Liberalism is fundamentally negative in its teleology. Its inherent purpose is to liberate individuals from constraints of tradition, social structure, and cultural context. It can have good effects (some structures are, indeed, oppressive) but if not checked it will corrode the social framework, producing anarchy and brutal responses to that anarchy. Here, obviously, Eliot is referring to the rise of totalitarianism, perhaps most obviously in response to the anarchy of post–World War I German society. He also points to the discomfiting fact that Western democracies share significant affinities with totalitarian regimes. Totalitarian regimes simply have advanced more fully (and ironically, more efficiently) on the road to paganism, a destination toward which our society continues to move.
Clearly there is a prescriptive element to Eliot’s argument. Few people of sense and goodwill would choose either the totalitarianism or the cultural death naturally succeeding to a neutral society that is not brought back to its religious roots. But Eliot’s explanatory goal is to point out the nature of our choices as a vestigial Christian society. He seeks to eliminate the inconsistency (whether adopted from ignorance or the intention to deceive) of those whose real values “are of materialistic efficiency” yet who claim also to value Christianity (CC, 16). “The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate themselves to any world which treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable” (CC, 17). This view is an unsurprising outgrowth of liberalism’s genuine good fruits, peace and toleration.
But the liberal secular viewpoint has become increasingly untenable due to the difficulty of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society.
The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us, and it is a very different problem from that of the accommodation between an Established Church and dissenters. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma—and he is in the majority—he is becoming more and more de-Christianized by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. (CC, 17–18; emphasis in original)