To Hell with Culture

  • Tom Steele
Keywords: culture; British; commodity; religion


Any word that stretches from a Petrie dish of toxic chemicals mixed up by scientists in a lab, at one end of the spectrum, to the complete works of Shakespeare at the other is bound to suck in plenty of bullshit in between.  So, should we abandon the word ‘culture’ as far too vague to be meaningful or pare it back to see what we really mean when we use it?  In desperation the poet, Ezra Pound, junked it in favour of ‘Kulchur,’ meaning, for the most part, he did not think it meant anything useful at all. And the sculptor Eric Gill said: ‘When will revolutionary leaders realize that ‘culture’ is dope, a worse dope than religion; for even if it were true that religion is the opiate of the people, it is worse to poison yourself than to be poisoned…To hell with culture, culture as a thing added like a sauce to otherwise unpalatable fish’.  The Greeks did not have a word for it, according to Herbert Read, since for them they just had a good way of life that encompassed everything and definitely did not need a separate commodity called ‘culture’ to make it taste better. The term appears to have been first coined by the Romans, who turned culture into that commodity, ‘Roman Culture’, and then dumped it onto the unsuspecting peoples they conquered and absorbed into their empire, whether they liked it or not. The British did much the same a millennium and a half later.

Author Biography

Tom Steele

Tom Steele was formerly Reader in History and Theory of Adult Education at the University of Glasgow.  His books include The Emergence of Cultural Studies, Lawrence and Wishart (1997); Knowledge is Power! The Rise and Fall of European Popular Education Movements 1848-1939, Peter Lang, (2007).

How to Cite
Steele, T. (2023) “To Hell with Culture”, Concept, 14(3), pp. 1 - 6. Available at: (Accessed: 19April2024).