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Jose Ortega y Gassett, The Revolt of the Masses

Excerpts selected by ELLOPOS  - Complete text also available

Em. Macron, Rediscovering the Path to Europe
Em. Macron, Rediscovering the Path to Europe


    Public life is not solely political, but equally, and even primarily, intellectual, moral, economic, religious; ... To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. This is the sport, the luxury, special to the intellectual man. ... Everything in the world is strange and marvellous to well-open eyes. ...

The Crisis of the Mind

We modern civilisations have learned to recognise that we are mortal like the others. We had heard tell of whole worlds vanished, of empires foundered with all their men and all their engines, sunk to the inexplorable depths of the centuries with their gods and laws, their academies and their pure and applied sciences, their grammars, dictionaries, classics, romantics, symbolists, their critics and the critics of their critics. We knew that all the apparent earth is made of ashes, and that ashes have a meaning. We perceived, through the misty bulk of history, the phantoms of huge vessels once laden with riches and learning. We could not count them. But these wrecks, after all, were no concern of ours.

Edam, Nineveh, Babylon were vague and splendid names; the total ruin of these worlds, for us, meant as little as did their existence. But France, England, Russia, these names, too, are splendid. Lusitania is also a fine name. And now we see that the abyss of history is deep enough to bury the entire world. We feel that a civilisation is fragile as a life. The circumstances which will send the works of Keats and Baudelaire to join those of Menander (an ancient Greek poet whose works were lost until the 19th century) are not at all inconceivable; they are found in the daily papers.

Paul Valery, The Crisis of the Mind, 1919.  Cf. Valery, What is to Become of the European Spirit?

The mass is the average man ... man as undifferentiated from other men, but as repeating in himself a generic type ... 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 ... Their coincidence with the others who form the minority is, then, secondary, posterior to their having each adopted an attitude of singularity, and is consequently, to a large extent, a coincidence in not coinciding ... the mass, as a psychological fact, can be defined without waiting for individuals to appear in mass formation. In the presence of one individual we can decide whether he is "mass" or not. 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 ...

The triumph of the masses and the consequent magnificent uprising of the vital level have come about in Europe for internal reasons, after two centuries of education of the multitude towards progress and a parallel economic improvement in society ... from this standpoint, the uprising of the masses implies a fabulous increase of vital possibilities, quite the contrary of what we hear so often about the decadence of Europe ... we live at a time when man believes himself fabulously capable of creation, but he does not know what to create. Lord of all things, he is not lord of himself. He feels lost amid his own abundance. With more means at its disposal, more knowledge, more technique than ever, it turns out that the world to-day goes the same way as the worst of worlds that have been; it simply drifts.

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The Revolt of the Masses : Complete text

Cf.  David Turner, Byzantium : The 'alternative' history of Europe

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