A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England. –T.S. Eliot
I have never found the progressive worldview interesting because it denies both human nature and history. The older I grow the more I’m convinced that progressivism, as an understanding of society and human beings, is a suicidal fiction. At the root of progressive ideology is a denial of unchanging human nature and permanent moral standards. There is no still point, all is in flux. What was good yesterday is bad today. We don’t learn from history, we progress beyond it, which partly explains why even if we don’t see that, we keep repeating it.
Today we see the fruit of more than a hundred years of progressive thought, a society that is self-destructing.
I do, however, find almost anything about T.S. Eliot interesting, so I read a recent article by Benjamin Lockerd, A People Without History: Of Evolutionary History.
While T.S. Eliot never made any comments critical of Charles Darwin or his theory of the evolution of species, he was quite critical of various popularized versions of Darwin’s theory that exaggerated its explanatory power and extrapolated from it into metaphysical, moral, historical, and socio-political spheres where, in his view, it had no authority. Eliot grew up in an intellectual atmosphere dominated by the evolutionary sociology of Spencer but became an opponent of that way of thinking. In his later criticism of Wells’s evolutionary approach to history in Wells’s popular Outline of History, Eliot aligned himself with the… historians Christopher Dawson and Hilaire Belloc. All three deprecated the pseudo-scientific historiography and the progressivism of Wells’s book.
…Eliot once remarked that “Herbert Spencer’s generalized theory of evolution was in my childhood environment regarded as the key to the mystery of the universe,” and a critique of Spencer’s belief that biological evolution was the answer to everything was central to his renunciation of the rationalistic Unitarian faith of his kin…
Eliot explicitly states his opposition to making evolution the central principle of the human sciences, in the lines from The Dry Salvages which I am glossing:
It seems, as one becomes older,
That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence–
Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy
Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,
Which becomes, in the popular mind,
a means of disowning the past.
You can read the entire article here