Alexander Pope envisioned his poetry as conducive to a social order shaped and guided by taste. However, unlike later arbiters of taste who sought to project idealized norms, Pope used techniques that were oppositional, individualized, materialist, and perverse. His aesthetic strategies aimed at achieving homogeneity across diverse populations without normative prescriptions. Pope drew on the skeptical notion of the “ruling passion” to model his understanding of taste as a social process. Construed solely as a model of personality, his theory is frequently dismissed; read as a model for tastemaking, it becomes intelligible. While Pope’s classicizing moral and aesthetic values can seem distant from the assumptions of our late liberal culture, the techniques he uses to “rule” tastes indirectly remain fundamental imperatives in liberal aesthetic culture.

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