The revolt of the masses and our ruling class

Jerry Pournelle quotes “The revolt of the masses” by Jose Ortega y Gasset:

Doubtless the most radical division of humanity that can be made is that between two classes of creatures: those who demand much of themselves and assume a burden of tasks and difficulties, and those who require nothing special of themselves, but rather for whom to live is to be in every instant only what they already are.

* * *

The mass-man would never have accepted authority external to himself had not his surroundings violently forced him to do so. As to-day, his surroundings do not so force him, the everlasting mass-man, true to his character, ceases to appeal to other authority and feels himself lord of his own existence. On the contrary the select man, the excellent man is urged, by interior necessity, to appeal from himself to some standard beyond himself, superior to himself, whose service he freely accepts.… Contrary to what is usually thought, it is the man of excellence, and not the common man who lives in essential servitude. Life has no savour for him unless he makes it consist in service to something transcendental. Hence he does not look upon the necessity of serving as an oppression. When, by chance, such necessity is lacking, he grows restless and invents some new standard, more difficult, more exigent, with which to coerce himself. This is life lived as a discipline — the noble life.

A superficial, out-of-context reading would make Ortega y Gasset seem like an elitist. However, Wikipedia (of all places) clarifies:

Ortega is throughout quite critical of both the masses and the mass-men of which they are made up, contrasting “noble life and common life” and excoriating the barbarism and primitivism he sees in the mass-man. He does not, however, refer to specific social classes, as has been so commonly misunderstood in the English-speaking world. Ortega states that the mass-man could be from any social background, but his specific target is the bourgeois educated man, the señorito satisfecho (satisfied young man or Mr. Satisfied), the specialist who believes he has it all and extends the command he has of his subject to others, contemptuous of his ignorance in all of them. His summary of what he attempted in the book exemplifies this quite well, while simultaneously providing the author’s own views on his work: “In this essay an attempt has been made to sketch a certain type of European, mainly by analyzing his behaviour as regards the very civilization into which he was born”. This had to be done because that individual “does not represent a new civilisation struggling with a previous one, but a mere negation …”

The members of the over-credentialed, under-educated US “elite” and commentariat fit the image of the señorito satisfecho to a tee.

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