June 21, 2004


Mass Men? (Paul J. Cella, 06/21/2004, Tech Central Station) 

It is interesting question to contemplate: does education, in the modern sense, make a man more or less susceptible to propaganda, which I define here as mendacious manipulation of the mind? The conventional answer is, of course, less -- but the more I think on that convention the less I am convinced by it. [...]

[John Henry] Newman thought, very sensibly, that universities ought to teach students what is good, true and beautiful. But the whole edifice of modern education, to which, by and large, most Conservatives have conceded, is debased by an utilitarian ethos that has cast such ideas from its compass; this, in part, because our shared ideas about the Good and the True have fragmented, leaving only worldly success as the standard. If men cannot agree on what is good, the unspoken argument goes, at least they can agree on what is profitable or successful.
Yet there is no utilitarian method of resistance against propaganda short of the cultivation of the intellect. There is no easy formula; no heuristic shortcut. That resistance must be active and individual; it cannot be passive and general. When people are told blithely that Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal revived the American economy from the Depression, they must have ready in their minds the contrary fact that it did little of the sort; that, rather, it was not until the War began that any sustained revival occurred. But when they are elsewhere told that war is a positive good for a nation's economy, they must have ready the contrary fact that no enterprise dedicated to massive destruction can possibly be the cause of a real growth of wealth.* The work of propaganda is too multifarious, too subtle, too ubiquitous to suffer neat shorthand methods of inoculation. To defy this empire of influence requires vigorous, ably-trained intellects.

It's a noble enough ideal, but the notion that intellects can be trained is rather dubious. Rather than wasting time trying to get people who are incapable of the task to think for themselves, schools should teach them the universal traditional Western truths and not flatter them that their own analyses are worthwhile.

Ortega y Gasset well understood the limitations of the masses:

WE take it, then, that there has happened something supremely paradoxical, but which was in truth most natural; from the very opening-out of the world and of life for the average man, his soul has shut up within him. Well, then, I maintain that it is in this obliteration of the average soul that the rebellion of the masses consists, and in this in its turn lies the gigantic problem set before humanity to-day.

Is it not a sign of immense progress that the masses should have "ideas," that is to say, should be cultured? By no means. The "ideas" of the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their possession culture. An idea is a putting truth in checkmate. Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. These standards are the principles on which culture rests. I am not concerned with the form they take. What I affirm is that there is no culture where there are no standards to which our fellow-men can have recourse. There is no culture where there are no principles of legality to which to appeal. There is no culture where there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual positions to which a dispute may be referred.  There is no culture where economic relations are not subject to a regulating principle to protect interests involved. There is no culture where aesthetic controversy does not recognise the necessity of justifying the work of art.

When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the masses. The traveller who arrives in a barbarous country knows that in that territory there are no ruling principles to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.

Albert Jay Nock thought the best one could hope for was to reach the Remnant

What do we mean by the masses, and what by the Remnant?

As the word masses is commonly used, it suggests agglomerations of poor and underprivileged people, laboring people, proletarians. But it means nothing like that; it means simply the majority. The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct, and because such people make up the great, the overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses. The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them. The masses are those who are unable to do either.

The picture which Isaiah presents of the Judean masses is most unfavorable. In his view, the mass-man--be he high or lowly, rich or poor, prince or pauper--gets off very badly. He appears as not only weak-minded and weak-willed, but as by consequence, knavish, arrogant, grasping, dissipated, unprincipled, unscrupulous. . . .

As things now stand, Isaiah's job seems rather to go begging. Everyone with a message nowadays is, like my venerable European friend, eager to take it to the masses. His first, last, and only thought is of mass-acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses' attention and interest. . . .

The main trouble with this [mass-man approach] is its reaction upon the mission itself. It necessitates an opportunist sophistication of one's doctrine, which profoundly alters its character and reduces it to a mere placebo. If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses; and this, in turn, means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples, if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins. Meanwhile, the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message.

Isaiah, on the other hand, worked under no such disabilities. He preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen. . . .

Indeed, as Ralph Adams Cram pointed out, never mind being educable, most folk are barely human beings:

We do not behave like human beings because most of us do not fall within that classification as we have determined it for ourselves, since we do not measure up to standard. And thus:

With our invincible—and most honourable but perilous—optimism we gauge humanity by the best it has to show. From the bloody riot of cruelty, greed and lust we cull the bright figures of real men and women. Pharaoh Akhenaten, King David, Pericles and Plato, Buddha and Confucius and Lao Tse, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and Virgil, Abder-Rahman of Cordoba, Charlemagne and Roland; St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Louis; Godfrey de Bouillon, Saladin, Richard Coeur de Lion; Dante, Leonardo, St. Thomas Aquinas, Ste. Jeanne d'Arc, Sta. Teresa, Frederick II, Otto the Great, St. Ferdinand of Spain, Chaucer and Shakespeare, Strafford and Montrose and Mary of Scotland, Washington, Adams and Lee. These are but a few key names; fill out the splendid list for yourselves. By them we unconsciously establish our standard of human beings.

Now to class with them and the unrecorded multitude of their compeers, the savage and ignorant mob beneath, or its leaders and mouthpieces, is both unjust and unscientific. What kinship is there between St. Francis and John Calvin; the Earl of Strafford and Thomas Crumwell; Robert E. Lee and Trotsky; Edison and Capone? None except their human form. They of the great list behave like our ideal of the human being; they of the ignominious sub-stratum do not—because they are not. In other words, the just line of demarcation should be drawn, not between Neolithic Man and the anthropoid ape, but between the glorified and triumphant human being and the Neolithic mass which was, is now and ever shall be.

What I mean is this, and I will give you this as a simile. Some years ago I was on the Island of Hawaii and in the great crater of Kilauea on the edge of the flaming pit of Halemaumau. For once the pit was level full of molten lava that at one end of this pit, at the iron edge of old lava, rose swiftly from the lowest depths, then slid silently, a viscous field of lambent cherry colour, along the length of the great pit, to plunge and disappear as silently, only to return and rise again, when all was to happen once more. Indeterminate, homogeneous, it was an undifferentiated flood, except for one thing. As it slid silkily onward it "fountained" incessantly. That is to say, from all over its surface leaped high in the air slim jets of golden lava that caught the sun and opened into delicate fireworks of falling jewels, beautiful beyond imagination.

Such I conceive to be the pattern of human life. Millennium after millennium this endless flood of basic raw material sweeps on. It is the everlasting Neolithic Man, the same that it was five or ten thousand years B.C. It is the matrix of the human being, the stuff of which he is made. It arises from the unknown and it disappears in the unknown, to return again and again on itself. And always it "fountains" in fine personalities, eminent and of historic record, or obscure yet of equal nobility, and these are the "human beings" on whose personality, character and achievements we establish our standard.

The basic mass, the raw material out of which great and fine personalities are made, is the same today as it was before King Zoser of Egypt and the first architect, Imhotep, set the first pyramid stones that marked the beginning of our era of human culture. Neolithic it was and is, and there has been no essential change in ten thousand years, for it is no finished product, but raw material and because of its potential, of absolute value. We do not realize this, for it is not obvious to the eye since all that greatness has achieved in that period is as free for the use of contemporary Neolithic Man as it is for those who have emerged into the full stature of humanity. Free and compulsory education, democratic government and universal suffrage, and the unlimited opportunities of industrial civilization have clothed him with the deceptive garments of equality, but underneath he is forever the same. It is not until we are confronted in our own time with a thing like the original Bolshevik reign of terror, the futility of popular government, not only national but as we see it close at home in the sort of men that we choose to govern us in our cities, our state legislatures, the national Congress; in the bluntness of intellect and lack of vision in big business and finance, or when we read Mr. Mencken's "Americana" or consider the monkey-shines of popular evangelists, "comic strips", dance- and bicycle- and Bible-reading marathons, that we are awakened to a realization of the fact that there is something wrong with our categories.

Those that live in these things that they have made are not behaving like the human beings we have chosen for ourselves out of history as determinants of that entity, and this for the reason that they still are the veritable men of the Neolithic age that no camouflage of civilization can change.

Perhaps we have set our standard too high. Perhaps we should, in accordance with the alleged principles of Mr. Jefferson, count the mob-man as the standard human being; but since the gulf that separates him from the ideal we have made for ourselves is too vast to be bridged by any social, political or biological formula, this would force us back on the Nietzschean doctrine of the Superman which, personally, I reject. It seems to me much more fitting to accept our proved ideal as the true type of human being, counting all else as the potent material of creation.

I cannot blind myself to the fact that if what I have said is taken seriously it will probably seem revolting, if not grotesque and even impious. I do not mean it to be any of these things, nor does it seem so to me. Put into few words, and as inoffensively as possible, all I mean is that the process of creation is continuous. That as the "first man" was said to have been created out of the dust of the earth, so this creation goes on today as it ever has. As this same "dust of the earth" may have been Neolithic or more probably Paleolithic sub-man, so today the formative material is of identical nature and potency—but it is still, as then, the unformed, unquickened, primitive or Neolithic matter. Within its own particular sphere it is invaluable, indispensable, but we treat it unfairly when, through our vaporous theorizing we are led to pitchfork it into an alien sphere where it cannot function properly, and where it is untrue to itself, and by its sheer weight of numbers and deficiency of certain salutary inhibitions, is bound to negative the constructive power of the men of light and leading, while reducing the normal average to the point of ultimate disaster.

If there is any modicum of truth in what I have said I must leave to you the noting of those implications that must follow in respect to the doctrine and workings of democracy as these are manifested today in society, politics and religion.

And now, in these last days we stand aghast at the portent of our own Gotterdammerung. The high gods we had revered and before whom we had made sacrifice of so much of the best we had, show thin and impotent, or vanish in the flame of disaster. Political and social democracy, with their plausible devices and panaceas; popular sovereignty, the Protestant religion of the masses; the technological triumphs that were to emancipate labour and redeem the world; all the multiple manifestations of a free and democratic society fail of their predicted issue, and we find ourselves lapped in confusion and numb with disappointment and chagrin.

I suggest that the cause of comprehensive failure and the bar to recovery is the persistence of the everlasting Neolithic Man and his assumption of universal control.

If it's too much to expect schools to make students human it's obviously unrealistic to expect them to train intellects. Let them restrain themselves to the simplest of pedagogic functions, to instructing students in the rudiments of Western Civilization. As Alfred North Whitehead said:

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 21, 2004 10:57 PM

Now, that is Conservatism.

Brilliant, OJ.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 22, 2004 7:23 AM

No doubt, governments could save big bucks on public education, subscribing to Mark Twain's "I never let my schooling interfere with my education," among other appropos sentiments.

Well, I supposes K-6 I suppose could be publicly funded, but only for reading, writing, and arithmetic. And religious studies.

(By the way, are there any "Mark Twain Schools" in the US?....)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 22, 2004 7:43 AM

Funny, these guys all think they're exceptions to the general rule, though it's a pretty reliable other general rule that a man's assessment of himself is likely to be overblown.

If you don't try to think, you'll never know whether you can or not.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 22, 2004 5:25 PM

"If it's too much to expect schools to make students human it's obviously unrealistic to expect them to train intellects. "

I thought God made man human, in His own image? I didn't realize that it was an advanced degree in Western Civilization that did so. Are we waxing a little idolatrous Orrin?

Speaking of Mass Man and propaganda, I think that a lot would-be Remnants who take investment advice from Larry Kudlow and his Perma-Bull Chorus will feel somewhat differently after the next bout of bubble-collapsing commences some short time after the election (if W is lucky).

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 23, 2004 2:13 AM


God made Man with the potential to be human--few are.

Posted by: oj at June 23, 2004 8:38 AM

You have to test each one to find out which.

It's a self-test.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 24, 2004 12:28 PM