Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold

“Culture and Anarchy: (1869) The full title of this work by Matthew Arnold is Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism. Arnold felt it was necessary to shake the members of the Victorian middle class, the ‘Philistines,’ out of their smug complacency, and to show them the need for incorporating ‘sweetness and light’ (a phrase taken from Swift’s The Battle of the Books) into their daily lives. The book is known for its definition of a three-tier class structure of Barbarians, Philistines, and the Populace. Arnold also opposed Hellenism, which is concerned with beauty, knowledge, and imaginative free play, to Hebraism, which involves ethics, responsibility, and self-control. He felt that society was too Hebraic, and should show greater respect for ‘culture,’ which he defines famously as a canon of ‘the best that has been thought and said,’ but also as an action, ‘the study and pursuit of perfection.’ He believed culture should be disseminated throughout society with an aim toward social equality, though his own elite position blinded him to biases about race, sex, and class, and the destructive homogenization implied by his claim that individual perfection depends on the realization of the state as the ideal expression of community.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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