This article traces a history of the literary critic and theorist Raymond Williams’s idea of the “structure of feeling”, the formation of which is situated within debates about the place of artistic and moral values in democratic politics during the 1940s and 1950s. It demonstrates that the “structure of feeling” was intended to circumvent an equation of collective normative legislation with totalitarianism in the early cultural Cold War, by conceiving the definition of values as a process upon which all individuals in a society were always, necessarily, engaged. In articulating this quasi-democratic account of the production of artistic and moral standards, Williams also sought to escape the various theories of “minority culture” that dominated literary and cultural criticism in mid-century Britain. However, his concept of the “structure of feeling” required him to maintain a privileged role for artistic and intellectual arbiters, which constrained his vision of a properly democratic culture. In conclusion, the article argues that the problem of “democratic values” that Williams addressed in his work of the 1950s was a major factor in the marginalization or exclusion of moral criticism from political argument in Britain after 1945, and suggests that this passage of intellectual history may therefore be of considerable importance to contemporary debates about the lineages and reform of, in a broad sense, neoliberal political economy.