Saturday, August 28, 2010

Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold

Edition: Culture and Anarchy (Oxford World's Classics)
PUBLICATION HISTORY
The first book edition of Culture and Anarchy came out in 1869. The first chapter of the work was originally entitled, "Culture and its Enemies," and was his last lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford in June 1867; in July, this lecture was published in Cornhill Magazine. The essay spurred a number of responses, and soon, Arnold's attempts to respond to these responses grew into a sequence of essays in Cornhill published between January to August 1868. These essays would later form the collection, Culture and Anarchy.

Arnold added a preface, introduction, and conclusion to the 1869 book edition, but the essays generally remained in their original forms. Later editions (1895, 1882, 1883) tended to omit many of the specific personal and topical references since so much of Arnold's work was wedded to debates and discourses immediately contemporary with original publication. My summary and analyses are based on the 1869 book edition.

SUMMARY/SCHEMA
This schema summarizes Arnold's aspects of culture that will bring human society to greater perfection, and the aspects of modern life that will bring human society towards anarchy.

TOWARDS CULTURE
TOWARDS ANARCHY
-Sweetness and Light (Beauty and Intelligence)
-Hellenising: a more holistic, internal, intellectual transformation to see things “as they truly are”
-Idea of eternal process, progress, vital movement of thought
-Making reason and will of God prevail
-“best self” (collectively, everyone will agree over values if everyone is cultivating their best selves)
-need for ideas before action
-“right reason”
-ensuring “light” is not actually darkness
-allowing “consciousness to play freely and simply” to cultivate disinterested views of things and to avoid blind orthodoxies
-Critique as actionable and pragmatic
-State authority needed to reign in anarchy; should not be afraid of State as long as it expresses collective “best self”

-Fire and Strength
-Philistinism
-Hebraising: tendency towards action, fire, strict adherence to rules
-“Machinery”
-Newspaper orthodoxies
-Middle class liberalism
-cultivating natural taste for “bathos”
-“Ordinary self”
-Random action, or fixed rules for action without ideas behind them
-“Doing as one likes” as the middle class, liberal doctrine
-“One thing needful”
-Fetishizing the production of wealth and manufactures
-Mindless partisanship – rule bound “liberals” and “conservatives”
-Fanaticism: nonconformists are perhaps as rule-bound and counter to individual thought as the Established Church
-“Clap-trap”



Preface:
Arnold praises Bishop Wilson, critiques the provinciality of nonconformist religion and their Hebraistic "sacrifice of all other sides of [their] being to the religious side," and idealizes Elizabethan state's capacity to absorb sectarian conflicts. The Preface was written as a response to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Introduction: 
Arnold signals that he is not aloof from politics, as some of his critics would say: "I am liberal, yet I am a liberal tempered by experience, reflection, and renouncement, and I am, above all, a believer in culture."

Chapter 1:
Arnold defines culture as 1) the endeavor to learn and see things as they are and 2) the need to make "things as they are" prevail in human society. Culture's motive is "the love of perfection." Culture is necessarily an endless process. The present day is too "mechanical" and concerned with "machinery," which becomes Arnold's catch-all metaphor for knee-jerk values of the Puritan, middle-class liberal: industrialization, population growth, wealth, free speech, religious ardor: "The Englishman is always too ready to believe--that the having a vote, like the having a large family, or a large business, or large muscles, has in itself some edifying and perfecting effect upon human nature." In this chapter, Arnold also explains the origin of the phrase, "sweetness and light" in Swift's Battle of the Books, and explains how culture will enable men to "look beyond machinery."

Chapter 2:
This chapter is largely a response to critics of his that believe that he has no pragmatism, and is full of "moonshine." Arnold argues that present-day "actions" are often impractical because they lack the proper intelligence, ideas or "light" to guide them. The English notion of "doing as one like" will degenerate into anarchy, especially when adopted by the working class. He describes this as an "anarchical tendency...to worship freedom."Arnold provides specific examples of people from each of the three classes (aristocracy, middle-class, working class), describing them according to Aristotle's concept of "mean" and "excess," ultimately saying that they all lack the proper "light" to be "centres of authority." Finally, Arnold distinguishes between "ordinary selves" (the "self" circumscribed by class interests, material pursuit, political orthodoxies) and "best selves" (the "self" which seeks intellectual and internal knowledge of "things as they really are"). The collective "best self" will then serve as the center of authority for an ideal state.

Chapter 3: 
Arnold revises/expands his definition of the different classes; reassigning them the terms of Barbarians for the aristocracy, Philistines for the middle class, and Populace for the working class. Barbarians are too externally refined (caring for such things as chivalry, and their bodies) and not internally refined enough. Philistines tend to be too self-satisfied, reliant on machinery, stiff-necked, and hence resistant to "light."The Populace is dangerous because it aspires to Philistine's "doing as one likes" which will lead to anarchy. Ultimately, Arnold believes in a "common humanity" in individuals from all classes, provided that he is "curious" about his "best self." In the final section of the chapter, Arnold shows how the current state, literature, religion, and politics all cultivate "ordinary selves" and tend to cater to humanity's baser "natural taste for bathos."

Chapter 4
Arnold defines how Hebraism and Hellenism have the same ends - so that "we may be partakers in divine nature"and thus they should be balanced in our society. Hebraism's close relationship with sin tends to make it too much about conduct and obedience, and not enough about seeing this as they really are. In history, there has been waves of Hebraism and Hellenism (Renaissance - Hellenistic; Reformation - Hebraistic). Arnold values the "tenacity" of Hebraism but suggests that Hellenism is needed to make sure the "light" which this tenacity follows is not "darkness."

Chapter 5:
The ruling forces of the day are "fire and strength" rather than "sweetness and light." Arnold cautions against the doctrine of "one thing needful." For example, literal readings of St. Paul see resurrection as rising to a new life after death; Arnold suggests the possibility of rising to new life (new light, understanding of life) before death. He also offers the story of one Mr. Smith, who committed suicide because of apprehensions about money loss, as a critique of the "one thing needful" - Smith thought that middle-class values (of which wealth is key) were all that one aspired to.

Chapter 6:
Arnold does his best here to offer practical examples whereby his critique might be useful. He shows how the disestablishment of the Irish church, the Real Estate Intestacy Bill, and Free Trade policy are all instances of knee-jerk, orthodox, mechanical liberalism. Arnold is against partisanship because partisanship fosters orthodoxies; sometimes critique will tends toward the "liberal" and other times, toward the "conservative." Arnold's "action" is thus critique.




Conclusion:
In the conclusion, Arnold makes a plea for public order, and the strong regulatory arm of the state. Since culture has not yet perfected people's internal frames of reference, anarchic tendencies need to be quashed by the state.


CRITICAL APPROACH/ANALYSIS:
See thoughts on Mill and Arnold under the Victorian liberalism page.


7 comments:

av said...

Hi.
This post really helped. I have an exam tomorrow on Culture Studies and my notes are bull****.
This post is now my study material :)

Shifani Reffai said...

Studying Arnold for my degree and this summary is such a godsend! THANK YOU!

Subratakumar Das said...

nice one....

desdemona said...

compact and lucid

buzee bee said...

Helped me a great deal.

ahmed afsal said...

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ahmed afsal said...

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