Commentary Magazine


Ortega y Gasset

To the Editor:

I was most heartily pleased with Richard John Neuhaus’s informed consideration of Ortega y Gasset [“Ortega y Gasset Revisited,” July]. His references to Julien Benda’s The Treason of the Intellectuals are very discerning. I, we, are in Mr. Neuhaus’s intellectual debt. Mass man and mass cant are on the loose here in Nicaragua. . . .

[Signature Withheld]
Managua, Nicaragua

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To the Editor:

In “Ortega y Gasset Revisited,” Richard John Neuhaus writes that “Mass man is not the proletariat but the people of all classes, especially the ruling classes. . . .” This is an important point. A primary criticism of The Revolt of the Masses has always been that Ortega despised democracy and the “common man” and was a champion of aristocracy. In fact, Ortega viewed the aristocrat as the progenitor of “mass man.” Ortega wrote that “his [the aristocrat's] characteristic traits, in all times and among all peoples, germinate in the mass man.” Prominent among these traits are the aristocrat’s “propensity to make out of games and sports the central occupation of his life; the cult of the body—hygienic regime and attention to dress; lack of romance in his dealings with women; his amusing himself with the ‘intellectual,’ while at bottom despising him. . . .”

Ortega thought true nobility a far more prevalent trait in the “common man” than among elites: “[I]t is not rare to find today among workingmen . . . nobly disciplined minds.” However, he found “nobly disciplined minds” exceedingly rare among social elites and in intellectual life. He saw social elites dominated by “the mass and the vulgar,” and “in the intellectual life . . . one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and, by [his] very mental texture, disqualified.”

The Revolt of the Masses was published over a half-century ago, and if intellectual life was replete with the “pseudo-intellectual” in 1930, one can scarcely imagine what Ortega would have written had he lived to see the 1960′s and all that decade has left in its wake.

James E. Salyers
Ashmore, Illinois

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To the Editor:

. . . It is with particular pleasure that I commend Richard John Neuhaus for his insightful discussion of the new translation of The Revolt of the Masses by Ortega y Gasset. It can serve as a paragon of the reviewing art.

Richard Huett
Tarrytown, New York

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