“The Revolt of the Masses” is an extraordinary book about our arriving ordeal and why it has come. Written in 1932, it is as prescient now (perhaps more so) than when it was written; for the arc of history is long, spanning multiple generations, and those who see the deconstruction of civilization from a perch far above and behind should be listened to as one by one the pillars they pointed to fall. In the book Jose Ortega y Gasset dissects in acerbic and often bitter fashion the problem with the modern times and what the arrival of our post-modern “mass men” are doing to governance, culture and finally the civilizations which created them. “Today we are witnessing the triumphs of a hyperdemocracy in which the mass acts directly, outside the law, imposing its aspirations and its desires by means of material pressure. (…) the mass believes that it has the right to impose and to give force of law to notions born in a café. (…) The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.”
Ouch. But let me ask you, those of you who have been on Twitter and Facebook (I no longer am, not being willing to participate in the soul-crushing ‘debates’ of the mass-men) if you have not in fact experienced this yourself? If you have not been confronted by the mass-man and come to realize that, “Once for all, he accepts the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within his mind, and with a boldness only explicable by his ingenuousness, is prepared to impose them everywhere”. Through violence. The mass-man knows only violence. “Today (…) the average man (…) has lost the use of his hearing. Why should he listen if he has within himself all that is necessary? There is no reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pronouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning public life, in which he does not intervene, blind and deaf as he is, imposing is ‘opinions’.”
All this is the most dangerous when the average man takes his technical knowledge bereft of history and civilization to build his extremely efficient state, as modern states have become. Bereft of ideas, they are now only the terrifying vehicles of the violence of the mass-man to enact his ideas and destroy those who disagree. “Is the paradoxical, tragic process of Statism now realized? Society, that it may live better, creates the State as an instrument. Then the state gets the upper hand and society has to begin to live for the State. But for all that the state is still composed of the members of that society. (…) This is what State intervention leads to: the people are converted into fuel to feed the mere machine which is the State. The skeleton eats up the flesh around it. The scaffolding becomes the owner and tenant of the house.”
So what to do? “There is no hope for Europe unless its destiny is placed in the hands of men really ‘contemporaneous,’ men who feel palpitating beneath them the whole subsoil of history, who realize the present level of existence, and abhor every archaic and primitive attitude. We have need of history in its entirety, not to fall back into it, but to see if we can escape from it.” We should all read and reread this book as we who seek out the past become the last guardians of our civilizations; lest we lose them finally and viciously to the common men.