April 5, 2015

OF COURSE, THE GREAT STRENGTH OF THE ANGLOSPHERE...:

Culture's Champion : On rereading 'Culture and Anarchy.' (GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, 12/01/14, Weekly Standard)

It was by chance that my first reading of Culture and Anarchy with my students coincided with the centenary of its publication. But it was not by chance that I chose to read it then, in 1969, at the height of the culture war. Anticipating that war by more than a century, Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) wrote a passionate defense of culture--high culture, we would now say--against the prevailing low culture that he saw as tantamount to "anarchy."

Arnold's culture is high indeed.  It is nothing less than the pursuit of "sweetness and light" (Jonathan Swift's epigram for beauty and intelligence), "total perfection," "the best which has been thought and said," and the "right reason" that comes from the "best self" rather than the "ordinary self."  

His countrymen, unfortunately, were animated by quite the opposite principle: "doing as one likes" and "saying what one likes." Perhaps out of deference to John Stuart Mill, Arnold did not cite On Liberty to that effect (the book had appeared, to great acclaim, only a decade earlier). Instead, he quoted a Mr. Roebuck, a Liberal member of Parliament who was fond of asking, "May not every man in England say what he likes?"--asserting that this was the source of England's greatness. To which Arnold replied that culture requires that "what men say, when they may say what they like, is worth saying--has good in it, and more good than bad." Anything short of that is an invitation to anarchy, for it lacks "the much wanted principle" of authority that governs the culture as well as society.

...is that it is the high--the intellectuals--who chose anarchy, while we low--people of faith--chose culture.

Posted by at April 5, 2015 8:35 AM
  

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