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Arnold, critic of ideology.

Literary studies have become obsessed with the subject of ideology. "We are at a time," Frederic Jameson asserts without fear of contradiction, "when we have minimally agreed that everything is ideology, or better still, that there is nothing outside of ideology" (emphasis added).(1) Ideology has acquired many meanings in its devious history since the eighteenth century when it was invented by the philosophe Destutt de Tracy. What Jameson and others mean by the word is suggested by John B. Thompson's characterization of the study of ideology: the examination "of the ways in which meaning (or signification) serves to sustain relations of domination."(2) The casualties of the view that ideology is omnipresent are ideas of disinterestedness, objectivity, and universality, for they now turn out to be mystifications that conceal motives of domination. We may experience Jameson's claim that a universal agreement exists as coercive and may wonder how ideology critique itself escapes being ideological if everything is ideology. And if it doesn't, we may ask what in the way of understanding is accomplished by the critique of ideology. But I doubt whether any of us have been unaffected by views such as Jameson's. We have all become to one degree or another suspicious of objectivist and universalist arguments. And Arnold, because of his centrality in the history of literary studies, continues to be a magnet for our suspicions.

Arnold has in fact become the victim of a historical irony. Contemporary ideology critique has turned the tables on the cultural criticism practiced by Arnold. The idea of culture came into being in the nineteenth century as an optic through which the mechanical degradation of human life was seen and judged. In arrogating to itself the spiritual authority of failing religious dogma, culture claimed or aimed to be disinterested, free of the contaminations of the social and political practices it scrutinized. What has virtually disappeared in the current scene is the sense of culture or art as a force resistant to ideology. The task of the ideology critic is to demystify the ways in which cultural expressions conceal or deflect class, race, and gender interests. Arnold has his vulnerabilities and has been the target of a demystifying criticism, though often it seems to me on the basis of mystifications of his meaning by his critics.

Disinterestedness has received a bad press in the academy in recent years. If, as we have been instructed by contemporary theory, all knowledge is interest-driven and biased, it would be an exercise in futility even to try to make a case for Arnold's call for disinterestedness. This concession, however, may be premature, for it assumes that what Arnold means by the word corresponds to how contemporary critics understand it when they declare its impossibility. Arnold himself doesn't help matters in his principled refusal to define terms. He regarded the defining of terms as a sign of metaphysics and systematic thinking, which he disliked. The word he must have felt did not require definition, because his immediate audience for the most part did not experience the epistemological difficulties that a contemporary academic audience experiences. It may have objected to Arnold's valuing of disinterested speculation at the expense of practical activity, but it would not have found the meaning of the word problematic. The phrase "to see the object as in itself it really is" has an almost ritual function in Arnold's rhetoric; it represents a source of authority rather than a view that may be contested. It does not however follow from Arnold's lack of rigor that the call for disinterestedness is either vacuous or untenable.

The charges against Arnold can be briefly summarized. He has been criticized for naivete. Disinterestedness is impossible because self and interest cannot be disentangled. Moreover, even if disinterestedness were possible, it would be undesirable, for it would mean self-mortification. Nietzsche and William James have been invoked against the neutralization of interest. Nietzsche remarks that "to eliminate the will" would be to "castrate the intellect."(3) And William James asserts that science advances by virtue of the very 'infusion from the will and the affections." "Science would be less advanced than she is if the passionate desires of individuals to get their faiths confirmed has been kept out of the game.... [I]f you want an absolute duffer in an investigation, you must, after all, take the man who has no interest whatever in its results."(4) Of course, if the neutralization of interest is impossible, the question then becomes what happens to interest when it is denied. One answer is that disinterestedness becomes a mask for interest and therefore a legitimate target of demystification.

My own view is that Arnold's project has been misconstrued in the criticisms that have been made of it. What I would like to argue is that disinterestedness in theory, if not always in Arnold's practice, is not a naive function. Objectivity is not a given, but rather the aim or goal of an activity. Disinterestedness, as I understand it, represents the psychological and moral condition (not to be identified with the neutralization of interest) that makes objectivity possible. The focus of my discussion is on the social rather than on literary criticism.

The subject of Arnold's social criticism is bias, the distorted or diminished view of the world that characterizes parties and classes. Barbarians, Philistines, and Populace, each of the classes suffers from an excessive or defective development of its virtue. (The Aristotelian golden mean is a persistent motif in the chapter devoted to the classes in Culture and Anarchy.) The Barbarian's love of liberty becomes a mindless individualism, "doing as one likes," the practical energy of the Philistines an excessive love of machinery, and "the bright powers of sympathy and ready powers of action" of the Populace degenerate into a proclivity for violence. Arnold does not provide us with what we now would call a social analysis of how the classes have reached this pass, though there is a strong statement in his ironic descriptions of the classes of the corruptive work of passions and interests. What distresses him about all the classes is the blindness that their various passions have caused. This is particularly true for the Philistines who "give the notion of something particularly stiff-necked and perverse in the resistance to the light."(5) Of course, the very idea of criticism depends upon the possibility of overcoming the bias and interest that deflect one from the light.

Objectivity, for Arnold, means clear-seeing, what the French call lucidite; it also implies a view of the object, that is, of what is seen, as something whole and harmonious. The two meanings are connected, for the capacity to see or to be in the light has a transforming effect upon the world; it is productive of what Arnold likes to call perfection. Seeing is not a condition of passivity; it is accompanied by an exercise of will, by a desire to redeem self and world from their degraded condition. Arnold would not have quarreled with Nietzsche and James about the role of the will. Seeing and willing are figured in Hellenism and Hebraism. Arnold intervenes to correct what he sees as an imbalance between spontaneity of consciousness and the desire for conduct. Though he argues for correcting the balance or the imbalance in favor of spontaneity of consciousness, he leaves no doubt about what shapes and determines the cultural life of a nation. Hebraism, a figure of will, is three-quarters of life. Arnold's critics simply misread him when they claim that disinterestedness banishes the will.

But how is this self-overcoming or self-reforming accomplished? Arnold provides us with a powerful example in "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time." "Burke's return upon himself" is one of his most memorable phrases. "That is what I call living by ideas: when one side of a question has long had your earnest support, when all your feelings are engaged, when you hear around you no language but one, when your party talks this language like a steam engine and you can imagine no other - still to be able to think, still to be irresistibly carried, if so it be, by the current of thought to the other side of the question, and like Balaam to be unable to speak anything but what the Lord has put in your mouth."(6) Arnold has in mind Burke's reconsideration of the inevitability and the reality of the world brought into being by the French revolution. No longer a purveyor of abstractions ("the mere designs of men"), the revolution must now command the respect even of the conservative Burke. Note, however, that Burke does not actually reach the opposite side, for his change of view occurs within the current of his original conservatism.

We might think of disinterestedness in Arnold as an asymptote, a line drawn away from bias that approaches but never reaches it opposite. The asymptote describes a movement of thought that is contained within the limits of a perspective. It is a truism that one sees and understands the world from a particular perspective at any given moment, though it is also true that one's perspective may change in the course of time. Such a view does not, however, entail the reduction of perspectivism to a doctrine of self-interest. Nor does it imply, as Stanley Fish and others suggest, that all perspectives are of equal value. Their argument is that since there are no authoritative universal or objective standards, one cannot or should not make discriminations of value among perspectives. Arnold's example suggests the contrary: that one perspective may allow for a generous intellectual act, whereas another may not. Burke offers a contrast with John Roebuck, who speaks to the Sheffield cutlers in the language of "exuberant self-satisfaction": "I look around me and ask what is the state of England? Is not property safe? Is not every man able to say what he likes? Can you not walk from one end of England to the other in perfect security? I ask you whether, the world over or in past history, there is anything like it? Nothing. I pray that our unrivalled happiness may last" (FC 29). The capacity to act or think generously is, of course, a function of the intellectual and moral character of the person. The implicit theory in the example of Burke is that perspective and self-interest are not necessary coextensive - that the logic of a perspective may dictate the overcoming of self-interest or at least of a narrowly conceived self-interest.

The effort to escape from an interest-driven perspective is misrepresented by words like fixity and transcendence, words often used to characterize the ideal of Arnoldian criticism. Disinterestedness is not a fixed or transcendent site, but the very condition of culture, which Arnold describes in Culture and Anarchy as "not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming" (CA 48). Arnold may betray his best critical self when, for instance, in "The Study of Poetry" he speaks of the fixed laws of poetic beauty and truth,(7) but such a moment (and there are many others) does not warrant David Bromwich's disparagement of what he calls "Arnold's pride in owning an intelligence that does not change in a life that has no epochs."(8) In distinguishing between the epoch of concentration and the epoch of expansion (in "The Function of Criticism") Arnold certainly shows an awareness of historical life and believes himself to be living in one of its epochs. And in offering as a model for thought the movement from one side of an issue to the opposite side, Arnold reveals himself as an opponent of fixity. Disinterestedness presupposes the possibility of changing one's mind, if not one's intelligence, whatever that might mean. It assumes the possibility of escaping from and judging narrowly conceived interest-driven perspectives, but not of escaping from history.

In this respect, Arnold has a certain affinity with Marx, despite contemporary Marxist critics who demonize him. As far as I know Arnold did not use the word ideology, but no one among his contemporaries was more sensitive to what we now call the ideological character of Victorian political and social life than Arnold. Perhaps ideology is not the right word to describe Arnold's target. What he criticizes in the Barbarians and the Philistines is, strictly speaking, "structures of feeling" to use Raymond Williams's phrase. These structures function like ideologies for they determine the dispositions and conduct of the ordinary class self, though it should be noted in qualification that Williams's phrase does not have the negative valence that often attaches to Marx's conception of ideology. Like Marx, Arnold discovers the material self-interestedness that shapes the attitudes of the aristocratic and middle classes. Both Marx and Arnold produce accounts of what Marx calls false consciousness from what they necessarily claim to be an objective standpoint. What then should we make of Terry Eagleton's Marxist critique of Arnoldian objectivity? "We are generally right to suspect that appeals to see the object as it really is can be decoded as invitations to see it as our rulers do."(9) Certainly Marx asks us, indeed requires us, to see the object as it really is, when he exposes false consciousness. Objectivity itself cannot be the issue between Arnold and the ideology critics.

The real quarrel is elsewhere. Though Arnold is a severe critic of the upper class and of the insurgent middle class, he is opposed to class conflict and revolution. Indeed, class conflict is an example of the propensity to violence that is the vice of the populace. What he wants are morally and aesthetically cultivated individuals to rise above the class system in the hope that they can reform the classes. A class system remains, and it will be enforced by a strong state that is willing to use its police power to repress lower-class violence. Arnold's sensitivity to economic oppression in the passage on Wragg in "The Function of Criticism" is genuine, but so is his conservative fear of violent threats to the established order. What divides Arnold and Marx is not the issue of objectivity, but their philosophical orientations.

Arnold has the idealist's faith in mind as a potentially autonomous agent. For Marx and his disciple Eagleton, mind is a creature of material or class conditions. If matter determines thought, then ideology is inescapable. Ideology necessarily plays an ambiguous role in Marxist thought: as false consciousness when it refers to the ruling class and as good ideology when it refers to the interests of the revolutionary class. Arnold's idealism of culture presupposes the possibility of standing outside of ideology. Where Marx can criticize particular ideologies only from a particular ideological standpoint, Arnold in effect criticizes the ideological habit of mind per se: the prejudices and biases of all the classes, if not of the class system itself. And he can do so, because he believes that class does not totally define the self. He can then speak of a best self or of "aliens" that exist within every class, "who are mainly led not by their class spirit, but by a general humane spirit, by the love of perfection" (CA 109). Arnold doesn't neutralize interest; rather he tries to reconceive it in its most generous sense. Of course, words like interest and will are protean in their meanings. Interest may refer to personal interest, to class interest, or to a larger collective interest to which a person might sacrifice his personal interest; it can express itself as curiosity (an interest in mathematics or history, for instance), a desire of the mind to enlarge its horizons. Disinterestedness in Arnold works to enlarge the mind.

According to David Bromwich, Arnold took over the idea of disinterestedness from the romantics, Hazlitt in particular, and impoverished it. In the romantics, disinterestedness is a form of active sympathy for others in which the self remains substantial, whereas in Arnold the self evaporates into nonentity. This view of Arnold is excessively harsh. But the connection between disinterestedness and sympathy merits attention. In the work of George Elliot, a great admirer of Arnold, disinterestedness expresses itself as sympathy in an exemplary way. Consider the following passage from Middlemarch.

[Dorothea] forced herself to think of [that yesterday morning] as bound up with another woman's life.... In her first outleap of jealous indignation and disgust, when quitting the hateful room, she had flung away all the mercy with which she had undertaken that visit.... But that base prompting which makes a woman more cruel to a rival than a faithless lover, could have no strength of recurrence in Dorothea when the dominant spirit of justice within her had once overcome the tumult and had once shown her the truer measure of things. All the active thought with which she had before been representing to herself the trials of Lydgate's lot, and this young marriage union which, like her own, seemed to have its hidden as well as evident troubles - all this vivid sympathetic experience returned to her now as a power: it asserted itself as acquired knowledge asserts itself and will not let us see as we saw in the day of our ignorance.(10)

The scene is Dorothea's mind and it is a scene of intense activity. Dorothea forces herself, indignation and disgust leap out of her, she flings away mercy, but the spirit of justice overcomes the tumult in her. Her thought is active and the experience of sympathy asserts itself as acquired knowledge asserts itself. The verbs that represent the action of her mind are verbs that we would not customarily associate with disinterestedness. What they are intended to show is that the act of sympathy, which is also a disinterested act, is the result of struggle in which interests are passionately involved. When disinterestedness presents itself, we are invited to examine the passions that underlie it, not to subvert but to understand.

Eliot's conception of sympathy has a Hebraic aspect - the will is never absent from the struggle to achieve a just view of things. But sympathy and disinterestedness do not have an exclusively Hebraic provenance. The historical narrative of disinterestedness begins with the third Earl of Shaftesbury for whom disinterestedness emerges as a virtuous antidote to "egoism in ethics and instrumentalism in religion" and becomes an aesthetic condition. Shaftesbury describes "the virtuous man as a spectator, devoted to |the very survey and contemplation' of beauty in manners and morals." Disinterestedness entails a disregard "for possession or use" and an affirmation of the "act of perception itself."(11)

The line from disinterestedness to the modernist doctrine of impersonality is evident, but disinterestedness and impersonality should not be conflated. Even in Shaftesbury's aesthetic formulation of disinterestedness (which corresponds to Arnold's Hellenic view) the moral consideration remains paramount. "Shaftesbury's concern is simultaneously with morals and manners, action and character."(12) In contrast, Joycean impersonality opposes the aesthetic to the moral. Words like impersonality and disinterestedness are in a sense misnomers, necessary misnomers for dramatic purposes, that represent efforts to understand the condition of selfhood in new ways.

Arnold's most powerful biases are against class and against the unsound majority (see his essay "Numbers"). The alternative to class and the majority is the alien who in combination with other aliens forms a spiritual elite. The alien has its origins in the Biblical idea of a saving remnant. This might be the place to speak of the large and important place religion occupies in Arnold's thought. But I won't speak of the religious theme except to say something about its significance for his political and social thought. Secular-minded critics tend to be dismissive of Arnold's religious interests. F. R. Leavis, for instance, wonders about Arnold's qualifications as a theologian and philosopher, and refers with sympathy to the "many who deplore Arnold's way with religion."(13) And Lionel Trilling says apropos of Arnold: "I consider it from many points of view an impropriety to try to guarantee literature by religious belief."(14) T. S. Eliot, who is not a secular-minded critic, condemns Arnold for having made a religion of culture, thereby leaving "Religion to be laid waste by the anarchy of feelings."(15) What these critis fail to see is the need religion serves in Arnold's political and social imagination. He needs a recourse against totalizing political conceptions. Religious idea and sentiment, not institutions which he deplored, provide him with energies and values beyond the round of classes and parties, so that he can judge parties and classes. Religion is the source of the ethical, the antithesis of the ideological.

Arnold's alien is the person with the moral capacity to think and act against himself, against his class interests. The historical evidence for Arnold's view of the existence of class aliens, if not of the best self (they are not necessarily equivalent) is abundant. I need only cite Marx himself, alienated from the very class, the bourgeoisie, that became the demon in his theoretical system. In transcending or trying to transcend the values of his class, Marx in effect rejects the determinism of class interest, indeed of self-interest as a total explanation of the behavior of persons. Both Marx and Arnold are unwitting allies against the dominant utilitarian spirit of the insurgent middle class. The escape from determinism is an essential condition of the classless society. And yet ideological determinism rules Marxist thought. Unencumbered by determinism, Arnoldian disinterestedness aspires to a classless society, though Arnold does not imagine the disappearance of the classes.

To declare oneself free of determinism is, of course, not necessarily to be free of it. From the perspective of the ideology critic, the conception of the alien is ideological. Self-determination is an illusion that conceals its roots in the middle class (philistine) values it purports to transcend. Isn't the alien after all "doing as he pleases," the besetting vice of middle class individualism? If he had been challenged in these terms, Arnold might have answered that the resemblance between the alien best self and "doing as one pleases" corresponds to the resemblance between a virtue and its corresponding vice. Alienation or standing alone is not an end in itself but rather a via media to a condition of collective responsibility embodied in the idea of the state. I am not sure that such an answer is convincing, but neither is the finality with which the ideology critic determines the terms of the debate. If the concept of the alien is taken seriously in its own terms and therefore not subject to immediate ideological reduction, then we can understand it as an expression of a view that resists the idea that everything is determined, that is, ideological. The alien is by definition irreducible, and not to attempt to reduce it is to allow for real debate about the claims of ideology critique. The discussion of the alien inevitably slides back and forth between considerations of freedom and objectivity. The question arises: how are the autonomy of mind (a phrase of freedom, since to be autonomous is to be free to whatever degree of necessity) and the objective view of things logically connected? The answer, I believe, lies in the conditions that cause the deformations of understanding. To the extent that a mind is determined by class interests rather than by the "simple" desire to understand, its view of the world suffers distortion. The autonomy of mind, it should be noted, does not banish interest; rather it reflects a particular idea of interest that does not depend on consciousness or unconsciousness of class interests or motives of domination. But it might also be argued that the motive of domination does not necessarily distort understanding. These two views may not be contradictory, for the act of understanding in the person who seeks to dominate may be independent of its source in domination. The person is more complex than ideological reduction allows.

The powerful animus against class in Arnold is offset or qualified by the view that each class has its characteristic virtue and that it can be redeemed. Arnold never attempts to resolve the ambiguity. Or one might say that the move toward classlessness is an instance of thinking against oneself. Arnold's consciousness of class, his aristocratic affections have been amply documented. Arnold spoke for himself when he quoted Gladstone: "All the world loves a peer."16 But as Patrick McCarthy remarks in connection with Arnold's view of the condition of Ireland, whatever Arnold's prearistocratic proclivities were - and they were considerable he did not hesitate when the public weal was at stake to offer a plan that struck at the root of aristocratic power and prestige" (152).

Questions arise: Does the capacity for thinking and acting against one's class or group interests necessarily entail disinterestedness or objectivity or the perfection of the best self? What is the practical effect of alienation? Alienation may be the product of a disfiguring resentment which would not make for clearsightedness; it may turn out to be a lack of connection with the world that diminishes knowledge of it. How could a saving remnant transform the huge recalcitrant numbers that populate modem society, especially if the remnant does not create its own institutions? As I have already remarked, Arnold has an abiding mistrust of institutions. The questions are hardly articulated in Arnold's own, writing, but however these questions might be answered, the facile dismissal of objectivity or disinterestedness by Eagleton and others is obtuse or disingenuous, for the fact is that Arnold has described a possibility (realized again and again in history) of the human capacity for the transcendence of narrowly conceived self-interest. It is this capacity that makes freedom and the ethical project possible. Those who like Eagleton and Fredric Jameson believe that there is nothing but the determinisms of ideology have an extremely diffficult time explaining where human agency and freedom come from. Since they want to change the world, they can hardly abandon a belief in agency.

Arnold betrays his argument, however, in his identification of the best self with the state. His invocation of the state precisely at the moment that he affirms the alien provides us with a counterexample to what in "The Function of Criticism" he calls living by ideas. The state, after all, reflects class and group interests: it is an organization of power. The Daily News asked the right question: "Make the State the organ of the common reason? ... You may make it the organ of something or other, but how can you be certain that reason will be the quality which will be embodied in it?" (CA 123). Arnold's lame reply is that you will never know if you don't try. The real answer is that the alien led by a humane spirit must also be a recourse against the collective nation, when it becomes coercive and unjust, as it frequently does. Arnold never even contemplates the possibility. If he had contemplated the possibility, he might have seen that the state is an expression of the political and social imagination, its other expressions being classes and parties against which he counterposes the alien.

In conceiving the state as an embodiment of reason, Arnold is a creature of his time. German philosophy, in particular the philosophy of Hegel, in effect denied the historical realities of state in a utopic conception of it, which it then illicitly identified with the real. As Louis Althusser points out, Hegelian philosophy deformed "real historical problems into philosophical problems."17 Solutions at the philosophical level can always ignore or finesse intractable problems in historical reality. The ironic consequence is that the utopic conception becomes repressive in its denial of the reality of conflict. The utopic conception can be invoked as a justification for repressing what resists its realizations.

It is an unfortunate result of Arnold's desire to separate the world of ideas from the world of practice that he does not concern himself with the possibly pernicious practical consequences of a idea-particularly in light of his own Burkean critique of the violence of the French Revolution, which he understands as the result of the precipitous application of abstract ideas to the sphere of practice. Arnold seems totally unaware of the Burkean force of the question raised by The Daily News. His response is recklessly Jacobin in spirit, if not in content.

I don't think that Arnold's response is a mere lapse. His hostility to class and his celebration of class alienation has unwitting Jacobin implications. Arnold here contrasts sharply with Burke's association of prejudice with the "collective" wisdom of the ages: "instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree, and, to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices.... We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small. . . . Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom that prevails in them."18 For Burke, class is one of the sites of traditional prejudice. The class alien as a vehicle of state reason, or as a purveyor of universal values, suggests Arnold's Enlightenment affinities which his affection for Burke may obscure. Raymond Williams argues that Arnold's position on the state is that of Burke. This seems to be misleading, since, as Williams notes, "the state which for Burke was an actuality has become for Arnold an idea."19 The difference, a decisive one, corresponds to the difference between Burke's conservatism and Arnold's liberalism. For Burke the state has proven itself: it is tried and true; for Arnold, the state needs to be reinvented according to an idea of reason. Arnold had the experience of the French Revolution to know how a utopian state (even one inspired by liberalism) can become illiberal, but he shows little awareness of the problem in Culture and Anarchy. The result is a tension, if not a contradiction, between his advocacy of an illiberal state (note not a conservative one) and his affirmation of a liberal, potentially revolutionary alien.

It is not that the state is ipso facto pernicious, as libertarians would claim. The state may be a benevolent agent, for instance, in the education of its citizens, a matter of immediate and persistent concern to Arnold, whose working days were given over to the inspection of schools. In our time, the question of the role of the state has divided conservatives, who are allergic to state power and liberals, who wish to exploit it for benign purposes. In Culture and Anarchy, however, it is difficult to defend Arnold's advocacy of the state on liberal grounds, for he shows in that work a greater concern for law and order than for social justice, always a mark of conservatism. Even if one wishes to resist putting a reductive label on the political tendency of his thought, it is hard not to be apprehensive about the abstractness of his use of the state and his failure to think it through before celebrating it.

There is a passage toward the end of "Barbarians, Philistines, Populace," which reveals a superior understanding of the role of the state to the one that Arnold exhibits elsewhere in the chapter. He cites Ernest Renan: "A liberal believes in liberty, and liberty requires the nonintervention of the State. But such an ideal is still a long way off from us, and the very means to remove it to an indefinite distance would be precisely the state's withdrawing its action too soon" (CA 127). The state we are told here is not the best self, it is a provisional stay against anarchy in the absence of the authority of the best self. The passage from Renan has an unexpected but striking resemblance to Marx's famous prophecy of the withering away of the state after the Dictatorship of the Proletariat has done its work. There may be a caution in this resemblance: the state rarely, if ever, relinquishes its authority, for it views the withdrawal of its action as always too soon.

It should be clear from my discussion that I don't mean to immunize Arnold from ideological criticism. He offers opportunities everywhere in his work. Thus Arnold's idealization of the state is not an example of the free play of thought which disinterestedness makes possible. Nor is it clear that the positions that he takes on the reform of the marriage laws and the law of inheritance in the chapter on "Our Liberal Practitioners' are necessarily the result of the free play of thought, no matter how much he insists on it.20 Indeed, one suspects an overmuch protesting of the matter. But failures in practice do not invalidate a principle or a theory. In any particular case, the free play of thought may have been misapplied or betrayed.

Yet I confess to some uneasiness with the idea of free play. The career of the admirable Burke, for instance, is not so much an example of free play as it is of an intellectual necessity (Burke remember rides a current of thought). He is driven to change his view of a particular event by the logic of his own conservatism. The revolutionary necessity that Burke describes reflects the intellectual necessity that drives this thinking. "If a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men will be fitted to it; the general opinions and feelings will draw that way. Every fear, every hope will forward it; and then they who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs will appear rather to resist the decrees of Providence itself, than the mere designs of men. They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate" (FC 23). Thought is always subject to constraints; the freedom of thought takes place within constraints, which may or may not be ideological. (I would distinguish between the necessary logic of an idea or view which may lead to unexpected conclusions and an ideological necessity that has already formed its conclusions, which are not open to subversion or change. If Burke were an ideologue, he would not have permitted the return upon himself, or his ideological unconscious would not have permitted it.) Arnold would perhaps agree that free play is not an absolute, but his phrase has an absolute unqualified implication that requires correction.

Correction, but not repudiation. In allowing for the free play of thought, however conditioned and for the possibility of objective seeing, the Arnoldian view provides a salutary alternative to the ideological reduction of thought to class and by extension to race and gender interests. It means that one can think through an idea to an unpredictable conclusion without regard to whether it fits into some preconceived conservative or liberal or radical agenda. Without the capacity to do so, there is no genuine intellectual life.

The ideology critic might object that thinking against oneself" describes his own activity, when he trains his critical attention upon his own assumptions. Certainly ideology critics are capable of performing acts of self-criticism, though, characteristically, critical attention is directed outward. The question then becomes what is the nature of the self-criticism of the ideology critic. The critic will measure himself against his master text (for example, the Marxian text) and find himself perhaps not living up to its requirements. His understanding of the master text may differ from that of other subscribers to the text, in which case interpretive quarrels arise. But the text in one form or another retains its authority. What the ideology critic cannot accept is a view of self-criticism, that is, of thinking against oneself that would unsettle the master text or that would trouble it to the extent of producing conclusions that the text could not comprehend. Burke remains within his original conservative perspective, but he allows himself to reach a conclusion that conservatism never envisaged: the acceptance of a doctrinally anticonservative system on conservative grounds.

Genuine thinking is an activity against the grain of ideological formulas that petrify the mind. Ideology critics, ostensibly critics of ideology, are, in their own commitments to an ideological agenda, ideologues, for those agendas are more often than not formulaic "understandings" of reality, whether the subject is imperialism or class conflict or, from another ideological standpoint, Stalinism. These formulas may spring from master texts that reflect genuine, even profound thinking, a text by Marx, for instance, but the sense of complication and difficulty of the text has been lost in the mind of the ideology critic, who no longer experiences that text as itself historically conditioned and vulnerable to criticism. Arnold remains a powerful, though imperfect, example of a self-reflexive criticism that resists the reductions of ideology.


(1) Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism(Durham,N.C., 1991), p. 180. (2) John B. Thompson, Studies in the Theory of Ideology (Cambridge, 1984), p. 5. (3) Friedrich Nietzsche,The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals tr. Francis Golffing (Garden City, N.Y., 1956), p. 256. (4) William James, The will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (]897) Bound with Human Immortality 1898 (New York, 1956), p. 21. See also Mark Jones, "Recuperating Arnold: Romanticism and Modem Projects of Disinterestedness," Boundary 2, 18, no. 2 (1991), 85. (5) Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy ed.J. Dover Wilson (London,1955-1971),p.4; hereafter cited in text as CA. (6) Matthew Arnold, The Function of Criticism at the Present Time," in Matthew Arnold: Selected Essays London, 1964), pp. 23-24; hereafter cited in text as FC. David Bromwich notes an anticipation of Arnold's praise of Burke in Hazlitt's assertion that a "test of the sense and candour of anyone belonging to the opposite party [is] whether he allowed Burke to be a great man" (David Bromwich, "The Genealogy of Disinterestedness," Raritan 1 [Spring, 1982], 64). (7) Seem Matthew Arnold, "The Study of Poetry,"in Selected Essays, p.48. (8) Bromwich, "The Genealogy of Disinterestedness,"p.85. (9) Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction London, 1991), p. 166. (10) George Eliot, Middlemarch (New York, 1965), pp. 845-46. (11) Jerome Stolnitz, "On the Origins of "Aesthetic Disinterestedness,'" Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 20 (1961-62), 133; quoted in Vassilis Lambropoulos, The Rise of Eurocentrism: Anatomy of Interpretation (Princeton, NJ., 1993), p. 119. (12) Lambropoulos, "The Rise of Eurocentrism, p. 118. (13) F. R. Leavis, Critics: Arnold as Critic," in his A Selection from Scrutiny, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1968), I, 261. (14) Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (Garden City, N.Y., 1953), p. 287. (15) T. S. Eliot, Arnold and Pater," in his Selected Essays (New York, 1950), p. 387. (16) See Patrick McCarthy, Matthew Arnold and the Three Classes (New York, 1964), p. 166; hereafter cited in text. (17) Louis Althusser, For Marx tr. Ben Brewster (London, 1990), p. 80. (18) Edmund Burke, Reflections on the, Revolution in France and the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to the Even, ed. Thomas H. D. Mahoney (Indianapolis, Ind., 1955), pp. 98-99. (19) Raymond Williams, Culture and Society: ]780-1950 (1958; rpt. New York,1982), p. 123. Patrick McCarthy cites a letter that Arnold wrote which incisively distinguishes him from Burke: "The old order of things had not the virtue which Burke supposed. The Revolution had not the banefulness which he supposed. But neither was the Revolution the commencement, as its friends supposed, of a reign of justice and virtue. It was much rather, as Scherer has called it, |Un dechainement d'instincts confus, un aveugle et immense besoin de renouvellement.' An epoch of concentration and of resistance to the crude and violent people who were imposing their 'renouvellement' on the rest of the world by force was natural and necessary. Burke is to be conceived as the great voice of the epoch. He carried his country with him, and was in some sort a providential person. But he did harm as well as good, for he made concentration too dominant an idea with us, and an idea of which the reign was unduly prolonged. The time for expansion must come, and Burke is of little help to us in presence of such a time. But in his sense of the crudity and tyranny of the French revolutionists, I do not think he was mistaken" (McCarthy, Matthew Arnold and the Three Classes, p. 133). (20) Wendell Harris makes the case that Arnold "is merely criticizing the grounds on which the Liberals were proceeding without offering alternatives, in effect he was cutting each issue away from the argument to which his readers were accustomed" (Wendell Harris, "Interpretive Historicism: 'Signs of the Times' and Culture and Anarchy in Their Contexts," in Nineteenth Century Literature, 44 [1990], 455). From this perspective, the criticism that Arnold is a conservative, upholding the status quo is misconceived.
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Title Annotation:Matthew Arnold
Author:Goodheart, Eugene
Publication:New Literary History
Date:Mar 22, 1994
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