What was Ortega y Gassett's conception of mass society in Revolt of the Masses?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset is a seminal analysis of mass society for sociologists. In many ways, it represents an outgrowth of the medieval philosophical system of Averroes, an Islamic philosopher whose commentaries on Aristotle shaped the thought of many important medieval Latin thinkers including Abelard, who Ortega would have studied in his undergraduate work under the Jesuits. Like Matthew Arnold, a 19th century British author, who discusses Barbarians and Philistines in his important work, “Culture and Anarchy”, Ortega divides people into a passive mass who consume culture and have no aspirations beyond satisfaction of immediate desires (mass man, Philistines) and an elite who aspire to improve society and to attain general knowledge and understanding. According to Ortega, the problem with current society is that the rule of the elites has been replaced by rule of the masses, who do not think beyond satisfaction of immediate desires, and narrow technocrats, whose knowledge is too limited to be visionary or transformative. Thus the goals of the masses have begin to lead the direction of society, where they should follow.

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