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Two long essays: “The Idea of a Christian Society” (on the direction of religious thought toward criticism of political and economic systems) and “Notes towards the Definition of Culture” (on culture, its meaning, and the dangers threatening the legacy of the Western world).


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Two long essays: “The Idea of a Christian Society” (on the direction of religious thought toward criticism of political and economic systems) and “Notes towards the Definition of Culture” (on culture, its meaning, and the dangers threatening the legacy of the Western world).

30 review for Christianity and Culture: The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is certainly an important entry into the discussion about the relationship between Christianity and culture. Eliot, writing in the 1930s from Britain, offers a vision of Christian society that is distinct from the society in which he then lived--in other words, he acknowledges that what once may have been a Christian society had then moved past such a designation. This fact is significant because it forces Christians to grapple with the world as it is, rather than as we imagine it to be. Fu This is certainly an important entry into the discussion about the relationship between Christianity and culture. Eliot, writing in the 1930s from Britain, offers a vision of Christian society that is distinct from the society in which he then lived--in other words, he acknowledges that what once may have been a Christian society had then moved past such a designation. This fact is significant because it forces Christians to grapple with the world as it is, rather than as we imagine it to be. Furthermore, Eliot believes that culture is in constant danger absent a Christian society, and that we would do well to become a Christian society. Eliot does not mean by this that everyone should become Christian, but that we should push toward organizing ourselves around the Christian ideals and symbols that have historically characterized that religion. After sketching "The Idea of a Christian Society," in the first essay, Eliot moves on to lay out "Notes on the Definition of Culture," in his second, and longer essay. In this essay, Eliot believes that all culture has appeared or developed alongside a religion, thus making culture and religion intertwined. Eliot lays out a number of ideas in this section, from the notion that culture should be thought of in three ways: individual, group, and society. He believes that culture benefits from class structures, as they provide opportunities to transmit information in clearly defined roles and traditions. Eliot's fear is that without certain structures in society that culture will eventually disintegrate as people lose their connection to their individual and group cultures. Eliot distinguishes between his notion of class and the more offensive idea of a caste system. He believes that all people, when possessing certain genius or ability, should be able to step outside the traditional roles of their class and into other roles. All that said, Eliot has a great appreciation for culture at all levels of society, and that while those of upper classes may have a more broad or delicate sensibility when it comes to culture, all expressions of culture have a certain value to them. The book is a major attempt to interact with the relationship between Christianity and culture, and while it is difficult to see how the ideas might translate outside of the more structured society of Britain, the work does help to give definition to the close relationship between religion and culture, as well as a number of the factors that serve to make up any particular culture.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hunter McClure

    It is a goddamned shame that Eliot is so often cast as a reactionary or even a fascist, as if his thinking can be easily mapped onto a left-right political spectrum. I think this has something to do with an inability on the part of Americans to think of a conservatism that isn't bedfellows with corporate power. In this scathing attack on liberalism and nihilism, Eliot makes no bones with the established right wing -- indeed, he remarks at several points that conservatism as it currently exists i It is a goddamned shame that Eliot is so often cast as a reactionary or even a fascist, as if his thinking can be easily mapped onto a left-right political spectrum. I think this has something to do with an inability on the part of Americans to think of a conservatism that isn't bedfellows with corporate power. In this scathing attack on liberalism and nihilism, Eliot makes no bones with the established right wing -- indeed, he remarks at several points that conservatism as it currently exists is undesirable and lends itself to cultural petrification. I find myself particularly moved by his concern for the environment and his disgust at the effects of industrialism, quoted below: "We are being made aware that the organisation of society on the principle of private profit, as well as public destruction, is leading both to the deformation of humanity by unregulated industrialism, and to the exhaustion of natural resources, and that a good deal of our material progress is a progress for which succeeding generations may have to pay dearly. I need only mention, as an instance, now very much before the public eye, the results of “soil-erosion”—the exploitation of the earth, on a vast scale for two generations, for commercial profit: immediate benefits leading to dearth and desert. I would not have it thought that I condemn a society because of its material ruin, for that would be to make its material success a sufficient test of its excellence; I mean only that a wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God, and that the consequence is an inevitable doom. For a long enough time we have believed in nothing but the values arising in a mechanised, commercialised, urbanised way of life: it would be as well for us to face the permanent conditions upon which God allows us to live upon this planet. And without sentimentalising the life of the savage, we might practise the humility to observe, in some of the societies upon which we look down as primitive or backward, the operation of a social religious-artistic complex which we should emulate upon a higher plane. We have been accustomed to regard “progress” as always integral; and have yet to learn that it is only by an effort and a discipline, greater than society has yet seen the need of imposing upon itself, that material knowledge and power is gained without loss of spiritual knowledge and power." It is high time that we take Eliot seriously as a political thinker without restricting him to a caricature right wing stance. His thought is much more complex than we have yet given him credit.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is really two books in one--the first focuses on the Church and State relationship, the second on defining and discussing a Christian culture. There is much good here, though I found his style made it difficult to follow the thread of his argument. There are some good, challenging ideas here. For example, he argues against the merits of a classless society, arguing instead that societies should be hierarchical with dynamic classes in tension with one another and people moving in and out of This is really two books in one--the first focuses on the Church and State relationship, the second on defining and discussing a Christian culture. There is much good here, though I found his style made it difficult to follow the thread of his argument. There are some good, challenging ideas here. For example, he argues against the merits of a classless society, arguing instead that societies should be hierarchical with dynamic classes in tension with one another and people moving in and out of a class. This is a good book to understand the cultural changes of the last one hundred years. I recommend it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jon Beadle

    4.5 stars for its scope and brilliance. Eliot was a traitor to the liberal doctrine; and every Christian should appreciate him for such defection.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    Recommended by James Schall in Another Sort of Learning, Chapter 20, as one of Ten Books on the Humanities. Included in the "Literary Classics" section of Fr. John McCloskey's 100-book Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan. Recommended by James Schall in Another Sort of Learning, Chapter 20, as one of Ten Books on the Humanities. Included in the "Literary Classics" section of Fr. John McCloskey's 100-book Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    T.S. Eliot is well known as a poet, and somewhat well known as a playwright, but his work on philosophy is not sufficiently well-known, and this book is a solid example of the sort of work that should be far better recognized.  When we think of culture, there are a variety of ways we can think of it as, including the artifacts that are part of a civilization, bacteria growing in a petri dish, music and art, or religion.  The author demonstrates how all of these various matters can be viewed as i T.S. Eliot is well known as a poet, and somewhat well known as a playwright, but his work on philosophy is not sufficiently well-known, and this book is a solid example of the sort of work that should be far better recognized.  When we think of culture, there are a variety of ways we can think of it as, including the artifacts that are part of a civilization, bacteria growing in a petri dish, music and art, or religion.  The author demonstrates how all of these various matters can be viewed as interconnected, so that manners, art, and religion are all connected to each other as being essential elements of the survival of a culture.  If the author does not get too much into the arguments over culture that exist, in the sense that he maintains a reasonable attitude, he does point out the relationship between culture on various levels and scopes that makes this a very enjoyable work overall.  If you happen to like culture, and hate what is done to it, there is a lot here that one can enjoy as the proper definition and understanding of culture does help us preserve it simply by being ourselves and doing things that end up becoming aspects of culture. This book is a short one at around 100 pages.  Really, this is an essay more than a book, but it is a long enough essay that it can be marketed as a book, as it has been.  The author begins with an introduction into how it was that the project came to be.  After that the author looks at three senses of culture and the relationship between culture and civilization (1).  This leads to a discussion of the relationship of classes and elites, and an insightful look at the difference between castes and classes (2).  After that there is a discussion of unity and diversity as it relates to the regions in which culture appears (3), as well as a discussion of unity and diversity as it relates to sects and cults, with a look at heathen religion as well as Christianity (4).  After that the author discusses the relationship between culture and politics (5) as well as providing some notes on the relationship between education and culture (6), as well as a conclusion.  After this comes an appendix (i) that looks at the unity of European culture, which gives the author the opportunity to praise those creative and cultural aspects of other nations that he most respects. One of the most striking aspects of what the author says is that one does not improve the culture directly, but only indirectly, in the same manner that one finds happiness only indirectly, not by seeking it, for seeking it is the fastest way to make oneself miserable and seeking to uplift culture is the fastest way to harm it.  How is it that we help out with culture?  Simply by being ourselves and doing what human beings do.  And that ought to be enough, but that is usually not what people mean.  The author also points out, quite sensibly, that it is so difficult to be cultured in all aspects of the term that it is really only meaningful for human beings to look at culture in the larger picture of communities and societies, since well-mannered individuals are not often artistic, and intellectuals are not always religiously devout, but having a well-functioning culture requires all of those elements.  The fact that they are difficult to maintain in an age that is actively hostile to good manners and faith demonstrates that it is easier to recognize that culture is endangered than it is to do something about it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Cook

    These sober and thoughtful essays were first published in 1939 and provide a wonderful example of Eliot's talents as an essayist. There are two somewhat related essays in this collection: "The Idea of a Christian Society" and "Notes Towards the Definition of Culture" which is followed by a short Appendix concerned with the "unity of European culture." "The Idea of a Christian Society" is precisely what it claims to be: the idea of society based on Christianity. The essay focuses on why this is d These sober and thoughtful essays were first published in 1939 and provide a wonderful example of Eliot's talents as an essayist. There are two somewhat related essays in this collection: "The Idea of a Christian Society" and "Notes Towards the Definition of Culture" which is followed by a short Appendix concerned with the "unity of European culture." "The Idea of a Christian Society" is precisely what it claims to be: the idea of society based on Christianity. The essay focuses on why this is desirable and teases out the implications of what such a society would mean. Eliot does not go into detail about how this society would look or even about how it would be accomplished. Rather, this reads like an engaging series of speculations taking the idea of Christian society seriously. He takes various shots at Conservatism and Liberalism, the latter of which he claims "destroys the traditional social habits of the people" and in doing so "prepare the way for that which is its own negation, the artificial, mechanical, or brutalised control which is a desperate remedy for chaos." He does not provide the illustration or system of reasoning for working this out, but the reader is probably able to do so for him or herself. Eliot goes on to divide his Christian society into four parts: a Christian community, Christian state, Community of Christians, and the Christian society as a whole. He doesn't do the work of allocating separate responsibilities to each part: again this is left up to the reader. What he does stress is the idea that a Christian society will manifest itself "wholly" through behavior, most of which ought to be unconscious. He concludes with a few notes on the separation of Church and State. "By alienating the mass of people from orthodox Christianity and leading them to suspect the Church of being an instrument of oligarchy or class...(they) leave men's minds exposed to the varieties of irresponsible and irreflective enthusiasm followed by a second crop of paganism." This seems right (Eliot doesn't speak much about the idea of corruption from within the Church) but I have no counter argument or other authors' opinions to support it. The second essay is wholly concerned with the idea of culture. Much of the essay is concerned with defining culture by what it is not or by how it is falsely identified (as a kind of synechdoche, as emotional stimulant). He never reaches the definition on point, but rather provides something on the lines of culture as that which is most highly valued and important, and which engages all classes within the society. This comes close to a definition of a religious value, and it should come as no surprise that Eliot draws the parallel towards the end of the essay. Eliot does not furnish the reader with many illustrations of his ideas. This can make for some difficult reading, the best way of remedying which is plenty of rereading. He is also more academic conservative in his estimates and ideas, although I am inclined to think that he has taken a laudable position in speaking about religion seriously without giving way to proselytizing or Bible-beating: attitudes now dominating so many religious spheres.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Wall

    The idea of a Christian Society Christian Ed. , per author, would train people to think in Christian categories but would not impose the necessity for insincere profession of belief. p. 22 Clerisy categorized so intelligent class, per Coleridge, is split for University level, the parochial pastorate, and local schoolmasters. p. 28 Folly is not the prerogative of any one political party or any one religious communion, and that hysteria is not the privilege of the uneducated. p. 46 good one! . . . hi The idea of a Christian Society Christian Ed. , per author, would train people to think in Christian categories but would not impose the necessity for insincere profession of belief. p. 22 Clerisy categorized so intelligent class, per Coleridge, is split for University level, the parochial pastorate, and local schoolmasters. p. 28 Folly is not the prerogative of any one political party or any one religious communion, and that hysteria is not the privilege of the uneducated. p. 46 good one! . . . higher forms of devotional life. . . p. 47 pretty broad category. When one is educated in theology, brought up in theology, and talks and lives with people of theology, then that one will, very very likely think in terms of theology. Appendix The Church exists for the glory of God and the sanctification of souls. p. 72 3 very subjective words -- God - sanctification .. souls. Definition of culture. . . . advantages of birth . . . . p. 89 . . . asks whether there are any permanent conditions, in the absence of which no higher culture can be expected. p. 91 A religion requires not only a body of priests who know what they are doing, but a body of worshippers who know what is being done. p. 96 Culture may even be described simply as that which makes life worth living. p. 200 some groups develop two religions -- one for the populace and one for the adepts. p. 10-1 . . . any religin, while it lasts, and on its own level, gives an apparent meaning to life, provides the framework for a culture, and protects the mass of humanity from boredom and despair. p. 106 We have all observed individuals occupying situations in life for which neither their character nor their intellect qualified them, and so placed only through nominal education, or birth or consanguinity. No honest man but is vexed by such a spectacle. p. 109 . . . no man wholly escapes from the kind, or wholly surpasses the degree, of culture which he acquired from his early environment. p. 115 [reasons to read books] acquisition of wisdom, the enjoyment of art, and the pleasure of entertainment. p. 163 !!!!!! A high average of general education is perhaps less necessary for a civil society than is a respect for learning. p. 177 !!!!!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Scott J Pearson

    I first read these essays while a senior at college. Now, about twenty years later, I reread them in a study on the English poet TS Eliot. Eliot uses language very carefully, as any poet should, but he is a poet approaching the world of an anthropologist. Further, he writes in an era (pre- and post-World-War-II) in which European culture was pulled apart at the seams and remade again. Eliot himself is an American transplant in England. He was largely self-educated, though he studied at Harvard an I first read these essays while a senior at college. Now, about twenty years later, I reread them in a study on the English poet TS Eliot. Eliot uses language very carefully, as any poet should, but he is a poet approaching the world of an anthropologist. Further, he writes in an era (pre- and post-World-War-II) in which European culture was pulled apart at the seams and remade again. Eliot himself is an American transplant in England. He was largely self-educated, though he studied at Harvard and Oxford. He converted to Anglicanism from a vague Unitarian background. He writes about Christianity as the glue that stands behind European and Western culture. Eliot appreciates pluralism and diversity. He states just such in his first essay. He sees (correctly) that Christianity consists of a diverse culture which is interested in many things: especially in the education of both youths and adults and broadly in the worlds of the state, society, and the arts. One cannot help but wonder what Eliot would think about today’s increasingly pluralist world whose composition extends beyond Christianity into Islam, agnosticism, atheism, and other faiths. The future of the West seems more like India than Rome. Was Eliot merely one of the last gasps of Christianity or does he have something unique to contribute to our discussion? These themes are why I picked up this book again. I let my subconscious process his insights framed in history and set in a beautiful use of the English language. As always happens with these difficult and broad topics, I came to no definite conclusions. Nonetheless, upon concluding the book, I feel as if I have traversed these topics just a little bit more. Many talk about these issues, but few do so with as cultured and definite a voice as Eliot. That’s why it’s well worth the time to read him.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rex Libris

    A very good collection of two (longer) essays on the nature of Christian Society and government. Everyone knows Eliot as a poet, but after reading this book I have to say he has an intellect of the first rate. Eliot's understanding of the relationship between religion and government is very different from the views espoused by many today. He is not proposing anything resembling a theocracy; rather, government would be very "agnostic." As it is a government founded by a Christian culture, it woul A very good collection of two (longer) essays on the nature of Christian Society and government. Everyone knows Eliot as a poet, but after reading this book I have to say he has an intellect of the first rate. Eliot's understanding of the relationship between religion and government is very different from the views espoused by many today. He is not proposing anything resembling a theocracy; rather, government would be very "agnostic." As it is a government founded by a Christian culture, it would not be Christian, but rather set up a legal framework that would allow the Christian culture to thrive. Herein is one of the areas in which Eliot has a lot to say to us today. For Eliot, government is what allows culture to thrive. A government that IS the culture is a failed society. Government ought to be downstream from culture, but today culture is downstream from government. Another issue Eliot speaks to is the whole notion of "social justice." Justice with any kind of qualification ceases to be justice, but rather has some group or another putting the thumb on the scales and perverting justice to its favor.

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Doel

    This book contains a series of talks given by T. S. Eliot shortly before World War 2 and some essays and talks from shortly after the war. His vocabulary is enormous and much of the writing is heavily philosophical, so this is one of those experiences where I may have absorbed some things without fully understanding or appreciating them. For me, the most useful experience was the very last item labeled as an appendix (entitled The Unity of European Culture). He was giving it to a German audience, This book contains a series of talks given by T. S. Eliot shortly before World War 2 and some essays and talks from shortly after the war. His vocabulary is enormous and much of the writing is heavily philosophical, so this is one of those experiences where I may have absorbed some things without fully understanding or appreciating them. For me, the most useful experience was the very last item labeled as an appendix (entitled The Unity of European Culture). He was giving it to a German audience, so maybe he decided to eliminate the seven-syllable words. I think his thoughts in that essay would be useful today as we confront a clash of cultures within our own country, largely driven by politics. We need to get over the politics and our dislike of one another and return to being one nation under God. There is more to our culture than politics, much more and every one of us has something to contribute. If you didn't learn a lot about the book from my review, that's okay because you probably won't read it anyway.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jack W.

    One of the most insightful books on culture, faith, and society I have read. In an age when most protestant public theology is either Marxist (Paulo Freire) or weak (Miroslav Volf), Eliot offers just the opposite, a Christian defense of class, Christian nationalism, and anti-liberalism. I have seen quotes from these works in Russell Kirk, Patrick J. Buchanan and James Jordan, not to mention numerous conservative journals. Yet Eliot is not writing for the soundbite, but to persuade a generation o One of the most insightful books on culture, faith, and society I have read. In an age when most protestant public theology is either Marxist (Paulo Freire) or weak (Miroslav Volf), Eliot offers just the opposite, a Christian defense of class, Christian nationalism, and anti-liberalism. I have seen quotes from these works in Russell Kirk, Patrick J. Buchanan and James Jordan, not to mention numerous conservative journals. Yet Eliot is not writing for the soundbite, but to persuade a generation of skeptics of the reasonableness of a Christian state, and to a generation of Christians to remember the good of a Christendom that now is just a byword to modern progressives. He prefigures Sohrab Ahmari's recent work by denying that "rights" are ends in themselves, and gives the basis of a public theology that Anglo-American statesmen should seriously consider. This is a must read for American Christians disillusioned with the state of liberalism yet unenthused by Integralism or its dead Presbyterian cousin, Reconstructionism.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark Seeley

    Perceptive analysis but definitely dated. When Eliot wrote this, he said, "We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline." I wonder what he would assert in 2019 when race, gender and class have eclipsed all of what is good, true and beautiful? Eliot is certainly right in claiming that "culture can never be wholly conscious..." Mainly because he don't perceive our culture because we see with it. It is the unconscious background in our thinking and planning. We can't ste Perceptive analysis but definitely dated. When Eliot wrote this, he said, "We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline." I wonder what he would assert in 2019 when race, gender and class have eclipsed all of what is good, true and beautiful? Eliot is certainly right in claiming that "culture can never be wholly conscious..." Mainly because he don't perceive our culture because we see with it. It is the unconscious background in our thinking and planning. We can't step outside of it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Good European perspective on the relationship between church and culture, including how government and education play a role. T.S. Eliot clearly functions on a higher level than I do and the book was published in 1939, so there are some parts where I'm just like "huh?" Enjoyed for the most part, though Good European perspective on the relationship between church and culture, including how government and education play a role. T.S. Eliot clearly functions on a higher level than I do and the book was published in 1939, so there are some parts where I'm just like "huh?" Enjoyed for the most part, though

  15. 5 out of 5

    Karla Perry

    This was an excellent part of the continuing conversation on culture and what it means to have a Christian culture. Truly a fascinating read by one of the world's great poets. This was an excellent part of the continuing conversation on culture and what it means to have a Christian culture. Truly a fascinating read by one of the world's great poets.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anton Pokrivcak

    His ideas are still valid.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alan Reynolds

    Two books in one volume. A rare old rant, most unconvincing, although I did not finish it so may have missed the good parts.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    Outstanding.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Both of these essays are pretty essential reading. In the first, Eliot considers the problem of trying to sustain a Christian society. He sees a lack of a religious establishment a major obstacle to creating and sustaining a Christian social imaginary, though he is not necessarily comfortable with taking any kind of repressive or discriminatory measures, either. Overall, a helpful challenge to think through what we really want when we desire a Christian society. The second essay on culture trace Both of these essays are pretty essential reading. In the first, Eliot considers the problem of trying to sustain a Christian society. He sees a lack of a religious establishment a major obstacle to creating and sustaining a Christian social imaginary, though he is not necessarily comfortable with taking any kind of repressive or discriminatory measures, either. Overall, a helpful challenge to think through what we really want when we desire a Christian society. The second essay on culture traces the close connection between religion and culture.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    This book gave me plenty to think about. I didn't always agree with Eliot, but I always found him thought-provoking. Here are a few of the points where Eliot seems to get things right: 1. A society is "Christian" to the extent that it directs life towards Christian ends. That is, in a Christian society, even a non-Christian would be channeled toward Christian ends simply through the structures of society. Conversely, in a un-Christian society, even a Christian is frequently morally culpable simply This book gave me plenty to think about. I didn't always agree with Eliot, but I always found him thought-provoking. Here are a few of the points where Eliot seems to get things right: 1. A society is "Christian" to the extent that it directs life towards Christian ends. That is, in a Christian society, even a non-Christian would be channeled toward Christian ends simply through the structures of society. Conversely, in a un-Christian society, even a Christian is frequently morally culpable simply for living and participating in the system. e.g. Our current mode of consumption at the cost of others and the environment. 2. The church - even an established one like the Church of England - should always be a countervailing influence to nationalism because it is a part of the transnational Universal Church. 3. Greed is likely the dominant vice of the modern age. 4. Christianity is not wed to a particular political system. "We have no assurance that a democratic régime might not be as inimical to Christianity in practice, as another might be in theory" (45). 5. He identifies a very close link between religion and culture. They're not identical, but highly interdependent. He describes culture as the incarnation of religion. 6. The church should be more confident in its critique of society - identifying where a culture fails to align with the principles Christianity - than in proposing the right way to proceed. "It is more the business of the Church to say what is wrong, that is, what is inconsistent with Christian doctrine, than to propose particular schemes of improvement. What is right enters the realm of the expedient and is contingent upon place and time...But the Church can say what is always and everywhere wrong" (76). 7. One difference between the secular reformer and the Christian reformer is that the former always identifies social evils as lying outside himself (in other people or in impersonal systems) while the latter implicates herself as part of the problem. 8. Culture, as a way of life, encompasses much more than we are conscious of. One cannot fully understand a culture unless one becomes a participant. 9. Belief and behavior cannot always be carefully distinguished. 10. He identifies a form of cultural imperialism: "America has tended to impose its way of life chiefly in the course of doing business and creating a taste for its commodities. Even the humblest material artefact, which is the product and the symbol of a particular civilisation, is an emissary of the culture out of which it comes" (168).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    It was probably because I had such high expectations, but when the author is T. S. Eliot one cannot avoid high expectations. In addition, I had read a lot of hype about the book from conservative intellectuals who had found great meaning in Eliot's essays. I really wanted to like it. And, okay, I like it. There are a few quotes that I've marked and will return to for further thought, but I'm not going to read the book again. What is there has been said before, and better. This book has the same It was probably because I had such high expectations, but when the author is T. S. Eliot one cannot avoid high expectations. In addition, I had read a lot of hype about the book from conservative intellectuals who had found great meaning in Eliot's essays. I really wanted to like it. And, okay, I like it. There are a few quotes that I've marked and will return to for further thought, but I'm not going to read the book again. What is there has been said before, and better. This book has the same tone as a rambling journal entry. Eliot goes on and on about how culture has been defined too narrowly. He defines culture in his own idiosyncratic way to embrace not just education, religion, art, tradition, language and so on, but all of that and more. I would say, in essence, that he is describing culture as if it were the medium in which we live. It is much as a fish would describe water. A fish could describe water narrowly, as the medium which keeps them afloat, or as the force they feel upon their fins as they adjust their orientation, or as the source of the oxygen they need to survive, but they still would miss a lot. Water is not just present externally in the things that the fish could feel, but internally in their very cells. That's about how Eliot is defining culture, but without my creative metaphor. Eliot says a lot, but doesn't really make a cogent argument about much of it. Even what I thought would be the main point, the relationship between culture and religion, is merely asserted without much explanation and with no proof. He alludes to the books by Christopher Dawson, who wrote extensively and persuasively on the subject, but Eliot doesn't even outline any of Dawson's evidence. Eliot merely makes the claim that Dawson has proven that religion is the root of all culture and that Christianity is the root of Western Civilization. Unless you are content with the few tidbits of Eliot's point of view in this book, save your time and money, just go read Dawson's books. You'll get much more out of them.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Certainly some stuff worth reading in here. However, there was also large sections that were either un-noteworthy or completely entrenched in the political world of England in the mid-twentieth century.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    A slightly strange book containing two essays: The Idea of a Christian Society, and Notes towards the Definition of Culture. The second essay, somewhat more substantial than the first, isn’t explicitly Christian, so the title’s a bit misleading. Both are carefully reasoned, original and thought-provoking, with Notes presenting an extended meditation on culture and a meticulously developed definition (which is sometimes rather surprising). Eliot’s analysis is complex and penetrating, his conclusi A slightly strange book containing two essays: The Idea of a Christian Society, and Notes towards the Definition of Culture. The second essay, somewhat more substantial than the first, isn’t explicitly Christian, so the title’s a bit misleading. Both are carefully reasoned, original and thought-provoking, with Notes presenting an extended meditation on culture and a meticulously developed definition (which is sometimes rather surprising). Eliot’s analysis is complex and penetrating, his conclusions are elaborate and subtle, with a picture of culture that’s highly organic, diverse, complex and broader than conventional conceptions of culture. It’s one of those uncommon books that made me consider something more carefully than I had, reflect critically on the author’s ideas, and end up with a fuller and more rationally and consciously developed idea than I had previously. You don’t come across books that do that often. I’d liked Eliot as a poet, but after reading this I hope to get more familiar with his essays.

  24. 4 out of 5

    J. Alfred

    These essays, which read as being paranoid and stoic by turns, were published from a variety of times just before, during, and after World War Two, which makes a good deal of sense. When the world looks a lot like it might be ending, I suppose that those are reasonable and even impressive reactions. TS Eliot is a really smart guy, and if you're interested in hearing his views on the world OUTSIDE of the lens of his poetry, this is a good way to go (one could argue, I think, that most of what he These essays, which read as being paranoid and stoic by turns, were published from a variety of times just before, during, and after World War Two, which makes a good deal of sense. When the world looks a lot like it might be ending, I suppose that those are reasonable and even impressive reactions. TS Eliot is a really smart guy, and if you're interested in hearing his views on the world OUTSIDE of the lens of his poetry, this is a good way to go (one could argue, I think, that most of what he has to say here is contained more impressively in The Waste Land). An interesting thought: "A Christian society only becomes acceptable after you have fairly examined the alternatives. We might, of course, merely sink into an apathetic decline: without faith, and therefore without faith in ourselves; without a philosophy of life, either Christian or pagan; and without art." Seventy or eighty years later -- has this occurred?

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

    Reprints two small books Eliot published ten years apart. “The Idea of a Christian Society” (two stars), published in 1939, really doesn’t make it to the table of serious discussion. “Notes towards the Definition of Culture” (4 stars), published in 1948, certainly does. Eliot considers creative, vital culture to be founded on various tensions that balance unity and diversity of social class, regionalism, and religion. His conservatism does not swoon over the value of authority, and he usually ju Reprints two small books Eliot published ten years apart. “The Idea of a Christian Society” (two stars), published in 1939, really doesn’t make it to the table of serious discussion. “Notes towards the Definition of Culture” (4 stars), published in 1948, certainly does. Eliot considers creative, vital culture to be founded on various tensions that balance unity and diversity of social class, regionalism, and religion. His conservatism does not swoon over the value of authority, and he usually just comes across as a moderate guy worried about the homogenization of society. Still, Eliot would do well to tell us more about the content of Christianity and delve more deeply into why he thinks religion is essential for the construction of morality.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish this book before it had to be returned to the library, but I already desperately want a copy. The book contains a series of three essays by Eliot on the necessity of a Christian government and what a Christian society would look like. He pointedly does not address the form of a Christian government because he denies that one form is required. Rarely have I read something with which I agreed so much, from such a surprising source. I would encourage everyone w Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish this book before it had to be returned to the library, but I already desperately want a copy. The book contains a series of three essays by Eliot on the necessity of a Christian government and what a Christian society would look like. He pointedly does not address the form of a Christian government because he denies that one form is required. Rarely have I read something with which I agreed so much, from such a surprising source. I would encourage everyone who is studying government or culture or sociology to track down a copy of this book and move it to the top of your reading list.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Pretty interesting, but unfocused. This book is actually two essays by the great modernist poet. I was drawn to the work because I have a somewhat modernist aesthetic sense but a firmly conventional view of morality. After discovering that Eliot was a staunch Christian conservative, I had to give some of his prose a try. The first essay is on the formation of a Christian society. The thesis of this piece was never very clear to me, but there are some very quotable lines along the way. The second e Pretty interesting, but unfocused. This book is actually two essays by the great modernist poet. I was drawn to the work because I have a somewhat modernist aesthetic sense but a firmly conventional view of morality. After discovering that Eliot was a staunch Christian conservative, I had to give some of his prose a try. The first essay is on the formation of a Christian society. The thesis of this piece was never very clear to me, but there are some very quotable lines along the way. The second essay is about culture, what it is and how to promote it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christina Bouwens

    Never can I recollect reading such elitist b.s. My opinion of Eliot significantly decreases the more I read of him past his mid-career. Each snide comment he makes about the necessity for social stratification, educational levels for the upper down to the lower classes, a Christian state -- controlling each nation of the globe, etcetera etcetera is given with the statement that these aren't "feelings" or mere "opinions"; no, they are "obvious facts," according to the later T. S. Eliot. Ugh. Reli Never can I recollect reading such elitist b.s. My opinion of Eliot significantly decreases the more I read of him past his mid-career. Each snide comment he makes about the necessity for social stratification, educational levels for the upper down to the lower classes, a Christian state -- controlling each nation of the globe, etcetera etcetera is given with the statement that these aren't "feelings" or mere "opinions"; no, they are "obvious facts," according to the later T. S. Eliot. Ugh. Religious snobbery doesn't get any worse than this

  29. 4 out of 5

    Peter Bringe

    This was a helpful and careful examination of society, culture, Christianity's relation to them, and the beginning of realistically building a healthy Christian society and culture. "We may go further and ask whether what we call the culture, and what we call the religion, of a people are not different aspects of the same thing: the culture being, essentially, the incarnation (so to speak) of the religion of a people." This was a helpful and careful examination of society, culture, Christianity's relation to them, and the beginning of realistically building a healthy Christian society and culture. "We may go further and ask whether what we call the culture, and what we call the religion, of a people are not different aspects of the same thing: the culture being, essentially, the incarnation (so to speak) of the religion of a people."

  30. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    Although brilliantly written, I found the philosophy hard to stomach given how necessary Christian faith was to his world view at the point of this work. I find Augustine easier to sympathize with. And yet, this is the guy who wrote the Waste Land, a brilliant poet and accomplished essayist, and these are at their base levels very thoughtful, well-done essays.

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