Matthew Arnold's Hebraism: An Antidote to Today's Anarchy

Nov. 25 2014

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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More about: Gertrude Himmelfarb, Hellenism, Matthew Arnold, Western civilization

The Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy