The Revolt of the Masses <i>...
Of these two reissued classics, Bruno Rizzi’s “The Bureaucratization of the World,” deserves to be reread and Jose Ortega y Gasset’s “The Revolt of the Masses” does not. Rizzi’s slightly above-ground classic (known to scholars and partisans, but not to the general public) is worth reading because it reminds us of important truths, because he spoke truth early, and because the crucial questions he raised about Soviet rule are perhaps more important today than when he wrote at the end of the 1930s. Jose Ortega y Gasset’s well-known work, murky when first published in 1932, remains either obscure or, when clear enough to be challenged, doubtful, his interesting asides dissipated in clouds of verbal fog. It is not so much that history has been unkind to his thesis but that it was even less true in the 1920s and 1930s, to which it mainly refers, than today.
The introduction to “The Bureaucratization” by Adam Westoby, moreover, is elegant and impeccable, whereas Anthony Kerrigan’s introduction to “The Revolt” is pedestrian, limping along on the unwarranted assumption that the intellectual status of his book is so well established that he need make only a perfunctory effort.
“The most important fact in the public life of the West . . . ,” Ortega y Gasset begins his book, “is the appearance of the masses in the seats of highest social power.” If this means that ordinary people rule directly in government (“the political reign of the masses”), it is false; if it means that leaders are often mediocre, that has always been true.
In contradistinction to mass man, not the working class but unreflective people in general, Ortega y Gasset posed “the select man,” who is thoughtful and knows the value of things by reference to tradition. But on all important matters elites are ranged against each other; I cannot think of a single issue of significance in which mass and elite are opposed, without substantial overlap, unless one goes to undemocratic nations.
Central to Ortega y Gasset’s position is the belief that Western man “has been left without a moral code.” Now this is quite impossible. Pol Pot had a moral code; desiring to do away with all social differences, the Khmer Rouge killed all they could find who were different. Even those more central to Ortega y Gasset’s story, those who believe anyone is as good as anyone else, are in fact following a higher law that enables them to know what they ought to prefer; namely, a diminution of differences among people. Nothing is gained by saying that profound differences in values are due to a lack of belief. Equally little is gained by his claim that “In fact, nothing is happening which was not foreseen a hundred years ago.” I disagree. Indeed, the predictive record of social theorists, like demographers, economists, political scientists and lesser mortals today, is abysmal.
From Ortega y Gasset we turn to Bruno Rizzi, an itinerant shoe salesman with business skills, who lived at the edge of a variety of communist factions and who had the virtue of understanding what he saw on visits to the Soviet Union.
Bureaucratic collectivism is the name he gave to the use of nationalized property as the foundation of a new ruling class in the Soviet Union. The weakness of his work is his inability to specify exactly who he meant--the Politburo, the entire Communist Party, higher level public officials. Its strength is the force and clarity with which Soviet rule is portrayed.
In Karl Marx’s thought, the full development of capitalism paves the way for socialism, the rule of the proletariat. If, however, a new class establishes a “dictatorship over the proletariat” through its “monopoly over the state,” as Rizzi told us, so that “the workers count for nothing in the governing of society,” being entirely “at the mercy of the state,” then it is not socialism but despotism that is the Marxist-Leninist heritage.
In one respect, Rizzi was an optimist: Writing near the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact, he believed that “The latest political events will awake even the dullest: The black (Nazi), brown (fascist) and red (communist) dictators are in the process of recognizing, perhaps even officially, that the social character of their countries (Rizzi means state ownership and state supremacy) is identical.” What difference would that recognition make? It might have made a lot of difference to the way in which the second world war ended and hence to the pattern in rule in Eastern Europe. It might still matter to us now.
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