Culture and Anarchy
Matthew Arnold

Part 4 out of 4

they have not yet become alive to the intellectual weakness of it.
In Puritanism, on the other hand, we can respect that idea of dealing
sincerely with oneself, which is at once the great force of
Puritanism,--Puritanism's great superiority over all products, like
ritualism, of our Catholicising [253] tendencies,--and also an idea
rich in the latent seeds of intellectual promise. But we do this,
without on that account hiding from ourselves that Puritanism has by
Hebraising misapplied that idea, has as yet developed none or hardly
one of those seeds, and that its triumph at its present stage of
development would be baneful.

Everything, in short, confirms us in the doctrine, so unpalatable to
the believers in action, that our main business at the present moment
is not so much to work away at certain crude reforms of which we have
already the scheme in our own mind, as to create, through the help of
that culture which at the very outset we began by praising and
recommending, a frame of mind out of which really fruitful reforms
may with time grow. At any rate, we ourselves must put up with our
friends' impatience, and with their reproaches against cultivated
inaction, and must still decline to lend a hand to their practical
operations, until we, for our own part at least, have grown a little
clearer about the nature of real good, and have arrived nearer to a
condition of mind out of which really fruitful and solid operations
may spring.

In the meanwhile, since our Liberal friends keep [254] loudly and
resolutely assuring us that their actual operations at present are
fruitful and solid, let us in each case keep testing these operations
in the simple way we have indicated, by letting the natural stream of
our consciousness flow over them freely; and if they stand this test
successfully, then let us give them our commendable interest, but not
else. For example. Our Liberal friends assure us, at the very top
of their voices, that their present actual operation for the
disestablishment of the Irish Church is fruitful and solid. But what
if, on testing it, the truth appears to be, that the statesmen and
reasonable people of both parties wished for much the same thing,--
the fair apportionment of the church property of Ireland among the
principal religious bodies there; but that, behind the statesmen and
reasonable people, there was, on one side, a mass of Tory prejudice,
and, on the other, a mass of Nonconformist prejudice, to which such
an arrangement was unpalatable? Well, the natural way, one thinks,
would have been for the statesmen and reasonable people of both sides
to have united, and to have allayed and dissipated, so far as they
could, the resistance of their respective extremes, and where [255]
they could not, to have confronted it in concert. But we see that,
instead of this, Liberal statesmen waited to trip up their rivals, if
they proposed the arrangement which both knew to be reasonable, by
means of the prejudice of their own Nonconformist extreme; and then,
themselves proposing an arrangement to flatter this prejudice, made
the other arrangement, which they themselves knew to be reasonable,
out of the question; and drove their rivals in their turn to blow up
with all their might, in the hope of baffling them, a great fire,
among their own Tory extreme, of fierce prejudice and religious
bigotry,--a fire which, once kindled, may always very easily spread
further? If, I say, on testing the present operation of our Liberal
friends for the disestablishment of the Irish Church, the truth about
it appears to be very much this, then, I think,--even with a
triumphant Liberal majority, and with our Liberal friends making
impassioned appeals to us to take a commendable interest in their
operation and them, and to rally round what Sir Henry Hoare (who may
be described, perhaps, as a Barbarian converted to Philistinism, as
I, on the other hand, seem to be a Philistine converted to culture)
finely calls the conscientiousness of a [256] Gladstone and the
intellect of a Bright,--it is rather our duty to abstain, and,
instead of lending a hand to the operation of our Liberal friends, to
do what we can to abate and dissolve the mass of prejudice, Tory or
Nonconformist, which makes so doubtfully begotten and equivocal an
operation as the present, producible and possible.

And so we bring to an end what we had to say in praise of culture,
and in evidence of its special utility for the circumstances in which
we find ourselves, and the confusion which environs us. Through
culture seems to lie our way, not only to perfection, but even to
safety. Resolutely refusing to lend a hand to the imperfect
operations of our Liberal friends, disregarding their impatience,
taunts, and reproaches, firmly bent on trying to find in the
intelligible law of things a firmer and sounder basis for future
practice than any which we have at present, and believing this search
and discovery to be, for our generation and circumstances, of yet
more vital and pressing importance than practice itself, we
nevertheless may do [257] more, perhaps, we poor disparaged followers
of culture, to make the actual present, and the frame of society in
which we live, solid and seaworthy, than all which our bustling
politicians can do. For we have seen how much of our disorders and
perplexities is due to the disbelief, among the classes and
combinations of men, Barbarian or Philistine, which have hitherto
governed our society, in right reason, in a paramount best self; to
the inevitable decay and break-up of the organisations by which,
asserting and expressing in these organisations their ordinary self
only, they have so long ruled us; and to their irresolution, when the
society, which their conscience tells them they have made and still
manage not with right reason but with their ordinary self, is rudely
shaken, in offering resistance to its subverters. But for us,--who
believe in right reason, in the duty and possibility of extricating
and elevating our best self, in the progress of humanity towards
perfection,--for us the framework of society, that theatre on which
this august drama has to unroll itself, is sacred; and whoever
administers it, and however we may seek to remove them from the
tenure of administration, yet, while they administer, [258] we
steadily and with undivided heart support them in repressing anarchy
and disorder; because without order there can be no society, and
without society there can be no human perfection.

With me, indeed, this rule of conduct is hereditary. I remember my
father, in one of his unpublished letters written more than forty
years ago, when the political and social state of the country was
gloomy and troubled, and there were riots in many places, goes on,
after strongly insisting on the badness and foolishness of the
government, and on the harm and dangerousness of our feudal and
aristocratical constitution of society, and ends thus: "As for
rioting, the old Roman way of dealing with that is always the right
one; flog the rank and file, and fling the ringleaders from the
Tarpeian Rock!" And this opinion we can never forsake, however our
Liberal friends may think a little rioting, and what they call
popular demonstrations, useful sometimes to their own interests and
to the interests of the valuable practical operations they have in
hand, and however they may preach the right of an Englishman to be
left to do as far as possible what he likes, and the duty of his
government to indulge him and connive as much as [259] possible and
abstain from all harshness of repression. And even when they
artfully show us operations which are undoubtedly precious, such as
the abolition of the slave-trade, and ask us if, for their sake,
foolish and obstinate governments may not wholesomely be frightened
by a little disturbance, the good design in view and the difficulty
of overcoming opposition to it being considered,--still we say no,
and that monster processions in the streets and forcible irruptions
into the parks, even in professed support of this good design, ought
to be unflinchingly forbidden and repressed; and that far more is
lost than is gained by permitting them. Because a State in which law
is authoritative and sovereign, a firm and settled course of public
order, is requisite if man is to bring to maturity anything precious
and lasting now, or to found anything precious and lasting for the

Thus, in our eyes, the very framework and exterior order of the
State, whoever may administer the State, is sacred; and culture is
the most resolute enemy of anarchy, because of the great hopes and
designs for the State which culture teaches us to nourish. But as,
believing in right reason, and having faith in the progress of
humanity [260] towards perfection, and ever labouring for this end,
we grow to have clearer sight of the ideas of right reason, and of
the elements and helps of perfection, and come gradually to fill the
framework of the State with them, to fashion its internal composition
and all its laws and institutions conformably to them, and to make
the State more and more the expression, as we say, of our best self,
which is not manifold, and vulgar, and unstable, and contentious, and
ever-varying, but one, and noble, and secure, and peaceful, and the
same for all mankind,--with what aversion shall we not then regard
anarchy, with what firmness shall we not check it, when there is so
much that is so precious which it will endanger! So that, for the
sake of the present, but far more for the sake of the future, the
lovers of culture are unswervingly and with a good conscience the
opposers of anarchy. And not as the Barbarians and Philistines,
whose honesty and whose sense of humour make them shrink, as we have
seen, from treating the State as too serious a thing, and from giving
it too much power;--for indeed the only State they know of, and think
they administer, is the expression of their ordinary self; and though
the headstrong and violent [261] extreme among them might gladly arm
this with full authority, yet their virtuous mean is, as we have
said, pricked in conscience at doing this, and so our Barbarian
Secretaries of State let the Park railings be broken down, and our
Philistine Alderman-Colonels let the London roughs rob and beat the
bystanders. But we, beholding in the State no expression of our
ordinary self, but even already, as it were, the appointed frame and
prepared vessel of our best self, and, for the future, our best
self's powerful, beneficent, and sacred expression and organ,--we are
willing and resolved, even now, to strengthen against anarchy the
trembling hands of our Barbarian Home Secretaries, and the feeble
knees of our Philistine Alderman-Colonels; and to tell them, that it
is not really in behalf of their own ordinary self that they are
called to protect the Park railings, and to suppress the London
roughs, but in behalf of the best self both of themselves and of all
of us in the future.

Nevertheless, though for resisting anarchy the lovers of culture may
prize and employ fire and strength, yet they must, at the same time,
bear constantly in mind that it is not at this moment true, what the
majority of people tell us, that the world [262] wants fire and
strength more than sweetness and light, and that things are for the
most part to be settled first and understood afterwards. We have
seen how much of our present perplexities and confusion this untrue
notion of the majority of people amongst us has caused, and tends to
perpetuate. Therefore the true business of the friends of culture
now is, to dissipate this false notion, to spread the belief in right
reason and in a firm intelligible law of things, and to get men to
allow their thought and consciousness to play on their stock notions
and habits disinterestedly and freely; to get men to try, in
preference to staunchly acting with imperfect knowledge, to obtain
some sounder basis of knowledge on which to act. This is what the
friends and lovers of culture have to do, however the believers in
action may grow impatient with us for saying so, and may insist on
our lending a hand to their practical operations, and showing a
commendable interest in them.

To this insistence we must indeed turn a deaf ear. But neither, on
the other hand, must the friends of culture expect to take the
believers in action by storm, or to be visibly and speedily
important, and to rule and cut a figure in the world. Aristotle
says, [263] that those for whom ideas and the pursuit of the
intelligible law of things can have much attraction, are principally
the young, filled with generous spirit and with a passion for
perfection; but the mass of mankind, he says, follow seeming goods
for real, bestowing hardly a thought upon true sweetness and light;--
"and to their lives," he adds mournfully, "who can give another and a
better rhythm?" But, although those chiefly attracted by sweetness
and light will probably always be the young and enthusiastic, and
culture must not hope to take the mass of mankind by storm, yet we
will not therefore, for our own day and for our own people, admit and
rest in the desponding sentence of Aristotle. For is not this the
right crown of the long discipline of Hebraism, and the due fruit of
mankind's centuries of painful schooling in self-conquest, and the
just reward, above all, of the strenuous energy of our own nation and
kindred in dealing honestly with itself and walking steadfastly
according to the best light it knows,--that, when in the fulness of
time it has reason and beauty offered to it, and the law of things as
they really are, it should at last walk by this true light with the
same staunchness [264] and zeal with which it formerly walked by its
imperfect light; and thus man's two great natural forces, Hebraism
and Hellenism, should no longer be dissociated and rival, but should
be a joint force of right thinking and strong doing to carry him on
towards perfection? This is what the lovers of culture may perhaps
dare to augur for such a nation as ours. Therefore, however great
the changes to be accomplished, and however dense the array of
Barbarians, Philistines, and Populace, we will neither despair on the
one hand, nor, on the other, threaten violent revolution and change.
But we will look forward cheerfully and hopefully to "a revolution,"
as the Duke of Wellington said, "by due course of law;" though not
exactly such laws as our Liberal friends are now, with their actual
lights, fond of offering us.

But if despondency and violence are both of them forbidden to the
believer in culture, yet neither, on the other hand, is public life
and direct political action much permitted to him. For it is his
business, as we have seen, to get the present believers in action,
and lovers of political talking and doing, to make a return upon
their own minds, scrutinise their stock notions and habits much more,
value their present [265] talking and doing much less; in order that,
by learning to think more clearly, they may come at last to act less
confusedly. But how shall we persuade our Barbarian to hold lightly
to his feudal usages; how shall we persuade our Nonconformist that
his time spent in agitating for the abolition of church-rates would
have been better spent in getting worthier ideas than churchmen have
of God and the ordering of the world, or his time spent in battling
for voluntaryism in education better spent in learning to value and
found a public and national culture; how shall we persuade, finally,
our Alderman-Colonel not to be content with sitting in the hall of
judgment or marching at the head of his men of war, without some
knowledge how to perform judgment and how to direct men of war,--how,
I say, shall we persuade all these of this, if our Alderman-Colonel
sees that we want to get his leading-staff and his scales of justice
for our own hands; or the Nonconformist, that we want for ourselves
his platform; or the Barbarian, that we want for ourselves his pre-
eminency and function? Certainly they will be less slow to believe,
as we want them to believe, that the intelligible law of things has
in itself something desirable and [266] precious, and that all place,
function, and bustle are hollow goods without it, if they see that we
can content ourselves with it, and find in it our satisfaction,
without making it an instrument to give us for ourselves place,
function, and bustle.

And although Mr. Sidgwick says that social usefulness really means
"losing oneself in a mass of disagreeable, hard, mechanical details,"
and though all the believers in action are fond of asserting the same
thing, yet, as to lose ourselves is not what we want, but to find the
intelligible law of things, this assertion too we shall not blindly
accept, but shall sift and try it a little first. And if we see that
because the believers in action, forgetting Goethe's maxim, "to act
is easy, to think is hard," imagine there is some wonderful virtue in
losing oneself in a mass of mechanical details, therefore they excuse
themselves from much thought about the clear ideas which ought to
govern these details, then we shall give our chief care and pains to
seeking out those ideas and to setting them forth; being persuaded,
that, if we have the ideas firm and clear, the mechanical details for
their execution will come a great deal more simply and easily than we
now [267] suppose. And even in education, where our Liberal friends
are now, with much zeal, bringing out their train of practical
operations and inviting all men to lend them a hand; and where, since
education is the road to culture, we might gladly lend them a hand
with their practical operations if we could lend them one anywhere;
yet, if we see that any German or Swiss or French law for education
rests on very clear ideas about the citizen's claim, in this matter,
upon the State, and the State's duty towards the citizen, but has its
mechanical details comparatively few and simple, while an English law
for the same concern is ruled by no clear idea about the citizen's
claim and the State's duty, but has, in compensation, a mass of
minute mechanical details about the number of members on a school-
committee, and how many shall be a quorum, and how they shall be
summoned, and how often they shall meet,--then we must conclude that
our nation stands in more need of clear ideas on the main matter than
of laboured details about the accessories of the matter, and that we
do more service by trying to help it to the ideas, than by lending it
a hand with the details. So while Mr. Samuel Morley and his friends
talk [268] of changing their policy on education, not for the sake of
modelling it on more sound ideas, but "for fear the management of
education should be taken out of their hands," we shall not much care
for taking the management out of their hands and getting it into
ours; but rather we shall try and make them perceive, that to model
education on sound ideas is of more importance than to have the
management of it in one's own hands ever so fully.

At this exciting juncture, then, while so many of the lovers of new
ideas, somewhat weary, as we too are, of the stock performances of
our Liberal friends upon the political stage, are disposed to rush
valiantly upon this public stage themselves, we cannot at all think
that for a wise lover of new ideas this stage is the right one.
Plenty of people there will be without us,--country gentlemen in
search of a club, demagogues in search of a tub, lawyers in search of
a place, industrialists in search of gentility,--who will come from
the east and from the west, and will sit down at that Thyesteän
banquet of clap-trap, which English public life for these many years
past has been. Because, so long as those old organisations, of which
we have seen [269] the insufficiency,--those expressions of our
ordinary self, Barbarian or Philistine,--have force anywhere, they
will have force in Parliament. There, the man whom the Barbarians
send, cannot but be impelled to please the Barbarians' ordinary self,
and their natural taste for the bathos; and the man whom the
Philistines send, cannot but be impelled to please those of the
Philistines. Parliamentary Conservatism will and must long mean
this, that the Barbarians should keep their heritage; and
Parliamentary Liberalism, that the Barbarians should pass away, as
they will pass away, and that into their heritage the Philistines
should enter. This seems, indeed, to be the true and authentic
promise of which our Liberal friends and Mr. Bright believe
themselves the heirs, and the goal of that great man's labours.
Presently, perhaps, Mr. Odger and Mr. Bradlaugh will be there with
their mission to oust both Barbarians and Philistines, and to get the
heritage for the Populace. We, on the other hand, are for giving the
heritage neither to the Barbarians nor to the Philistines, nor yet to
the Populace; but we are for the transformation of each and all of
these according to the law of perfection.

[270] Through the length and breadth of our nation a sense,--vague
and obscure as yet,--of weariness with the old organisations, of
desire for this transformation, works and grows. In the House of
Commons the old organisations must inevitably be most enduring and
strongest, the transformation must inevitably be longest in showing
itself; and it may truly be averred, therefore, that at the present
juncture the centre of movement is not in the House of Commons. It
is in the fermenting mind of the nation; and his is for the next
twenty years the real influence who can address himself to this.

Pericles was perhaps the most perfect public speaker who ever lived,
for he was the man who most perfectly combined thought and wisdom
with feeling and eloquence. Yet Plato brings in Alcibiades
declaring, that men went away from the oratory of Pericles, saying it
was very fine, it was very good, and afterwards thinking no more
about it; but they went away from hearing Socrates talk, he says,
with the point of what he had said sticking fast in their minds, and
they could not get rid of it. Socrates is poisoned and dead; but in
his own breast does not every man carry about with him a possible
Socrates, [271] in that power of a disinterested play of
consciousness upon his stock notions and habits, of which this wise
and admirable man gave all through his lifetime the great example,
and which was the secret of his incomparable influence? And he who
leads men to call forth and exercise in themselves this power, and
who busily calls it forth and exercises it in himself, is at the
present moment, perhaps, as Socrates was in his time, more in concert
with the vital working of men's minds, and more effectually
significant, than any House of Commons' orator, or practical operator
in politics.

Every one is now boasting of what he has done to educate men's minds
and to give things the course they are taking. Mr. Disraeli
educates, Mr. Bright educates, Mr. Beales educates. We, indeed,
pretend to educate no one, for we are still engaged in trying to
clear and educate ourselves. But we are sure that the endeavour to
reach, through culture, the firm intelligible law of things, we are
sure that the detaching ourselves from our stock notions and habits,
that a more free play of consciousness, an increased desire for
sweetness and light, and all the bent which we call [272]
Hellenising, is the master-impulse now of the life of our nation and
of humanity,--somewhat obscurely perhaps for this moment, but
decisively for the immediate future; and that those who work for this
are the sovereign educators. Docile echoes of the eternal voice,
pliant organs of the infinite will, they are going along with the
essential movement of the world; and this is their strength, and
their happy and divine fortune. For if the believers in action, who
are so impatient with us and call us effeminate, had had the same
fortune, they would, no doubt, have surpassed us in this sphere of
vital influence by all the superiority of their genius and energy
over ours. But now we go the way the world is going, while they
abolish the Irish Church by the power of the Nonconformists'
antipathy to establishments, or they enable a man to marry his
deceased wife's sister.



201. +John 18:36. "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world:
if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that
I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from
hence." King James Bible.

219. +Proverbs 26:8. "As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is
he that giveth honour to a fool." King James Bible.

241. +Arnold refers to fourteenth-century priest Thomas à Kempis.
The Benham translation and a modern English translation of the
Imitatio are currently available from the College of St. Benedict at
Saint John's University Internet Theology Resources site. See also
the Benham text link.

243. +Genesis 1:21-22. "And God created great whales, and every
living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth
abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind:
and God saw that
it was good. / And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and
multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in
the earth." King James Bible.

244. +Deuteronomy 15:11. "For the poor shall never cease out of the
land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand
wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land."


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