Friday, July 26, 2013

Revolt of the Masses:IV

Gasset's book loses steam after about mid-point and the devotes the rest of this book to the subject of the state, the cultural leadership of Europe and his proposed solution to problem of mass-man

Gasset's warns about the danger of the all-powerful-state but devotes little time to the symbiosis between it and mass-man. He puts forth the idea that the modern state, with all it's complexity, is a product of bourgeois technism. It's a weak argument, in my opinion, for a variety of reasons. A simpler approach would be to see that an enlarging state, in a democracy, is a thing of the popular will.  The public want free health, education, good police forces, public transport and so on. The provision of each of these services requires a commensurate expansion of government. Hence,  with each iteration of the democratic cycle government is almost guaranteed to expand. Gasset also recognises that tendency of mass-man is to attribute to government things he really should be doing himself. Thus, government slowly intrudes into everyday spheres of life and spontaneous social organisation is stifled. Gasset also recognises that there has to be limits to state expansion, for it cannot always be guaranteed that the states influence will be benign.
However accustomed we may be to it, the terrible paradox should not escape our minds that the population of a great modern city, in order to move about peaceably and attend to its business, necessarily requires a police force to regulate the circulation. But it is foolishness for the party of "law and order" to imagine that these "forces of public authority" created to preserve order are always going to be content to preserve the order that that party desires. Inevitably they will end by themselves defining and deciding on the order they are going to impose-which, naturally, will be that which suits them best.

It might be well to take advantage of our touching on this matter to observe the different reaction to a public need manifested by different types of society. When, about 1800 the new industry began to create a type of man-the industrial worker-more criminally inclined than traditional types, France hastened to create a numerous police force. Towards 1810 there occurs in England, for the same reasons, an increase in criminality and the English suddenly realise that they have no police. The Conservatives are in power. What will they do?

Will they establish a police force? Nothing of the kind. They prefer to put up with crime, as well as they can. "People are content to let disorder alone, considering it the price they pay for liberty." "In Paris," writes John William Ward, "they have an admirable police force, but they pay dear for its advantages. 1 prefer to see, every three or four years, half a dozen people getting their throats cut in the Ratcliffe Road, than to have to submit to domiciliary visits, to spying, and to all the machinations of Fouche." 1 Here we have two opposite ideas of the State. The Englishman demands that the State should have limits set to it.
I don't think he would be a great advocate for gun control. In my opinion, his book's intellectual analysis rapidly decreases in quality from this point on. Gasset next deals with the topic of the cultural leadership of Europe.
What is the result? Europe had created a system of standards whose efficacy and productiveness the centuries have proved. Those standards are not the best possible; far from it. But they are, without a doubt, definite standards as long as no others exist or are visualised. Before supplanting them, it is essential to produce others. Now, the mass-peoples have decided to consider as bankrupt that system of standards which European civilisation implies, but as they are incapable of creating others, they do not know what to do, and to pass the time they kick up their heels and stand on their heads. Such is the first consequence which follows when there ceases to he in the world anyone who rules; the rest, when they break into rebellion, are left without a task to perform, without a programme of life.
For Gasset, European culture is the pre-eminent culture of the world. But he senses, like many others of the time, that Euopean culture is in crisis and has become decadent.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the decadence of Europe. I would ask people not to he so simple-minded as to think of Spengler immediately the decadence of Europe or of the Wen is mentioned. Before his book appeared, everyone was talking of this matter, and as is well known, the success of his book was due to the fact that the suspicion was already existing in people's minds, in ways and for reasons of the most heterogeneous.
This crisis of culture reflects itself in the psychology of the ordinary man.
But what is happening at present in Europe is something unhealthy and unusual. The European commandments have lost their force, though there is no sign of any others on the horizon. Europe-we are told-is ceasing to rule, and no one sees who is going to take her place. By Europe we understand primarily and properly the trinity of France, England, Germany. It is in the portion of the globe occupied by these that there has matured that mode of human existence in accordance with which the world has been organized. If, as is now announced, these three peoples are in decadence, and their programme of life has lost its validity, it is not strange that the world is becoming demoralised.

And such is the simple truth. The whole world-nations and individuals-is demoralised. For a time this demoralisation rather amuses people, and even causes a vague illusion. The lower ranks think that a weight has been lifted off them. Decalogues retain from the time they were written on stone or bronze their character of heaviness. The etymology of command conveys the notion of putting a load into someone's hands. He who commands cannot help being a bore. Lower ranks the world over are tired of being ordered and commanded, and with holiday air take advantage of a period freed from burdensome imperatives. But the holiday does not last long. Without commandments, obliging us to Eve after a certain fashion, our existence is that of the "unemployed" This is the terrible spiritual situation in which the best youth of the world finds itself to-day. By dint of feeling itself free, exempt from restrictions, it feels itself empty. An "unemployed" existence is a worse negation of life than death itself. Because to live means to have something definite to do-a mission to fulfil-and in the measure in which we avoid setting our life to something, we make it empty
It appears to me that the core principle of Gasset's philosophy is; that for a man to live a purposeful life, he must have some ideology or standard according to which he aspires to. Gasset seems to not care too much as to what these principles are, thus to my mind he is a moral relativist, but to be fair, he rejects the standards of Fascism and Bolshevism as primitive negations of his ideal of liberal democracy; ideologies which are the product of the hive-mind of mass-man. The shadow of Nietzsche lurks throughout his thinking.

For Gasset,  Europe's demoralisation has come about as a consequence of its technical and material superabundance. As European population, wealth and technological might have expanded,  its constituent cultures have failed to keep up with their potential. Gasset argues that this relative "provincialisation" of European cultures has led to the "demoralisation" of Europe!
The same thing is happening in the order of internal politics. We have not yet seen a keen
analysis of the strange problem of the political life of all the great nations being at such a low ebb. We are told that democratic institutions have lost prestige. But that is precisely what it should be necessary to explain. Because such loss of prestige is very strange. Everywhere Parliament is spoken ill of, but people do not see that in no one of the countries that count is there any attempt at substitution. Nor do even the Utopian outlines exist of other forms of the State which seem, at any rate ideally, preferable. Too much credit, then, is not to be given to the authenticity of this loss of prestige. It is not institutions, qua instruments of public life, that are going badly in Europe; it is the tasks on which to employ them. There are lacking programmes of a scope adequate to the effective capacities that life has come to acquire in each European individual
. [ED]
For Europe to regain its sense of destiny and defeat its demoralisation  Gasset argues, it needs to embark on some kind of new project: a project which will inspire men. For  Gasset, that project must incorporate the ideals of liberal democracy and exceed them.  He proposes the creation of a "European man", in essence he argues for a removal of cultural provincialism by the creation of a European Union.