On Achieving Disagreement

In After Strange Gods, Eliot takes a leaf from Newman’s book: “In our time, controversy seems to me, on really fundamental matters, to be futile. It can only usefully be practised where there is common understanding. It requires common assumptions; and perhaps the assumptions that are only felt are more important than those that can be formulated. The acrimony which accompanies much debate is a symptom of differences so large that there is nothing to argue about” (After Strange Gods, 13).

This is intimate with, and perhaps an intertextual echo of, one of my favorite lines in all of Newman’s work: “When men understand each other’s meaning, they see, for the most part, that controversy is either superfluous or hopeless” (Oxford University Sermon 10).

But of course Chesterton, as usual, put the matter best. Reportedly he was once walking through the streets of London with a friend, and, on noticing two women shouting furiously at each other from apartments on either side of the street, remarked, “My, they’ll never agree.” When his friend asked why, he said simply, “They’re arguing from different premises.”

This entry was posted in Chesterton, Disagreement, John Henry Newman, T.S. Eliot and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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