Aesthetics & Politics

Nick Whitaker: How do you think about aesthetics in political theory?

Jonah Bennett: I think aesthetics is one of the more important points in political theory because it’s one of the most immediately legible and visceral. There’s certainly the more philosophical and social science elements of political theory, but people are much more likely to sort based on how they aesthetically and socially assess a particular political theory and its relationship to how they conceive of themselves: is it pro-system or anti-system? Is it high status or low status? Are the people who instantiate the theory good or evil or interesting or boring? Is it filled with people like them? Does it put forward a future they view as meeting their social and psychological needs? Does it have a community? Is it going anywhere? How do other people I care about view it? What does embracing this political theory say about me?

These are psychological and aesthetic questions and, for most people, they tend to be prior to questions of pure theory. What I would say is that it’s important for those developing political theory not to neglect these questions, since they end up as the defining features of the community that embodies that political theory. If the aesthetic is juvenile, it will attract juveniles. If the aesthetic is dark and dangerous and evil, it will tend to attract the dark, dangerous, and evil, and you may not like what you get. On the other hand, if it has a confident, earnest, and responsible self-conception, it will tend to attract people who feel similarly. There’s a real responsibility here that theorists should not neglect.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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