The concept of ideology essentially means beliefs, whether true or false, in society that has become institutionalized so they can serve the interests of a ruling class. Ideological beliefs are similar to propaganda but vary in the way that they are much more deeply embedded in the peoples conscious and influences how a person thinks about the society he or she lives in. For example, Americans tend to have certain beliefs about the nature of the democracy but may find democracies elsewhere alien if they do not follow the same pattern. Some beliefs configure our actions, like going to the polls to elect our leaders turns out to be a duty. Critics might mention that these beliefs might actually work against most people for the obscure interests of those leaders who rule America. Assuming the critic is right, then those would be ideological beliefs and represent a "false consciousness" about American democracy.
The issue raised with the notion of ideology implies that there are objective truths in the world that do not depend on our idea of them in order for them to be true. The natural sciences were for quite some time in history considered as the only dependable starting place of these objective truths. The first followers of the concept of ideology supposed that by employing scientific methods, the false beliefs of ideology could be uncovered. Early Greeks thinkers contested the idea of objective truth by saying that truth lies in the eye of the beholder and that science reveals no hidden truths about the world but only helps us in reshaping things in a manner that suits the needs of the elite ruling classes. Without a clear idea of objective truth, the whole idea of ideology appears unfeasible.
In history the concept of ideology faced the threat of being dated due to the doubts towards objective truths. Eagleton says false beliefs need to be saved from the postmodern version of ideology. He examines the various positions that both defenders of the concept (Marx, Lukasz, Althusser) and its critics (Nietzsche, Rorty, Derrida), among others, have taken over the years.
Eagleton essentially defends the Marxist critical tradition against post-modernism and relativism. He wishes to uphold the ideological concept as a crucial tool for liberation from false beliefs and mental processes that emphasize social coercion. Eagleton tries to snub post-modern and neo-Marxist claims of the practicality of the concept of ideology.
Central to the ideology of art is not that it concerns itself purely with the association between art and life, but with the nature of details and universal truth in knowledge. Eagleton maintains that in the 19th century societies exercised their power and control over the masses with the use of art or aesthetics. Power and control became embedded with aesthetics.
Eagleton says, "Aesthetics refers not in the first place to art, but as the Greek aesthesis would suggest, to the whole region of human perception and sensation" In the mid-eighteenth century, the term aesthetic did not imply the distinction between 'art' and 'life' but rather between the material and immaterial, between things and thoughts, sensations and ideas. (Eagleton pp.13)
In his book Mythologies Barthes uses