The Revolt of the Masses JOSE ORTEGA Y GASSET THE REVOLT OF THE MASSES AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION FROM THE SPANISH W □ W □ NORTON. José Ortega Y. Gasset The Dissection of the Mass-Man Begins 7. Why the Masses Intervene in Everything, and Why Their Intervention is Solely by Violence . SUMMARY OF THE BOOK THE REVOLT OF THE MASSES BY JOSE ORTEGA Y GASSET CHAPTER 1 THE COMING OF THE MASSES In this chapter, Jose.

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Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. My purpose now is to collect and complete jowe I have already said, so as to produce an organic doctrine concerning the most important fact of our time. T The Revolt of the Masses 1 The Coming of the Masses There is one fact which, whether for good masdes ill, b of utmost importance in the public life of Europe at the present moment.

This fact is the accession of the masses to complete social power. So also is its name. It is called orteag rebellion of the masses. Pub- lic life is not solely political, but equally, and even pri- marily, intellectual, morale economic, religious; it com- prises all our collective habits, including our fashions both of dress and of amusement.

This fact is quite simple to enun- ciate, though not so to analyse.

The Revolt of the Masses

What previously was, in general, no problem, now begins to be an everyday one, namely, to find room. Can there be any fact simpler, more patent, more constant in actual life? Let us now pierce the plain surface of this observation and we shall be surprised to see how there wells forth an unexpected spring in which the white light of day, of our actual day, is broken up into its rich chromatic content.

What is it that we see, and the sight of which causes us so much surprise? We see the multitude, as such, in possession of the places and the instruments created by civilisation.

The slightest re- flection wall then make us surprised at our own surprise. Is this not the ideal state of things? The theatre has seats to be occupied — in other words, so that the house may be full— and now they are overflowings people anxious to use them are left standing outside. Though the fact be quite logical and natural, we cannot but recognise that this did not happen before and that now it does; consequently, there has been a change, an innovation, which justifies, at least for the first moment, our surprise.

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand.

This is the sport, the luxury, special to the intellectual man. The gesture characteristic of his tribe consists in looking at the world with eyes wide open in wonder.

Everything in the world is strange and marvellous to well-open eyes. His special at- tribute is the wonder of the eyes. Hence it was that the ancients gave Minerva her owl, the bird with ever-dazzled eyes. Agglomeration, fullness, was not frequent before. The components of the multitudes around us have not sprung from nothing. Approximately the same number of people existed fifteen years ago.

Indeed, after the war it might seem natural that their number should be less. Nevertheless, it is here we come up against the first important point. The individuals who made up these multitudes existed, but not qua multitude. Scattered about the world in small groups, or solitary, they lived a life, to all appearances, divergent, dissociate, apart.

Each individual or small group occupied a place, its own, in country, village, town, or quarter of the great city. Now, suddenly, they appear as an agglomeration, and looking in any direction our eyes meet with the multitudes.

Not only in any direction, but precisely in the best places, the relatively refined creation of human culture, previously reserved to lesser groups, in a word, to minorities. The multitude has suddenly become visible, installing itself in the preferential positions in society. Before, if it existed, it passed unnoticed, occupying the background of the social stage; now it has advanced to the footlights and is the principal character. Without changing its nature, let us translate it into terms of sociology.

The minorities are individuals or groups of individuals which are specially qualified.

The mass is the assemblage of persons not spe- cially qualified. In this way what was mere quantity — the multitude — is converted into a qualitative determina- tion: It is evi- dent to the verge of platitude that the normal formation of a multitude implies the coincidence of desires, ideas, ways of ov, in the individuals w T ho constitute it. It will be objected that this is just what happens with every social group, however select revoltt may strive to be.


This is true; but there is an essential difference. In those groups which are characterised by not being multitude and mass, the effective coincidence of its members is based on some desire, idea, or ideal, which of itself excludes the great number. To form a minority, of whatever massds, it is neces- sary beforehand that each member separate himself from the multitude for specialrelatively personal, reasons.

There are cases in which this singuiarising character of the group appears in the light of day: This coming to- gether of the minority precisely in order to separate them- selves from the majority is a necessary ingredient in the formation of every minority.

Speaking of the limited pub- lic which listened to a massew of refinement, Mallarme wittily says that this public by its presence in small num- bers stressed the absence of the multitude. Strictly speaking, the mass, as a psychological fact, can be defined without waiting for individuals to appear in mass formation. 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— realises that he possesses no quality of excellence.

For there is no doubt that the most radical di- vision that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: This reminds me that orthodox Buddhism is com- posed of two distinct religions: But, strictly speaking, within both these social classes, there are to be found mass and genuine minority. As we shall see, a characteristic of our times is the pre- dominance, even in groups traditionally selective, of the mass and the vulgar.

Thus, masse the intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellec- tual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and, by their very mental texture, disqualified. Previously these tne activities were exercised by qualified minorities, or at least by those w r kose claimed such qualification. The mass asserted no right to pf in them; they realised that if they wished to intervene they would necessarily have to ac- quire those special qualities and cease being mere mass.

They recognised their place in a healthy dynamic social system. If we now revert to the facts indicated at the start, they will appear clearly as the heralds of a changed attitude in the mass.

Thus — to anticipate what we shall see later — 1 be- lieve that the political Innovations of recent times signify frothing than the political domination of the masfes. By serving these principles the individual bound himself to maintain a severe discipline over himself. Under the shelter of liberal principles and the rule of law, minorities could live and act. Democracy and law — life in common under the law — w’ere synonymous. To-day we are witnessing the tri- umphs of a hyper democracy in which the mass acts di- rectly, outside the law, imposing its aspirations and its desires by means of material pressure, It is a false inter- pretation of the new situation to say that the mass has grown tired of politics and handed over the exercise of it to specialised persons.

The mass took it for granted that after all, in spite of their defects and weaknesses, the minorities understood a little more of public problems than it did itself.

That is why I speak of hyper democracy. If the individuals who make up the mass be- lieved themselves specially qualified, it would be a case merely of personal error, not a sociological subversion. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like every- body, runs the risk of being eliminated.

It is, furthermore, entirely new in the history of our modern civilisation. Never, in the course of its develop- ment, has anything similar happened. Now, ticket in hand, I can cheerfully enter into my sub- ‘The tragic thing about this process is that while these agglomera- tions were in formation there was beginning that depopulation of the countryside which was to result in an absolute decrease of the number of Inhabitants in the Empire.

Or perhaps it was thought that 1 was going to be satisfied with that description, possibly exact, but quite external ; the ortfga features, the aspect under w r hich this tremendous fact presents itself when looked at from the view-point of the past?


Ortega y Gasset’s “Revolt of the Masses” ()

If I w r ere to leave the matter here and strangle off my present essay without more ado, the reader w T ould be left think- ing, and quite justly, that this fabulous uprising of the masses above the surface of history inspired me merely with a few petulant, disdainful wmrds, a certain amount of hatred and a certain amount of rotega, This all the more in my case, w hen it is well known that I uphold a radically aristocratic interpretation of history.

What 1 have said, and still believe with ever-increasing conviction, is that human society is always, whether it will or no, aris- tocratic by its very essence, to the extreme that it is a society in the measure that it is aristocratic, and ceases to be such when it ceases to be aristocratic.

Of course I am spealdng now of society and not of the State. No one can imagine that, in the face of this fabulous seething of the masses, it is the aristocratic attitude to be satisfied with making a supercilious grimace, like a fine gentleman of Versailles. Vers ail les—the Versailles of the grimaces — does not represent aristocracy; quite the ogtega, it is the death and dissolution of a magnificent aristocracy.

For this reason, the only clement of aristocracy left in such beings was the dignified grace with which their necks received the attentions of the guillotine- they ac- cepted it as the tumour accepts the lancet. No; for any- one who has a sense of the real mission of aristocracies, the spectacle of the mass incites and enflames him T as the sight of virgin marble does the sculptor.

I should have no objection to dis- cussing the meaning that lies in this smart world, to all appearance so meaningless, but our subject is now one of greater proportions. Whoever has not felt the danger of our times palpitating under his hand, has not really penetrated to the vitals of destiny, he has merely pricked its surface.

The element of terror in the destiny of our time is furnished by the overwhelm- ing and violent moral upheaval of the masses; imposing, invincible, and treacherous, as is destiny In every case. Whither is it leading us? Is it an absolute evil or a pos- sible good? The fact that we must submit to examination may be formulated under two headings: They feel appetites and needs which were previously looked upon as refine- ments, inasmuch as they w r ere the patrimony of the few.

Take a trivial example: But furthermore, the masses to-day are acquainted w’ith, and use with relative skill, many of the technical accomplishments previously con- fined to specialised individuals. And this refers not only to the technique of material objects, but, more impor- tant, to that of laws and society. In the XVIIlth Century, certain minority groups discovered that every human be- ing, by the mere fact of birth, and without requiring an y Ion wh atsoever, possessed certain funda- L ights, the so-called rights of the man and the citizen; and further that, strictly spe along, these rights, common to all, are the only ones that exist Jl Every other right attached to special gifts was con- demned as being a privilege.

The sovereignty of the unqualified indi- 1 vidua! The prestige and the magic that are attributes of the ideal are volatilised. Well, that is now accomplished. Why, then, these complaints of the liberals, the democrats, the pro- gressives of thirty years ago? You want the ordinary man to be master.

To-day we find them taking up their abode in the ordinary man, in the mass. The situation, then, is this: Now the average man represents the field over w hich the history of each period ortfga he is to history wffiat sea- level is to geography. If, therefore, to-day the mean-level lies at a point previously only reached by aristocracies, the signification of this is simply that the level of history has suddenly risen— after long mwsses preparations, ir is true — but now quite plainly to the eyes, suddenly, at a bound, in one generation.

Human life taken as a whole has mounted higher.