An Examination of Religion in the work of T.S. Eliot and Christopher Dawson

“Eliot’s reputation as a critic of society has been worse than his record”—so wrote Roger Kojecký at the beginning of his 1971 book, T. S. Eliot’s Social Criticism.1 Thirty-five years later, the situation has not changed, for T. S. Eliot’s cultural criticism continues to be more maligned than studied. It is not uncommon to hear Eliot accused of having “flirted with fascism” and of having proposed the establishment of a theocratic state. When scholars make such insinuations, they inevitably identify Eliot’s views with those of the anti-Semitic French reactionary Charles Maurras. Though Maurras was an important influence on Eliot in his early years, in the late 1920’s Eliot came to know the work of Christopher Dawson, who increasingly became his primary mentor on cultural issues. Dawson, in stark contrast to Maurras, argued that religion is integral to culture. Following Dawson, Eliot maintained that religious consciousness should ideally permeate all the elements of cultural life. However, again following Dawson, he makes it clear that his ideal state would not be a theocracy but would involve a creative tension between church and state. Under Dawson’s influence—or perhaps we could say in collaboration with Dawson—Eliot developed a balanced, coherent, and remarkably flexible cultural theory that consistently put forward their contention concerning the necessary integration (but not identification) of civil and spiritual authorities.

The central thrust of Eliot’s cultural criticism is to envision the possibility of bringing the religious and civil spheres into dynamic complementarity with each other. As he slowly worked out his cultural theory, Eliot found support for his developing ideas in the writings of Dawson. Only one critic has previously pointed out the importance of Dawson as an influence on Eliot. Russell Kirk, in his 1971 book on Eliot, declares that “Of social thinkers in his own time, none influenced Eliot more than Dawson.”2 Kirk does not develop this important assertion at any length, however, and later Eliot scholars have neglected to follow Kirk’s lead and explore Dawson’s work in relation to Eliot. This essay is an attempt to begin that exploration.

Christopher Dawson was born in 1889, just a year after the birth of T. S. Eliot. His father was an Anglo-Catholic, and Dawson later converted to Roman Catholicism. He wrote some twenty books, and, as his daughter Christina Scott shows in her biography of Dawson, he came to be regarded as one of the leading historians of his time.3 In a new book that gives an excellent overview of Dawson’s life and work, Bradley Birzer notes that Henry Luce devoted his editorial column in one issue of Life (March 16, 1959) to praising Dawson’s ideas. Luce went so far as to order copies of Dawson’s latest book for all the editors at Time.4 This small incident gives some idea of how prominent—and even popular—the British historian had become by that time. Nevertheless, he never held an academic appointment at one of the leading universities (until, near the end of his life, he became the first Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard). And after his death in 1970, Dawson’s work sank into obscurity. By the end of the century, many of his books were out of print and difficult to find. Perhaps his neglect among academic historians accounts in part for the fact that literary scholars have not taken account of his influence on Eliot.

In the late 1920s, Dawson’s first two books were reviewed in Eliot’s journal, The Criterion.5 In August of 1929 Eliot wrote to Dawson asking him to contribute an essay. Dawson’s response was an article entitled “The End of an Age,” which Eliot published in 1930, and in this piece Dawson sums up many of the interpretations of history, philosophy, and culture that he shared with the editor of the journal.6 The age that was ending, according to Dawson’s article, began with Renaissance humanism and developed through Enlightenment rationalism and the French Revolution to the scientific materialism of the late nineteenth century, when “The goal of the Liberal Enlightenment and Revolution had been reached and Europe at last possessed a completely secularized culture.” The churches were still given a privileged position, “But they held this position only on the condition that they did not interfere with the reign of Mammon” (387). Not only religion but the very humanism that had inspired the beginning of this age was being pushed aside. Humanism had increasingly cut itself off from the supernatural and now found itself subject to rationalism, empiricism, and skepticism. Its glorification of the individual had paradoxically called forth “the new bureaucratic state” (390). Thus, “humanism by its own inner development is eventually brought to deny itself and to pass away into its opposite” (391). Humanism without religion has come to deny the human, along with the old moral truths based on religious beliefs. Lacking an ability to make any metaphysical claims, European culture has given itself to a mechanistic worldview in which the only choice seems to be between two types of materialism: “The greatest danger here is not that we should actively adopt the Bolshevik cult of Marxian materialism, but rather that we should yield ourselves passively to a practical materialization of culture after the American pattern” (393). The only genuine alternative to a culture founded on mechanistic assumptions is one founded on religious belief. The “reign of the machine . . . can only be conquered by the spiritual power which is the creative element in every culture” (396). Here Dawson introduces one of the keynotes of his historical theory, the claim that it is not only material but spiritual forces that spur cultural life.

At the end of his essay, Dawson points to the failure of humanistic individualism but maintains that Marxist collectivism is not (as many intellectuals of the time believed) the only way to prevent a complete atomization of society: “The choice that is actually before us is not between an individualistic humanism and some form of collectivism, but between a collectivism that is purely mechanistic and one which is spiritual” (400). The communal spirit of Christianity may be recovered in “a return to spiritual solidarity” (a phrase prophetic of the Catholic Solidarity movement in Poland that helped end the domination of Communism in Eastern Europe 60 years later). Dawson hastens to add that his call for a Christian renewal is not merely nostalgia and “does not necessarily involve a retrogression of culture” but may in fact lead to a genuinely new age of creative activity (400). As in all his writings, he makes it clear that an attempt to return to a medieval order would be foolish; he is calling for a renewal, not a return. This essay is a fine synopsis of Dawson’s work, though my summary of the synopsis does not do it justice because much of the value of his writing is in the vast range of his historical references and in his eloquent and metaphorically rich expression. The major points of this essay are also the touchstones of Eliot’s cultural criticism, where we find the same history of ideas, the same emphasis on the effects of secularism, and a similar proposal of a renewed integration of Christianity and culture.

During the 1930s, Dawson’s subsequent books were reviewed in The Criterion, and he contributed several reviews and articles.7 Eliot eventually wrote two books of cultural criticism, and in both of these books he explicitly acknowledged the importance of Dawson’s work to his own ideas. In his Preface to The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), Eliot acknowledges, “I owe a great deal to a number of recent books,” and the first one he names is “Mr. Christopher Dawson’s Beyond Politics”–followed by books by Middleton Murry and V. A. Demant.8 In the Preface to Notes towards the Definition of Culture nearly a decade later (1948), Eliot writes, “Throughout this study, I recognise a particular debt to the writings of Canon V. A. Demant, Mr. Christopher Dawson, and the late Professor Karl Mannheim.”9 Not surprisingly, given these acknowledgments, Eliot’s thinking in these major works of cultural criticism is indeed very close to Dawson’s. The historian has worked the ideas out more carefully and consistently than the poet, so re-examining Eliot’s pronouncements along with Dawson’s tends to clarify what the former was aiming at.

In these works, Eliot argues that culture must be grounded in religion, but he also claims that culture must be grounded in nature, and that nature and religion are intimately related. “We may say,” Eliot writes, “that religion, as distinguished from modern paganism, implies a life in conformity with nature. It may be observed that the natural life and the supernatural life have a conformity with each other which neither has with the mechanistic life . . .” (Idea, 60). By “modern paganism” he seems to mean secularism. The claim that the natural and supernatural are in conformity may seem surprising but is based on the connection of religion to physical objects and their symbolic meaning. This is the point at which Eliot’s theory of meaning and his cultural theory intersect. The “mechanistic life” of the modern world is seen by Eliot as a result of the Cartesian split and the scientific revolution, which have stripped nature of its sanctity and significance, allowing us to manipulate it without limit for our purposes. Eliot goes on to say that “ . . . a wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God,” and adds, “ . . . it would be well for us to face the permanent conditions upon which God allows us to live upon this planet” (62). Dawson similarly points out (in his 1949 book Religion and Culture) that “During the last century or two the world of culture has grown until it has subjugated the world of nature and pushed back the frontiers of the superhuman spiritual world beyond the boundaries of consciousness.”10 He goes on to speak of “the attitude of the primitive farmer to the earth and the fruits of the earth. However low is the level of his culture, man cannot but recognize the existence of laws and rhythms and cycles of change in the life of nature in which his own life is involved.” These are not merely mechanical phenomena but “divine mysteries to be adored with trembling” (R&C, 41). Dawson is speaking partly from his own childhood experience in Yorkshire, where “. . . religion was not simply concerned with the pious moralities which held such a prominent place in Victorian books for children, but stood close to that wonderful non-human world of the river and the mountain which I found around me.”11 He is also influenced, as was Eliot, by his profound interest in the new field of anthropology, and he maintains that “primitive man in his weakness and ignorance is nearer to the basic realities of human existence than the self-satisfied rationalist who is confident that he has mastered the secrets of the universe” (R&C, 28).

The technological age had created a mass culture that both authors found troubling. People in England in this period were congratulating themselves on not being subject to totalitarian regimes such as those in Germany and Russia, but Eliot and Dawson were not so sure that English democracy offered sufficient protection. In Beyond Politics (the book Eliot singles out for mention) Dawson insists that

. . . it is not enough for us to repudiate these evils in principle and to congratulate ourselves on the moral superiority of western democracy. For democracy . . . is no safeguard against such things: indeed in so far as democracy involves the standardization and mechanization of culture and the supremacy of the mass over the individual, it is a positive danger.12

The “greatest danger that threatens modern civilization,” he claims, “is its degeneration into a hedonistic mass civilization of the cinema, the picture paper and the dance hall, where the individual, the family and the nation dissolve into a human herd without personality, or traditions or beliefs” (BP, 78-79). Eliot might have disagreed with the crack at the dance halls, which he much enjoyed, but he agreed that mass modern culture, for all its claims of individual freedom, tends to reduce humanity to a herd: “. . . the tendency of unlimited industrialism is to create bodies of men and women—of all classes—detached from tradition, alienated from religion, and susceptible to mass suggestion: in other words, a mob. And a mob will be no less a mob if it is well fed, well clothed, well housed, and well disciplined” (Idea, 21). The mob Eliot speaks of is precisely what Dawson has in mind when he worries about the possibility of a “democratic totalitarianism.” For instance, at the beginning of Beyond Politics Dawson writes, “The forces that make for social uniformity and the mechanization of culture are no less strong in England and the United States than in Germany and Italy, so that we might expect to see the rise of a democratic totalitarianism which would make the same universal claims on the life of the individual as the totalitarian dictatorships of the Continent” (BP, 3). In an essay published in The Criterion (in 1934) entitled “Religion and the Totalitarian State,” Dawson speaks at length about the hostility toward religion in both the Communist and Fascist totalitarian regimes, but he also warns of the possibility of a seemingly benign version that might develop in democratic nations: “the same forces that make for governmental control and social uniformity are at work here also and in the U.S.A. . . .” Unlike the Fascist and Communist regimes, “Its ideals would probably be humanitarian, democratic and pacific. Nevertheless it will make the same universal claims as the Totalitarian State in Russia and Germany and it will be equally unwilling to tolerate any division of spiritual allegiance. . . . The new state will be universal and omnicompetent. It will mould the mind and guide the life of its citizens from the cradle to the grave.”13 In his 1935 book Religion and the Modern State, Dawson puts this view even more strongly:

It may, I think, even be argued that Communism in Russia, National Socialism in Germany, and Capitalism and Liberal Democracy in the Western countries are really three forms of the same thing, and that they are all moving by different but parallel paths to the same goal, which is the mechanization of human life and the complete subordination of the individual to the state and to the economic process.14

He adds that there are of course differences and good reasons to prefer Liberal Democracy to the other systems but insists that it cannot be regarded as a “final solution.” Britain’s strongest hope, Dawson says in Beyond Politics, is in its tradition of limited government (BP, 13).

The central idea of all Dawson’s writing was the integral relationship between culture and religion. He repeatedly expressed his doubt that a completely secular culture could survive. In a chapter of Religion and Culture on the priestly class in various cultures, he concludes,

It is, however, questionable whether a culture which has once possessed . . . a spiritual class or order that has been the guardian of a sacred tradition of culture can dispense with it without becoming impoverished and disorientated. This is what has actually occurred in the secularization of modern Western culture, and men have been more or less aware of it ever since the beginning of the last century. (R&C, 106)

Noting that the intellectual class has replaced the priesthood, he maintains that this substitution has been a failure, giving much the same analysis that he had earlier stated in his essay in The Criterion:

For the intellectuals who have succeeded the priests as the guardians of the higher tradition of Western culture have been strong only in their negative work of criticism and disintegration. They have failed to provide an integrated system of principles and values which could unify modern society, and consequently they have proved unable to resist the non-moral, inhuman and irrational forces which are destroying the humanist no less than the Christian traditions of Western culture. (R&C, 106)

The relation between religion and culture is the central idea in both of Eliot’s books on the subject, too. At the beginning of Notes towards the Definition of Culture, for instance, he says, “The first important assertion is that no culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion . . .” (13). He goes so far as to say that a culture is “essentially, the incarnation (so to speak) of the religion of a people” (Notes, 27). Eliot thus views culture as an incarnation of religion, much as he sees symbolism as an “incarnation of meaning in fact.” He states explicitly that he means to combat the erroneous idea “that culture can be preserved, extended and developed in the absence of religion” (Notes, 28). At the end of the book he declares, “I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. And I am convinced of that, not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology. If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made” (Notes, 126).

Dawson argues for the primacy and irreducibility of religion in cultural formation, taking issue with the modern assumption that religion is a by-product of material culture. The Making of Europe (1932), his ground-breaking study of the formation of European culture in the Middle Ages (one of the first books, by the way, to acknowledge the importance of Islamic civilization to European culture), begins by declaring that the process of cultural formation in Europe was “not the product of blind material and economic forces.” History is often moved, he frequently maintains, by spiritual revelations rather than economic interests. For instance, near the end of Progress and Religion (1931), Dawson writes, “Europe is not . . . a group of peoples held together by a common type of material culture, it is a spiritual society which owes its very existence to the religious tradition which for a thousand years moulded the beliefs, the ideals, and the institutions of the European peoples.”16 Here he implicitly contradicts the Marxist claim that all cultural phenomena (including literature, art, and religion) are merely epiphenomena, entirely reducible to the material forces that are their foundation (Grundlage). Marx writes in The German Ideology, for example, “The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises.”17 All Dawson’s works assert the opposite, that the spiritual life of human culture creates its material manifestations:

We are only just beginning to understand how intimately and profoundly the vitality of a society is bound up with its religion. It is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture. The great civilizations of the world do not produce the great religions as a kind of cultural by-product; in a very real sense the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilizations rest. A society which has lost its religion becomes sooner or later a society which has lost its culture. (P&R, 232-33)

Cultures are formed, he shows, not only by material circumstances but by sudden spiritual insights.18 For instance, “The experience of Mohammed in the cave of Mount Hira, when he saw human life as transitory as the beat of a gnat’s wing in comparison with the splendour and power of the Divine Unity, has shaped the existence of a great part of the human race ever since” (P&R, 77).

Dawson, with his vast knowledge of all cultures and periods, gives at one point a striking example of secularized government not from his own time but from ancient China. He describes a society dominated by “a new school of Legal Positivists—the Fa Hia—which inspired the brilliant and ruthless statesmen who created the Empire of Ts’in in the third century B.C. They taught that Virtue is Power and that states acquire Power not by correct ritual and traditional morality but by the political instruments of war and law” (R&C, 169). Dawson notes that “this doctrine of the Chinese positivists was as completely irreligious as that of any school of thought in any age or country.” What was the result of this experiment? He concludes chillingly, “The application of the principles of the legal positivists to practical politics produced a predatory imperialism which deluged China in blood,” leaving it to his readers to draw the analogy with the Nietzschean legal positivists of the modern era (170).

Another problem both Eliot and Dawson saw with the increasingly secularized culture of Europe was the tendency to cut itself off from the past. The progressivist dogma that arose in the Enlightenment regards all early thought as mere superstition and nonsense. The religious mentality, on the other hand, regards the traditions of the past as a prime source of wisdom. Dawson quotes Edumund Burke as saying that society is not an artificial construct but a spiritual community, “a partnership in all science, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are yet to be born” (qtd. in BP, 25). Eliot uses very similar words when speaking of the central role of the family in society: “But when I speak of the family, I have in mind a bond which embraces a longer period of time than this: a piety towards the dead, however obscure, and a solicitude for the unborn, however remote” (Notes, 42). Thus, the historical sense itself tends to be lost in the shift from a traditional to a progressive idea of culture. Eliot had been at pains to promote the importance of the historical sense and of tradition from the earliest period of his career, and these concepts feature, of course, in his famous essay of 1917, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” In Dawson’s work he found verification of his own thinking, along with an array of historical examples from all cultures and times.

Both writers argued that every culture will have either a traditional religion or some ideology acting as a religious substitute. Dawson maintained that when a society attempts to become secularized, as the Russian society was doing, the religious impulse will still be powerfully expressed, though in a perverted and destructive manner: “When the prophets are silent and society no longer possesses any channel of communication with the divine world, the way to the lower depths is still open and man’s frustrated spiritual powers will find their outlet in the unlimited will to power and destruction” (R&C, 83). He saw virtually the same thing happening in the Fascist states, asserting that the militaristic brutality of the Nazi state in Germany was secondary to its attempt to replace religion at the core of the culture:

. . . the essential characteristic of National Socialism is to be found rather in its attempt to create an ideology which will be the soul of the new State and which will co-ordinate the new resources of propaganda and mass suggestion in the interest of the national community. This is the most deliberate attempt that has been made since the French Revolution to fill the vacuum which has been created by the disappearance of the religious background of European culture and the secularization of social life by nineteenth century liberalism. It is a new form of natural religion, not the rationalized natural religion of the eighteenth century, but a mystical neo-paganism which worships the forces of nature and life and the spirit of the race . . . . (BP, 81)

Eliot makes the point dramatically in The Idea of a Christian Society soon after: “If you will not have God (and he is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin” (Idea, 63).

Now, it begins to sound as if Eliot and Dawson favored some sort of medieval theocratic government, but both reject unequivocally such a simplification. In Beyond Politics, Dawson declares, “ . . . it is to-day impossible to return to the undifferentiated unity of mediaeval culture” (BP, 20). In almost identical words, Eliot acknowledges that the Christian Society he envisions “can neither be mediaeval in form, nor be modelled on the seventeenth century or any previous age” (Idea, 25). Dawson insists that religion must be at the heart of a healthy culture, but he warns against a total identification of religion and culture:

On the other hand, the identification of religion with the particular cultural synthesis which has been achieved at a definite time and space by the action of historical forces is fatal to the universal character of religious truth. It is indeed a kind of idolatry—the substitution of an image made by man for the eternal transcendent reality. If this identification is carried to its extreme conclusion, the marriage of religion and culture is equally fatal to either partner. (R&C, 206)

Eliot states this truth similarly: “We know from our reading of history, that a certain tension between Church and State is desirable. When Church and State fall out completely, it is ill with the commonwealth; and when Church and State get on too well together, there is something wrong with the Church” (Idea, 91). In another passage, Eliot remarks, “. . . it must be kept in mind that even in a Christian society as well organised as we can conceive possible in this world, the limit would be that our temporal and spiritual life should be harmonised: the temporal and spiritual would never be identified” (Idea, 54-55). Thus Dawson and Eliot opposed simplistic solutions to the Church-State tension, regardless of which side proposed them: they would accept neither the radical secularization of the political sphere advocated by secular liberalism nor the theocratic state proposed by some over-zealous religious leaders.19

Dawson’s emphasis on the Church’s role in “corporate” (i.e. communal) activities as well as individual ones contradicts a secularist notion that was already frequently asserted in his time—that religion is a purely private matter and should not intrude in the public sphere. This simple-minded solution to the tension between Church and State is firmly rejected by both Dawson and Eliot. The former states (in his typically lively style), “ . . . to treat religion as a purely individual and personal matter is to deprive it of actuality and to degrade it to a lower level of value and potency. To keep religion out of public life is to shut it up in a stuffy Victorian back drawing-room with the aspidistras and the antimacassars, when the streets are full of life and youth” (BP, 104). A few pages later Dawson asserts, “It is no longer possible for religion to confine itself to the inner world of the individual conscience and private religious experience, any more than it is possible for the State to confine itself to its functions as the guardian of public order” (BP, 114). Eliot expresses himself on the subject in nearly identical terms:

The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate themselves to any world which treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable. . . The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us. . . . It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma—and he is in the majority—he is becoming more and more de-Christianised by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. . . . in the modern world, it may turn out that the most intolerable thing for Christians is to be tolerated. (Idea, 21-23)

The healthy Christian society must not be a theocratic state, but it must express its Christian principles publicly and legally. Eliot goes so far as to say this: “We must abandon the notion that the Christian should be content with freedom of cultus, and with suffering no worldly disabilities on account of his faith. However bigoted the announcement may sound, the Christian can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organisation of society—which is not the same thing as a society consisting exclusively of devout Christians” (Idea, 33-34). Such a statement is indeed taken today as merely an expression of bigotry and intolerance, but it must be read in the context of Eliot’s repeated insistence that he does not advocate a complete dominance of the civil authority by the religious. He is not imagining a pure, monolithic Christian utopia.

In fact, even as Eliot and Dawson called for the renewal of Christian culture, they acknowledged that if such a renewal were to take place it would not create a perfect society. As Eliot says, “It is very easy for speculation on a possible Christian order in the future to tend to come to rest in a kind of apocalyptic vision of a golden age of virtue. But we have to remember that the Kingdom of Christ on earth will never be realised, and also that it is always being realised; we must remember that whatever reform or revolution we carry out, the result will always be a sordid travesty of what human society should be—though the world is never left wholly without glory” (Idea, 59). Perhaps Eliot is thinking partly of mistakes made by his own ancestors attempting to establish a reformed Christian society in New England. In any case, he remembers that his entire conservative approach (which began with the anti-Romantic ideas of Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, and T. E. Hulme) is based on a belief in Original Sin and the imperfectability of mankind—a limitation which applies to religious leaders as well as to secular ones. He fully acknowledges the reality that a religious organization of society, though desirable, cannot perfect human culture and can, at best, create a “sordid travesty” of the ideal society. Dawson states the same caveat: “ . . . we have no right to expect that Christian principles will work in practice in the simple way that a political system may work. The Christian order is a supernatural order. It has its own principles and its own laws which are not those of the visible world and which may often seem to contradict them. Its victories may be found in apparent defeat and its defeats in material success” (BP, 127). His words here are quite similar to those of Eliot in his 1927 essay on F. H. Bradley: “There is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.”20 Eliot, like Dawson, had too much of the historical sense to fall under the spell of millenarian fantasies.

Eliot sometimes felt it more likely that the religious renewal would not happen and that a new dark age would ensue. We are, he proclaimed, “destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanised caravans” (Notes, 111). Yet he was not without hope even with that prospect: “The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”21 Dawson and Eliot were not much inclined toward optimistic predictions of cultural regeneration, but neither were they much inclined to despair. Both believed that the human spirit was naturally given to religious inspiration so that continual spiritual renewal was certain, even in the most unlikely circumstances. At the conclusion of Religion and Culture, Dawson urges a re-integration of the material and spiritual forces divorced by the Cartesian dualism of the modern world: “We are faced with a spiritual conflict of the most acute kind, a sort of social schizophrenia which divides the soul of society between a non-moral will to power served by inhuman techniques and a religious faith and a moral idealism which have no power to influence human life. There must be a return to unity—a spiritual integration of culture—if mankind is to survive” (R&C, 217).


Roger Kojecký, T. S. Eliot’s Social Criticism (London: Faber, 1971), 11. One work Kojecký has in mind is John R. Harrison’s The Reactionaries: W. B. Yeats, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence (New York: Schocken Books, 1967). This book was savaged in a review by Hugh Kenner, “The Sleep Machine,” Triumph (August, 1967): 32-34. Nevertheless, Harrison’s slipshod slanders have endured.


Russell Kirk, Eliot and His Age: T. S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century (1971; reprint Peru, IL: Sherwood Sugden, 1984), 300. In his book T. S. Eliot and Ideology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), Kenneth Asher makes one passing reference to Dawson, while speaking constantly of Maurras. He cites Kojecký once and Kirk not at all.


See Christina Scott, A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1992).


Bradley J. Birzer, Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2007), xix.


H. J. Massingham, Review of The Age of the Gods by Christopher Dawson, Criterion 8, no. 30 (Sept., 1928): 149-53. H. J. Massingham, Review of Progress and Religion by Christopher Dawson, Criterion 9, no. 34 (Oct., 1929): 146-50.


Christopher Dawson, “The End of an Age,” Criterion 9, no. 36 (April, 1930), 386-401. Dawson also sent Eliot an essay which Faber published in 1930 as a booklet, Christianity and Sex. See Birzer, xxiii. See also Scott, 93-94.


C. Dawson, Rev. of Mediaeval Culture by Carl Vossler and New Light on the youth of Dante by Gertrude Leigh, Criterion 9, no. 37 (July, 1930): 718-22. Christopher Dawson, Rev. of Woman and Society by Meyrick Booth, Criterion 10, no. 38 (Oct., 1930):176-77. F. McEachran, Rev. of Christianity and the New Age by Christopher Dawson, Criterion 10, no. 41 (July, 1931): 750-55. Christopher Dawson, “The Origins of the Romantic Tradition,” Criterion 11, no. 43 (Jan., 1932): 222-48. C. Dawson, Rev. of The Great Amphibian by Joseph Needham, Criterion 11, no. 44 (April, 1932): 545-48. Christopher Dawson, “H. G. Wells and History,” Criterion 12, no. 46 (Oct, 1932): 9-16. F. McEachran, Rev. of The Making of Europe by Christopher Dawson, Criterion 12, no. 47 (Jan., 1933): 290-92. F. McEachren, Rev. of The Modern Dilemma by Christopher Dawson, Criterion 12, no. 48 (April, 1933):494-96. Montgomery Belgion, Rev. of Enquiries into Religion and Culture by Christopher Dawson, Criterion, 13, no. 50 (Oct. 1933): 143-46. Christopher Dawson, “Religion and the Totalitarian State,” Criterion 14, no. 54 (Oct, 1934): 1-16. C. Dawson, Rev. of Reflections on the End of an Era by Reinhold Niebuhr, Criterion 14, no. 54 (Oct., 1934). E. W. F. Tomlin, Rev. of Religion and the Modern State by Christopher Dawson, Criterion 15, no. 58 (Oct., 1935): 130-37.


Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society (London: Faber, 1939), 6.


Eliot, Notes towards the Definition of Culture (New York: Harcourt, 1949), 9. The book combines a series of articles published in 1943 in the New English Weekly.


Christopher Dawson, Religion and Culture (London: Sheed and Ward, 1949), 27. Cited hereafter in the text as R&C.


Dawson, “Memories of a Victorian Childhood,” Appendix to Scott, A Historian and His World, 230-31.


Dawson, Beyond Politics (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939), 49. Cited hereafter in the text as BP.


Dawson, “Religion and the Totalitarian State,” Criterion 14, no. 54 (Oct., 1934): 10.


Dawson, Religion and the Modern State (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1935), xv. Reviewing this book in The Criterion (vol. 15, no. 58), E. W. F. Tomlin names Dawson “a historian of the first rank” (133) and says the book must not only be recommended but prescribed (134).


Dawson, The Making of Europe (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1932; reprint Cleveland: Meridian, 1956), 22.


Dawson, Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry (London: Sheed and Ward, 1931), 217. Cited hereafter in the text as P&R.


Karl Marx, The German Ideology, in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, ed. David H. Richter, 2nd ed. (Boston: St. Martin’s, 1998), 391.


In his last—and still unpublished—book, Dawson wrote, “The creative force of a culture always comes from . . . the spiritual side . . . the material environment or the material circumstances of life only condition the form of its expression.” Quoted by Birzer, 113.


Another thinker whose influence on Eliot’s social theory has not been considered adequately is Jacques Maritain, and he also warns against a theocratic solution. E. W. F. Tomlin reviews Maritain’s Freedom and the Modern World along with Dawson’s Religion and the Modern State in The Criterion (vol. 15, no. 58). Tomlin quotes Maritain as saying that it would be fatal “to substitute for the error of Liberalism an opposite error and to erect . . . a Theocratic Church in opposition to or alongside the theocracies of the Collectivist Man” (132).


Eliot, “Francis Herbert Bradley,” in Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt, 1950), 399.


Eliot, “Thoughts after Lambeth,” Selected Essays, 342.

Benjamin Lockerd is the author of Aethereal Rumours: T.S. Eliot’s Physics and Poetics. Lockerd is the director of the M.A. English program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI and is considered one of the countries foremost T.S. Eliot scholars.