Despite the faddishness of post modern ways of thinking, I doubt very many people truly believe that quality in art and literature is only an arbitrary construct, imposed by the powerful on the powerless for political purposes. Even intellectuals who pay lip service to this fundamental tenet of postmodernism, I suspect, hew in private to the more common view of aesthetic quality summed up by the art critic Clement Greenberg:
One of the wonderful things about art is that everybody has to discover the criteria of quality by himself. They can't be communicated by word or demonstration. Yet they are objective. . . . You have to find out for yourself by looking and experiencing. And the people who try hardest and look hardest end up, over the ages, by agreeing with one another in the main. That I call the consensus of taste.
Still, it appears that a certain number of nominally educated Americans do indeed believe such terms as "quality," "beauty," and "greatness" to be wholly subjective. For them, Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Rembrandt are "great" not because of the towering and self-evident merits of their work but because greatness has been ascribed to them by virtue of their status among dead white European males. Given the incapacity of such minds to apprehend the greatness of art through its immediate experience, how else might one persuade them of its objective existence?
The hallmark of Charles Murray's work is its commitment to the persuasive power of statistical analysis, the fruits of which he invariably presents to his readers in a calm, reasonable tone, no matter how explosive their implications may be. In this respect, Murray's latest book, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, is entirely consistent with his earlier Losing Ground (1984) and The Bell Curve (1998), in which he sought to persuade skeptics to accept conclusions about, respectively, welfare and intelligence -testing that cut sharply against the grain of conventional wisdom.
In Human Accomplishment, Murray takes a similar tack, setting out to demonstrate that some artists and scientists are objectively better than others, and that their collective achievements can be both measured and subjected to meaningful statistical analysis...
Read the entire article on the Commentary Magazine website.