January 3, 2004


Cultural Theorists, Start Your Epitaphs: Terry Eagleton, one of the last Marxist critics, is at it again. (DINITIA SMITH, 1/03/04, NY Times)

"The golden age of cultural theory is long past," Mr. Eagleton writes in his new book, After Theory, to be published in the United States in January. In this age of terrorism, he says, cultural theory has become increasingly irrelevant, because theorists have failed to address the big questions of morality, metaphysics, love, religion, revolution, death and suffering.

Today graduate students and professors are bogged down in relativism, writing about sex and the body instead of the big issues. "On the wilder shores of academia," he writes, "an interest in French philosophy has given way to a fascination with French kissing."

His critique goes further. "The postmodern prejudice against norms, unities and consensuses is a politically catastrophic one," he writes. Cultural theorists can no longer "afford simply to keep recounting the same narratives of class, race and gender, indispensable as these topics are."

What Mr. Eagleton, one of the few remaining Marxist critics, wants now is a search for absolutes, for norms, for answers to what he calls "fundamental questions of truth and love in order to meet the urgencies of our global situation." [...]

[H]is work is shadowed by Roman Catholicism. Mr. Eagleton seems to find a confluence between his interpretation of Marxism and Christianity, in a shared ethic of cooperativism, and protection of the poor and the weak. He cites one of Paul's letters to the Corinthians: "God chose what is weakest in the world to shame the strong." Morality begins with a recognition of one's weakness and mortality, Mr. Eagleton says. He uses the example of King Lear, who is redeemed only after he has endured the storm on the heath and understands is own vulnerability.

Although Mr. Eagleton remains vague about what his longed-for absolute truths would look like, he writes that an ethical society can only happen under socialism, "in which each attains his or her freedom and autonomy in and through the self-realization of others."

And he defends Marxists against the familiar litany of crimes.

There's no excuse for reaching Mr. Eagleton's age and still believing in Marxism, but it's amusing to see that he's groping back towards Christianity, even if he can't admit it to himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 3, 2004 9:46 AM

Weird. Falling back on religion in support of a failed and explicitly materialistic theory which forecasts history. The elimination of all sources of authority other than that of the dominant class is the rason d'etre of Marxism. The "self-actualization" claptrap employed by Eagleton makes it official: he and his fellows are insane.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at January 3, 2004 1:47 PM


But is it not exquisite that he's left himself no way out except religion?

Posted by: oj at January 3, 2004 2:11 PM

I think if you go back and read some of Catholicism's teachings up through about 1200, many would sound completely at home in the Communist Manifesto.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 3, 2004 5:54 PM

Except for the Church's belief in a hierarchy of being, the primacy of society over the state, etc.

Posted by: oj at January 3, 2004 6:21 PM

When was cultural theory relevant? I missed that.

I believe if you go back to, say, the first 1,200 years of Christianity, they believed in effective spells, that the sun revolved around the earth eetc. It has been weird seeing them falling back on materialism and phenomenalism, though they never admit it.

And they're old enough to know better, too.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 3, 2004 8:01 PM


Just be glad you didn't go to college in the 70s/80s, or you'd have Cultural Theory out the wazoo.

Posted by: oj at January 3, 2004 8:05 PM

"Except for the Church's belief in a hierarchy of being, the primacy of society over the state, etc"

OJ, shouldn't that read "the primacy of the Church over the state"?

I think Catholicism and Marxism are twins separated at birth. All this worship of the poor and the meek to prop up a non-democratic hierarchy whose legitimacy depends on faith. Countries where Catholicism dominated society, including Latin America, Italy, Ireland and Quebec have fared as well economically as communist states until recently in the last century. They have also provided the US with the bulk of its economic immigrants. Both the Church and the Marxists love the poor so much that they would never for a second entertain the thought of actually eliminating poverty.

Posted by: Robert D at January 4, 2004 5:03 PM



Posted by: oj at January 4, 2004 5:36 PM


Good point. However, thankfully the Anglosphere got the full benefit of the Reformation.

So the one true Church couldn't get as much power as it desired in England and the US.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 4, 2004 8:37 PM

Render unto Caesar.

Posted by: oj at January 5, 2004 12:16 AM

OJ, please enlighten me on this golden age of the autonomous Eurpoean "society", blessed by but un-dominated by either popes or kings. All my history books seemed to have skipped this era.

Posted by: Robert D at January 5, 2004 11:30 PM


How much contact do you figure kings had with peasants? and how much would they have regulated their day-to-day lives? None and not at all. Society was far more important than the State.

Posted by: oj at January 6, 2004 7:50 AM

Vlad the Impaler springs to mind.

Some rulers have had very hands-on approaches to their subjects, and even when not, they could at any time.

Posted by: THX 1138 at January 6, 2004 2:14 PM


"By 1462, when he was deposed, he had killed between 40,000 and 100,000 people, possibly more. He always thought up some excuse for these executions. He killed merchants who cheated their customers. He killed women who had affairs. Supposedly he had one woman impaled because her husband's shirt was too short. He didn't mind impaling children, either. Afterwards he would display the corpses in public so everyone would learn a lesson. It's said that there were over 20,000 bodies hanging outside his capital city. Of course, the stories about Dracula's cruelty might have been exaggerated by his enemies.

Despite all this, Dracula's subjects respected him for fighting the Turks and being a strong ruler. He's remembered today as a patriotic hero who stood up to Turkey and Hungary. He was the last Walachian prince to remain independent from the Ottoman Empire. He was so scornful of other nations that when two foreign ambassadors refused to doff their hats to him, he had the hats nailed to their heads. He was opposed to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches because he thought foreigners, operating through the churches, had too much power in Walachia. He tried to prevent foreign merchants from taking business away from his citizens. If merchants disobeyed his trade laws, they were, of course, impaled.

Dracula created a very severe moral code for the citizens of Walachia. You can guess what happened to anyone who broke the code. Thieves were impaled, even liars were impaled. Naturally there wasn't a lot of crime in Walachia during his reign.

To prove how well his laws worked, Dracula had a gold cup placed in a public square. Anyone who wanted to could drink from the cup, but no one was allowed to take it out of the square. No one did."

Posted by: oj at January 6, 2004 2:24 PM

But of course he didn't interfere much with their everyday lives.

OJ, he did not create a moral code, he was a sadistic butcher, plain and simple.

Posted by: Robert D at January 6, 2004 4:08 PM

Obviously it's not that simple.

Posted by: oj at January 6, 2004 4:23 PM

I wonder how much protection money people paid to his minions to avoid getting fingered for "disobeying" trade laws.

Seems pretty simple to me. He was a sadistic butcher.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 6, 2004 5:38 PM


"Despite all this, Dracula's subjects respected him for fighting the Turks and being a strong ruler. He's remembered today as a patriotic hero who stood up to Turkey and Hungary. He was the last Walachian prince to remain independent from the Ottoman Empire."

Do you have similar achievements to balance out your abortion butchery?

Posted by: oj at January 6, 2004 5:44 PM

None of the people remembering him today had to live with him, meaning those memories are completely unhindered by first hand experience.

That I recognize there is a certain spectrum of opinion on abortion, and assert that the imposition of one particular choice upon all others is a worse alternative than the current state of affairs in no way makes it "my" abortion butchery.

Your continued suggestion in that regard is libelous.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 6, 2004 9:32 PM

OJ, here is your quote, with a few replacements:

"Despite all this, Stalin's subjects respected him for fighting the Nazis and being a strong ruler. He's remembered today as a patriotic hero who stood up to Germany and Poland. He was the last Soviet People's Hero to remain independent from the American Empire."

Every great butcher has friends. They are as despicable as he.

Anyhow, how does Vlad the Impaler support your contention that Medieval Europe was a society friendly haven relatively free of ecclesiastical or statist coercion?

Posted by: Robert D at January 6, 2004 9:36 PM


I agree Stalin was a Russian hero--but an enemy of ours. Vlad was a hero of Christendom, even if a problematic one. One doesn't look for light-handed government in Indian Territory.

Posted by: oj at January 6, 2004 10:38 PM


Truth is a defense to a charge of libel. Do you not support the right to abortion which has killed 40 million Americans?

Posted by: oj at January 6, 2004 10:39 PM

Back in your precious Middle Ages, kings touched commoners for scrofula. Kept it up in France through Louis XIV.

Try getting G. Bush to touch you for eczema.

Kings had far more intimate contact with commoners in the Middle Ages than is the case between the classes today.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 7, 2004 4:05 AM

I support the right of people to come to their own moral decisions because I don't believe there is one particular choice that is correct. (In particular, a choice that requires a woman to carry the pregnancy resulting from rape--your point of view, I believe--could easily strike some as a choice that is best not imposed on others.)

That doesn't make abortion any more my butchery than my belief adults should be free to consume alchoholic beverages alchohol related highway deaths my butchery.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 7, 2004 7:02 AM

Vlad made the choice for 50 to 100,000. You've made it for 40 million.

Posted by: oj at January 7, 2004 7:58 AM


And what percentage of the population do you imagine they touched?

Posted by: oj at January 7, 2004 8:05 AM

Stop the logic chopping. I haven't made a choice for anyone. Any more than than being in favor of legally available alcohol is tantamount to choosing to drink and drive.

If you happen to favor people having the option to, say, enjoy a little port over some after dinner conversation, than blood on the pavement is your butchery.

I have heard you are in favor of the former. That means you have made the choice to drink and drive for hundreds of thousands of people each year (presuming their are ten drunks on the road for each alcohol related fatality).

If the preceding paragraph sounds ridiculous, well, there is a good reason. It is.

Just as ridiculous as "You've made it for 40 million."

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 7, 2004 8:59 PM


A somewhat coherent analogy might be that just as if you support drunk driving you are responsible for the deaths it causes, so if you support abortion your are responsible for the deaths it causes. The only difference is the death rate--100% for abortion, rather lower for drunk driving.

Posted by: oj at January 7, 2004 11:25 PM

That analogy is completely inchoherent.

I don't support drunk driving, I support the freedom to choose to drink. Surely you must be able to see that distinction.

I support the freedom for people to make moral choices, not because I am in favor of abortion, but because I am very much against the kind of society that results where one particular moral choice among many is imposed upon everyone.

Now you may very well disagree with that. But to construe that as somehow pro-abortion, or making abortion my slaughter, isn't discussion. Rather, it is libelous insult.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 8, 2004 7:59 AM


A simple thought experiment:

Person A, whose right to do so I support, takes a drink. Does anyone die? Maybe, though not simply as a function of the drink.

Person B, whose right to do so I support, has an abortion. Does anyone die? Every single time.

If you can't handle the moral import of your politics, change them.

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2004 8:09 AM

Here is a simple thought experiment. Imagine living in a country with freedom of religion. And not all the religions, nor all the people within a religion, agree on when ensoulment occurs, or the morality of bringing profoundly deformed babies into the world, or the morality of forcing a raped woman to bear the resulting pregnancy.

Now imagine imposing one particular religious position on all the others. Then try imagining religious freedom again.

Guess what, I do handle the moral import of my politics. I believe the immorality attending relinquishing freedom of religion and conscience to the government are worse than the than the immorality of some people making choices that will offend some third parties.

Now, you may disagree with that conclusion, and if you wish to debate it, that is fine.

But to conclude from my position that abortion is "my" slaughter, or that I am in favor of killing babies, is venomous calumny, completely unworthy of reply. I shall keep that in mind from now on.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 8, 2004 8:49 PM

Offend third parties? Odd euphemism for 40 million dead.

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2004 9:03 PM

The third parties I refer to are observers, like you or I. Clearly, my clumsy wording made it sound like a euphemism.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 9, 2004 7:32 AM