To Whom It May Concern:
[To European culture today — while it can still be spoken of in the singular — and to North American culture in the near future]:
From Philip Rieff:
“A multiculture is an anti-culture. … the historical task of a culture is always and everywhere the same: the creation of a world in which its inhabitants may find themselves at home and yet accommodate the stranger without yielding their habitus to him.”
T. S. Eliot’s “where there is no temple, there shall be no homes” finds its perfect echo in Rieff’s “Where there is nothing sacred, there is nothing.”
Lest the word “sacred” trigger in my fellow Girardians a needless knee-jerk reaction, what both Eliot and Rieff are saying is simply that all culture is rooted in cult, and that without reference to transcendence made vibrant and materially manifest in the culture, the culture will succumb to the iron law of both human affairs and physics, namely, that nature abhors a vacuum.
So, finally, Philip Rieff: “As teaching agents of sacred order, and inescapably within it, the moral demands we must teach, if we are teachers, are those eternal truths by which all social orders endure.”
(This was originally posted on gil-bailie.com in May 2007.)