The Revolt of the Masses had its seeds in an earlier book by José Ortega y Gasset, España invertebrada (1922; Invertebrate Spain, 1937), in an article titled “Masas” (1926), and several lectures delivered in Argentina in 1928. As he wrote in a footnote to the title of the first chapter, “My purpose now is to collect and complete what I have already said, and so to produce an organic document concerning the most important fact of our time.” In The Revolt of the Masses, Ortega y Gasset advocates a European confederation with judicial and political unity, an “integration, not a lamination,” of nations, ultranational rather than international, where a new liberalism and a totalitarian form will each correct the excesses of the other. The resulting equilibrium, he promises, would produce a new faith.
Among the few Spanish authors of the modern era known beyond his national boundaries, Ortega y Gasset, a professor of metaphysics, a literary critic, and a journalist, also was a representative of the school that believes in the rule of an intellectual aristocracy or small group of superior minds, not the privileged caste of the old feudal nobility. Born in Madrid, Ortega y Gasset sought in Málaga the thorough training of a Jesuit college, then earned his doctorate in philosophy at the Central University of Madrid in 1904. Further study in Germany preceded his teaching career in Madrid. When Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja became dictator, overthrowing the monarchy, Ortega y Gasset, a critic of the monarchy, stopped teaching and began to write for the influential El Sol. In 1923, he founded the Revista de Occidente, the leading Spanish intellectual publication until 1936. The ascendancy of another dictator, Francisco Franco, led to Ortega y Gasset’s leaving Spain. Ortega y Gasset traveled widely, lecturing in Buenos Aires, Paris, and the United States. Returning to Spain in 1945, he died in Madrid in 1955.
In the final paragraph to The Revolt of the Masses, Ortega y Gasset acknowledges that his contemporary situation results from basic defects in European culture, but he postpones any consideration of that problem, and so the work is incomplete. However, for the Buenos Aires edition of 1938, Ortega y Gasset added a prologue for French readers and an epilogue for English readers, in which he denies the accusation that his theme was the decadence of Spain since 1580. He is no pessimist. While he does look back, he insists that a return to the past is impossible. Stressing the advances and improvements of the twentieth century, he asserts that if anything superior is eventually evolved, it will be based on technical knowledge and liberal democracy.
Ortega y Gasset’s main thesis is that among human beings there are two types of individuals: the excellent or superior man (or woman), who makes demands on himself, and the common man, who is content with who he is. The development and activities of these types are shown against the perspective of Western history. Greece and Rome evolved from rural communities and became cities. The ancients, concerned with their past, were unconscious of a future. Gradually the state came into existence, built in the Middle Ages by the feudal nobles. The state was relatively small. Ortega y...
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