Matthew Arnold and Three Classes – The Barbarians, the Philistines and the Populace

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Matthew Arnold is really a great fighter for prevailing real culture in the society of London. He finds the kingdom of materialism that is trying to strangle real culture. So, in this chapter, Arnold divides the society of England into three classes – The Aristocratic Class, the Middle Class and the Working Class. He finds Anarchy very common in these classes and analyses them with their virtues and defects. He designates the Aristocratic class of his time as the Barbains, the Middle class as the Philistines and the Working class as the Populace.

His scrutiny of three classes of his time proves him a good experienced critic. For Aristocratic class, he views that this class lacks adequate courage for resistance. He calls this class the Barbarians because they believe in their personal individualism, liberty and doing as one likes; they had great passion for field sports. Their manly exercise, their strength and their good looks are definitely found in the Aristocratic class of his time. Their politeness resembles the Chivalry Barbarians, and their external styles in manners, accomplishments and powers are inherited from the Barbarians.

The other class is the middle class or the Philistines, known by its mundane wisdom, expert of industry and found busy in industrialization and commerce. Their eternal inclination is to the progress and prosperity of the country by building cities, railroads and running the great wheels of industry. They have produced the greatest mercantile navy. So, they are the Empire builders. In this material progress, the working class is with them. All the keys of progress are in their hands.

The other class is the working class or the populace. This class is known raw and half-developed because of poverty and other related diseases. This class is mostly exploited by the Barbarians and Philistines. The author finds democratic arousing in this class because they are getting political consciousness and are coming out from their hiding places to assert an English man’s heaven- born privilege of doing as he likes, meeting where he likes, bawling what he likes, and breaking what he likes.

Despite such class system, Arnold finds a common basis of human nature in all. So, the spirit of sweetness and light can be founded. Even Arnold calls himself philistine and rises above his level of birth and social status in his pursuit of perfection, sweetness and light and culture. He further says that all three classes find happiness in what they like. For example, the Barbarians like honour and consideration, field sports and pleasure. The Philistines like fanaticism, business and money making and comfort and tea meeting, but the Populace class, hated by the both classes, likes shouting, hustling and smashing and beer. They all keep different activities by their social status. However, there are a few souls in these classes who hope for culture with a desire to know about their best or to see things as they are. They have desire to pursue reason and to make the will of God to prevail.

For the pursuit of perfection, it does not lie only on the genius or the talented persons, but also on all classes. Actually, the love or the pursuit of perfection is within the approach of the common people. He calls the man of culture as the true nurse of pursuing love and sweetness and light. He finds such persons in all three classes who have a general human spirit for the pursuit of perfection. He says that the right source of authority is the best self or the right reason to be achieved by culture.

The Best Self or the Right Reason & the Ordinary Self:

Here he discusses the best self or the right reason and the ordinary self that can be felt in the pursuit of perfection only. In this regard, he talks about the bathos, surrounded by nature itself in the soul of man, is presented in literary judgment of some critics of literature and in some religious organizations of America. He further says that the idea of high best self is very hard for the pursuit of perfection in literature, religion and even in politics. The political system, prevalent in his time, was of the Barbarians. The leaders and the statesmen sang the praises of the Barbarians for winning the favour of the Aristocrats. Tennyson celebrates in his poems the glory of the great broad-shouldered genial Englishmen with his sense of duty and reverence for the laws. Arnold asserts that Tennyson is singing the praise of the philistines because this middle class is the backbone of the country in progress. The politicians sing the praise of the populace for carrying their favours. Indeed, they play with their feelings, having showed the brightest powers of sympathy and the readiest power of actions. All these praises are mere clap-trap and trick to gain applause. It is the taste of bathos surrounded by nature itself in the soul of man and comes into ordinary self. The ordinary self enforces the readers to misguide the nation. It is more admirable, but its benefits are entertained by the representatives and ruling men.

Arnold inclines to right reason as a paramount authority which has the appeal to best self. All the classes must follow it, otherwise anarchy will be prevailed, and they will do what they like to do. In education, he wants to prevail best self because it was at jeopardy. He is of the opinion that when one man’s particular sort of taste for the bathos shall tyrannize over the other man’s, in result, the right reason or the best self must fail to rule in education. He insists on right reason that is the authority in the matter of education. The state of affairs in education arises for the lack of intellectual flexibilities in educationists who are neglecting the best self or right reason and are trying to appeal to the genial taste for the bathos; and tearing it to its natural operation and its infinite variety of experiments.

Arnold wants to bring reform in education by shifting the management of public schools from their old board of trustees to the state. Like politics, in education the danger lies in unchecked and unguided individual action. All the actions must be checked by the real reason or the best self of the individual. It is the opinion of some people that the state may not interfere into affairs of education. The liberal party men believe in liberty, the individual liberty of doing as one likes and assert that interference of the state in education is a violation of personal liberty. Arnold says that such ideal personal liberty has still indefinite distance.

The mission of Arnold’s culture is that each individual must act for himself and must be perfect himself. The chosen people or classes must dedicate themselves to the pursuit of perfection, and he seems to be agreed with Humboldth, the German Philosopher, in case of the pursuit of perfection. The culture will make them perfect on their own foundation. So, it is essential that man must try to seek human perfection by instituting his best self or real reason; culture, in the end, would find its public reason.

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