'Social upheaval in early 20th century Europe is the historical setting for this seminal study by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset of the "mass man" - the phenomenon of mass culture that more than other factor stamps the character of modern life. Continuously in print since 1932, Ortega's analysis of Western culture as sinking to its lowest common denominator and drifting towards chaos brought its author international fame and has remained one of the most influential books of our time.' [Norton]
'I believe that the political innovations of recent times signify nothing less than the political domination of the masses. The old democracy was tempered by a generous dose of liberalism and of enthusiasm for law. By serving these principles the individual bound himself to maintain a severe discipline over himself. Under the shelter of liberal principles and the rule of law, minorities could live and act. Democracy and law—life in common under the law —were synonymous.
'To-day we are witnessing the triumphs of a hyperdemocracy in which the mass acts directly, outside the law, imposing its aspirations and its desires by means of material pressure. It is a false interpretation of the new situation to say that the mass has grown tired of politics and handed over the exercise of it to specialised persons. Quite the contrary. That was what happened previously; that was democracy.
The mass took it for granted that after all, in spite of their defects and weaknesses, the minorities understood a little more of public problems than it did itself. Now, on the other hand, the mass believes that it has the right to impose and to give force of law to notions born in the cafe. I doubt whether there have been other periods of history in which the multitude has come to govern more directly than in our own. That is why I speak of hyperdemocracy....
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.
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. And it is clear, of course, that this "everybody" is not "everybody." "Everybody" was normally the complex unity of the mass and the divergent, specialised minorities. Nowadays, "everybody" is the mass alone. Here we have the formidable fact of our times, described without any concealment of the brutality of its features.
It is, furthermore, entirely new in the history of our modern civilisation. Never, in the course of its development, has anything similar happened. If we wish to find its like we shall have to take a leap outside our modern history and immerse ourselves in a world, a vital element, entirely different from our own; we shall have to penetrate the ancient world till we reach the hour of its decline.
The history of the Roman Empire is also the history of the uprising of the Empire of the Masses, who absorb and annul the directing minorities and put themselves in their place. ..For that reason, as Spengler has very well observed, it was necessary, just as in our day, to construct enormous buildings. The epoch of the masses is the epoch of the colossal.
We are living, then, under the brutal empire of the masses.'