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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: March 2010

Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948, 1949)


*George Orwell.

"Culture and Classes."

Observer, 28 November

1948, p. 4.

In Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, Mr. T. S. Eliot argues that a truly civilized society needs a class system as part of its basis. He is, of course, only speaking negatively. He does not claim that there is any method by which a high civilization can be created. He maintains merely that such a civilization is not likely to flourish in the absence of certain conditions, of which class distinctions are one.

This opens up a gloomy prospect, for on the one hand it is almost certain that class distinctions of the old kind are moribund, and on the other hand Mr. Eliot has at the least a strong prima facie case.

The essence of his argument is that the highest levels of culture have been gained only by small groups of people—either social groups or regional groups—who have been able to perfect their traditions over long periods of time. The most important of all cultural influences is the family, and family loyalty is strongest when the majority of people take it for granted to go through life at the social level at which they were born. Moreover, not having any precedents to go upon, we do not know what a classless society would be like. We know only that, since functions would still have to be diversified, classes would have to be replaced by “élites,” a term Mr. Eliot borrows with evident distaste from the late Karl Mannheim.

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T. S. Eliot
  • Online ISBN: 9780511485466
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