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Culture and Anarchy

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  603 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
A classic study of the moral and social character of education in an industrialized society. Widely used in classrooms in the U. S.
Paperback, 282 pages
Published January 1st 1932 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1869)
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Note on the Text
Select Bibliography
A Chronology of Matthew Arnold

--Culture and Anarchy

Appendix: Henry Sidgwick, 'The Prophet of Culture'
Explanatory Notes
Feb 03, 2017 BrokenTune rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
But what is greatness?— culture makes us ask. Greatness is a spiritual condition worthy to excite love, interest, and admiration; and the outward proof of possessing greatness is that we excite love, interest, and admiration.

Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy was an odd book to come back to in these times of talk about making things "great" again. I had first read the book way back when I was at university. Back then, I read the book with the purpose of finding arguments for and against differ
May 12, 2009 Miriam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reason -- "Sweetness and Light" -- Culture -- Perfection -- for Arnold these terms are nearly synonymous, and all underlie the same central claim: the cause of disorder is both identifiable and curable. Arnold's goal here is not to propose a specific program of reform but, as he says in Democracy, to "invite impartial reflections." While Arnold does not precisely live up to his own asserted impartiality, his essay does seem constructed to persuade rather than to argue. This results from a combin ...more
I don't know where to even begin with this book. It is glorious and meaningful, useful, worthy and important - and it is also horrifying in its use of elitist rhetoric (we're here to perfect ourselves, didn't you know? and that's possible through cultural education! Perfection!), its colonial project (where an "epoch of expansion" is related not just to consciousness, but gets tacked on to a middle class progress narrative), not to mention the false parallels it draws between Jewish and Greek cu ...more
Adrian Colesberry
Apr 08, 2009 Adrian Colesberry rated it it was amazing
Arnold's idea of culture could not be less in vogue these days. As it is always salutary to read the out-of-vogue, I strongly recommend this book to everyone. Today, culture is used to mean what used to be called society or even traditional society. This entire book is Arnold's bid for culture to mean the collection of all that is best and perfect in the world and the agreed-upon commitment to develop that perfection even further, an idea that today we can only weakly express with the word civil ...more
Feb 23, 2010 Yngvild rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
When it comes to pure malicious wit, nobody beats Matthew Arnold, not even Jonathan Swift. The six short essays in Culture and Anarchy would have long passed out of print if they were not such fun. The first three essays take aim at all segments of society: the working, middle and aristocratic classes; leftwing, centrist and rightwing politicians; England, Europe and America; Nonconformists and conformists.

Evidently, even today, some people are sulky about Arnold’s poison-dipped sword, but he g
I don't know how to rate this. There is good writing and very intelligent ideas (regarding culture), but they are overshadowed by the alarming conservatism of it all (the middle class with their tea rooms, disgusting!) and silly concepts (light, sweetness?). Also, too much love for the Establishment and Academies. It just amazes me that someone who is apparently so intelligent can say things like everybody is either Barbarians, Philistines or Populace except for men of culture, who are above cla ...more
Hal Johnson
Too much culture, not enough anarchy.
Christopher Rush
Indeed, yes. Though this is somewhat different from what you think it is going to be, based on your limited knowledge for what Arnold is arguing, and thus one could find it somewhat disappointing, but it should not be disappointing. What was somewhat surprising was Arnold's great phrase "the best of what's been thought and said" appears so soon in the book, in the preface, and then is never mentioned again. Arnold more often mentions the importance of letting one's reason play freely over issues ...more
May 12, 2013 Kevin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Unbelievably boring.
Maryam AL-Ghafri has been read with others critical essay by Arnold to analyse the situation of England in the 19th century
I believe even for the time in which this book was written the author's prose was dated but what would expect from a man who promotes "being" and loathes "becoming."

Did Mr. Arnold come up with the phrase "do as you are told", if he didn't he was a definite disciple.
Ali Nazifpour
Mar 23, 2014 Ali Nazifpour rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Culture and Anarchy" is a book written in 1875. Yet, it's a very relevant book today. If you look past the vocabulary, you'd have no idea, based on the content, that it's not written in 2014. The main crust is a defense of "culture", that is philosophy and other intellectual pursuits. It opposes the anti-intellectual attitudes that are rampant even today, and in our poisonous environment of postmodernism and postcolonialism and cultural relativism reading this book is very interesting. I also f ...more
Sep 01, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This essay collection sat on my shelf for a good couple years and might never had seen the light of day if I hadn't been surprised by its being mentioned in Ulysses. I think I only ordered it to round out the rest of my remaining balance on an Amazon giftcard. Although the essays push their points from a specific national view, the main thrust is something always of value and that is the endeavoring spirit of curiousity. Arnold seeks a return to the inventive Hellenic disposition for he senses a ...more
Fred R
Dec 17, 2012 Fred R rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many of the specific categories and oppositions he sets up don't seem to hold water, but I wholeheartedly endorse the general thrust of the argument. Of every human product it can be asked: "does this build up civilization, or tear it down?"

To give you a sense of his thought processes:

"So all our fellow-men, in the East of London and elsewhere, we must take along with us in the progress towards perfection, if we ourselves really, as we profess, want to be perfect; and we must not let the worshi
Marts  (Thinker)
Matthew Arnold's collected essays, previously published periodically as magazine articles.
The time is Victorian England and Arnold contrasts culture; an avenue to breaking down humanity's barriers and a means of creating human perfection, with anarchy; a mood of unrest resulting from certain elements of the modern life.
Therefore since through the decades perfection has not been achieved through culture, anarchic tendencies have developed...

"without order there can be no society and without socie
Feb 03, 2013 Benjamin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cultural-theory
This is 19th Century wit at its absolute best, and a wonderful work of cultural and political criticism (if not one that might find much more favor now than at the time it was written). Arnold's conclusions are frequently not those that I would advocate, and his analysis is not that of a thoroughly principled philosopher (as he freely admits), but there's a great deal of brilliance here, and one would be foolish to discount the entire work simply because it might not always agree with one's own ...more
Jun 06, 2008 Abailart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading again, after many years in the wilderness of cultural studies bitterness, that home for frustrated and hateful spoilt brats all over the rich world. Undergraduates are taught to sneer at this book (of course, on the basis of a two or three page extract), in the beginning of their indoctrination into despising of the literary. There is, it is true, much to object to, but the light irony of its writing is delight and powerful of itslf: the issues it deals with frighteningly familiar themes ...more
Fazackerly Toast
to be honest, I'm not clear why this is supposed to be such a seminal high Victorian text. It seems to be largely taken up with prolonged discussions of obscure religious and political debates that no one gives a hoot about nowadays. But maybe the broader principles it establishes, the opposition of culture and anarchy, the establishment of the classes of Philistines, Barbarians and Populace etc are now so much part of the foundation of our culture that I can't see how seminal a text this is? An ...more
Haythem Bastawy
Oct 12, 2013 Haythem Bastawy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Arnold's series of essays is surprising not of date after a century and a half of cultural ageing. In spite of his Elitist, Eurocentric view of Mankind, Arnold's Culture and Anarchy raises a lot of questions on the boundaries of liberty and the futility of class struggle. He doesn't provide a clear solution to the cultural problem and he is not always accurate or correct when it comes to historical and anthropological terms, however his argument opens a lot of new passages in the labyrinths of t ...more
Ed Wagemann
Apr 04, 2012 Ed Wagemann marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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"The sterner self of the Populace likes bawling, hustling, and smashing; the lighter self, beer" (72).

Arnold writes against the English tendency to value freedom of action over considered thought about what is right and desirable for society, anarchy vs. culture (sweetness and light). Breaks English into classes: Aristocrat-Barbarians, Middle class-Philistines, Working class-Populace.
I'm torn here. On one hand, I think the basic idea of culture as the process of self-perfection is grand, and I think Arnold's idea and direction are admirable; on the other, however, it seems that his formulation falls short of outlining its practicality as a total worldview. Furthermore, he comes to a couple rather unpalatable sub-conclusions.
Jul 05, 2012 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very useful, especially to put into conversation with Arnold's theory of aesthetics - the latter portion is a little less compelling and pertinent, particularly if you're reading this for your PhD orals or something of that nature. "Sweetness and Light," "Doing As One Likes," and the "Conclusion" are, in my estimation, the most important sections of the text.
Dec 09, 2012 Alberto rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Unreadable intellectual onanism. "Sweetness and Light" is the kind of meaningless phrase you hope is just a poor translation from a foreign language where the phrase had actual meaning. Unfortunately, English is Arnold's native language. But this particular work is utter gibberish.
Ayat Al Bloushi
Feb 10, 2015 Ayat Al Bloushi rated it it was amazing
Great! Even though many of Arnold's ideas were exclusive to England at his time, yet they still are applicable to any society that strives for the well-being of its individuals. Thought over action...
Mel Vincent
Aug 29, 2011 Mel Vincent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essay
The book talks about the complexities of culture, society and its implications. Well written but at times a bit dragging and the author derives experiences from British socio-political and comtemporary sources.
Aug 06, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary, ethics
Often-sluggish prose and repetitive arguments, but rich in irony and with occasional flashes of genius. A plea for greater hellenism in an era where hebraistic literalism was shaken by recent inquiry. A subtle critique of Victorian dogmas that does not merely substitute our own dogmas for them.
Oct 24, 2016 Lyns rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting to read about the opinions in Victorian England. This shows that it was not all homogeneous as most Victorian stories seem. However, I kept waiting for him to make a big point and come to some sort of conclusion other than culture is sweetness and light.
As it turns out I can tolerate reading about Greek philosophy when it's dressed up in snarky Englishness. Also, this is exactly the kind of book (and society) from which soccer would be born and I'm really excited about it.
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Matthew Arnold was an English poet, sage writer and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator.
More about Matthew Arnold...

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“For what can give a finer example of that frankness and manly self- confidence which our great public schools, and none of them so much as Eton, are supposed to inspire, of that buoyant ease in holding up one's head, speaking out what is in one's mind, and flinging off all sheepishness and awkwardness, than to see an Eton assistant-master offering in fact himself as evidence that to combine boarding-house- keeping with teaching is a good thing, and his brother as evidence that to train and race little boys for competitive examinations is a good thing?” 3 likes
“The sterner self of the Populace likes bawling, hustling, and smashing; the lighter self, beer.” 3 likes
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