On the Mass Man

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Reply Sun 23 Nov, 2008 11:15 pm
Quotes from Ortega's work pertaining to the masses and the mass man.


In short: the spirit of the time, being incapable of maintaining itself in equilibrium by its own unaided efforts, searches for some spar that will save it from the wreck, and examines its environment with the anxious and cringing look of a dog, hoping it may find someone to help it. The superstitious mind is, in effect, a dog in search of a master. Men cannot now even remember the noble gestures of pride they once assumed; and the imperative of liberty that resounded in their ears for centuries would now be totally incomprehensible. On the contrary, they feel an incredible anxiety to be slaves. Slavery is their highest ambition: slavery to other men, to an emperor, to a sorcerer or to an idol. Anything rather than feel the terror of facing singlehanded, in their own persons, the ferocious assaults of existence. (The Modern Theme 134)

It is neither important nor necessary that the component parts of a society coincide in their ideas and their desires; the important, the essential thing is that each should know, and to a certain extent incorporate in his own life, the ides and desires of the others. When this is lacking, the class or profession loses its sense of touch; it is not conscious of contact or pressure from other classes or professions; consequently it comes to believe that it exists by itself, that it is all there is, and is complete in itself. Such is class particularism, and it is a much more serious symptom of decomposition than are ethnic or territorial movements toward secession; because, as I have said, the classes and professions are parts of a whole in a much more fundamental sense than are the ethnic and political nuclei. (The Invertebrate Spain 44)

The mass is all that which sets no value on itself - good or ill - based on specific grounds, but which feels itself "just like everybody," and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite happy to feel itself as one with everybody else. Imagine a humble-minded man who, having tried to estimate his own worth on specific grounds - asking himself if he has any talent for this or that, if he excels in any direction - realizes that he possesses no quality of excellence. Such a man will feel that he is mediocre and commonplace, ill-gifted, but will not feel himself "mass." (Revolt of the Masses 14-15)

Everywhere there has arisen the mass-man, a type of man built hurriedly, mounted on a few poor abstractions and who is therefore identical from end of Europe to the other. To him is due the look of stifling monotony that life has begun to assume throughout the continent. He is a man emptied of his own history, with no inward past, and so given over to any so-called "international" discipline. He is less a man than the shell of one, made of plain idola fori: he has not insides, no inalienable privacy of his own, no irrevocable I." Consequently, he is always ready to play at being anything. He has only appetites, he believes that he has only rights and no obligations; he is a man without the imperative of nobility - sine nobilitate - the snob. (History as a System 56)

When a nation is in the ascendant, the masses feel themselves a mass, an anonymous collectivity which, loving its own unity, finds its symbol in certain chosen people on whom it pours out the vast store of its vital enthusiasm. Then it is said that "there are men." When a nation is declining, breaking up, falling victim to particularism, the masses do not want to be masses do not want to be masses. Every one of them fancies himself a personality fit to command, and, turning on his superior, pours out his hatred, his stupidity, and his envy. Then, to justify their blunders and quiet their deep remorse, the mass says, "There are no men." (The Invertebrate Spain 61)

In a nation, when the mass refuses to be a mass - that is to say, when it refuses to follow the directing minority - the nation goes to pieces, society is dismembered, and social chaos results. The people as a people are disarticulated and become invertebrate. (The Invertebrate Spain 63)

The first of all social acts is the organization of a human mass into those who lead and those who are led. This supposes in some a certain capacity to lead; in others, a certain ability to let themselves be led. Without a minority to act on a collective mass, and a mass which knows how to accept the influence of the minority, there is no society, or there will very shortly be none. (The Invertebrate Spain 65)

Periods of decadence are those in which the directing minority of a people - their aristocracy - have lost the very qualities of excellence which raised them to the rank of leaders. Against this corrupt and ineffective aristocracy the masses rebel, and justly. But then they begin to argue from the particular to the general, and try to make of their rebellion a rule of life. Instead of replacing the decadent aristocracy with another group of leaders who are more virtuous they try to do away with the whole aristocratic pattern. They come to believe that social existence is possible without a directing minority; even worse, they construct political and historical theories which offer as the ideal a society devoid of leaders. As such a thing is impossible, the nation goes faster and faster along its trajectory of decadence. Things get worse every day. The masses in the different social groups - the bourgeois one day, the military another, the proletariat a third - try one panacea and then another to bring about good government. Finally their own failure, brought about by their own experiments, makes them suspect, with al the force of a discovery, that matters are more complicated than they seem, and consequently that they are not the ones who are called upon to handle them. (The Invertebrate Spain 67-68)

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. (Revolt of the Masses 18)

The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated. And it is clear, of course, that this "everybody" is not "everybody." "Everybody" was normally the complex unity of the mass and the divergent, specialized minorities. Nowadays, "everybody" is the mass alone. Here we have the formidable fact of our times, described without any concealment of its features. (Revolt of the Masses 18)

This leads us to note down in our psychological chart of the mass-man of to-day two fundamental traits: the free expansion of his vital desires, and therefore, of his personality; and his radical ingratitude towards all that has made possible the ease of his existence. These traits together make up the well-known psychology of the spoilt child. And in fact it would entail no error to use this psychology as a "sight" through which to observe the soul of the masses of to-day. Heir to an ample and generous past - generous both in ideals and in activities - the new commonalty has been spoiled by the world around it. To spoil means to put no limit on caprice, to give one the impression that everything is permitted to him and that he has no obligations. The young child exposed to this regime has no experience of its own limits. By reason of the removal of all external restraint, all clashing with other things, he comes actually to believe that he is the only one that exists, and gets used to not considering others, especially not considering them as superior to himself. (Revolt of the Massesthe man we are now analysing accustoms himself not to appeal from his own to any authority outside him. He is satisfied with himself exactly as he is. Ingenuously, without any need of being vain, as the most natural thing in the world, he will tend to consider and affirm as good everything he finds within himself: opinions, appetites, preferences, tastes. Why not, if, as we have seen, nothing and nobody force him to realize that he is a second-class man, subject to many limitations, incapable of creating or conserving that very organization which gives his life the fullness and contentedness on which he bases this assertion of his personality? (The Revolt of the Masses 62)

Civilization has had to await the beginning of the twentieth century, to see the astounding spectacle of how brutal, how stupid, and yet how aggressive is the man learned in one thing and fundamentally ignorant of all else. (Mission of the University 61)
Reply Sun 1 Mar, 2009 09:25 pm
For Ortega's earliest comments on masses and minorities see "Philosophy of Law 101": http://www.philosophyforum.com/forum/philosophy-forums/branches-philosophy/philosophy-law/3754-philosophy-law-101-a.html

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