Old and New Populisms
1. Ortega y Gasset’s Mass-man
1.1. Ortega y Gasset. The Revolt of the Masses and the mass-man
Ortega y Gasset was a complex and eclectic scholar, not only because of the variety of his writings, which ranged from philosophy to sociology, to theatre and art (including a study on Goya), but above all because of his political positions and theses, often severely criticised. It was during the Franco era in Spain when opposition was fierce, that Ortega, with his conscience-driven criticism of the West, refused to take ideological sides within either the “official field of the left” or that of the right. He preferred, rather, to carry out a deep and serious analysis of the new middle class which was becoming the protagonist of civil society in Europe. He approved its nascent democracy but, at the same time, he understood how the complexity of a social actor who, without responsible and competent guidance, might turn democracy into a danger rather than an opportunity.
Many authors have found a parallel between the analysis presented in The Revolt of the Masses and that of Tocqueville who, a century earlier, in Democracy in America, had pointed out the risk that a democratic majority, once it had gained power, might betray the self same ideals of freedom and merit for which it had fought.
The two historical contexts were different, however. Ortega’s analysis was undertaken during a very particular moment in European history, at the time of Franco, of fascism and...
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