The dominant ideology of a society is the collection of values, attitudes, and beliefs that shape the way it views reality. However, sociologists argue that the dominant ideology is only one of a multitude of ideologies at play and that its preeminence is the only aspect that distinguishes it from other competing viewpoints.
Sociologists differ on how the dominant ideology manifests itself. Theorists influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels maintain that the dominant ideology always represents the interests of the ruling class over the workers. For example, the ideology of ancient Egypt that represented the pharaoh as a living god and therefore infallible clearly expressed the interests of the pharaoh, his dynasty, and his entourage. The dominant ideology of bourgeois capitalism functions the same way.
There are two ways by which the dominant ideology is perpetuated, according to Marx.
- Intentional propagation is the work of cultural elites within the ruling class: its writers and intellectuals, who then use mass media to disseminate their ideas.
- Spontaneous propagations happen when the mass media environment is so total in its efficacy that its basic tenets are unquestioned. Self-censorship among knowledge workers, artists, and others ensures that the dominant ideology is unchallenged and the status quo remains
Of course, Marx and Engels predicted that revolutionary consciousness would sweep away such ideologies that kept power from the masses. For example, unionizing and collective actions would upset the world views propagated by the dominant ideology, as these are representations of a working-class ideology.