José Ortega y Gasset, a well-known Spanish philosopher who paid considerable attention to the problems of sociology, in his work “The Revolt of the Masses” formulated the widely known theory of mass society.
The appearance and structure of any new historical epoch, any new society, as Ortega points out, is always the result of a shift: either internal – spiritual, or external – structural. The theory consists of three blocks: the general diagnosis of the era, the concept of social character and the concept of the crisis of the state.
Mass society as a new social state
Mass character manifests itself in society in a variety of ways. The era of the masses is the era of gigantomania – in architecture, in public and political events of many thousands, in the dominance of taste for everything large-scale. Living conditions have become large-scale.
The life of an ordinary person accommodates events taking place on the entire planet, “a mere mortal habitually settles in the whole world”, all space. But the world has also grown in time. Archeology, Ortega cites the example, has monstrously expanded the historical space. Empires and entire civilizations, which we did not yet suspect yesterday, are entering consciousness like new continents. Screens and magazines convey this immemorial antiquity to the eyes of the layman. To what has been said, one should add the cult of speed, which is now professed by everyone, the cult of movement, the cult of the automobile and the aircraft.
But even more significant than the increase in the world is that “there is more of everything in the world.” Everything that you can think of, wish, create, destroy, find, use. Opportunities for choice, self-manifestation, consumption have expanded many times over. Films and photographs entertain the common man with the most inaccessible landscapes, newspapers and loudspeakers bring him news about records and achievements, technical innovations. All this creates a feeling of fabulous omnipotence.
A mass society is a crowded society in the very
in the truest sense of the word. It is a society of growing pandemonium, of general overcrowding. “Cities are crowded, houses are crowded. The hotels are full. Cafes no longer accommodate visitors. Streets – passers-by. Reception medical luminaries – patients. Theaters, no matter how routine the performances are, are bursting with the public. The beaches do not accommodate bathers. Becomes an eternal problem that before it was not difficult, –
find a place.”
Such external crowding, mass character is the very first and external manifestation of mass society, which took shape in the 20th century. The essence of the phenomenon is the complete seizure of public power by the masses. This capture testifies, according to Ortega, to a serious crisis of European peoples and cultures, which he calls “the uprising of the masses.”
This “rebellion” is manifested, firstly, in the fact that today the masses have reached a standard of living and well-being that was previously intended only for a few. This enormously expanded their material possibilities. They quite successfully master and use technology that previously required specialists. At the same time, especially, but the fact that they equally successfully use technology, not only material, but also legal and social. Secondly, the masses have gone out of obedience, do not submit to any minority, do not follow it, do not reckon with it, but oust it and replace it.
The definition of a mass society given by Ortega is as follows: the crowd that arose at the forefront of society suddenly became visible. “Before, when it appeared, it remained invisible, crowded somewhere in the back of the stage; now she went to the ramp – and today she is the main character. There are no more soloists – one choir. The mass abolishes the minority. The crux of the matter, as Ortega emphasizes, is equalization. We live in an era of equalization: wealth, culture, weaker and stronger sex are equalized, continents are equalized.
Society, as Ortega points out, has always been a dynamic unity of the minority and the masses. A minority is a collection of persons distinguished by special qualities. The mass – not distinguished by anything, is the “average person”, the “general type”, determined by the coincidence of thoughts, goals, lifestyle, which feels the same as everyone else, and is pleased with this indistinguishability. The typological division into the minority and into the masses does not coincide either with the division into social classes or with their hierarchy. “The concept of “mass” … does not imply workers and in general does not mean social affiliation, but that human disposition or way of life that today prevails and dominates in all strata of society, from top to bottom, and therefore personifies our time.”
The priority of a person without signs and differences has turned from a general idea or a legal ideal into a universal psychological attitude.
Ortega names the following circumstances for the formation of a mass society. First, there are demographic reasons. Over the centuries of its history, the population of Europe did not exceed one hundred and eighty million people, but from 1800 to 1914. it grew to four hundred and sixty million. People objectively became much more. Secondly, the economic opportunities and material well-being of both the middle and lower strata have seriously increased. Thirdly, Ortega points to social order and a sense of the security of social existence. The structural and ideological basis, the causes of all these phenomena are liberal democracy, science and industry. Ortega combines the last two concepts into one concept – “technique”.
The social character of man in a mass society.
|today’s mass man unhindered growth of vital|
The psychological portrait of a mass person consists of two features – the unhindered growth of life demands and, consequently, the unrestrained expansion of one’s own nature, on the one hand, and an innate ingratitude for everything that makes life easier for him. Both traits constitute, according to Ortega, the traits of a spoiled child. Infantilism is the basic quality of the social character and the whole culture of mass society.
Infantilism and irresponsibility, a deep misunderstanding of the foundations of civilization within which the mass man exists, his mediocrity and unbridled thirst for consumption – these are the main characteristics of the mass man.
The average person, embodying a type of social character in a mass society, sees in civilization neither a deep design nor a skillful embodiment, for the preservation of which great efforts are needed. He does not understand the foundations, scientific and technical, on which civilization is built. He is only capable of seeking benefits from this civilization. Power in society, Ortega writes, has been seized by a new type of person, indifferent to the foundations of civilization. And this happens in those days when technology has reached its peak, and people are vying with each other in a hurry to take advantage of what scientific knowledge has created. But this does not mean anything, because even a barbarian is “capable of swallowing aspirin” or “driving a car”.
The new world that surrounds a person does not put prohibitions in front of him – it stirs up his appetites, which, in turn, grow endlessly. This is a very dangerous path of development. It is in this process of denying the old civilization that one should look for the structural causes of the crisis.
The nation state as a form of existence of a mass society
According to Ortega, the observed decline in the spirit of a mass person, oddly enough, does not come from a lack of strength and ability, but quite the opposite – from a feeling of excess strength that stumbles upon a fatal wall limiting this strength. Fatal walls are the political boundaries of modern states. The real difficulties are rooted not in this or that sudden economic or social problem, but in the fact that the form of social life has become cramped for the economic possibilities contained in it.
The essence of the matter lies in the discrepancy between the scope of today’s opportunities and the size of the political structure within which they are forced to exist, with the national borders that still delimit Europe. Nationality is perceived as a burden. Everything has become large at once, and the obsolete structures of the past have remained dwarfed and interfere with growth. Having rested against national borders for the first time, the European feels how much his economic, political, intellectual needs, his life span, are incommensurable with these borders.
Ortega proposes a new concept of the state, from the commonplace at the time. He writes: “The state begins by forcing the coexistence of groups that are naturally divided. And coercion is not the voice of violence, but an inciting call, a common cause proposed by the disunited. State – work plan and cooperation program. It brings people together for a common cause. The state is not a community of language or blood, territory or there is nothing material, inert, preliminary and limiting.
The state is democratic by its very nature, deeper and more significant than external forms of government. The state is called upon to overcome differences in language, blood or territory. In general, the state very rarely coincided with the original commonality of blood and language, in contrast to what, for example, the Nazi or fascist regimes claim, which for Ortega personifies mass society and mass man.
It is necessary to cast aside radical nationalist ideologies and dare to see the key to the nation-state in what is inherent in it as a nation-state, in its very policies, and not in extraneous principles of a biological or geographical nature. The state, whatever it may be – primitive, medieval or modern – is always an invitation by a certain group of people of other human communities to the joint implementation of some plan. The idea is always to organize a new type of social life. The state and the program of life, the program of human activity and behavior, are inseparable concepts.
According to Ortega, the time is coming when “Europe” can become a national idea. In the construction of Europe as a great national state, he sees the only thing that can resist nationalism, communism, Nazism, fascism – phenomena into which mass society is “cast”.
X. Ortega y Gasset’s theory of mass society appears in an obvious way as a detailed diagnosis of a very definite stage in the development of European civilization. This stage is the result of social transformations that took place in Europe in the 19th century. – the formation of liberal democracy, as well as the development of science and technology, which determined the appearance of societies in the 20th century.
The Ortegian theory of mass society, the general diagnosis of the era, the concept of the social character of the mass man and the concept of the crisis of the national state as a form of organization of social and economic life is built primarily on the basis of observation of various kinds of European extremist political ideologies, movements and regimes – fascism, communism, various versions of nationalism. It was these ideologies that became, according to Ortega, the most obvious manifestation of the crisis of the nation-state and Western civilization as a whole.
The concept of mass society created by Ortega y Gasset, which so clearly put these phenomena in mutual connection, one way or another formed the basis of all subsequent sociological studies of totalitarian regimes. All theories of a totalitarian society – X. Arendt, K. Mannheim and others – were created largely on the basis of the theoretical scheme of a mass society, as it is presented by X. Ortega y Gasset.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the problems of mass society were discussed in the sociological literature in the most intense way.
At the same time, the problem of a social nature, as well as the problems of consumption, advertising, and the cultural industry associated with it, become central.
Among this kind of research, which had a significant impact on the further development of theories of mass society, one should especially highlight the work of D. Riesman “The Lonely Crowd” (1950). The book is subtitled “Analysis of the Changing American Character”, which points to the main research problem.