Another in a series of “timeless essays” offered by The Imaginative Conservative is this one by T.S. Eliot. And it does feel as relevant today as when it was written in 1945.
But I think that a nation which is completely unified culturally, will cease to produce any culture: so that there must be a certain amount of internal culturalbickering if it is to achieve anything in the way of art, thought and spiritual activity—and thereby make its contribution to the culture of Europe.
It has often been the weakness of “regionalist” movements, to assume that a cultural malady can be cured by political means; to ascribe, to individuals belonging to the dominant culture, malignant intentions of which they may be innocent; and, by not probing deep enough into the causes, to prescribe a superficial remedy. By the materialist, these regional stirrings are often regarded with derision. The man of letters, who should be peculiarly qualified to respect and to criticize them, should be able to take a longer view than either the politician or the local patriot. He should know that neither in a complete and universal uniformity, nor in an isolated self-sufficiency, can culture flourish; that a local and a general culture are so far from being in conflict, that they are truly necessary to each other. To the engineering mind, the idea of a universal uniformity on the one hand or the idea of complete autarky on the other, is more easily apprehensible. The union of local cultures in a general culture is more difficult to conceive, and more difficult to realize. But the man of letters should know that uniformity means the obliteration of culture, and that self-sufficiency means its death by starvation.
I have suggested that the cultural health of Europe, including the cultural health of its component parts, is incompatible with extreme forms of both nationalism and internationalism. But the cause of that disease, which destroys the very soil in which culture has its roots, is not so much extreme ideas, and the fanaticism which they stimulate, as the relentless pressure of modern industrialism, setting the problems which the extreme ideas attempt to solve. Not least of the effects of industrialism is that we become mechanized in mind, and consequently attempt to provide solutions in terms of engineering, for problems which are essentially problems of life.