Discuss Matthew Arnold's concept of culture. 

Expert Answers
amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During the late 1860s, Matthew Arnold recognized the fazing out of feudalism and the inception of the modern era. He saw the increase in personal freedom as a logical step in modernization but he feared that celebrating freedom for freedom's sake (without considering the ends of freedom) is a thoughtless practice and one that might lead to anarchy. 

Our prevalent notion is--and I quoted a number of instances to prove it--that it is a most happy and important thing for a man merely to be able to do as he likes.

Evidently this is so; but evidently, also, as feudalism, which with its ideas, and habits of subordination was for many centuries silently behind the British Constitution, dies out, and we are left with nothing but our system of checks, and our notion of its being the great right and happiness of an Englishman to do as far as possible what he likes, we are in danger of drifting towards anarchy. ("Chapter 2: Doing As One Likes," Culture and Anarchy.) 

Arnold suggested, to prevent anarchy while retaining sensible notions of freedom, there ought to be a central authority which proposes a paragon (ideal model). This paragon is culture. Culture is opposed to anarchy in the sense that anarchy is a free-for-all while culture is the deliberate search for the best way to live. So, even though this definition of culture sounds like a central political authority, Arnold intended it to be a goal of each individual. Thus, one should culture one's self, try to attain the best cultural existence. Arnold expands on his idea of culture to include scientific curiosity, morality, and beauty. In other words, we should be guided by culture to strive for artistic, humanistic, and scientific perfection. We are free to do what we want but we should culture ourselves. We can be free but Arnold proposed that we use that freedom, not for its own sake (because it can lead to anarchy), but to individually and collectively strive for perfection.