The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy

Though often presented as a paen to apolitical cultural values, Culture and Anarchy was motivated in part by Arnold's distaste for working-class agitation for the vote. In July 1866 Reform League demonstrators seeking the extension of the franchise had attempted to enter Hyde Park, but when turned back conducted a peaceful protest rally at the Agricultural Hall at Islington, with J. S. Mill as the main speaker. Arnold witnessed the Hyde Park demonstrations from his home in Chester Square, and wrote a famous passage alluding favorably to the flinging of the ring-leaders from the Tarpeian Rock (49). In the second edition of 1875 he deleted the passage. John Gross comments, "I doubt whether Arnold would have heard many of the speakers at the Agricultural Hall blithely invoking the Tarpeian rock." Later, on the Irish question of the 1880s, Arnold favored a state-supported Catholic university (of the kind advocated by Newman) but opposed Home Rule, "the nadir of Liberalism," as a first step to the breaking up of the Empire. He also supported the Coercion Bill and other measures which would have virtually reduced Ireland to martial law.

Each of the essays later gathered in Culture and Anarchy was published in Cornhill Magazine during 1868, directly after the passage of the Reform Bill, which granted the vote to prosperous working-class men. For a comparison of other middle-class essayists' attitudes toward the extention of the vote, see Thomas Carlyle's "Shooting Niagara" (he was virulently hostile) and J. S. Mill (he favored universal suffrage, but urged education to bring an enlightened democracy). The debate over the suffrage had been vitriolic throughout the 1860s, and Arnold's essays were not surprisingly attacked (206)--Huxley accused him of inventing Bishop Wilson!-- which may explain something of the pain of his response.

"Sweetness and Light"

  1. What are some individual features of Arnold's style, and how does it differ from that of Carlyle and Ruskin? Can you comment on the rhythm of his sentences?
    • controlled diction
    • multiple and repeated appositions, authoritative statements 473
    • argument by definition, 409, 410, 444, 468, 469, 426
    • use of abstract and moral terminology
    • qualifiers
    • use of diffident persona to indicate modesty
    • quotations, use of plural we (416), a kind of pseudo-modesty, doesn't seem overtly preachy
    • irony, pretense of praise (cmp. Carlyle)
  2. What kinds of detail does Arnold include? (parody of mannerisms, no definitions of terms such as sweetness, reason, Hebraism, Hellenism)
  3. How does Arnold present his opponents? (e. g. Charles Bradlaugh, do we learn anything concrete about him?
  4. What according to Arnold are the claims of his opponents? Why do you think he chose these particular opponents against whom to direct his arguments? Does he directly answer their charges? (407, 408; Huxley accused him of inventing Bishop Wilson! ends up blaming those who had attacked the narrowness of the definition of culture for having created that narrowness through their attack)
  5. What are some of Arnold's chief methods of argument?
    • use of dialectic, no extreme can be true--elaborates first the one and then the other of two opposites
    • use of representative anti-heroes, men who embody limited ideas or qualities of excess
    • definition by negative--culture is not class-based, divisive, etc.
    • use of a detached persona to claim that culture advocates the principles he brings forth
  6. How are Arnold's social preoccupations similar to or different from those of Carlyle and Ruskin? Were Carlyle's hero and Ruskin's benevolent manufacturer men of "culture" in Arnold's sense? Do they have some common enemies?
    (narrowness of liberalism and Puritanism also bothered Ruskin, 413; detestation of machinery of parliamentary democracy shared with Carlyle; like Carlyle, Arnold desired the subordination of the individual to a higher order, yet for Arnold this order was less military and more subjective; Arnold's definition of the work ethic was less active than Carlyle's)
  7. Why is Arnold less interested in defining the cultured person than in "culture"? (cmp. C. and R., 413)
  8. The term "cultural studies" is often used today; how is Arnold's use of the term "culture" similar or different?
  9. What are some of Arnold's definitions of culture? Are all of these tautological?
    • study of perfection, 409, search for perfection, 411
    • "impulse toward help," not help itself but contemplation of help
    • desire for things of the mind
    • culture is by definition rational, intellectual, the ability to see "things as they are," reducible to a mental construct
    • universal order which is purpose of world, 411
    • emphasis on humanity as opposed to animality, 411
    • balance of many human powers, 412
    • an absolute standard, 413, not varied for individuals
  10. Do you accept Arnold's definition of curiosity? Of culture as a study of perfection? (409) What does it mean to say that the study of perfection is the desire to make "reason and the will of God prevail"? (411)
  11. What assumptions lie behind the terminology, "to make reason and the will of God prevail"?
    (There is a unitive force, "God," who possesses a "will" or purpose to dominate history, and culture is "rational." 411, God's will is an intended universal order in the world--an inevitable force or law of change.
    Yet the totality of being or observation might include much more--one might postulate an intense energy or charity or creative force, a critical or corrosive energy--neither sarcasm nor lyricism are quite rational. By definition Arnold's "culture" excludes extremes, and rejects much of what finite human beings do and desire.)
  12. In his claim that culture has the same ends as religion (411), the perfection of human nature, do you think Arnold makes an accurate assessment of the aims of all religion? Is his definition of religion uncontroversial?
  13. Is the "will of God" as elusive as Carlyle's "greatness" or Ruskin's "justice"?
  14. Since Arnold was not a Christian, why do you think he alludes to "reason and the will of God" as an ultimate standard?
  15. Do you feel that the concept of increasing "sweetness and light" is an adequate description of culture? Are perfection, reason and the will of God therefore equated with sweetness and light? Where may Arnold have found anticipations of his terminology of "sweetness and light"?
  16. Does Arnold seem to possess a faith in inevitable progress? (411, 420)
  17. Can Arnold imagine a decayed or perverted use of the mind? (409, 411)
  18. Why does Arnold believe that culture should be anti-individualistic? Anti-mechanistic? What does he mean by these claims? Can you think of counterarguments to these views?
  19. What does Arnold mean by the claim that culture is the cultivation of all human traits and the subordination of any single one? (ideal of harmony, balance--but what are human traits? how can one tell when they are balanced? might these traits include some of the very things Arnold disrespects?)
    How does religion fit into this argument? (By classifying religion as only one human trait, he wins his argument that religion should be superceded.)
  20. What is the effect of Arnold's constant use of quotations? Are the quotations particularly apt? (many of the quotations are biblical or religious, used for sarcasm)
  21. Does Arnold assume the independence of "culture" from economic conditions? From considerations of power?
    Does he differ in this from Carlyle and Ruskin? What would he say to Marx's claim that the intellectual culture of each society is determined by its economic base? How might later readers have critiqued his views?
  22. What are his arguments against the view that economic wealth is related to greatness? (414) Would his fellow Victorians have generally agreed with him?
  23. Does Arnold discuss the issue of how we can increase culture? If machinery is impossible or ineffectual, how can culture prevail? (an ideal of education, literature, criticism)
  24. What does Arnold mean by "machinery"? How is it separate from culture? (culture is concerned with the formation of spirit and character, not with subordinate means to an end--yet cannot the means of something be the causes which bring it about?)
  25. What does Arnold imply in his claim that culture is similar to the spirit of the best art and poetry of the Greeks? (416) Why the Greeks? (religion and poetry are one; yet in addition to mythology moral fiber is needed--here Arnold stereotypes an entire culture)
  26. Why do you think Arnold makes his argument for culture by an appeal to the past? (a common Victorian form of argument was a redefining of the alleged defects and virtues of past ages)
  27. Why is culture opposed to "Philistinism"? Was Arnold the first to use the term in this way?
  28. What in Arnold's view seem to be the faults of contemporary Protestantism? (417) Or in Arnold's terms, what is wrong with the "Dissidence of Dissent" and the "Protestantism of the Protestant Religion"? How are these related to Arnold's definition of the middle class?
    • concerned with organizations
    • concerned with civil liberties
    • prone to demonstrations, voting, journalism
    • dissent and protest are divisive rather than unitive, 417
    • concerned with wealth, industrial progress
    • favorable to an expanded population
    • intolerant in religion
    • pretentious in their claims to be children of God, 419 (weren't there worse crimes?)
    • devoted to material success
    • engage in trivial activities, 419
    • advocate narrow ideals of life, 419
    • jealous of the Establishment, 419
    • exhibit limited tastes, 419
    • devoted to physical culture, 421 (i. e., health, exercise)
      Which of these criticism do you feel are most important or relevant?
  29. To what extent do you think Arnold's characterization of bourgeois England was an accurate one? Were some of the traits he criticizes present in other groups as well?
  30. Does Arnold believe that the enemies of culture should be silenced? If so, does he indicate how?
  31. What does Arnold find so shocking about the Daily Telegraph? (419)
    (Religion alone was not responsible for the flaws in the Daily Telegraph--one cannot blame all middle-class defects on Protestant ideology.)
  32. What institution represents for Arnold the model of culture? Was this a good choice of an image, and why?
    • Oxford a noble supporter of good old causes, 421
    • had opposed changes in political power and in its curriculum
    • had opposed middle-class liberalism, 422
    • a democratic force--he's uncertain about this--but its cultural ideas are broader, 422
    • anti-heroic, eternally passing on and seeking, 424
    • anti-Jacobin--for Arnold virtually all reformism becomes Jacobin--anti-government violence and bloodshed never needed, Harrison, Congreve, Comteans, Bentham, Franklin, 424
  33. What does Arnold consider traits of Jacobinism? Does he present these fairly? (424, cmp. Ruskin and Carlyle) Are his examples current? (gives no accurate sense of the many contemporary equivalents of the Jacobins--the Chartists, socialists, etc.)
  34. Are Jeremy Bentham and Frederick Harrison good examples of Jacobinites? (both moderate reformers) On what basis are their reforms attacked? (ad hominem arguments, blames flaws of his reforms on personal narrowness of Bentham, 425) What are the examples he gives of the peculiar narrowness of Jacobins? (424-25)
  35. Does he present a rational argument against reformism?
  36. How will Arnold deal with the problem of social inequity? (426) How does his answer differ from that of Ruskin or Carlyle?
    (Arnold's attitude eliminates the hope of restructuring society. He dismisses wealth as mere "machinery"--ignoring the fact that only some are rich--and by assuming a composite social identity he obscures issues of inequality. Contrast Ruskin's preoccupation with the distribution of wealth.)
  37. As an alternate to self-conscious social reform, how does culture "seek to do away with classes"? (426, Doesn't raise standards of the lower classes but imposes standards of its own, allegedly apart from all classes. Men of culture will proclaim culture, 427, serve as brilliant generalists.)
  38. What examples does Arnold cite as persons who embody his ideal? (Abelard, Lessing, Herder, St. Augustine) What seem to be some grounds for their selection? Would Carlyle or Ruskin have agreed with his choices? (no poets, prophets or artists)
  39. How does Arnold's man of culture differ from ideal literary models presented earlier in the century?
    (Wordsworth had idealized the poet as teacher, Carlyle the hero as man of action; since Arnold's examples are of literary or philosophical achievement, his man of culture would seem somewhat akin to Carlyle's man of letters.)
  40. Does Arnold succeed in broadening his concept rhetorically at the end of the chapter?
    (greater emphasis on its social application)
    Does his final quotation provide an appropriate closure? (quotes a doctrinaire, dogmatic religious statement as a symbolic representation of cultural truth)
  41. Are "beauty and intelligence" inevitable synonyms for "sweetness and light"? (427)
  42. Can you think of other stylists or essayists who may have influenced Arnold? (Newman) How does his mode of argument differ from that of J. S. Mill?
  43. What are some rhetorical advantages of Arnold's use of the term "culture"?
    (The term "culture" bypasses the problem of a referent for all value. The usual connotations of "God" were not what Victorian prose writers such as Arnold, Ruskin or Carlyle wished to suggest; "culture" suggested an ideal with a human referent, eluding definition and thus capable of being all things to all. Postulating its evolutionary inevitability provided for a comforting notion of progress without the need for specific agency.
    Although Arnold's appeal to "culture" marginalizes human agency, culture itself is cast as active: "culture tries," "culture feels," etc., 413. Yet culture is not fully personified but defined as an abstraction with some active historical force, a kind of corporate super-ego. Yet do "sweetness and light" exhibit active energies?)

"Doing as One Likes"

  1. For what series of behaviors or ideals is "doing as one likes" Arnold's equivalent?
    (rough and course movements of reform are a hastening to do as we please, 428-29, thoughtless and without rule)
    Is this definition reductive?
    (yet freedom is also freedom to do what one chooses or determines to be good, the freedom to follow one's conscience, in fact, to pursue "sweetness and light," beauty and intelligence)
  2. According to Arnold, what is "the state"? (429, corporate character controlling separate classes and individual wills) What does Arnold mean by stating that all classes resist the idea of the state? Is he correct? Are there any grounds on which this view might be critiqued?
  3. Which class does he believe most resists the idea of the state, and is most tenacious of liberty? (430, lower classes desire freedom from rule by upper two classes)
  4. According to Arnold, what are some results of this resistance?
    (To some degree the center of his attack shifts from the middle to the lower classes, as he is disturbed that "rowdyism" has been permitted to continue. Resistance to conscription is seen as another example of the bad effects of "doing as one likes." Arnold omits any consideration of the harsh and degrading conditions for soldiers, or any notion that members of the other two classes should also face conscription.)
  5. What does Arnold mean by stating that freedom is machinery? (430, machinery becomes synonym for independence of conduct) Would other thinkers of his period have agreed with him? (e. g. Carlyle)
  6. What examples does he give for his claim that England is overrun with personal liberties? How have the courts contributed to this anarchy?
    (what he believes are bigoted speeches in favor of the extension of the frachise are not repressed by authorities; the Court of Chancery has upheld an eccentric will)
    Do you think this is an entirely accurate claim?
    (In fact, in fact gross deprivations of liberty were a mundane fact of British law--Annie Besant was deprived of her daughter on the grounds of atheism, for example; William Thompson was unable to leave his vast fortune to the co-operative movement because of his religious unorthodoxy. Religious and political non-conformity were two severely curtailed forms of eccentricity. On the other hand, foreign revolutionaries were permitted asylum in London.)
  7. Is "rowdyism" doing as one likes? Does he suggest that the middle-classes are in some way advocating crime? Is this correct? (nonsense, very strict on property rights; the idea of liberty involves denial of the freedom to destroy the liberty/property of others)
  8. According to Arnold, should the upper classes act to suppress the rowdyism and violence of members of the lower classes? (manages to criticize them for not interfering without stating that they should, 431)
  9. Does Arnold advocate the repression of what he believes are bigoted speeches? (432) Are there limitations to this approach? (avoids issue of whether bigotry is cured by suppressing its spokespersons)
  10. Against what does Arnold's sarcasm on the Irish movement seem directed? Does it make sense to identify rioters with upper-middle class liberalism? Why does he make this rhetorical move? (433)
  11. On what grounds does he criticize Daniel Gooch? Might Gooch represent other traits beside smugness? Is Arnold right to identify assembling and brawling?
  12. According to the definition of culture as perfecting oneself, can one say that culture is in general anti-democratic? (434) That culture opposes "doing as one likes"? What Victorian thinkers might have disagreed with him?
  13. Does Arnold provide a good critique of laissez-faire libertarianism as anarchy?
  14. Why does Arnold not associate "the state" with all three classes? What for him are the qualities of each class? (435, defines by assertion)
  15. In his categorization of the qualities of each class, does Arnold deal with the possibility that members of a class may act in ways uncharacteristic of their class? What does it mean to say that if aristocrats behave in uncharacteristic ways, they destroy their aristocracy? (436, tautological)
  16. What benefit does culture provide, according to Arnold? Has Arnold followed the prescription of culture to "see the best in everyone" in his own criticism? (437)
  17. In his claim that culture attempts to find reason and perfection through reading, observing and thinking, what aspects of experience does Arnold omit? (acting, feeling) Which Victorian essayists would have disagreed with his priorities? Are thinking and acting generally considered separable?
  18. What does the notion that the man of genius is above class do to the idea of class? (439)
    • class beneath intellect, pure intellect above social distinctions
    • devalues a historical method, since history exposes the causes of social distinctions
    • defines elite norms as class-free even while imposing them
    • our class self is our lower self, a sub-human part of identity; a doctrine of a split between matter and spirit, as it were
  19. If culture supposedly inspires us to view reality "with a disposition to see the good in everybody," 437-38, what are the best features of all classes? Do the lower classes even have a best feature which distinguishes them from other classes?
  20. Is his choice for a representative of middle-class culture a fair one? (440, 439, eliminates all men of genius! representative person by definition mediocre, yet contrasts (presumably) him with the apostles of culture he has selected)
    Does he attack both reformers and anti-reformers? (gives as example an extreme case of bigotry; another example an Alderman and Colonel of the Militia who had failed to intervene in a riot and permitted theft, 441)
  21. What, according to Arnold, should the Colonel have done? What is wrong with the policemen's arguments? (isn't the use of armed force machinery?)
  22. What does he here mention as the excesses of the lower classes? How are Odger and Bradlaugh portrayed?
    (442, 443, doesn't even give them the advantage of quotation; unfair to equate free-will with theft! human beings have a range of possibilities. In fact, police or militia were frequently used to quell protests; leniency to demonstrators not a feature of British law. In the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and Trafalgar Square protests of 1886 militia killed peaceful bystanders.)
  23. What, according to Arnold, will reconcile these class divisions? (442, the idea of the State, not the machinery of the State, identified with our best and transformed selves, 443, a Christian ideal) What contemporary models may Arnold have had in mind? (France, Germany)
  24. How will this notion of the State control all classes? In particular, what will this model uber-State be sure to do? (eliminate all disorder in the streets)
  25. How do Arnold's invocations of a classless ideal compare or contrast with other Victorians' evocations of a utopian classless society--Marx and Engels, Gaskell, Carlyle, Ruskin, or William Morris? In some of these cases does the relation between the political ideal and inward vision become indistinct, so that the two fuse and provide metaphors for the discussion of each other?
  26. How does he differ from these fellow Victorians in his views on "the State"?
  27. In 1867/69, what precedents or models would his words have suggested to a British audience? How were some of these models affected by the events of 1870 and following?

"Barbarians, Philistines, Populace"

  1. What virtuous mean for the middle-class does Arnold adduce? (445) Do you think this is a representative choice? (an opponent might claim this as closer to an extreme)
  2. What defects are cited for the lower classes? Are the instances given stereotypes? (446, not actual persons)
  3. Why do you think Arnold fails to provide examples from the upper classes? (only middle-class representations are used, except Odger and Bradlaugh, who were respectable radical leaders)
  4. What is the effect of Arnold's use of the terms, "barbarians, Philistines, populace"? Faced with these unpleasant alternatives, what should we desire? (escape into our best selves)
  5. What comment does Arnold make on upper-class field sports? Is he intending to be humorous? (Barbarians with their passion for field sports, 448)
  6. How does use of the term "populace" shape the reader's view of the working-classes? How are they identified? (they engage in "brawling, hustling and smashing," 451, not onerous labor amid uncertainty and subsistence living conditions)
  7. What seems to have been his view of mass culture? How typical were his attitudes among British intellectuals of the time?
  8. What is Arnold's attitude toward the culture of the United States? Do you think he is especially well informed? (455, America only a province of an inferior culture--a priori stereotyping)
  9. For the educational system, what is Arnold's model for right reason? (458, 461) What problems will this mitigate? (sectarian jealousies, 457, 459) Does he oppose the notion of laissez-faire? Does his model of the state work better for education than for some other aspects of social control?
    (Arnold was a school inspector, and his model of the state works well for education. England was considerably behind its European and American counterparts in providing education for its citizens, until the 1870 Education Acts mandated government-organized primary education, though many schools continued to be run by religious groups. In this context Arnold's ideas represent what is still an ideal of the school system. He seems to argue for active state control of class/factional interests, as opposed to rewarding lobbyists with favors.)
  10. Can you compare Arnold's views on government regulation of education with those of J. S. Mill's On Liberty? Did Mill think that parents could be forced to provide an education for their children?

"Hebraism and Hellenism"

    What are distinguishing features of Hebraism and Hellenism?
    • Hellenism is infused with the desire to see things as they are, spontaneity of consciousness--charm, aerial ease, clearness, radiancy, sweetness and light, 468
    • Hebraism consists of the desire for right conduct, obedience, strictness of conscience, sense of sin
  1. With what fundamental dichotomies of our nature does Arnold believe these qualities are associated? (thinking and doing are separate processes)
  2. Does Arnold support his claim that both Hebrew prophets and Greek philosophers sought the same results--"reason and the will of God"? (467) Does he consider the possibility that different means may produce different ends--that if Socrates is at ease in Zion, it isn't Zion?
  3. Are there any features of religion which Arnold omits from his definition? (e. g. issues of responsibility to others)
  4. What are some of Arnold's methods of argument in this section? (469) What is the effect of his choosing only two representative ideas/cultures to embody all significant history?
  5. According to Arnold, what causes history to move forward? (472, dialectic of alternating ideas) To what German thinker is Arnold indebted for this idea? How does Arnold use this view to create a taxonomy of culture? (powerful stereotyping in identifying a historical period with a literary tradition, an idea, and a state of mind)
  6. What racial arguments does Arnold accept? (race affects character) Does he give examples or evidence to support his views? In the light of racial determinism, what do you make of his contention that the present-day British are essentially Hebraic (Semitic) rather than Hellenic (Indo-European)?
  7. Does Arnold believe that ultimately good will triumph? (474, Hebraism not the destined spirit of our times, once was the primary spirit of history, therefore cannot again be so, 475--yet this would be also true of Hellenism! The natural order has been contravened by imposing Puritanism on the Hellenic Renascence)
  8. Does Arnold seem to favor one polarity over another? What were the defects of each system? (prematurity vs. overseverity, 470; unmitigated Hellenism could lead to decadence, 473)
  9. Does the essay end with an implied synthesis? Does this resolve the alleged contraries?
  10. Can you see features of Arnold's method of reasoning in the essay which remind you of his poetry? What contrasts do you find?

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