This essay argues for the role of instrumental thinking in cultural and literary criticism, practices sometimes thought of as naturally anti-instrumental. Focusing on the work of Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot, it shows a shared instrumental defense of Christianity but also how, for situational reasons, this defense has made instrumentalism harder to locate within the Anglophone critical tradition. Arnold promoted adherence to the national church on openly civic and functional grounds, though to do so he had to derogate the idea, widely held by British Christians, that the metaphysical truth of Christianity outweighed practical considerations. Eliot, in a career of apologetics that consciously emended Arnold’s, offered a similarly effectual sense of Christianity’s value but enfolded this valuation into a model of cultural holism that forbade individual acts of if/then calculation, avoiding the appearance of bad faith. Eliot’s holism becomes part of Raymond Williams’s conception of the agency of the cultural despite Williams’s lack of interest in the specifically religious project. In brief, the rhetorical difficulty of instrumentalizing Christianity drives instrumental calculation underground, making it illegible against the larger backdrop of romantic anti-utilitarianism in cultural politics. This essay suggests that, when the object is not belief, instrumental approaches to culture present fewer contradictions than is often assumed and that it may be an opportune moment to reconsider them.
"Beyond Bad Faith: Cultural Criticism and Instrumentality,"
Criticism: Vol. 61:
2, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol61/iss2/3