By the middle of the nineteenth century, culture was often considered to be nothing but a meaningless 'smattering of Latin and Greek'. In this work, first published in 1869, Matthew Arnold (1822–88) redefines culture as a striving for 'the best that has been thought or said', and as a contrast to 'philistinism' and the over-valuation of the practical. Critical of the uninspiring lifestyles of many of his religious and non-religious contemporaries, he raises the controversial issue of how to lead a good life, aesthetically, intellectually and morally. He introduces a middle road between classical and Judaeo-Christian ideals ('Hellenism' and 'Hebraism') which promotes the state over the individual, a position that has often prompted his critics to consider him an authoritarian thinker. A fascinating piece of social and political criticism, and an adjunct to Arnold's poetry, this work was both controversial when it was first published, and enormously influential thereafter.
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