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Terry Eagleton Fights the Power

Professor Terry Eagleton continues along his bizarre moral trajectory in today's Guardian:

"It is easy to see why a diversity of cultures should confront power with a problem. If culture is about plurality, power is about unity. How can it sell itself simultaneously to a whole range of life forms without being fatally diluted? Multiculturalism is not a threat because it might breed suicide bombers. It is a threat because the kind of political state we have depends upon a tight cultural consensus in order to implant its materially divisive policies."

Untroubled by the number of loaded assumptions in that barrage, he continues:

"So culture today means not just sonnets and string quartets, but history, origins, language, kinship and identity."

Wait a minute. Hasn't culture always had quite a lot to do with "history, origins, language, kinship and identity"? Isn't that a very large part of what culture is? And doesn't it matter what kinds of plurality we're dealing with, and their moral particulars? And note the repeated use of the word 'power', as if it were an entity in its own right and had no connection whatsoever with the preferences of other people - say, those who disagree with Mr Eagleton. For instance, people concerned by the social fragmentation that often follows in the wake of identity politics and demands for special treatment. As when disreputable religious organisations assume their irrational taboos should supersede all other considerations, irrespective of practicality and reciprocity, and at great public expense. Presumably those who question multicultural ideology are to be dismissed as blindly serving the interests of this reified 'power' that only embittered Marxists can see.

But let's get back to suicide bombing, a topic Mr Eagleton has touched on before, admiringly.

"Tony Blair believes in a common culture... It is just that what Blair means by a common culture is that everyone should share his values so that they won't bomb tube stations. In fact, no cultural value is ever extended to large groups of newcomers without being changed in the process. This is why the Blair project is... culturally supremacist. There is no assumption in Downing Street that such values might be challenged or transformed in the process..."

Erm, I'm sorry, but wait a minute. What's the looming assumption here? As so often with Mr Eagleton, one isn't entirely sure. Though from bitter experience one tends to fear the worst.

Is Eagleton implying that people - or "those in power" - shouldn't regard the killing of random tube passengers as unacceptable? Is our revulsion at such acts to be "challenged" and "transformed" somehow? What about, say, the choices available to women? Are those to be challenged too, at least for some - or just recalibrated slightly? And what about people who feel entitled to threaten and intimidate when their metaphysical delusions aren't indulged? Are they to be indulged more as we loosen our "tight cultural consensus"? And in what sense is it "culturally supremacist" to think that the testing of ideas is preferable to creaking prejudice and unthinking zealotry? Alas, we're not told. But, as so often, vague insinuations hang in the air.

Update: Tom Freeman has some apposite thoughts on this.

Update 2: Protein Wisdom wonders whether Eagleton realises "just how full of shit he is."

Update 3: Ophelia weighs in, magnificently, over at Butterflies & Wheels.