Matthew Arnold is called the critic’s critic because of his meticulous observations of contemporary society. Arnold, the first modern critic, was the most astonishing and influential critic of that age. After starting the career with literary criticism, he became famous in his land for his social criticism. He started to comment on society and the life of people.
Exposing the idealists and follies by critical methods was the sole purpose of Matthew Arnold. He wanted to help his countrymen by enlightening their radical ways of thinking, intellectual arbitrariness or eccentricity, so-called conventions, and limitations in everything.
It is regarded that the social criticism of Arnold is the natural result of his literary criticism.
Arnold’s problem with the Middle class
The middle-class people of society were always the target of Arnold. He deliberately assembled his counters on this particular class of the society. Arnold believed that culture and knowledge were the two great needs of the hour.
He wanted to spread the best of it which has been believed in the world. Without the ocean of culture, there was no possibility of resurrection and Arnold even told it as the “will of God”. Contemporary university students even regarded the middle class of Philistine as the uncultured people.
The students believed that they were the only son of light which is knowledge.
Anarchy and culture, these are the two most important manifestations of Arnold in his social criticism. He believed that culture will help to remove the evils from the society and also it will stop the assault of anarchy in England.
According to Arnold, the prevailing English beliefs were the main cause of anarchy in England. He was the kind of person who believed in ultimate freedom.
But at the same time, he asserts that this freedom or individualism must not take the citizens into the maze or anarchy. Another reason behind the tenacity of anarchy was that the majority of people believed welfare and greatness of England can be done by only those who have an excess of wealth and abundance of liberty.
Arnold’s perspective of culture
When we start to think about the culture we will generally find that something which gives us pleasure can be regarded as a culture. For Arnold, this wasn’t the particular way of seeing things as they really are.
It is the diligent observation that generally comes from the passion for knowledge, not only this but also the moral and social avidity for doing good. He believed that making the reason is the will of God. It is the most important aspect of culture, to make the truth prevail rather than just seeing and learning.
Culture is like the ocean, you can’t put it in a bucket. For Arnold, a man of culture believes in the limitless expansion of strength, endless broadening of wisdom and beauty that the whole race of human being finds ideal.
A cultured man can’t find perfection if he walks alone towards it. He needs to take others also with him.
Moral and Social characteristics of Culture
The scientific process of knowing things as they really are has not to need to be regarded by Arnold as a culture. He commented that there is also a social motive of culture which includes doing good for the people.
And the moral aspect of culture mainly revolves around removing human misery, sweeping human confusions, and correcting the errors made by humans. Arnold said to spread such holy culture the society needs more people who can reason things.
And also without the will of God, nothing is possible. For the whole life, Arnold believed that real culture always influences one to leave the world better than he found it.
The inspiration of prevailing moral and social culture comes from religion. Arnold believed that religion is the voice deepest experience of people, suppressed within them. Culture brings peace of mind and removes all the animalities of human beings. A man of perfect culture achieves spiritual perfection too.
According to Arnold, a man of culture will always look beyond the machinery of society such as political hazards, economic tensions, population, etc. For him, culture was against the liberalism of middle-class people and it also gives up all boundings, hatred, and narrownesses.
Arnold’s social criticism teaches us not to be so materialistic. Spreading sweetness by giving knowledge and reason is the main purpose of Arnold’s social criticism.