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"
- 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
- 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)
- What kinds of detail does Arnold include? (parody
of mannerisms, no definitions of terms such as sweetness, reason, Hebraism,
- How does Arnold present his opponents? (e. g. Charles
Bradlaugh, do we learn anything concrete about him?
- 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)
- What are some of Arnold's chief methods of
- 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
- 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
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)
- Why is Arnold less interested in defining the cultured
person than in "culture"? (cmp. C. and R., 413)
- The term "cultural studies" is often
used today; how is Arnold's use of the term "culture" similar
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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
"culture" excludes extremes, and rejects much of what finite human
beings do and desire.)
- 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?
- Is the "will of God" as elusive as Carlyle's
"greatness" or Ruskin's "justice"?
- Since Arnold was not a Christian, why do you think
he alludes to "reason and the will of God"
as an ultimate standard?
- 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
- Does Arnold seem to possess a faith in inevitable
progress? (411, 420)
- Can Arnold imagine a decayed or perverted use of
the mind? (409, 411)
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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)
- 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?
- What are his arguments against the view that economic
wealth is related to greatness? (414) Would his fellow Victorians have
generally agreed with him?
- 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)
- 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?)
- 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)
- 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)
- Why is culture opposed to "Philistinism"? Was Arnold the
first to use the term in this way?
- 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
- 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?
- Does Arnold believe that the enemies of culture
should be silenced? If so, does he indicate how?
- What does Arnold find so shocking about the Daily
(Religion alone was not responsible for the flaws in the Daily Telegraph--one
cannot blame all middle-class defects on Protestant ideology.)
- 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
- 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.)
- 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)
- Does he present a rational argument against reformism?
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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)
- 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.)
- 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)
- Are "beauty and intelligence" inevitable
synonyms for "sweetness and light"? (427)
- 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?
- 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"
- 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)
- 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
- 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)
- According to Arnold, what are some results of this
(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.)
- 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)
- What examples does he give for his claim that England
is overrun with personal liberties? How have the courts contributed to
(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.)
- 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)
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- On what grounds does he criticize Daniel Gooch?
Might Gooch represent other traits beside smugness? Is Arnold right to
identify assembling and brawling?
- 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?
- Does Arnold provide a good critique of laissez-faire
libertarianism as anarchy?
- Why does Arnold not associate "the state" with all three
classes? What for him are the qualities of each class? (435, defines by
- 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?
- 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)
- 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
- What does the notion that the man of genius is above
class do to the idea of class? (439)
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?
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)
- class beneath intellect, pure intellect above social distinctions
- devalues a historical method, since history exposes the causes of
- 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
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)
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?)
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
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)
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)
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?
How does he differ from these
fellow Victorians in his views on "the State"?
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"
- 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)
- What defects are cited for the lower classes? Are
the instances given stereotypes? (446, not actual persons)
- 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)
- 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
- What comment does Arnold make on upper-class field
sports? Is he intending to be humorous? (Barbarians with their passion
for field sports, 448)
- 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)
- What seems to have been his view of mass culture? How typical were his attitudes among British intellectuals of the time?
- 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)
- 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.)
- 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
"Hebraism and Hellenism"
What are distinguishing features of Hebraism and
- 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
With what fundamental dichotomies of our nature
does Arnold believe these qualities are associated? (thinking and doing
are separate processes)
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
Are there any features of religion which Arnold omits from his definition? (e. g. issues of responsibility to others)
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?
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)
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
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)
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)
Does the essay end with an implied synthesis? Does this resolve the alleged contraries?
Can you see features of Arnold's method of reasoning in the essay which remind you of his poetry? What contrasts do you find?
Copyright © 2010 Florence S Boos, The
University of Iowa. All rights reserved.
Page updated: May 3, 2011 19:54