(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Dobson, Andrew. An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega y Gasset. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. An erudite, readable overview of Ortega y Gasset’s political and philosophical background. Chapter 5, “Nacionalización and Decentralisation,” and chapter 6, “Fascism?” are of particular interest to readers of The Revolt of the Masses.

Gonzalez, Pedro Blas. Human Existence as Radical Reality: Ortega y Gasset’s Philosophy of Subjectivity. St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House, 2005. Explains Ortega y Gasset’s innovative philosophical concepts, focusing on his ideas about human subjectivity. Chapter 6, “The Revolt of the Masses and the Nature of Mass Culture,” discusses this work.

_______. Ortega’s “The Revolt of the Masses” and the Triumph of the New Man. New York: Algora, 2007. Explicates the ideas set forth in the book, including Ortega y Gasset’s notions of mass man and noble man, subjectivity and mass culture, and mass man’s existential revolt and the future of human freedom. Includes a glossary of terms used in The Revolt of the Masses.

Gray, Rockwell. The Imperative of Modernity: An Intellectual Biography of José Ortega y Gasset. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. A study of the intellectual evolution of Ortega y Gasset. Chapter 5, “The Level of the Times: 1929-1930,” includes a discussion of the ideas in The Revolt of the Masses, arguing that the ideas are typical of European intellectuals during the period between the two world wars.

Lee, Donald C. “Ortega’s Revolting Masses: A Reinterpretation.” In Ortega y Gasset Centennial. Madrid: Ediciones José Porrúa Turanzas, 1985. Reevaluates Ortega’s work more than fifty years after its initial publication and applies its propositions to the late twentieth century. Expands upon Ortega y Gasset’s ideas about a united Europe.

Ouimette, Victor. José Ortega y Gasset. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Gives a succinct biography of Ortega y Gasset, including a synopsis of the social and political background of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Spain. Chapter 4, “Ratiovitalism,” includes a subsection devoted to The Revolt of the Masses.

Raley, Harold C. José Ortega y Gasset: Philosopher of European Unity. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1971. A study of Ortega y Gasset’s concept of European unity. The author considers this idea, an important one in The Revolt of the Masses, as integral to the development of the philosopher’s body of works.