The Coming of the Masses
I am reading Ortega y Gasset again – starting with his most famous book The Revolt of the Masses. This was published in Spanish in 1930, and in English in 1932. Again I am struck by the forcefulness of his writing and the originality of his ideas.
I have also been struck by how he has been ignored – the Existentialists ignored him entirely, and the only philosopher who took up his cause, Pedro Blas Gonzales, has tried to make him more respectable – and something else entirely.
I can only conclude that he has hit on a sore nerve, and along with much else, has been swept under the rug - denied, repressed and hidden in our collective unconscious.
Here is the opening paragraph of the book, in the chapter The Coming of the Masses:
There is one fact which, whether for good or ill, is of utmost importance in the public life of Europe at the present moment. This fact is the accession of the masses to complete power. As the masses, by definition, neither should or can direct their own personal existence, and still less rule society in general, this fact means that actually Europe is suffering from the greatest crisis can can afflict peoples, nations, and civilization.
Europe was in the process of succumbing to Fascism, and Nazism in particular. This was clearly the rise of the masses, although it was not recognized as such by the intellectuals of the time – or of any later time, including our own. These intellectuals instead proclaimed that any society was a good as any other – and that the intellectual elite should not force their standards on anyone else.
This is exactly what the masses wanted to hear. Maybe they were stupid, but what did that matter? In some strange way their stupidity was the ultimate wisdom.
The American political situation, which has become a grotesque comedy, can be easily understood as the masses in action. The masses took over in the 19th Century, and the results are now all around us.