About Ortega’s “The Revolt of the Masses”

The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955) was published as a sequel to El Sol magazine in 1929 and as a Spanish book, La rebelión de las masas, in 1930. In 1932, this work was translated into English for the first time. Here, I am using it.¹ The free English version provided by Wikipedia has layout errors, and its exact publication data are missing.

When I started reading this book, the first few chapters made me feel like it was written in 2022.

I recommend reading.

By the way, very rarely in my life have I recommended reading a continental European philosopher.

Ortega’s text is written with clear enough thought. It can be recommended.

The book is eclectic and illogical

However, as I read further, I had doubts.

This book has great ideas and makes for great quotes. You will also get exciting knowledge of European history, which the author knows very well.

For some reason, however, the Spanish author Ortega never refers to his French predecessor Le Bon, whose work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind undoubtedly influenced him significantly.²

Ortega’s arguments are regularly illogical, he consistently confuses certain significantly different concepts, and the work as a whole is visibly contradictory in several essential respects.

At the beginning of the book, Ortega describes how technological progress and democracy have created a society spoiled by a good life, whose members abandon the cultural foundations that made this scientific-technical progress possible. These arrogant people feel that they only have rights but not responsibilities. Morality has been abolished. Western civilization may, therefore, degenerate and lose the ability to continue technical progress.

The barbaric masses claim the right to oppress talented, diligent and moral individuals.

Ortega (from the last section of Chapter I, “The Coming of the Masses”, p 18):

“As they say in the United States: ‘to be different is to be indecent.’ 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.”

Then, however, the author announces a series of absurdities.

For example (see Chapter XIV, “Who Rules the World?”, Paragraph 3) that the civilizations of Egypt and China do not exist, that probably only Europe can give the inhabitants of the planet the meaning of life, that people find the meaning of life only through the orders of the rulers, etc.

Ortega (pp 136–137):

“There is the people which is born into a ‘world’ empty of all civilisation, for example the Egyptians or the Chinese.”

“It would not matter if Europe ceased to command, provided there were someone able to take her place. But there is not the faintest sign of one.”

“To command is to give people something to do, to fit them into their destiny, to prevent their wandering aimlessly about in an empty, desolate existence.”

One gets the impression that, on the one hand, Ortega praises liberalism, but on the other hand, he demands that rulers dictate to people their goals and the meaning of life.

I would like to ask Ortega if some ruler ordered him to write his work, and he could not have written it without such an order.

Like most other great social critics, Ortega is unable to come up with any reasonable idea of how to stop the decline of the Western society that he describes.

Unexpectedly, he finds a “solution” in the penultimate chapter, XIV. Here he promotes and justifies the idea of a single European State (see Paragraphs 3 and 8).

Ortega (pp 139 & 179):

“The evident decadence of the nations of Europe, was not this a priori necessary if there was to be one day possible a United States of Europe, the plurality of Europe substituted by its formal unity?”

“The more faithful the national State of the West remains to its genuine inspiration, the more surely will it perfect itself in a gigantic continental State.”

Ortega’s arguments about nationalism are worth reading and can also be criticized. In Chapter XIV, Paragraph 9, p 183, Ortega writes:

“But in Europe everything is more than consolidated, and nationalism is nothing but a mania, a pretext to escape from the necessity of inventing something new, some great enterprise.”

So. And what language must this United Europe begin to speak, and who are those who must surrender their language and culture for the sake of this great joint undertaking?

Obviously, Ortega also does not distinguish between different forms of nationalism, not contrasting, for example, between nationalism and rabid nationalism or between nationalism and Nazism.

However, it remains a complete mystery to me as a reader why Ortega thinks that the creation of a single European State from peoples who have lost their morals due to the development of technology and democracy should give back their morals to these people?³

Ortega on the masses and science

Ortega’s Chapter XII, “The Barbarism of ‘Specialization’”, should be required reading for all scientists and philosophers of science.

Ortega does not contrast mass-man with the man of science. On the contrary, he finds there are many scientists, and a barbaric mass-scientist has developed among them. Ortega (p 109):

“And now it turns out that the actual scientific man is the prototype of the mass-man. Not by chance, not through the individual failings of each particular man of science, but because science itself — the root of our civilisation — automatically converts him into mass-man, makes of him a primitive, a modern barbarian.”

In Ortega’s approach, the emergence of modern experimental science is possible only based on a certain culture and spirituality. However, scientific and technical progress, democracy and liberalism have produced a society of mass-people and the revolt of the masses. These masses consume science and its results, but the culture and way of thinking that make it possible for science to progress and even survive to remain alien to them. Therefore, there arises the threat of the decline of contemporary Western civilization because the survival of science is not something to be taken for granted but something that must be constantly created and maintained.

At the same time, also in science itself, the mass-scientists have gained ground. Science is in great need of working hands — these are narrowly specialized scientists whose activities can be quite mechanical and whose spirit is mediocre. In turn, this army of mediocre scientists assumes huge rights and indefinite authority, trampling underfoot those few who create something new in science or understand the world more broadly.

These views of Ortega on science turned out to be prophetic.

As I was reading, however, I remembered that physicist Walter Heisenberg had expressed similar views.


Ortega’s best-known work, The Revolt of the Masses, left me with the impression of a text written by a very talented and erudite but dilettante thinker. The ideas have been put on paper, but the author hasn’t even bothered to check whether they fit together.

Often the author failed to mention plausible and known alternative explanations for the phenomena. Instead of argumentation, he engaged in a psychological suggestion of literary talent.

Ortega’s text is like a salad: very strong arguments are mixed with naive prejudices.

Strangely, one can become a famous philosopher with such a book… Or maybe Ortega is right — and, as a result, the one who is popular among mass-philosophers or at least some sect of mass-philosophers becomes a famous philosopher?

But Ortega wrote many books.

Tallinn, December 2022

¹ Ortega y Gasset, José. The Revolt of the Masses. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1932.

² Le Bon, Charles-Marie Gustave. Psychologie des Foules. Paris, 1895.

³ Marnie Binder also interprets Ortega’s text in such a way that Ortega sees the establishment of a single European State as an escape route from the rebellion of the masses born as a result of technical progress and democracy, and liberalism. See Binder, Marnie “José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955)” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved December 2022.


Published by wrestlerblower


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