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What is the Relationship between Taste and Ideology? Essay

It nowadays became a commonplace assumption that, since the notion of taste/aesthetics implies subjectivity, than the incorporation of subjectivist aesthetics into the conceptual framework of a particular ideology, undermines the extent of this ideology’s discursive appropriateness.

In this paper, however, I will aim to show that, contrary to the earlier mentioned assumption, it is entirely appropriate to discuss the ideological extrapolations of one’s aesthetic preferences as such that are being reflective of his or her taste as biologically predetermined ‘thing in itself’, which in turn implies such taste’s objectivist nature.

There can be little doubt as to the fact that the subtleties of people’s sense of aesthetics often appear highly circumstantial. Throughout sixties and seventies, the realization of this fact was prompting neo-Marxian philosophers to speculate that the essence of one’s aesthetic taste reflects the particulars of his or her social upbringing.

In its turn, this was providing them with a discursively legitimate reason to refer to the convention that there is a ‘low/primitive’ taste, on the one hand, and ‘high/refined’ taste, on the other, as an indication of this convention’s embedment in Kantian metaphysical philosophy, which presupposes the objectivist/essentialist nature of ‘higher realities’.

Hence, the nature of neo-Marxian criticism of a discursively division between people’s ‘low’ and ‘high’ tastes: “Aristocracies are essentialist. Regarding existence as an emanation of essence, they set no intrinsic value on the deeds and misdeeds enrolled in the records and registries of aesthetic conventions” (Bourdieu 24).

Nevertheless, the neo-Marxian assumption that the subtleties of currently dominant aesthetics-related discourse are being suggestive of this discourse’s functionalist essence (concerned with preserving status quo in social sphere), cannot be referred to as such that represents an undeniable truth-value.

This is because there are, in fact, a number of good reasons to think of the nature of one’s aesthetic inclinations as being correlative with the measure of his or her intellectual advancement. And, as it was proven during the course of recent decade, people’s varying ability to operate with the abstract categories, which reflect the rate of their Intellectual Quotidian (IQ), is being rather biologically than environmentally predetermined (Lynn & Vanhanen 64).

In other words, it is absolutely appropriate to discuss the extent of one taste’s aesthetic refinement in terms of intrinsic objectivity, because the manner in which people go about assessing the significance of surrounding reality’s manifestations and consequentially forming their aesthetic judgments, in regards to these manifestations, reflect the working of people’s psyche. In their turn, the workings of people’s psyche provide us with the insight onto the extent of these people’s cognitive adequateness/inadequateness.

The validity of this statement can be illustrated in regards to the empirical data, obtained by Levy Bruhl while he was conducting his anthropological studies, concerned with defining the nature of primitive people’s cognition. According to Bruhl, while being presented with cognitive tasks, the members of primitive/tribal societies (specifically, African tribesmen) indulge in ‘pre-logical’ reasoning.

For example, these people used to experience a particularly hard time, after having been asked to exclude semantically unrelated word out of the wordily sequence axe – hammer – handsaw – log. The fact that the words axe, hammer and handsaw could be categorized as ‘instruments’, on the one hand, and that the word log could be categorized as ‘material’, on the another, never even occurred to them.

In their eyes, there could be no difference between the notion of ‘material’ and the notion of ‘instrument’, as both of these notions imply ‘usefulness’: “Identity appears in (native) collective representations… as a moving assemblage or totality of mystic actions and reactions, within which individual does not subjectualize but objectualize itself” (Bruhl 120).

The empirical observations of how people go about forming their aesthetic views leave very few doubts as to the fact that the nature of these views exposes the specifics of people’s positioning towards the surrounding reality. The more a particular person tends to position itself as a ‘subject’, while interacting with the environment, the more there are objective reasons to consider his or her aesthetic tastes refined, and vice versa.

We can also say that there is a positive correlation between the extent of a particular aesthetic convention’s refinement and the extent of its complexity. This is exactly the reason why classical music is being generally deemed more ‘tasteful’; as compared to what it is being the case with pop-music, for example.

This simply could not be otherwise, because – whereas, pop-compositions feature 5-10 chord-sequences at best, classical compositions usually feature hundreds of different chord-sequences – not to mention the extensive variations to tonality and timbre.

Now that we have established the dialectical links between the extent of people’s intellectual advancement and the nature of their aesthetic preferences, it makes it easier to discuss the specifics of how taste affects ideology. According to Althusser: “Ideologies function first and foremost to create subjects who experience their relationship to the world in certain, politically salient ways” (161). Such Althusser’s suggestion correlates with that of Cheal: “Ideologies mediate between so­cial experiences and behavior, or the inhibition of behavior.

Through an ideology, particular experiences acquire a general significance by being related to each other or to important values” (112). We can only subscribe to both suggestions, in this respect. After all, ideologies do in fact serve the purpose of helping its affiliates to assess the significance of surrounding reality’s emanations, which contributes to the effectiveness of the process of ideologically minded people tackling life’s challenges.

Nevertheless, it is essential to understand that the concept of ideology, in contemporary sense of this word, is relatively new. In this respect, we can only agree with neo-Marxian thesis that the concept of ideology cannot be discussed outside of what represented the particulars of how the newly emerged social class of bourgeoisie was striving to attain socio-political legitimacy. After all, before the French Revolution of 1792, the representatives of bourgeoisie were considered nothing but ‘lowly merchants’.

Before this Revolution, there were no nations, in the traditional sense of this word – the political authority used to be exerted solely by the representatives of Church’s clergy and by the representatives of Europe’s old aristocracy. Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise why the initially emerged ideologies were essentially the ideologies of ‘national liberation’ – bourgeoisie needed to legitimize ‘nation’ as a sovereign political unit.

By being prompted to consider themselves a ‘part of the nation’, the representatives of lower social classes, such as proletariat and peasantry, were expected pay little attention to the fact that their low social status was a direct consequence of them having been subjected to the different forms of socio-economic exploitation.

According to Gramsci, the initial purpose of ideological indoctrination was ensuring the cohesiveness of how the affiliates of underprivileged social classes reflected upon the social environment and their place in it (33). The best way to achieve it was prompting socially disadvantaged people to think of bourgeois values as their own.

Nevertheless, what neo-Marxian sociologists do not seem to understand, is that the process of designing a particular mass-ideology is not being quite as reflective of designers’ values, as much as it is being reflective of the innermost psychological anxieties of those to whom this ideology is expected to appeal.

The validity of this suggestion can be easily illustrated in regards to what represented the aesthetics of Nazi ideology, on the one hand, and the aesthetics of Communist ideology, on the other. Despite the fact that these ideologies were based upon mutually contradictory theoretical premises, the closer inquiry into the essence of both ideologies’ aesthetic appeal, reveals the apparent similarity between how Nazis and Communists strived to popularize their socio-political agendas with masses.

For example, just as it used to be the case with Nazi visual art, Communist visual art featured the images of blond/healthy/muscular men and women indulging in a variety of different physical activities. Just as it used to be the case Nazi marching music, Communist marching music emanated a clearly defined spirit of optimistic purposefulness (Heskett 143).

In fact, after having altered the semantic content of many Nazi marches, such as the Horst Vessel march, Russian Communists adopted them as their own (Soviet Aviator’s March). The reason for this is simple – due to the specifics of their genetic makeup, both: Germans and Russians are being equally predisposed towards professing the essentially ‘Faustian’ existential values.

These values are based upon the assumption that: “Individual’s will-power must never cease combating obstacles, that the catastrophes of existence come as an inevitable culmination of past choices and experiences, and that the conflict is the essence of existence” (Greenwood 53).

Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that even though Nazism and Communism praised the spirit of collectivism, the aesthetic emanations of both ideologies praised the spirit of individualistic industriousness – these ideologies were nothing but qualitatively different manifestations of workings of the same ‘Faustian’ psycho-type.

As it was noted by Serebriany: “Soviet Marxist epistemological pride was for the most drawn from the West, together with the entire ‘package’ of Marxism or even the ‘modern European episteme’ as a whole” (97). Apparently, there was nothing accidental about the fact that in 1940, Stalin seriously considered joining the Anti-Comintern Pact (Axis), headed by Nazi Germany.

In its turn, this also explains why in early sixties, the Communist countries of Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China became nothing short of sworn enemies. Whereas, the majority of Russians were never able to truly affiliate themselves with Communist ideological conventions; this proved to be no challenge, whatsoever, for the majority of Chinese.

This was the reason why, up until the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, Chinese Communists never ceased accusing Soviet Communists of ‘revisionism’. Apparently, the ‘pure’ Communist ideology did, in fact, correlate with the particulars of how Chinese people, endowed with ‘Apollonian’ (Asian/collectivist) mentality, reflect upon the surrounding reality (Greenwood 54).

Given the fact that the existential mode of the majority of Asians is being concerned with these people’s unconscious strive to ‘blend’ with the nature (to ‘objectualize’ themselves within natural environment), there is nothing utterly surprising about the fact that, after having been planted into the Asian soil, Communism did take rather long roots.

After all, even today, China officially remains a Communist country. The same can be said about North Korea, which along with China and Pol Pot’s Cambodia, can be best defined as the only ‘true’ Communist states that ever existed on the face of the Earth.

Therefore, even though neo-Marxian philosophers do make a good point, while suggesting that just about every political ideology is meant to serve the interests of the representatives of social elites, it is quite impossible to agree with their view on ideology as simply one among many mechanisms of people’s socio-economic oppression.

After all, the representatives of a particular society’s elite never cease remaining strongly interconnected with this society’s ordinary members. This is why, even though that in many cases, the aesthetic conventions that socially prominent individuals strive to incorporate into the very matrix of spatially predominant socio-political ideology, do appear intellectually oppressive (too sophisticate/refined), they nevertheless correlate with the overall biological quality of the general population.

I believe that the provided earlier line of argumentation, in defense of a suggestion that one’s aesthetic taste can indeed be discussed as being rather biologically than environmentally predetermined (which points out to the objectiveness of a particular ideology’s aesthetic manifestations), is being entirely consistent with paper’s initial thesis.

What it means is that it is fully appropriate to assess the measure of a particular ideology’s discursive value in regards to whether this ideology corresponds to the notion of a ‘good taste’ or not. After all, as it shown earlier, the notion of ‘good taste’ is a fully objective category.


Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: NYU Press, 1971. Print.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1984. Print.

Bruhl, Levy. The Soul of the Primitive (translated by Lilian Clare). London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.,1928. Print.

Cheal, David. “Hegemony, Ideology and Contradictory Consciousness.” The Sociological Quarterly 20.1 (1979): pp. 109-117. Print.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (translated by Quintin Hoarc and Geoffrey Smith). London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971. Print.

Greenwood, Susan. Anthropology of Magic. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2009. Print.

Heskett, John. “Art and Design in Nazi Germany.” History Workshop 6 (1978): pp. 139-153. Print.

Lynn, Richard & Vanhanen, Tatu. IQ and the Wealth of Nations. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. Print.

Serebriany, Sergei. “On the ‘Soviet Paradigm’ (Remarks of an Indologist).” Studies in East European Thought 57.2 (2005): pp. 93-13. Print.

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