there is no doubt that in our headlong rush to educate everybody, we are lowering our standards, and more and more abandoning the study of those subjects [ no need to say what they are - TP] by which the essentials of our culture - of that part of it which is transmisible by education - are transmitted; destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads [... etc etc TP].Now this paragraph - despite the clunk of cliché - is actually much better than much of what surrounds it, since it calls a spade a spade and a rascal a rogue. It is the nudging and winking elsewhere which is exasperating.
The previous paragraph is to be considered only as an incidental flourish to relieve the feelings of the writer and perhaps of a few of his more sympathetic readers. (page 108)
Buried in the text are some quite carefully formulated - and, in my view, at least partly true - claims about the nature of "culture" and in particular its organic, growing and unpredictable character and its connections to deeply embedded social groups - call them classes or elites if you like. Culture is not something you can administer or impose. Banged up in a Mussolini prison, Antonio Gramsci formulated ideas which have a strong family resemblance. But he worked outwards from a paradigm case history, the development of the Italian national language over which, in the 19th century, a long and loud debate took place between those who thought you just had to decree it and teach it and those who thought a national language was something which would grow within the context of other nationalising developments. Eliot could have written a stronger book if he had chosen a strong paradigm case example for his argument. Instead, we get too much hand waving towards "religion" which only occasionally crystallises into something we can develop an argument around. And insofar as it crystallises around the Church of England, well, Eliot picked the wrong horse.
Added March 2020:
This is one of the most-visited posts on this Blog. I re-use and develop the material here in my book Between Remembering and Forgetting (degree zero 2020; try Amazon or Waterstones) which is, in part, an attempt to develop a theory of cultural change within a broader set of reflections about individual and collective memory. A citation would improve any essay ....