Context: In his essay on Heinrich Heine, poet, critic, and essayist, "the most important German successor and continuator of Goethe," and a Jew whose sympathies lay with France, whose Revolution had given his race its freedom, Arnold first uses his famous description of the middle-class, "the Philistines." He says that Heine's chief battle was against "Philistinism," an expression which the Germans use, but which neither the French nor the English have. He explains the term:

Philistine must have originally meant, in the mind of those who invented the nickname, a strong, dogged, unenlightened opponent of the chosen people, of the children of the light. The party of change, the would-be remodellers of the old traditional European order, the invokers of reason against custom, the representatives of the modern spirit in every sphere where it is applicable, regarded themselves, with the robust self-confidence natural to reformers as a chosen people, as children of light.