Modernism is an aesthetic.
As a sensibility, it is compatible with most ideologies like Romanticism. There were Left Modernists and Right Modernists. There were even a few Modernists who were not atheists, bohemian degenerates, progressive liberals, socialists and anarchists and who had views similar to our own.
The following excerpt comes from Peter Gay’s book Modernism: The Lure of Heresy:
“There was no more fitting a poster boy for anti-modern modernism than T.S. Eliot. His friends and readers found him baffling: “he seemed too radical to conservatives,” as his biography Peter Ackroyd has summed it up, “and too conservative to radicals.” Holding fast to conflicting opinions, he raised contemporary poetry to hitherto little explored diction, versification, and subject matter, and adopted his first masters among anti-bourgeois French literary rebels. But at the same time, Eliot the radical clung to traditional beliefs in his religion and his politics, the two inseparably intertwined.
In short, Eliot’s sweeping subversion of contemporaneous poets’ practice, an uncompromising, generally acknowledged modernism, was no obstacle to his discovering in High Anglicanism the inner peace, the fulfillment of his longing for certainty that had long eluded him. In 1927, five years after publishing The Waste Land, he was received into the Church of England, punctiliously undergoing the formal, long-established ceremonies …
As Eliot grew increasingly famous, invitations to lectureships or introductions to other writers’ books began to inundate him. They provided him with welcome space to comment on controversial issues beyond the technical questions confronting poets. In 1933, in After Strange Gods, the Page-Barbour Lectures at the University of Virginia, he gave his distance for the contemporary world free rein, and supplied his critics of his more and more reactionary politics with a wealth of damaging quotations – damaging to him. The culture inferences he drew from his anti-modern modernism would never again be so patent. He flattered his listeners as doubtless enjoying “at least some recollections of a ‘tradition,’ such as the influx of foreign populations has almost effaced in some parts of the North, and such as never established itself in the West.” Having contemptuously set aside the ur-American ideal of making a nation through generations of immigrants, Eliot candidly lamented the crowding-in of aliens from apparently inassimilable cultures. “You are farther away from New York; you have been less industrialized and less invaded by foreign races.”
Eliot’s use of “invaded” measured his disapproval of what the flood of recent newcomers had done to his former country. Massive immigration – and who were more numerous and conspicuous than East European Jews? – was, for Eliot, a cultural catastrophe. Certainly New York, as Eliot’s close friend Ezra Pound harshly put it, was “ganz verjudet” – wholly judaized. The most desirable makeup of inhabitants in any society struck Eliot as so obvious as to make explanation virtually redundant. “The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterated. What is still more important is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.” One unintended merit of After Strange Gods was that it refused to flee to euphemisms and circumlocutions.
The lectures showed Eliot’s ethnology to be, in a word, primitive. Granted, the loose, irresponsible use of “race” was still common, and in deploying it Eliot was in good (which is to say, bad) company. But it exacted costs: in counting Jews among the races, Eliot was implying that Jewish qualities – all of them undesirable – are indelible. That is the key to his explicit objection to “free-thinking” Jews: they were cunningly trying to conceal their racial endowment, and, given that endowment, necessarily concealing it badly. Further, that one could count on their being skeptical about Christianity did not endear them to Eliot. This reading of Eliot’s thinking on social coherence finds confirmation with his reliance on the term “homogeneous” to sketch his social ideal. Eliot nostalgically turned back centuries – some four centuries, to be precise – to a time when shared identity of cultural and, more important, religious beliefs were regarded as essential preconditions for order in a commonwealth. Yet Eliot spoke confidently, as he usually did. It was a fundamental truth for him that the United States was “worm-eaten by liberalism,” a swear word for him.
It is a comment on Eliot’s alertness to his readers that he never authorized After Strange Gods to be reprinted. The lectures were suffused with genteel bigotry, and probably would have proved embarrassing for him. But ample as the opportunities were, he never repudiated these passages either. His picture of the world he wanted and whose absence he desperately regretted, a world uniform in culture and creed, as thoroughly anti-modern as it was possible for a modernist to be, was always at the heart of his ideology. Eliot’s literary modernism was of decisive importance to him and to readers of poetry everywhere. It radically transformed the way poets read and wrote poetry. But that unimpeachable modernism coexisted peacefully (at least for him) with a most intense anti-modernism. No doubt, the adequate definition of a modernist, will have to accommodate the awkward quality of apparent self-contradiction – a tribute to the sheer complexity of human nature. The point of interest remains that Eliot never considered his positions self-contradictory at all.”
T.S. Eliot repudiated his own tradition – the Genteel Tradition of his Boston Brahmin ancestors – in favor of French verse. He was also an alienated cosmopolitan elitist who became a British subject.
Modernism is not liberalism. It is compatible with liberalism, but it also compatible with T.S. Eliot’s High Anglican conservatism or Ezra Pound’s fascism. Pound was also an alienated cosmopolitan elitist who sided with Mussolini’s Italy and was charged with treason after World War II. Modernists are people who are alienated from their own roots. They are unhappy with their own people.