AskDefine | Define Philistinism

Dictionary Definition

philistinism n : a desire for wealth and material possessions with little interest in ethical or spiritual matters [syn: materialism]

Extensive Definition

Philistinism is a derogatory term used to describe a particular attitude or set of values. A person called a Philistine (in the relevant sense), is said to despise or undervalue art, beauty, intellectual content, and/or spiritual values. Philistines are also said to be materialistic, to favor conventional social values unthinkingly, and to favor forms of art that have a cheap and easy appeal (e.g. kitsch).
Philistinism affords a contrast to Bohemianism, as the character of a smugly conventional bourgeois social group perceived to lack all the desirably soulful 'bohemian' characteristics, especially an artistic temperament and a broad cultural horizon open to the avant-garde. To the chosen few, the 'Philistines' embodied a smug, anti-intellectual threatening majority, in the 'culture wars' of the 19th century.
Goethe had several comments on the type. "The Philistine not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own", and "What is a philistine? A hollow gut, full of fear and hope that God will have mercy!"
Jonathan Swift applied the term to a gruff bailiff in a lawsuit, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan applied the term to one of his characters, 'that bloodthirsty Philistine, Sir Lucius O'Trigger,' in The Rivals, 1775, but 'Philistine' really came to have its modern English secondary meaning, of a person deficient in the culture of the Liberal Arts beginning in the 1820s.
Matthew Arnold was the champion of Victorian 'high culture' countering the forces of the Philistines. In his Essays in Criticism (1865) he pointed out (in his essay on the German poet Heinrich Heine) that "'Philistine' must have originally meant, in the mind of those who invented the nickname, a strong, dogged, unenlightened opponent of the children of the light." In fact German students applied it to the long-suffering townspeople of university towns. In another context Arnold wrote, 'The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich... are just the very people whom we call the Philistines.' From his example, 'Philistine' passed into the enlightened liberal's armament of cultural scorn.
J. D. Salinger, although he never uses the actual word, seems to define some form of Philistinism when character Seymour Glass writes about his mother-in-law: "A person deprived, for life, of any understanding or taste for the main current of poetry that flows through things, all things."
Philistines can be described and defined from both positive and negative viewpoints. Compare barbarian, boor, churl, vulgarian, yahoo.

Historical Philistines

It is ironic that the term Philistine has a negative connotation while the historical evidence of the Philistines contradicts this derogatory meaning. According to the History Channel's 'Naked Archaeologist' Simcha Jacobovici, the Philistines were an advanced culture relative to their contemporary Canaanite neighbors. The Philistines were not indigenous to the region (possibly proto-Greek), having (according to general, though not fully substantiated theory) been part of a larger group known as the 'Sea Peoples' who made war on Egypt and lost - eventually settling just out of Egypt's sphere of influence. Modern archeology in Israel has shown that Philistine urban structure, commercial complexity and technology (pottery/iron) were all more advanced than that of other contemporary Canaanites. Most telling of all comes from 1 Samuel where the Jews (still a bronze society) describe the resentment of trading-dependence with the Philistines for obtaining & re-sharpening of iron agricultural tools. This command of iron (and unwillingness to trade iron weaponry) allowed the far smaller Philistine culture to survive the perpetual wars with their Jewish neighbors. Their boutique culture could not withstand the Assyrian and later Babylonian expansions into Canaan, however - after which they disappeared as a cohesive cultural group.

External links

Philistinism in Breton: filistinerezh
Philistinism in German: Philister (Ästhetik)
Philistinism in Russian: Филистер
Philistinism in Slovenian: Filister
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1