Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy was published as a series of essays in the popular Victorian periodical Cornhill Magazine, between 1867 and 1868, and became one of the most celebrated explorations of social and political criticisms in Western literature (Arnold and Collini, i-iii). In his discussion of culture, Arnold uses rhetoric to appeal to both the reason and the morals of his readers, as a means of convincing them that both are the “natural” impulses of human beings.
Arnold’s rhetorical stance in this piece is educated and impersonal: he presents to the reader the persona of an objective observer of the human condition. Not only was this stance likely to appeal to the rationalism of his Victorian audience; it also served to describe the subjective nature of some of the assumptions and assertions presented in the piece.

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Arnold constructs his persona of objective observer largely through the rhetorical use of logos. For example, throughout the essay, he uses the formation “there is”, suggesting through the use of the verb “is” that his interpretations are factual observations. The structure of his discussion, in which he compares two of his interpretations to one another as clear, polar opposites, simplifies what is otherwise a complex concept, inviting his reader to understand his interpretation of culture as scientifically comprehensive. By drawing on well-known and respected scholars and philosophers, such as Montesquieu and Bishop Wilson, Arnold adds verimilitiude to his analysis, and appears to be offering an impartial synthesis of different views on culture.

However, Arnold’s word choices in places reveal the pathos which he uses covertly as a rhetorical tool in this passage. Words such as “noble”, “happier” and “passion” reveal Arnold’s emotional commitment to the moral dimension of culture; at the same time, his use of the personal pronouns “our” and “we” throughout the passage invite his readers to share that emotional commitment.

As can be seen from this passage, therefore, Arnold’s use of rhetoric makes a covert appeal to the emotions of his readers, even as he constructs a persona with the intention of overtly appealing to Victorian rationalism.

  • Arnold, Matthew, and Stefan Collini. Culture and Anarchy and Other Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.