Comparison of Karl Marx and Matthew Arnold
Through their writing, Karl Marx and Matthew Arnold show their opposing
views on the importance of internal and external functions of culture. In the
first chapter of Culture and Anarchy, "Sweetness and Light", Arnold describes
culture as being responsible for the progress of politics and society and as
"the best knowledge and thought of the time" (19). Matthew Arnold's culture is
based on two main aspects, religion and education. Karl Marx, however, strongly
contrasts Arnold's ideas. Marx views culture as being derived from the
advancement of the sciences.
Matthew Arnold's definition of culture comes from "a mid-nineteenth-
century Germanic notion of culture which is founded upon his study of Goethe and
Schiller" (19). He believed many other cultures are based on the thought of
curiosity and on scientific expansion. Arnold believed culture was based on the
expansion of the individual's mind; only through education can a perfect
culture be reached. In his writings, Arnold stated that for a man to be
cultured he has to be versed in both religion and classic literature. Although
Arnold's culture sought the advancement of the human mind; he did not want
people to get wrapped up in technology. "Faith in machinery is, I said, our
besetting danger; often in machinery most absurdly disproportioned to the end
which this machinery" (23). Arnold believes his culture is "more interesting
and more far-reaching than that other, which is founded solely on the scientific
passion for knowing" (21). Arnold believed that culture dealt with perfection;
as he stated in "Sweetness and Light", "Culture is then properly describe not as
having its origin in curiosity, but as having its origin in the love of
perfection; it is a study of perfection" (21). Arnold also says that culture is
the endeavor to make the moral and social characteristics of individuals
prevail. Because culture is a study of perfection, then it is also an "inward
condition of the mind and spirit, not in an outward set of circumstances"
(Arnold 23). Arnold states that, "In thus making sweetness and light to be
characters of perfection, culture is of like spirit with poetry..." (25).
Matthew Arnold felt that religion was an important aspect of culture.
Arnold felt that when the reason of God prevailed all society will be cultured.
As Arnold states, "Now, then, is the moment for culture to be of service,
culture which believes in making reason and the will of God prevail, believes in
perfection, is the study of perfection,..." (21). Marx states that the ruling
class of culture would be the intellectual and material force, he makes no
mention of the religious aspects. In Karl Marx's culture, on the other hand,
there would not be enough time to devote to the enrichment of the individual's
religious mind. This is caused by his strong devotion to technological
The view Marx has toward religion and culture as a whole vividly
portrays his feelings toward the internal aspect of culture. Marx thought the
culture of a nation derived from the economic situation of the nation. His
writings show he is more inclined toward the external aspect of culture. This
external view of culture includes the thoughts of production, industry, and
scientific breakthroughs. Another aspect of Marx's focus on external culture is
his lack of focus on the development of religion and education. The focus on
Marx's culture was the advancement of technology and power.
The writings of Marx and Arnold strongly oppose each other. The vast
differences between Marx's and Arnold's opinion on culture are well noted in
their writings. Marx's view of religion and education being non-important in
his perfect culture contradicts the view of Matthew Arnold. Arnold believed
that culture was a study of perfection in the mind of the individual. These
contradicting views are an example of culture's various definitions in the world.
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