Appalled by History

For us to love our country, Burke somewhere wrote, our country must be beautiful. The sheer aesthetic ugliness of modern capitalistic civilization has been as much a reason for the revulsion against it on the part of poets, artists, and social critics as have its various injustices and inequities, real or alleged. We are inclined nowadays to see the history of social and artistic protest against modern commerce, industry, and urbanization as a left-wing phenomenon, leading to its gruesome apotheosis in Marxist communism, but this is an inadequate reading of two hundred years of literature, art, and criticism.

"Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey, / Where wealth accumulates and men decay," wrote Oliver Goldsmith as capitalist industrialization and urbanization were moving into high gear in England in the late 18th century. He was followed by a line of English, American, and European writers who have been retrospectively co-opted by the left, even though their own sympathies and loyalties were either Christian or idealistic: Wordsworth, Blake, Carlyle, Dickens, Emerson, Thoreau, Arnold, and Ruskin, among others. In our century, often drawing on them, came important non-Marxist critics such as Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, and the American Southern Agrarians, whose 1930 volume of essays, I'll Take My Stand, is one of the noblest documents in modern American literature and provides...

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