Arjun Appadurai in The Wire:
José Ortega y Gasset is a largely forgotten 20th century thinker, an unconventional Spanish philosopher whose most important social science work, The Revolt of the Masses, reflected his fears about a world in which liberal individuals were disappearing and the “mass man” was emerging.
Ortega’s idea of the mass man was not a picture of the poor, the destitute or the proletarian multitude but of a mass of average men, who were rendered similar by their tastes, dispositions and values, rather than by their dispossession. In this way, Ortega was closer to the later American critics of the men “in the grey flannel suit” than to the Frankfurt School critics of mass society. Still, Ortega was an early voice in seeing the masses, of whatever kind, as revolting against the liberal ideals of the 19th century.
I return to Ortega now because I think the 20th century has exhausted the major forms of mass revolt and that we have entered a new epoch which is characterised by the “revolt of the elites”. These revolting elites are those who support, surround, promote and flatter the new autocracies of Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Jair Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson, Viktor Orban and many others who have created what could be called ‘populism from above’ – where the people are electoral tools for a mass exit from democracy.
Why call this behaviour of the new autocratic elites a “revolt” rather than simply predatory capitalism, cronyism, neoliberalism in its latest guise, disaster capitalism, all of which are available terms? Who are these new elites and what are they revolting against?