Culture, Anarchy, Dover Beach, and Modernism

In “Culture and Anarchy”, Matthew Arnold takes a stand against the trends he noticed arising from modernism. This can be seen when he writes, “He who works for machinery, he who works for hatred, works only for confusion.” When Arnold mentions “He who works for machinery”, he brings to mind images of the harsh work environments workers suffered in the factory environment during the modern period. In this way, Arnold states that those working in the factory environment, which is such an integral component of the new, modern world Arnold was living in, are subjugated to hate filled task masters who seek to bring only confusion to society.

This sentiment is shared by Arnold’s poem, “Dover Beach”. This can be seen in the lines,, “Into his turbid ebb and flow Of human misery.” The “turbid ebb and flow” which Arnold references here could easily be read as a reference to the work days suffered by factory workers. In these instances, Arnold shows a strong lament for the state of modern life.

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One thought on “Culture, Anarchy, Dover Beach, and Modernism

  1. Yes, Arnold has in mind the machinery of industry, but he’s using it more as a metaphor for a particular mindset that he finds disturbing. His whole notion of culture is one of deliberative self perfection such that the individual can see the world and our civilization in its wholeness and unity. In other words, not just to see the machinery as an end or a value in itself, but the wider world beyond it. The idea is that humanity is making itself machine-like — instrumental and tool-focused — by devaluing culture, which is the highest form of human nature. It is a humanist argument that will become fraught in the 20th Century.

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