Ortega was a leading republican politician during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1936). He also had a role in deposing King Alfonso XIII in 1931. He became civil governor of Madrid and went into exile in 1936 at the start of the Civil War.
“The truth is that men are tired of liberty.” Benito Mussolini.
CHAPTER II: THE RISE OF THE HISTORIC LEVEL
"There are no longer protagonists; there is only the chorus."
Today we live in the rule of the masses where they exercise powers previously held by the minorities. They have become intractable. This human army is composed only of captains. Anybody can now move around and impose their will.
excellence means making an effort to achieve something. Originally 'noble' involved an obligation to be and act. Nobility meant self-improvement. It was the opposite of vulgarity or immobile. This is now the definition of mass-man: a stagnation.
In social exchanges there is no politeness. Literature of direct action is constituted by insults. Sexual relationships reduce their formalities. Liberalism and the democratic system require coexistence, dialogue and debate of which mass-man is incapable.
- a radical impression that life is facile without tragic limits. Thus means that each average individual feels dominant and triumphant.
- This encourages them to assert their identity and approve their own morality and intellectualism. This then leads them to a self-assurance which rejects others and exercise dominance.
- They intervene in everything imposing their average opiniones in a regime of direct action.
CHAPTER XV: THE REAL QUESTION
"Morality cannot be eliminated without more ado. What, by a word lacking even in grammar, is called amorality, is a thing that does not exist. If you are unwilling to submit to any norm, you have, nolens volens, to submit to the norm of denying all morality, and this is not amoral, but immoral.It is a negative morality which preserves the empty form of the other."
Ortega compares the mass-man to the aristocratic landowners of the past. He enjoys modernities and liberal politics, but mass-man is a lazy consumer, not a producer, whose default is entertainment.
“A world superabundant in possibilities automatically produces deformities, vicious types of human life, which may be brought under the general class, the ‘heir-man,’ of which the ‘aristocrat’ is only one particular case, the spoiled child another, and the mass-man of our time, more fully, more radically, a third.”
They are defined by their similarity to everyone else. Being different and having unconventional ideas induces anxiety in the mass-man who will always avoid that. They follow pop culture and populist leaders.
Mass minds are not capable of transcendence because they do not recognise any higher authority than themselves. They adhere to a few simple and unchanging ideas no deeper than memes
The masses have opinions based on intuitions and no counterargument will convince them. Their ideas are as unchanging as their lives. They choose hedonism over purposeful effort. They are self-sufficient in a complex, interrelated world.
“The [mass] 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.”
Specialisation can reinforce the mass-man mentality.
“... 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 in his own special line.”
The mass mind is immobile, the noble one is of purposeful effort, sought in something better than themselves. It aims for self-improvement, not self-satisfaction. Humility and wisdom characterise these leaders.
Those who are able to see the problematic nature of existence, including its limitations and tragedies, are fit to lead because they are not distracted by fantasies and illusions.
“Nobility is defined by the demands it makes on us – by obligations, not by rights.”
Donald Trump in an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe, March 2016
"I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things... I know what I’m doing and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people and at the appropriate time I’ll tell you who the people are. But I speak to a lot of people. My primary consultant is myself, and I have, you know, I have a good instinct for this stuff"
This quote is a cultural immersion since it includes references to both the judeo-Christian and Greek traditions which are the basis of Western culture. These are the wide "circumstances" Ortega is pointing out to the reader and he includes his personal, momentary situation. He further argues his idea with an anecdote from Heraclitus. This Greek philosopher was in the kitchen when some disciples dropped in to visit him. They were startled to see him in those circumstances, but Heraclitus invited them into the kitchen saying, "Come in, because the gods are here, too."
"I am me and my circumstance, and if I do not save it, I will not save myself. Benefac loco illi quo natus est, we read in the Bible. And in the Platonic school we are given as a company of every culture, this: "saving appearances", phenomena. That is, to seek the sense of what surrounds us."
In a neo-Kantian twist Ortega's point of view includes the active perception of the subject who makes sense of his circumstances. This will lead the author to reflect on subjects apparently unconnected to philosophy like the essence of hunting, meditation on a painting or the Guadarrama landscape.
"The definitive being of the world is not matter or soul, it is not a determined thing, but a perspective", "...where my pupil is, there is no other ...we are irreplaceable."
Perspectivism requires the readers to reflect on their own lives before engaging with society. “I am I and my circumstances,” corresponds to the socratic adage, “know thyself."
The aim was to rebuild the world based on pure reason which, through logic, would provide eternal truths. Reason was treated as a fact but its human constitution was ignored, thus removing vitality and history from the construction.
“In the intelectual order, individuals must repress their spontaneous convictions, which are only opinion (doxa) and adopt instead pure reason’s thoughts, which are true «knowledge» (episteme).”
Faced with the impossibility of achieving truth through pure reason, modernity has adopted relativism as a solution.
"... priority is to serve: another man, an emperor, a wizard, an idol. Anything, rather than feeling the terror of facing alone, with one’s own chest, the onslaught of existence.”
Positivism is based on the existence of the given. It assumes that what you see is what there is and that the universe is simply there. It assumes that there exists an objective world and that things appear as they really are or that it would be enough to draw back the veil of appearance.
"The ancient realism that starts from the indubitable existence of cosmic things is philosophical naivety. It is paradisiacal innocence."
“Idealism proposes that I suspend my belief in the reality outside my mind that this theater seems to have. In truth, it tells me, this theater is only a thought, a vision or image of this theater.”
"Life is what we are and what we do; it is therefore, of all things, the closest to each one of us.”
"What is vital is what is concrete, what is incomparable, what is unique. Life is what is individual."
"I've been gradually encircling, as the Hebrews did, in order to take Jericho"