For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Ortega's 'The Revolt of the Masses'
and the Triumph of the New Man
  • Pedro Blas Gonzalez
Reviews Table of Contents Introduction «Back
Ortega's 'The Revolt of the Masses'. and the Triumph of the New Man
Sound Bite
Gonzalez demonstrates the genius of Ortega y Gasset and the relevance of his work, The Revolt of the Masses, and the social/political categories he articulates, in light of today’s moral, spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy.

About the Author

Pedro Blas Gonzalez is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Barry University in Miami. His areas of specialization include Continental philosophy, specifically: Phenomenology, Existentialism, and philosophical aspects of literature.
His works include Ortega's 'Revolt of the Masses' and the New Man (Algora 2007), Fragments: Essays In Subjectivity, Individuality And Autonomy (Algora, 2005), and Human Existence as Radical Reality: Ortega’s Philosophy of Subjectivity (Paragon House, 2005). Gonzalez holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from DePaul University. His next book is planned for 2009.

About the Book

This book is first and foremost a detailed and meticulous study of Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses (1930). No other relevant, up-to-date books explore this thinker and his great work.


This book is first and foremost a detailed and meticulous study of Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses (1930). No other relevant, up-to-date books explore this thinker and his great work.

Most importantly, the author demonstrates the relevance and importance of Ortega y Gasset's thought and his The Revolt of the Masses for today's world, showing, for instance, how Ortega's categories like "mass man" and "decadence," have been vindicated by today's spiritual, moral and cultural decay. This aspect of the book will perhaps be of major interest to the reading public.

What Ortega argues for in his brief history of philosophy is something that he has otherwise made explicit throughout his work, mainly his conviction that strictly speaking philosophy as an activity or manner of thinking that faces naked reality, holistically, ended long ago with the ancient Greeks. All subsequent philosophical endeavors have been merely a rehashing or an academic commentary on the pre-existing philosophical canon. This latter activity he saw as pertaining to the history of philosophy, but he did not regard it as philosophy. Philosophy, as a vital and life-forging way of life, he argued, had played out its originality, and thus had run its course, long ago.

With a glossary of special terms as used by Ortega, and with references to Albert Camus, Gabriel Marcel, C.S. Lewis, Friedrich Nietzsche, Josef Pieper, and others, this work is a fundamental tool for any student of Ortega, of existentialism, and 20th-century European philosophy.


T. S. Eliot begins his introduction to Josef Pieper’s seminal work Leisure: The Basis of Culture by invoking the contemporary state of philosophy. Eliot, who is hardly a new comer to the discipline, frames the question in a manner that takes into consideration technical matters and where this venerable discipline found itself during the middle...
T. S. Eliot begins his introduction to Josef Pieper’s seminal work Leisure: The Basis of Culture by invoking the contemporary state of philosophy. Eliot, who is hardly a new comer to the discipline, frames the question in a manner that takes into consideration technical matters and where this venerable discipline found itself during the middle of the twentieth century. But more importantly, Eliot addresses the fundamental question of temperament and philosophical vocation. He looks to an ideal time when the day will dawn again when a philosopher will come forth “whose writings, lectures and personality will arouse the imagination.” But even more relevant to our present condition, Eliot explains, is that philosophy must begin again to exercise its former, more meaningful etymology — “the need for new authority to express insight and wisdom.”
It was not many years later that several such figures would begin to make headway in at least some of Eliot’s prescribed categories: Sartre, Camus, Marcel and Jaspers come to mind as embodying aspects of the aforementioned philosophic qualities. With the notable exception of Sartre, history has vindicated these other figures for their insight and wisdom.
Ostensibly, Eliot goes on to say that at the end of any philosophical process what remains — in fact, what allows for insight and wisdom — is what makes philosophy indispensable to reality: common sense.
Thus, a restoration of the philosophical discipline must contain enough respect for the dignity of man — individual subjects — to garner other possible alternatives beyond the currently destructive “biological entity” and the unprecedented surge in anti-humanism. A fine start to the restoration of philosophy as well as the humanities is a renewed concept of man as an end in itself. Man cannot continue to be subservient to utility. Pieper cites the august Goethe: “I have never bothered or asked in what way I was useful to society as a whole; I contented myself with expressing what I recognized as good and true. That has certainly been useful in a wide circle; but that was not the aim; it was the necessary result.”
When Pieper writes, “leisure, it must be remembered, is not a Sunday afternoon idyll, but the preserve of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.” This recalls JosĂ© Ortega y Gasset’s exaltation of the self in his description of the aforementioned in Meditations On Quixote. In that work the reader is summoned to listen to the “pounding of his own heart.” Here the emphasis is on reflective silence. What Ortega sets out to describe in Meditations On Quixote is nothing short of a phenomenological analysis of the self. This task, however, like most phenomenological/existential approaches to life, proved to be short-circuited by the very weight of the words used to describe it.
Initially, we are shocked to notice the silence of the forest. Yet what we notice is not so much silence but the absence of sound. Reality, in this sense, is encountered as a negation of the ever-present bustle, the clamorous daily world of man. This absence of environmental impetus forces us to experience not an absolute silence, for Ortega argues that this can never be achieved, but rather a form of silence that directs a reflective gaze to itself.
What initially seems like an occasion for reflection, in many cases, Ortega goes on to argue, becomes an uneasy, even an existentially heavy burden. When the external noise gives way to such a surprising and challenging silence, “all this is disturbing because it has too concrete a meaning.”Yet this concreteness is not encompassed by “theory.” It is instead a lived vitality. What is encountered in this silence is the fragile and radical strain of the self stripped of all societal trappings. This is not man as homo faber, but rather as an entity that does not readily know how to react to this naked existence — and who consequently knows not what to do.
A possible antidote Ortega suggests for this often frightening experience is to bargain for a form of silence that is “purely decorative,” where “unidentifiable sounds are heard.” To fill this silence we must cross back into the clamor and noise of preoccupation with the social, that is, with external reality — we must lose ourselves in things. This might be regrettable, Ortega argues, but this signifies the common way of life for most people.
Meditations on Quixote achieves precisely what it sets out to achieve: a meditation. The book is a meditation on the nature of human reality and how this is appropriated by man. But if Ortega argues that man is a social entity, he also establishes the conditions for this social interchange to take place. What is important, however, in this social friction, if not fracture, is equanimity. The corresponding pole of man’s social (or what amounts to his external) condition is garnered by the interiority that he recognizes in himself. It is the latter that is encountered when external worldly clamor is refused its sensual stranglehold on man. What is gained instead, after the temptation of popular noise has been effaced, is nothing less than existential human autonomy.
Ortega explains autonomy as the possession of an inward sense of life. This inward turn where the seemingly biological and external public persona becomes self-aware is the true starting point of all philosophical activity. Yet philosophy, Ortega is quick to point out, is not just a process that seeks to uncover the profound, but also one that is equally concerned with the spurious or superficial aspects of the human condition. When he refers to seeing he does suggest that it is merely a sensorial function. The eye only “intends” and in doing so it removes the object out of what is up to that point an undistinguishable multiplicity. Thus to casually glance over things negates the inward, three-dimensional quality of reality. But equally damaging to the inherent structure of reality is its careless dismembering, where what is left is a vacuous transparency. Ortega explains:
And if we succeed in obtaining layers so thin that our eyes can see through them, then we do not see either the depth or the surface, but a perfect transparency, or what is the same thing, nothing. For just as depth needs a surface beneath which to be concealed, the surface or outer cover, in order to be that, needs something over which to spread, to cover.
Ortega, like Pieper, recognizes the objectifying nature of work. The concern is not with the value of work itself, because this much Ortega views as a positive having-to-do that safeguards most people from the devastating effects of idleness and boredom. Instead, the objectifying aspect of work has to do with its ability to remove us from ourselves, as it were. He makes this clear in The Modern Theme, where he views modernity as a form of ushering man out of himself and displacing his vital grace with artificiality. The toil of work is countered instead by the notion of sport, an Ortegan notion that is closer to a form of reflection than it is to mere play. The sporting attitude, he tells us, is a morally heroic stance toward reality. Hence the equation “work is to external reality as reflection is to the interior life as radical reality” is perhaps nowhere more evident than in Meditations on Hunting.
Meditations on Hunting exhibits that supremely stealthy characteristic found in all of Ortega’s work: philosophical profundity achieved through an exemplary clarity. This work is as much about hunting as Meditations on Quixote is about the concern of Cervantes’ spirited Don Quixote with the nature of truth. Instead of compounding philosophical thought with portentous titles and layers of self-referential jargon, his work beckons the conscientious reader to reflect in a noble way that rejects the “inertial thinking” of philosophical categories. And instead of showcasing an old, tired and trite scholasticism, his thought weaves through the history of philosophy as if they were merely a series of signposts on the path to reflective thought. But scholasticism, he informs us, is the opposite of philosophy — a truism that remains vital — regardless of the animated protestations of self-preservation issued from contemporary critics and “theorists.” Instead, the essence of originality is that it does not purport to call attention to itself. As an example of this, we have Ortega’s notion of death in Meditations on Hunting, when we discuss the triumph of the new man, especially in “post-modern” philosophy:
But this is precisely what death is. The cadaver is flesh which has lost its intimacy, flesh whose “interior” has escaped like a bird from a cage, a piece of pure matter in which there is no longer somebody hidden.
Equally important to Ortega’s description of man’s self-discovery in the forest is the realization of the inward quality of human existence. Louis Lavelle’s The Dilemma of Narcissus is an enchanting philosophical study on the nature of the self. Lavelle reminds us that Narcissus’ “own beauty has become a tormenting longing, which separates him from himself by showing him his image, and which drives him to seek himself where alone he sees himself — namely, where he has ceased to be.”
In addition, we can compare Lavelle’s statement citing Narcissus’ emptiness: “But Narcissus cannot bear either to be or to act: as that subtle man Gongora puts it, he is reduced to ‘calling forth echoes while discovering their origin’ ” with Ortega’s mass man who is incapable of leadership but who refuses that others do so. Thus, human autonomy ought not to be confused with what some consider a vague and lazy individualism. Apparently, the critics of individualism have erroneously collapsed the two concepts. Narcissus’ problem is that he is essentially torn between two semblances of himself: the figure reflected in the water and the one who stares into it. Both are equally vacuous entities. The figure that Narcissus witnesses in the water is not recognizable as his self — rather as “himself” — or what practically amounts to another figure. Lavelle adds: “If Narcissus went down to destruction, it was because he actually tried to create this duality in his very being. For he thought he could see himself and enjoy himself before he acted and before he had made himself.” Hence, what Narcissus lacks is sincerity. And sincerity is nothing less than “the attention that arouses our potentialities.”
Not unlike Narcissus, Ortega’s trek through the forest also demands a degree of sincerity in the act of truth finding. The forest is to Ortega what water is to Lavelle’s Narcissus: a confrontation with appearance. The silence that is encountered in the forest leaves few avenues open for distraction. Instead, its effect is felt in providing an ample mirror for self-reflection.
Regardless of how much Narcissus loses himself in his regard for his outward image — what amounts to his body — he cannot help (both Lavelle and Ortega suggest) noticing that his body is part of a greater circumstance. While in the forest Ortega, too, cannot help but to reach a stage of existential awakening where he becomes “I and my circumstances.” The circumstance part of this equation is nothing less than my life, or all that happens to me, but it is not “I” properly speaking. I am bound to the world through my circumstances. Lavelle refers to this as sensibility. He explains: “The individual’s sensibility joins him to the All, and yet the distinction between them is not abolished.”
Hence as we delve ever deeper in Ortega’s thought we can arrive at the understanding that the phenomenological and existential themes contained in his work more often than not exist as latent possibilities for man. And much like these themes, the chosen manner utilized to communicate them is equally indirect at times. Ortega explicitly says in the first section of Meditaciones Del Quixote that the totality that is the forest exists as vital/existential possibility.But what ought we to make of Ortega’s notion of possibility? He quickly proceeds to answer this question in the following section, titled “Profundidad y superficie” (Profundity and Superficiality), where he explains that the purpose inherent in patent reality is to direct our attention to what is latent.
Thus the importance of possibility in Ortega’s work does not strictly negate the level of the patent in favor of a “profounder” understanding of reality. At least he does not go as far as to violate the relevance of the seemingly superficial aspect of human life. This means that these two poles must be construed and accepted in equal measure as a duality of a single whole. The demarcation point between the phenomenal and the noumenal is the privacy that human existence represents for itself. But human existence is not merely construed as biological life, rather more on the lines of “this particular life that runs through me.” Seen as such, we can view the purpose of human existence as consisting of the need for synthesis. The latter, too, Ortega warns us, is a form of synthesis, even in this embryonic and superficial self-negating mode.
The realization that the task of human existence is to seek perpetual synthesis is an essential component of Ortega’s work. From this we are better able to understand life as lived immediacy and latent possibility is complimentary to reflective life. This ordeal is no less than Ortega’s delicate balancing of life as vital existence and the life of the intellect. The key here, he explains throughout his collected work, is not to crush the spontaneity of the former with the calculating nature of the latter. This, then, is an accurate portrayal of the philosophical vocation par excellence. This is also Ortega’s general approach to the history of philosophy and its inherent exigencies.

Philosophy in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
When in 1951 a Brazilian philosophical jour­nal asked JosĂ© Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955) to write a series of articles concerning the then cur­rent state of philosophical affairs during the first fifty years of the 20th century, Ortega was al­ready 68 years of age and had been suffering from stomach cancer since his 50s. Also, by this time he had enjoyed a degree of fame, rare in philosophical circles, which was not restricted to Spain and Latin America but that also included the United States and all of Western Europe. For instance, he was highly respected as a writer and thinker by Thomas Mann, and was referred to by Albert Camus as being “after Nietzsche, per­haps the greatest European writer.”
Ortega was a very visible figure. During the early part of the century and leading up to the events of the Spanish Civil War he had a great deal to say; and the most accessible media that he could employ, at the time, to accomplish this task was the newspa­per. His many and often diverse newspaper arti­cles brought him considerable attention, both in philosophical circles and especially from the public at large. Whether this attention came in the manner of criticism or approval is irrele­vant, for while today academics are largely critical, through his many articles he found an audience that would furnish him with the neces­sary feedback to test his most pressing convictions. In this respect, Ortega can also be credited with attempting to take the level of the journalism of his day to a more sensi­tive and profound awareness of intellectual con­cerns. He felt that newspapers should not merely be concerned with reporting events....
Table of Contents
By Way of an Introduction Philosophy in the First Half of the Twentieth Century Chapter 1. Revisiting The Revolt of the Masses And Just

By Way of an Introduction
Philosophy in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
Chapter 1. Revisiting The Revolt of the Masses
And Just Who Is the New Man?
The Effort Toward Perfection
Chapter 2. Ortega’s Notion of Mass Man and Noble Man
Life Presents Itself to the New Man as Exempt from Restrictions
The Spirit of Self-Sacrifice
Chapter 3. Subjectivity and Mass Culture
In Search of Goethe from Within
Life as Reflective Task
The Heroic Stance
Vacations from the Human Condition
The Nay-Saying Naturmensch
Chapter 4. Toward a Celebration of Man’s Achievements
Ortega’s Ideas about Science
Chapter 5. Toward an Aesthetics of Life

Chapter 6. Nihilism and Collective Banality
Chapter 7. Authenticity and Borrowed Opinions: The Bloated Ship of State
“The Whole World — Nations and Individuals — is Demoralized”
Chapter 8. Mass Man: The Triumph of the New Man?
“We Arrive at the Real Question”
Chapter 9. The New Man: Parody of Genuine Individualism
A Dearth of Sincere Sentiment
Existential Freedom is a Tenuous Thing
Pure Reason and Vital Life: A Case of Socratic Irony
Irrationalism, Sensualism and the Triumph of Despotic Political Correctness
Chapter 10. Mass Man’s Existential Revolt and the Future of Human Freedom
The Fight from Human Reality
Embracing “Post-Intelligibility,” Contradictions and Incoherence
A Surplus of Entertainment and Phantom Leisure
Glossary of Terms in Ortega’s The Revolt of the Masses

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Pages 212
Year: 2007
LC Classification: CB103.G66
Dewey code: 901--dc22
BISAC: PHI031000
BISAC: SCI075000
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