Ortega and the Myth of the Mass

Many are inclined to give José Ortega y Gasset credit for prescience that he does not deserve.

Issue: Summer 1996

When H.G. Wells published The Shape of Things to Come in 1933 he
dedicated it to "José Ortega y Gasset, Explorador." Wells had been an
explorer of that other country, the future, since The Time Machine in
1895, and more seriously since Anticipations in 1901, and he
recognized a kindred speculator in Ortega, whose Revolt of the Masses
had appeared in English translation the year before.

The future that was forecast there would not have surprised Wells in
his more somber moments. Europe, said Ortega, was "suffering from the
greatest crisis that can afflict peoples, nations and civilizations",
namely "the accession of the masses to complete social power." He
explained, with "a shudder of horror" (Ortega's colorful Castilian
can sound embarrassingly overdone in English): "The element of terror
in the destiny of our time is furnished by the overwhelming and
violent moral upheaval of the masses; imposing, invincible and
treacherous, as is destiny in every case." And he prophesied: "If
that human type [mass-man] continues to be master in Europe, thirty
years will suffice to send our continent back to barbarism."

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