Like a breath of fresh air, T. S. Eliot puts it so plainly:

A new civilisation is always being made: the state of affairs that we enjoy today illustrates what happens to the aspirations of each age for a better one. The most important question that we can ask, is whether there is any permanent standard, by which we can compare one civilisation with another, and by which we can make some guess at the improvement or decline of our own. We have to admit in comparing one civilisation with another, and in comparing the different stages of our own, that no one society and no one age of it realises all the values of civilisation. Not all of these values may be compatible with each other: what is at least as certain is that in realising some we lose the appreciation of others. Nevertheless, we can distinguish between higher and lower cultures; we can distinguish between advance and retrogression. We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity. I see no reason why the decay of culture should not proceed much further, and why we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it is possible to say that it will have no culture. Then culture will have to grow again from the soil; and when I say it must grow again from the soil, I do not mean that it will be brought into existence by any activity of political demagogues.*

Cultures are in a state of flux, and this is what gives us the ground to judge them. Eliot is afraid that civilization may decline to the point where there is no culture remaining. To go against this, Eliot says, it must “grow again from the soil,” and not be imposed upon by governing individuals or bodies.

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*”Notes Toward a Definition of Culture” in Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company 1949), 90-91.

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