In Culture and Anarchy, the preeminent Victorian intellectual Matthew Arnold famously wrote of the contest between those human endeavors that are noble, ennobling, and beautiful and a liberal society where everyone is free to do or say whatever he wants. He also wrote of the contest between the Hebraist and Hellenist strains of Western culture—the former based on doing, the latter on thinking. According to Arnold, for culture to triumph it must strike the right balance between the two. Gertrude Himmelfarb writes:
“Hebraism and Hellenism” . . . are not so much opposed, Arnold points out, as “divergent,” animated by “different principles” but having the “same goal” and “aiming at a like final result.” Both are “contributions to human development—august contributions, invaluable contributions.” Both “arise out of the wants of human nature, and address themselves to satisfying those wants.” The aim of both is the same: “man’s perfection or salvation.” Moreover, it is by alternating the two, “a man’s intellectual and moral impulses,” that “the human spirit proceeds; and each of these two forces has its appointed hours of culmination and seasons of rule.”
The last proviso, about the “appointed hours” and “seasons,” is at the heart of the matter, for this is what made the issue urgent for Arnold. “Now, and for us,” his preface asserts, “it is a time to Hellenize, and to praise knowing; for we have Hebraized too much, and have over-valued doing.” Yet this was followed immediately by the cautionary note: “But the habits and discipline received from Hebraism remain for our race an eternal possession; and as humanity is constituted, one must never assign to them the second rank today, without being prepared to restore them to the first rank tomorrow.”
The final chapter [of Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy] even foresees a time when the two great principles would be in accord.
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