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102 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating insights
A superbly written book, "The Revolt of the Masses" can be considered of limited value if one views it from a strictly historical perspective. True, Ortega y Gasset, writing in 1932, offered a clear and devastating critique of the tenets of fascism in particular and totalitarianism in general. He is particularly effective when he takes apart fascism's mystical...
Published on March 26, 2001 by Tyler Smith

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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the Dangers of Lives Without Purpose and the Masses Who Have Them!
In our egalitarian age, we often scoff at any arguments that contain words like 'superior,' 'inferior,' or extol the value of hierarchy. So, many will instinctively cringe at the elitism - and it is elitism - that Ortega y Gasset exhibits in Revolt of the Masses, which essentially warns that societies who don't realize how much their existence is predicated on hierarchy...
Published on November 30, 2011 by Kevin Currie-Knight


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102 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating insights, March 26, 2001
By 
Tyler Smith (Denver, CO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
A superbly written book, "The Revolt of the Masses" can be considered of limited value if one views it from a strictly historical perspective. True, Ortega y Gasset, writing in 1932, offered a clear and devastating critique of the tenets of fascism in particular and totalitarianism in general. He is particularly effective when he takes apart fascism's mystical elevation of race, blood and soil, arguing that the popular appeal to these factors was shallow, explained nothing about the process of nation-building, and was used only as a political expedient for the emerging dictatorships of Europe.
But one could argue that however effective his argument, Ortega y Gasset, a Spaniard, was in perfect position to critique fascism and its foibles, being able to observe it from a closer perspective than others. After all, the war for men's hearts and minds was fought out in no small part on Spanish soil in the '30s.
Ortega y Gasset was also not alone in critiquing the rise of mass man, which is the book's major point. Joseph Wood Krutch, for example, in "The Modern Temper" (an excellent companion to this book) had pointed out that the emergence of mass society and the development of technology had stripped away Man's sustaining illusions, at great cost.
"The Revolt of the Masses" decries the leveling of society that the author observes, and the reader is at first made uncomfortable by the argument. I found myself mentally attacking Ortega y Gasset's elitism. I nearly concluded that the book was simply an apologia for an anti-democratic bias and for those who would protect political power from seizure by the common man.
On further reflection, though, I concluded that Ortega y Gasset's argument is more complex and that the sustaining power of the book lies in its deeper layers of meaning. While he is certainly elitist, he glorifies the elites who invest in society and contribute to it, not those who simply hold onto power for its own sake and justify their hold by clinging to the past. In fact, he upholds republicanism as the most effective form of government -- and the one most difficult to sustain.
His strongest point -- and the one most important for the modern reader -- comes when he says that the mass of men have no appreciation for the labor required to build nations and societies and the commitment required to sustain them. He writes pessimistically that the mass man of his day had little or no appreciation for this effort and considered his place in the world to be justified, rather than earned.
This is an old-fashioned message, but in my opinion it was one that we do well to heed today. How many of us today consider our goods and services and access to intellectual and monetary capital -- much less our political rights -- as things that we must constantly struggle to preserve? How many of us take the time to consider the societies in which we live as dynamic, organic entities that must be studied and understood if we are to appreciate their worth? How often do we undertake even a cursory analysis of the routes we have taken to get to where we are today with an eye toward seriously reforming that which needs changed and preserving that which makes society strong?
Some might find the author's insistence that mass society must defer to a group of elites repugnant and of course if the idea is embraced simplistically it is just that. But if one is prodded by Ortega y Gasset's demand for a radical commitment to building society, he will quite possibly begin looking at his surroundings and the time in which he lives with a new appreciation and sense of urgency.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Coming of the Masses, December 29, 2006
This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
In this brief but sophisticated work, Jose Ortega y Gasset argues against the onslaught of the "mass-man" in social and political life. Who is this mass-man? The mass-man, Ortega argues, is a primitive man who makes use of all the products of modern civilization, but does not appreciate nor respect the superior intelligence and effort by the individuals who are responsible for their development. He takes it for granted that civilization is "just there" and has no appreciation for the intricate processes that are required in order to maintain it. The mass-man is content in his own mediocrity, and feels it unnecessary to strive toward excellence. This mass-man who once submitted to his superiors, now feels compelled to involve himself in everything and impose his will on everyone. This is often done through violence and is done without regard for rationality or reason. The mass-man is like a spoiled child who has taken over the household.

It seems that there have been a couple of different interpretations of this book by reviewers. Some have pointed to Ortega's elitism and contempt for mass-man as a sign of him being anti-democratic. And this certainly seems like a logical conclusion except for the fact that Ortega himself asserts that a liberal democracy is the ideal form of government! I was somewhat puzzled by this seemingly contradictory pronouncement myself. It seems to me that democracy inevitably leads to rule by the mass-man. After all, democracy literally means "rule by the people." Nevertheless, on page 76, Ortega writes:

"The political doctrine which has represented the loftiest endeavour towards common life is liberal democracy. It carries to the extreme the determination to have consideration for one's neighbor and is the prototype of 'indirect action.' Liberalism is that principle of political rights, according to which the public authority, in spite of being all-powerful, limits itself and attempts, even at its own expense, to leave room in the State over which it rules for those to live who neither think nor feel as it does, that is to say as do the stronger, the majority. Liberalism-it is well to recall today-is the supreme form of generosity; it is the right which the majority concedes to minorities and hence it is the noblest cry that has ever resounded on the planet."

Contrary to some other reviewers, I also found Ortega's philosophy to be very progressive. One of his main criticisms of mass-man is of his primitive and archaic way of thinking. He points out that movements like fascism and communism tend to look to some bygone glorious past as a model for government. He calls them a "monotonous repetition of the eternal revolution." Ortega instead urges us to look to the future, to persist in bettering ourselves, and maintain liberalism until it can be superseded by something better.

I found this book to be somewhat paradoxical. Although it seemed that some of the author's ideas contradicted each other, I still found it to be a very worthwhile and intriguing read. Although written in the 1930's, there is much in it that remains relevant today and I would not hesitate in recommending it. It is definitely intellectual candy for the political/philosophical mind.
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vastly important book, March 27, 2006
By 
Geoff Puterbaugh (Chiang Mai, T. Suthep, A. Muang Thailand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
"The Revolt of the Masses" has been, I think, continuously in print since 1930 for the simple reason that it's a very important book. Its main observation is hardly possible to deny: the vast increase in wealth caused by the Industrial Revolution empowered whole massive segments of society which had formerly been nearly invisible. And they all wanted to go to the beach and stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. So, way back in 1930, Ortega y Gasset was already noticing that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a place on the beach, or a room in a hotel, or a table in a restaurant. "Mass man" had arrived.

This book also contains a lot of commentary on the nature of mass man. For example: "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." In the 21st century, where "The Simpsons" are vastly popular, and it is suddenly fashionable to deny the very idea that a man should want to be a gentleman, the words ring true.

What is more interesting, perhaps, is to speculate on how the newly-arrived "mass man" went about the pursuit of political power. But that would be another book entirely.

This book, along with other fundamental books like "Human Action," should be a part of every thinking person's education. Of course, right now it's NOT, but I think we all have a pretty good idea why not.

Highest possible recommendation!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply put: one of the best books I've ever read, August 4, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
Ortega y Gasset had an uncanny understanding of the origins and dangers of modern mass movements. As some other reviewers have noted, this book was written in the early 30's in response to the fascist movements in Europe at the time. What is truly chilling is that, beyond predicting the unfortunate results of those fascist movements, the picture Ortega y Gasset paints of the "mass man" and how he is manipulated is still applicable to modern American marketing of both politicians and products. Like I said, one of the best books I've ever read.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shipwrecked, July 23, 2006
By 
Daniel Myers (Greenville, SC USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
What a muddle (most) reviewers have made of this book. I am reminded of De Tocqueville, whom all factions regard as "prescient" and appropriate him to their own positions. Let's get some facts straight, Gasset is a reactionary and an elitist, just as De Tocqueville was an aristocrat attempting to make sense of an alien American democracy. The difference is that De Tocqueville was only a reactionary in sentiment. He felt that democracy was inevitable. Not so Gasset, who believes that we MUST in some way turn back the clock. The ways he proposes that this might be done are, as another reviewer has noted, somewhat at odds with each other. So, perhaps, it's no great wonder that the reviews are muddled.

Gasset is an intellectual descendant of Nietzsche, believing in the noble man above the masses. And, truly, this book at its heart, is more about the aristocratic man, than the aristocratic society, which is merely a means to this end. And, Gasset asserts, a true "society" is aristocratic by definition. Otherwise, it's not a society. But, to return to Gasset's aristocratic or noble man, who is a spin-off of Nietzsche's notion of the artist hero. If we keep our eyes on this notion, the book is a harrowing and effective plea for his existence.

Unfortunately, Nietzsche came to America in the form of the distinctly middlebrow Ayn Rand, whose terrible writing and weighted, tendentious novels found a home in middlebrow America and started a harebrained literary tradition that continues this day. One of the longer-winded reviewers mentioned some of the most recently published books of this sort. Neither her character Howard Roark nor her vision of society: "A coal mine is more beautiful than Niagara Falls." - What twaddle - are at all what Nietzsche or Gasset has in mind. Oh well, one can't expect much from an author who can't spell her own name.

Look, here is the type of soul Gasset adores and admires and is terribly worried is becoming extinct:

"The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from those fantastic "ideas" and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. As this is the simple truth - that to live is to feel oneself lost - he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked." P.157

I have quoted at length because I believe this passage is at the root of what Gasset is all about here: The soul with a sense of the tragic inherent in life seeking from this existential shipwreck to wring his own foundered chaos of notions he calls himself is the essence of the noble, aristocratic artist-hero, to whom this book should have been dedicated. And, finally, perhaps Gasset was (sadly) right. The revolt of the masses and the engendering of their proclivities in what we would call a society leave no room for the preeminence of such a spirit.

Finally, if one wishes to read these ideas in the original, close thy Gasset and open Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital reading for the twentieth century, August 10, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
Clearly a work destined to resound through many generations, it is altogether too easy for us in our hindsight to nod and say "Yep, he sure had it pegged" regarding Gasset's analysis of fascist and nationalist movements. Yet we should really marvel at the audicity and strength of intellect it takes to make such bold arguments at a time of colossal upheaval in Europe. He writes in a seductive style fusing metaphysics and social commentary that is a joy to read. Still, it is dangerous to suspend our critical faculties in the presence of any writer, though he be (or maybe just because he is) a master of language. Gasset's values are clearly those of the educated elite of his time, and in my humble opinion many of these are self-contradictory, if not hypocritical: While decrying the "mass-man" born into the priviledges and luxuries wrought by the pioneers of liberal democracy in the 18th and 19th century, he waxes nostalgic in an almost romantic way for the soveignity of a long-gone nobility similar to Plato's concept of the Philosopher King. He also takes as a given the cultural superiority of Europe in general, making a strong argument for it as the apex of civilization. Albiet he does take great pains to dispel the modern notion of the nation-state based on language, history or natural boundaries. While I don't intend to open up that Pandora's box here, readers should keep in mind how such ideas and statements regarding Europes' (and her particular peoples) golden age have been (past and present) misused and distorted into racial theories with dire consequences. Gasset frequently makes reference to Spengler, a historical theorist who's vast scope and poetic breadth is not quite matched by his grasp of historical detail. Not that I claim to be able to do better than DECLINE OF THE WEST, but the resources available to the writer of historiography today is much more accessible, accurate and updated than it was in the days of Toynbee, Spengler, and yes Gassett. I guess it takes the boldest thinkers to make grand sweeping statements about the direction of historical currents, the decline of civilizations, and so on. But I find them more gratifying in the general than in the specific.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pre-Disney Wake Up Call, June 18, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
This book was originally published, I believe, in the 1930's. It is a work of extraordinary prescience, the full import of which will continue to be measured well into future ages. Against the backdrop of the overthrow of Old World civilization, the author, a Spanish philosopher, describes the Revolt of the Masses. "Mass man," the principal representative of the modern superstate, is an inert, unthinking being hostile to the finer creations of aristocratic culture and easy prey for demagogues of every political persuasion. He is characterized by passivity, an appetite for entertainment and spectacles, and a hostility toward the sensitivity, discipline and training that are necessary prerequisites to aristocratic culture. We are all "mass men." This book is a compelling starting point in any inquiry into the cultural decline of modern democratic civilization
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the Dangers of Lives Without Purpose and the Masses Who Have Them!, November 30, 2011
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This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
In our egalitarian age, we often scoff at any arguments that contain words like 'superior,' 'inferior,' or extol the value of hierarchy. So, many will instinctively cringe at the elitism - and it is elitism - that Ortega y Gasset exhibits in Revolt of the Masses, which essentially warns that societies who don't realize how much their existence is predicated on hierarchy of superiors to inferiors will become directionless and cease to exhibit excellence. But I hope those readers stick around, because there is more here than our egalitarian gut reactions can capture.

Ortega starts off by defining what he means by 'mass man' and how he is different from the exceptional men. Mass men are those who are content where they are, have opinions but seldom really think and reflect, have no conception of themselves as creatures bounded in a a place, a time, and various social roles, and, in a sense, are simply directionless. Compare these to the exceptional people, those who live life with a sense of purpose (that has little or nothing to do with hedonistic egoism), strive for greatness, and have the thoughtfulness to 'make things happen.'

Written in 1932, Ortega is concerned that several European countries are falling for doctrines like fascism and socialism that put most of their emphasis on 'mass man' rather than appreciating that civilization owes its existence, upkeep, and progress to the exceptional. Ortega is not advocating hereditary rule (has exceptionality is something deserved and earned, not inherited). But Ortega's concern - preficuring Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy: Third Edition) is that the very processes that led to an improvement in everyone's conditions (presumably capitalism) was leading to its own destruction, by deluding the mass man into thinking that material comforts and abundance are just a naturally existing part of the world's fabric. Thus, the masses demand a certain easiness of condition that, in reality, must be worked for, and lack any appreciation that the very exceptional people they demean are the ones largely responsible for material comfort and abundance in the first place.

Ortega is generally labeled a conservative, and I think this is somewhat accurate, though it would not be a stretch to call him a classical liberal either. Like conservatives in the vein of Burke and Oakeshott, Ortega displays a fierce disdain for ahistorical and rationalistic approaches to social thought - approaches that do not pay careful attention to the present as a contingent outcome of specific historical circumstances, or attempts to 'make the world over' as if we can deduce the proper first principles from pure reason rather than close historical study. In the vein of conservatism (a la Kenneth Minogue's Liberal Mind, The), Ortega also suggests that a world where persons no longer act according to their roles in social hierarchies is a world that quickly leads to narcissism, hedonism, and directionlessness. For Ortega, one finds the most purpose in life when one sees oneself as bounded by place, time, existing social roles, and purposes OTHER THAN simple egoistic pleasure.

For my money, I agree with Ortega on a good many things. His bemoaning of the purposelessness (and, because of that, the stupidity) he finds in the mass man can in many ways be read as a critique of modernism, where many people's primary goal is to keep up with everyone else and live for distraction (as opposed to purpose). Ortega's suggestion that the 'revolt of the masses' will lead to an ever-increasing egalitarianism that seeks to remove any whiff of tradition and (legitimately arising) hierarchy may also be playing out to various degrees.

I have a few problems with this work, though, particularly owing to the author's oscillation between suggesting that he doesn't believe in historical determinism and reminding us that we must each fulfill our destiny. I've read and reread sections of the book, but do not see how the author can be interpreted as not contradicting himself (or what he means by 'destiny'). Also, the final chapter of the book (which many consider the best) is, to me, a very rhetorical jeremiad where Ortega obsesses over the thought that, in the future, Europe might not 'rule the world.' I simply hope this was not the primary impetus for writing the book, because if 'mass' is code for 'non-European' and 'superior' and 'excellent' are codes for 'European,' then a very interesting book becomes a mighty shallow one. (I personally read the book as if that chapter was simply a postscript.)

Interesting read here, particularly for our egalitarian ears. Ortega's ideas may strike some as quaint or outmoded. But if one looks close, Ortega is, at least in some ways, writing about what we've become.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Revolt of the Mass, March 10, 2004
The first thing I should say is that this is not light reading. With that said, read it anyway. Gasset wrote something as contemporary today as it was in the 1920s and 30s. Operating on the premise that we have seen since Thucydides, that the mass of citizens, when unchecked does damage, does not consider the consequences of its actions, its demands, its lifestyle without understanding or thinking about the system of civilisation which makes their relatively free and prosperous lives possible.
"It is false to say that history cannot be foretold," says Ortega. Obviously, since this book is equally prescient about the Fascist rallies of the 1930s and the youth rebellion of the 1960s. Perhaps in light of the 20th Century, we should look back at this philosopher from its dawn and see that Gasset saw the fundamental problem of the next century (incorporating the majority into the political and cultural realms when they had been absent throughout history) and we failed to listen to his warning.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uniformity is good, all else should be suppressed ????, May 23, 2004
This review is from: The Revolt of the Masses (Paperback)
Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) was a well-known Spanish philosopher, and this is one of his best books. He wrote "The revolt of the masses" in 1930, but that book is still very useful to analyze reality in many countries, despite the fact that the author intended to study only the situation in Europe...

What is the subject of this book?. Well, the subject is the advent to power in Europe of what he calls the mass-men, who, according to him, are characterized by being just like everybody else. The mass-men have always existed, but whereas in the past they allowed the men of excellence to direct society, now they claim all the power. Ortega y Gasset says that what is new 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". Thus, the mass-men claim that everything that is different needs to be crushed: uniformity is good, all else should be suppressed.

But are the mass-men capable of leading society?. According to the author, they are not. He displays an enormous amount of elitism when he affirms that the culture of the mass-man isn?t true culture, because there isn?t culture where there are no standards to which anybody can make an appeal. He gives an example of the modern mass-man when he points out what was happening then under Fascism, due to the fact that "there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions".

Ortega says that the way the mass-man behaves in public life arises from his psychological structure. Each mass-man considers "his moral and intellectual endowment as excellent, complete". As a result, he doesn?t listen to others, and will try to impose his point of view on everything. Does that sound familiar to you?. Ortega was talking about something that was happening in the 1930?s, but...couldn?t what he said also be applied to some of the things that happen nowadays?.

I really liked this book, despite the fact that I certainly do not agree with everything that the author wrote. For example, I think that everybody can learn if they want to do so, and that elitism isn?t the way to change things. However, I think that Ortega noticed a danger that was present in his society, and that we still have in ours: lack of communication, and a tendence to impose opinions on others. In this review I have only made a few remarks regarding some of the points Ortega y Gasset discusses in "The revolt of the masses". Notwithstanding that, you will find that he talks about much more.

All in all, I highly recommend "The revolt of the masses"... You might not agree with the author, but you need to read the book :)

Belen Alcat
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The Revolt of the Masses
The Revolt of the Masses by Jose OrtegaYGasset (Paperback - February 17, 1994)
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