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Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy.


- added to the essay in 1875

- points out some of the ideas of the following essay and explains some references, esp. to religious works, and allusions to newspapers

- the aim of the essay: to recommend culture as the great help out of the present difficulties

- warns against the dangers of cramming and racing little boys for competitive examinations

- defines culture = the pursuit of total perfection

"Sweetness and Light"


- the "culture" of mechanic learning of Latin and Greek cannot be considered culture (Arnold himself experienced this at Oxford)

- motives for studying and for being culturized:

(a) to render an intelligent being yet more intelligent (curiosity to see things as they are) = scientific passion

(b) social motives = passion for doing good


- wealth: mere machinery, and machinery should not be overestimated, a common failure of perceiving the machinery not as a means but as an end

- Philistines: devote their lives to the idea of becoming wealthy


- religion: also pursuits perfection

- more important than poetry, because it pursuits perfection on a broader scale

- Puritanism: one of the reasons why the British are the most culturized nation

- Puritanism was however imperfect in offering a rather discouraging depiction of the worldly life


- culture = study of perfection, which is total, general (i.e. for all or for as much as possible)

- the perfection consists in becoming something rather than in having something, i.e. in inward condition of the mind and spirit and not in an outward set of circumstances

- the pursuit of perfection = the pursuit of "sweetness and light"

=> aim: to diffuse sweetness and light, i.e. to make reason and the will of God prevail

"Doing as one Likes"

- the central idea of English life and politics is the assertion of personal liberty

- this may result in rough and coarse actions performed without thinking, i.e. actions with insufficient light

- danger of anarchy

- reacts on Carlyle's idea of giving rule to the aristocracy: chooses and analyses one representative member of the aristocracy, of the middle class, and of the working class but none of them proves to be capable to defend a man against anarchy

- refuses the notion of the State controlling individual wills in the name of an interest wider than that of individuals

=> our everyday selves are too separate to save us from anarchy, but: culture suggests that our best selves replace the State-power

"Barbarians, Philistines, Populace"


= aristocracy

- their heritage is the care for the body (exercises, sports, good looks, etc.) = exterior culture

- enjoy honours and consideration; imposing seats, field-sports, and pleasure


= middle class

- enjoy business and money-making; comfort and tea-meeting

- Arnold considers himself a Philistine


= working class

- bawling, hustling, smashing; beer drinking

- the categories overlap (a Barbarian has something of a Philistine and of a Populace as well)

- all categories share some general tendencies and passions (one of which should be the pursuit of perfection)

- the members of each of the categories imagine happiness to consist in doing what one’s ordinary self likes

=> our actual habits and practice, esp. political system, hinder the recognition of the right reason as a paramount authority, and suggest that there is nothing wiser than our ordinary selves, no best self

"Hebraism and Hellenism"

- general preference of doing to thinking

- the two tendencies are equally present, Hebraism however is the ruling force now and it has been for a long time

- Bishop Wilson: "First, never go against the best light you have; secondly, take care that your light be not darkness."

=> Hellenism = "doing", going with one's best light, seeing things as they really are, spontaneity of consciousness, clear intelligence

=> Hebraism = "knowing", taking care that the light is not darkness, conduct and obedience, strictness of conscience, firm obedience

- Hebraism and Hellenism pursue the same final aim = perfection or salvation

"Porro Unum Est Necessarium"

- the reason for prevailing Hebraism: esp. by countrymen, tradition leads them rather to Hebraism (religious belief) than to Hellenism (belief in oneself)

- the both tendencies are to be used as a help towards perfection, it is necessary to establish a harmonious development by uniting the best of the two principles

=> aim: to provide the countrymen with Hellenism which they lack and which is close to sweetness and light = i.e. culture

"Our Liberal Practitioners"

- describes actions of nonconformists

- e.g. disestablishment of the Church of Ireland which should be against reason and justice, but the nonconformists seem to have misapprehended Christ's "My kingdom is not of this world.", willing to abolish the publicly established religious worship

- discusses an attempt of a man to marry his deceased wife's sister

- discusses the question of free-trade

=> Culture is the most resolute enemy of anarchy.


  • Author

    Arnold, Matthew. (1822 - 1888).
  • Full Title

    Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism.
  • First Published

    London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1869.
  • Form


Works Cited

Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. In: Culture and Anarchy and Other Writings. Ed. Stefan Collini. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.


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