Saturday, 18 April 2009

Civilisation v Culture - a nice piece by Terry Eagleton

Civilization is precious but fragile; culture is raw but potent. Civilizations kill to protect their material interests, whereas cultures kill to defend their identity. These are seeming opposites; yet the pressing reality of our age is that civilization can neither dispense with culture nor easily coexist with it. The more pragmatic and materialistic civilization becomes, the more culture is summoned to fulfill the emotional and psychological needs that it cannot handle-and the more, therefore, the two fall into mutual antagonism. What is meant to mediate universal values to particular times and places ends up turning aggressively against them. Culture is the repressed that returns with a vengeance. Because it is supposed to be more localized, immediate, spontaneous, and a-rational than civilization, it is the more aesthetic concept of the two. The kind of nationalism that seeks to affirm a native culture is always the most poetic kind of politics-the “invention of literary men,” as someone once remarked. You would not have put the great Irish nationalist Padraic Pearse on the sanitation committee.

It comes from here, via A&L. It seems to me a sound case, and well argued, essentially against multiculturalism and the weakness of liberalism. Not necessarily its fatal weakness, but certainly part of its vulnerability. It is only the fact that liberalism is a flexible concept that saves us it seems.

However, water-boarding cannot be part of that flexibility. We should not stretch that far, as someone once must have said of the rack.


The Plump said...

For another take on this line of Eagleton's in an earlier article see this post. It is worth reading Mike's comment too.

George S said...

Over at yours, Peter...