The Revolt of the Masses

literary work

The Revolt of the Masses is the English translation of José Ortega y Gasset's La rebelión de las masas. The Spanish original was first published as a series of articles in the newspaper El Sol in 1929.

The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.


  • Everything in the world is strange and marvelous to well-open eyes. This faculty of wonder … is the one which leads the intellectual man through life in the perpetual ecstasy of the visionary.
    • p. 12
  • The mass is all that which sets no value on itself—good or ill—based on specific grounds, but which feels itself “just like everybody,” and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite happy to feel itself as one with everybody else.
    • p. 15
  • The select man is not the petulant person who thinks himself superior to the rest, but the man who demands more of himself than the rest.
    • p. 15
  • The most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection, mere buoys that float on the waves.
    • p. 15
  • The division of society into masses and select minorities is, then, not a division into social classes, but into classes of men, and cannot coincide with the hierarchic separation of “upper” and “lower” classes. It is, of course, plain that in these “upper” classes, when and as long as they really are so, there is much more likelihood of finding men who adopt the “great vehicle,” whereas the “lower” classes normally comprise individuals of minus quality. But, strictly speaking, within both of these social classes, there are to be found mass and genuine minority.
    • p. 15
  • A characteristic of our times is the predominance, even in groups traditionally selective, of the mass and the vulgar. Thus, in the intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and, by their very mental texture, disqualified. Similarly, in the surviving groups of the “nobility,” male and female. On the other hand, it is not rare to find today amongst working men, who before might be taken as the best example of what we are calling “mass,” nobly disciplined minds.
    • p. 16
  • There exist, then, in society, operations, activities, and functions of the most diverse order, which are of their very nature special, and which consequently cannot be properly carried out without special gifts. For example: certain pleasures of an artistic and refined character, or again the functions of government and of political judgment in public affairs. Previously these special activities were exercised by qualified minorities, or at least by those who claimed such qualification. The mass asserted no right to intervene in them; they realized that if they wished to intervene they would necessarily have to acquire those special qualities and cease being mere mass.
    • p. 16
  • Today we are witnessing the triumph of a hyperdemocracy in which the mass acts directly, outside the law, imposing its aspirations and its desires by means of material pressure.
    • p. 17
  • The present-day writer, when he takes his pen in hand to treat a subject which he has studied deeply, has to bear in mind that the average reader, who has never concerned himself with this subject, if he reads does so with the view, not of learning something from the writer, but rather, of pronouncing judgment on him when he is not in agreement with the commonplaces that the said reader carries in his head. If the individuals who make up the mass believed themselves specially qualified, it would be a case merely of personal error, not a sociological subversion. The characteristic of the hour 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.
    • p. 18
  • The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.
    • p. 18
  • The average type of European at present possesses a soul, healthier and stronger it is true than those of the last century, but much more simple. Hence, at times he leaves the impression of a primitive man suddenly risen in the midst of a very old civilization. In the schools, which were such a source of pride in the last century, it has been impossible to do more than instruct the masses in the technique of modern life; it has been found impossible to educate them. They … have been hurriedly inoculated with the pride and power of modern instruments, but not with their spirit.
    • p. 51
  • There are few men who doubt that motorcars will in five years’ time be more comfortable and cheaper than today. They believe in this as they believe the sun will rise in the morning. The metaphor is an exact one. For, in fact, the common man, finding himself in a world so excellent, technically and socially, believes that it has been produced by nature, and never thinks of the personal efforts of highly-endowed individuals which the creation of this new world presupposed. Still less will he admit the notion that all these facilities still require the support of certain difficult virtues, the least failure of which would cause the rapid disappearance of the whole magnificent edifice.
    • p. 58
  • That man is intellectually of the mass who, in the face of any problem, is satisfied with thinking the first thing he finds in his head. On the contrary, the excellent man is he who condemns what he finds in his mind without previous effort, and only accepts as worthy of him what is still far above him and what requires a further effort in order to be reached.
    • p. 63
  • For me, then, nobility is synonymous with a life of effort, ever set on excelling oneself, in passing beyond what one is to what one sets up as a duty and an obligation. In this way the noble life stands opposed to the common or inert life, which reclines statically upon itself, condemned to perpetual immobility, unless an external force compels it to come out of itself. Hence we apply the term mass to this kind of man—not so much because of his multitude as because of his inertia.
    • p. 65
  • As one advances in life, one realizes more and more that the majority of men—and of women—are incapable of any other effort than that strictly imposed on them as a reaction to external compulsion. And for that reason, the few individuals we have come across who are capable of a spontaneous and joyous effort stand out isolated, monumentalized, so to speak, in our experience. These are the select men, the nobles, the only ones who are active and not merely reactive, for whom life is a perpetual striving, an incessant course of training.
    • p. 65
  • The individual finds himself already with a stock of ideas. He decides to content himself with them and to consider himself intellectually complete. As he feels the lack of nothing outside himself, he settles down definitely amid his mental furniture. Such is the mechanism of self-obliteration.
    • p. 69
  • The man of sense … is constantly catching himself within an inch of being a fool; hence he makes an effort to escape from the imminent folly, and in that effort lies his intelligence. The fool, on the other hand, does not suspect himself; he thinks himself the most prudent of men, hence the enviable tranquility with which the fool settles down, installs himself with his own folly.
    • p. 69
  • There is no way of dislodging the fool from his folly, to take him away for a while from his blind state and to force him to contrast his own dull vision with other keener forms of sight. The fool is a fool for life; he is devoid of pores.
    • p. 70
  • The mass man … accepts the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled within his mind, and with a boldness only explicable by his ingenuousness, is prepared to impose them everywhere.
    • p. 70
  • It is painful to hear relatively cultured people speak concerning the most elementary problems of the day. They seem like rough farmhands trying with thick, clumsy fingers to pick up a needle lying on a table.
    • p. 91
  • When by 1890 a third generation assumes intellectual command in Europe we meet with a type of scientist unparalleled in history. He is one who, out of all that has to be known in order to be a man of judgment, is only acquainted with one science, and even of that one only knows the small corner in which he is an active investigator. He even proclaims it as a virtue that he takes no cognizance of what lies outside the narrow territory specially cultivated by himself, and gives the name of “dilettantism” to any curiosity for the general scheme of knowledge.
    • p. 110
  • Experimental science has progressed thanks in great part to the work of men astoundingly mediocre … to obtain quite abundant results it is not even necessary to have rigorous notions of their meaning and foundations.
    • p. 111
  • Previously men could be divided into the learned and the unlearned, … But your specialist cannot be brought in under either of these categories … We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned.
    • p. 112
  • This is the gravest danger that today threatens civilization: state intervention.
    • p. 120
  • The majority of men have no opinions, and these have to be pumped into them from outside, like lubricants into machinery.
    • p. 128
  • This degradation is nothing else than the acceptance, as a normal, constituted condition, of an irregularity, of something which, though accepted, is still regarded as not right. As it is impossible to change into healthy normality what is of its essence unhealthy and abnormal,. the individual decides to adapt himself to the thing that is wrong, making himself part of the crime of irregularity. It is a mechanism similar to that indicated by the popular saying, “One lie make a hundred.”
    • p. 140
  • The apparent egoism of great nations and great men is the inevitable sternness with which anyone who has his life fixed on some undertaking must bear himself. When we are really going to do something and have dedicated ourselves to a purpose, we cannot be expected to be ready at hand to look after every passer-by and to lend ourselves to every chance display of altruism.
    • p. 143
  • A creative life implies a regime of strict mental health, of high conduct, of constant stimulus, which keep active the consciousness of man’s dignity.
    • p. 144
  • A creative life is an energetic life, and this is only possible in one or the other of these two situations: either being the one who rules, or finding oneself placed in a world which is ruled by someone in whom we recognize full right to such a function: either I rule or I obey. By obedience I do not mean mere submission—this is degradation—but on the contrary, respect for the ruler and acceptance of his leadership, solidarity with him, and enthusiastic enrollment under his banner.
    • p. 144
  • Take stock of those around you and you will see them wandering about lost through life, like sleep-walkers in the midst of their good or evil fortune, without the slightest suspicion of what is happening to them. You will hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas on the matter. But start to analyze those ideas and you will find they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of reality, of his own very life. For life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality, and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his “ideas” are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defense of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality.
    • p. 156
  • The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from these fantastic “ideas” and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. 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, 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. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.
    • p. 157
  • He who does not really feel himself lost, is lost without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.
    • p. 157
  • The majority of men of science have given themselves to it through fear of facing life. They are not clear heads; hence their notorious ineptitude in the presence of any concrete situation.
    • p. 157
  • Our scientific ideas are of value to the degree to which we have felt ourselves lost before a question; have seen its problematic nature, and have realized that we cannot find support in received notions, in prescriptions, proverbs, mere words.
    • p. 157
  • The man who discovers a new scientific truth has previously had to smash to atoms almost everything he had learnt, and arrives at the new truth with hands bloodstained from the slaughter of a thousand platitudes.
    • p. 157
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