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Terry Eagleton’s Pro-Fascist Zealotry

There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say that Terry Eagleton could benefit from having his head given a dollar value by Muslim extremists. Nostalgic for the era when Britain had still had "Blake to dream … Read More

By / July 9, 2007

There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say that Terry Eagleton could benefit from having his head given a dollar value by Muslim extremists. Nostalgic for the era when Britain had still had "Blake to dream of a communist utopia," Eagleton laments what he perceives to be the lack of an "eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life." Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie come under particularly harsh fire for their negative appraisals of Islamic fascism and the war against it:

The knighting of Salman Rushdie is the establishment's reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Couldn't have had anything to do with the establishment rewarding a man who courageously faced down death in defense of a novelist's right of free expression…

Eagleton has a history of being revolted by "card carrying rationalists" who don't share his nuanced appreciation of theology and theocracy. He claims that Martin Amis "has written of the need to prevent Muslims travelling and to strip-search people," when in fact Amis said nothing of the sort. I paraphrased the quote to which Eagleton is referring in the opening sentence above precisely because while one may have an urge to say these things, an expression of sentiment is hardly a prescription. After all, Amis has elsewhere written:

The form that Islamophobia is now taking – the harassment and worse of Muslim women in the street – disgusts me. It is mortifying to be part of a society in which any minority feels under threat.

Expressing an urge or tendency allows one to indulge in potentially productive thought experiments. I don't hope for any more fatwahs to be issued against writers, but I do enjoy speculating how Eagleton might feel about a war on radical Islamism if he had spent the better part of two decades the target of a worldwide Islamist enjoinder to his assassination. There is no cognitive dissonance in being simultaneously "disgusted" at Islamophobic behavior and imagining how the Muslim community might react if it were subjected to the kinds of abuses that the "Western" society so many of them deplore prohibits. The Western society, it should be added, that Eagleton appears to wish had more numerous opponents.

Interestingly enough, Evelyn Waugh, to whom Hitchens is compared, chided the "left wing intellectuals" who believed fascism was a threat to civilization when it descended upon Spain in the late 1930's. Doesn't Eagleton sound far more like Waugh taking the piss out of folks like Spender, Auden and Orwell?

Orwell knew something about courage that Eagleton and a great majority of his "radical" ilk keep missing. Writing about Waugh, he remarked:

To a great extent, what is still loosely thought of as heterodoxy has become orthodoxy…one cannot judge the value of an opinion simply by the amount of courage that is required in holding it.

As far as Eagleton is concerned, there aren't enough British writers willing to question western society and the capitalist system that undergirds it. Awash on a sea of lock-step orthodoxy, with his the lone courageous voice of dissent, is a literary community that doesn't meet his standard of snuff. It's more likely the other way around. In the long run, the best Eagleton could hope for would be something resembling T.S. Eliot status. Despite having snubbed his compatriots and fellow men of words who managed to condemn the menace of fascism, Eliot's work can overshadow his bad judgment. Until Eagleton produces a Prufrock, a Wasteland or a Four Quartets, he'll be little more than a fellow who got it wrong in a time when getting it right mattered most.

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