythm of its original tongue (vocabulary is of minor importance) for its speech and writing to have qualities not elsewhere found in the language of its adoption. And on the other hand a “dialect” may preserve the vestiges, on the lowest level of culture, of a variety of the language which once had equal status with any. But the unmistakeable satellite culture is one which preserves its language, but which is so closely associated with, and dependent upon, another, that not only certain classes of the population, but all of them, have to be bi-lingual. It differs from the culture of the independent small nation in this respect, that in the latter it is usually only necessary for some classes to know another language; and in the independent small nation, those who need to know one foreign language are likely to need two or three: so that the pull towards on foreign culture will be balanced by the attraction of at least one other. A nation of weaker culture may be under the influence of one or another stronger culture at different periods: a true satellite culture is one which, for geographical and other reasons, has a permanent relation to a stronger one. (p.54.)


The other reason for the preservation of local culture is one which is also a rason for the satellite culture continuing to be a satellite, and not going so far as to try to cut itself off completely. It is that the satellite exercises a considerable influence upon the stronger culture; and so plas a larger part in the world at large than it could in isolation. For Ireland, Scotland and Wales to cut themselves off completely from England would be to cut themselves off from Europe and the world, and no talk of auld alliances would help matters. But it is the other side of the question that interests me more, for it is the side that has been receiving less acknowledgement. it is that the survival of the satellite culture is of very great value to the stronger culture. It would be no gain whatever for English culture, for the Welsh, Scots and Irish to become indistinguishable featureless “Britons”, at a lower level of culture than that of any of the separate regions. On th econtrary, it is of great advantage for English culture to be constantly influenced from Scotland, Ireland and Wales. (p.55.)

[...] But if I can defend with any succes the thesis, that it is to the advantage of England that the Welsh should continue to be Welsh, the Scots Scots and the Irish Irish, then the reader should be disposed to agree that there may be some advantage to the other peoples in the English continuing to be English. It is an essential part of my case, that if the other cultures of the British Isles were wholly superseded by English culture, English culture would disappear too. Many people take it for granted that English culture is something self-sufficient and secure; that it will persist whatever happens. While some refuse to admit that any foreign influence can [57] be bad, others assume complacently that English culture could flourish in complete isolation from the Continent. To many it has never occurred to reflect that the disappearance of the peripheral cultures of England (to say nothing of the more humble peculiarities within England itself) might be a calamity. We hvae not given enough attention to the ecology of cultures. It is probable, I think, that complete uniformity of culture throughout these islands would bring about a lower grade of culture altogether. [...]

[...] For a national culture, if it is to flourish, should be a constellation of cultures, the constituents of which, benefiting each other, benefit the whole. / At this point I introduce a new notion: that of the vitral importance for a society of friction between its parts. [...] We think of friction as a waste of energy. [...; 58] I now suggest that both class and region, by dividing inhabitnats of a country into two different kinds of groups, lead to a conflict favourable to creativeness and progress. [...] A country in which division has gone to far is a danger to itself: a country which is too well united - whether by nature or by device, by honest purpose or by fraud and oppression - is a menace to others. In Italy and Germany, we have seen that a unity with politico-economic aims, imposed violently and too rapidly, had unfortunate effects upon both nations. [...; 59] (pp.57-58.)

Numerous cross-divisions favour peace within a nation, by dispersing and confusing animosities; they favour peace between nations, by giving every man enough antagonims at home to exercise all his aggressiveness. [...] A nation which has gradations of class seems to me, other things being equal, likely to be more tolerant and pacific than one which is not so organised. (p.60.)

Totalitarianism appeals to the desire to return to the womb. (p.68.)

No statistician could produce an estimate of the numbers of Christians and non-Christians [in England]. Many people live on an unmarked frontier enveloped in dense fog; and those who dwell beyond it are mor enumerous in the dark waste of ignorance and indifference, than in the well-lighted desert of atheism. (p.72.)

[...] in the course of time we make many errors and commit many crimes - most of which may be simplified into the one error, of identifying our religion and our culture on the level on which we ought to distinguish them from one another. / Such considerations are relevant not only to the history of religious strife and separation: they are equally pertinent when we come to enterrain schemes for reunion. (p.77.)

The definition of the purpose of education in The Church Survey Their Task returns to plague us like the laughter hyaenas at the funeral. Where that culture is regarded as final, the attempt is made to impose it on younger minds. Where it is viewed as a stage in development, younger minds are trained to receive it and to improve [107] upon it. These are cossetting phrases which reprove our cultural ancestors - who had no notion of the extent to which their culture was going to be imporved upon after the Oxford Confernce on Church, Community and State in 1937. We know now that the highest achievements of the past, in art, in wisdom, in holiness, were but “stages in development” which we can teach our springalds to improve upon. We must not train them merely to receive the culture of the past, for that would be to regard the culture of the past as final. We must not impose culture upon the young, though we may impose upon them whatever political and social philosophy is in vogue. And yet the culture of Europe has deteriorated visibly within the memory of many who are by no means the oldest among us. And we know, that whether education can foster and improve culture or not, it can surely adulterate and degrade it. For there is no doubt that in our headlong rush to educate everybody, we are lowering our standards, and more and more abandoning the study of those subjects by which the essentials of our culture - of that part of it which is transmissable by education - are transmitted; destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanised caravans.
 The previous paragraph is to be considered only as an incidental flourish to relieve the feelings of the writer and perhaps of a few of his more sympathetic readres. It is no longer possible, as it might have been a hundred years ago, to find consolation in prophetic gloom; and such a means of escape would betray the intentions of this essay as staed in my introduction. [...] (p.108.)

[Goes on to consider what can be done to create conditions ’most favourable to the growth and survival of a superior culture”, and remarks that “one thing to avoid is a universalised planning” while “one thing to ascertain is the limits of the plannable”.]

Eliot quotes Burke’s definition of Jacobinism: “in taking the people as equal individuals, without any corporate name or description, without attention to property, without division of powers, and forming the government of delegates from a number of men, so constituted; in destroying or confiscating property, and bribing the public creditors, or the poor, with the spoils, now of one part of the community, now of another, without regard to prescription or profession.” (Burke, Remarks on the Policy of the Allies.) (p.100, n.)