Richard Holloway reviews Terry Eagleton's new book:
If conservatives believe in original sin but not in redemption, then liberals believe in redemption but not in original sin. They are deficient in the tragic sense of life, which is why they tend to identify the source of the ills that beset us as not in ourselves, but in external impediments to human well-being: remove these external obstacles, goes the mantra, and the kingdom will come on earth as it is in the heaven of the liberal's imagination.
Radicals, on the other hand, try to maintain a precarious balancing act between these extremes. 'On the one hand they must be brutally realistic about the depth and tenacity of human corruption to date ... On the other hand, this corruption cannot be such that transformation is out of the question.' Eagleton believes that what prevents the radical from sliding into despair is an understanding of what he calls materialism. 'I mean by this belief that most violence and injustice are the result of material forces, not of the vicious disposition of individuals ... The opposite of materialism here is moralism - the belief that good and bad deeds are quite independent of their material contexts.'What he is proposing, in fact, is a materialist understanding of original sin.