Commentary Magazine


Matthew Arnold

To the Editor:

John Gross [Matthew Arnold and Us,” July] is right to object to Samuel Lipman’s description of the author of Culture and Anarchy as “a lonely spokesman for an inward culture,” but he forgets that Arnold’s practical instrument for making “sweetness and light” prevail was not “arguments fairly loose and . . . terms fairly vague,” but the state, “the nation in its collective and corporate character.” “When anarchy is a danger to us,” wrote Arnold, “to this authority we may turn with sure trust. . . . We want an authority, and we find nothing but jealous classes, checks, and a deadlock; culture suggests the idea of the state.” To discuss Culture and Anarchy at length, as Mr. Gross does, without ever mentioning the centrality of the state in Arnold’s conception of culture is like discussing Rousseau’s Social Contract without mentioning the idea of the general will (or analyzing Hamlet without mentioning the Prince of Denmark).

Mr. Gross claims that in Culture and Anarchy, Arnold “broadened the argument of ‘The Function of Criticism.’” It would be truer to say that he significantly reversed it. In the earlier work he insists that the critic must “leave alone all questions of practical consequences and applications”; in the later, he commits himself “to drive at practice as much as I can,” and he does so by recommending the state as the center of light and authority that culture requires. If Arnold was indeed the liberal that Mr. Gross calls him, it was not because “he believed in progress” but because he believed in the authority of the state, a principle far dearer to the hearts of 20th-century liberals than to the Victorians (like John Stuart Mill) who went by that name.

Edward Alexander
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington

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