Elegy for Elegance

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

A British professor offers some advice to Americans when a self-appraisal might be more warranted. “What should Americans do to be saved?” Terry Eagleton asks in the latest issue of The Chronicle Review. “They should try to think negatively.”

“Learning how to mock themselves would be an incomparably greater achievement than landing on Mars.”  Eagleton is a visiting professor at Lancaster University, in England.

“They should stop selling themselves as the finest country in the world because there is no such thing, any more than there are Gorgons and goblins,” Eagleton asserts of Americans. “There should be compulsory courses for all college freshmen in how not to mean what you say.”

“Above all, they should stop making such a song and dance about salvation.” Eagleton is also a visiting professor at the National University of Ireland.

“They should try to be less moral, idealistic, earnest, and high-minded,” Eagleton advises Americans. “They should take a break from all that uplifting, inspiring, healing, empowering, dreaming, edifying, and aspiring.”

“Then they might be more admirable people.” Finally, Eagleton is a visiting professor at  the University of Notre Dame, which still claims a Catholic identity.

“In many respects—in their friendliness, honesty, openness, inventiveness, courtesy, civic pride, ease of manner, generosity of spirit, and egalitarian manners—they are admirable enough already,” Eagleton writes of Americans. “But Americans are the first to admit that there is always room for improvement.”

“It is an honorable puritan doctrine. The good news about the citizens of this kindly, violent, bigoted, generous-spirited nation is that if ever the planet is plunged into nuclear war, they will be the first to crawl over the edge of the crater, dust themselves down, and proceed to build a new world. The bad news is that they will probably have started the war.”

Eagleton’s essay in The Chronicle Review was adapted from his new book, Across the Pond: An Englishman’s View of America, just out from W.W. Norton & Company.

Newt Gingrich has described Europe as in a state of “elegant decay.” What happens when they lose the elegance?


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.