"Twenty six generations did דרך ארץ precede the תורה, for it says, cherubim and sword were established to keep the way to the tree of life; but the way is culture, and only then can one reach to the tree of life, to the Torah". Culture starts the work of educating the generations of mankind and the Torah completes it; for the Torah is the most finished education of Man. The fig-leaf and apron, those first gifts which Man possessed on his way to education, were the first appurtenances of culture, and culture in the service of morality is the first stage of Man's return to God. For us Jews, דרך ארץ and תורה are one. The most perfect gentleman and the most perfect Jew, to the Jewish teaching, are identical. But in the general development of mankind culture comes earlier. The "Sword and the Cherubim", the exigencies of life and the intuition of Something Higher in life lead the generation of mankind to the path of culture which ultimately opens onto the tree of life. That is why the Jew rejoices whenever and wherever culture elevates people to a perception of true values and to nurture goodness. But of course where culture and civilisation are used in the service of sensuality the degeneration only gets all the greater. But still such misuse of culture does not do away with the intrinsic value and blessing of דרך ארץ, for אם אין דרך ארץ אין תורה. Therefore Jews, too, are to attach themselves to, and love all good and true culture and by the ways and manner of their behaviour and demeanour appear as educated people, and show that being a Jew is only a higher stage of being a man. And of course, on the other side too, אם אין תורה אין דרך ארץ, if culture and education instead of leading to תורה, take the place of it, then it is not the way that leads to the Tree of Life, but is the way that leads to degeneration.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Pentateuch, Genesis 3:24.