Culture and anarchy
Arnold's basic aim is to defend high culture as useful to society. He argues that it is the excellence of the citizens rather than the representativeness of their government that is essential to a healthy society and true progress. In the light of the then-recent Reform Bill, which extended the franchise to a much wider section of the British population, he writes that the chief law of democracy is the permission it gives to "do as one likes"--that is, to follow the impulses of one's ordinary self, not one's best self He rejects the argument that democratic institutions themselves tend to enlighten and educate--rather, they corrupt, by giving free rein to the aristocratic tendency toward unintellectual high-spirited barbarity, the middle-class tendency toward materialistic narrow-minded philistinism, and the lower-class tendency toward violence, sentiment, prejudice, and drink. The anarchy spawned by "doing as one likes' expresses itself in the darkling plain of willful dissent, religious and ethnic intolerance, spiritual emptiness, greed, intellectual relativism, and riot.
Accepting democracy as inevitable, and indeed necessary in the long run, Arnold brings culture to the rescue. What is culture? He describes it as a blending of the Hebraic impulse toward moral perfection and right action with the Hellenistic impulse toward clarity of thought and right reason. True culture blends sweetness (beauty and subtle decorum) with light (critical reflection). The cultured person, liberated from the self-deceptions of the flesh and the indolence of the aesthetic by the Hebraic element, and released from the "machinery" of economic interest and political power by the Hellenistic element, follows only reason and the will of God. Cultivated people manage to escape and become alienated from their inherited class and ethnic limitations into a wider, more humane...