John Carey writes about how early twentieth-century intellectuals imagined the 'masses' as unnecessary sub-humans who were drugged by popular culture and should be annihilated. Exposing the detest for the masses from well known ‘intellectuals’ such as George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, W. B. Yeats along with others, he relates this to the Nietzschean cult.
Part 1. Themes.
The Revolt of the Masses
•Spanish Philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset published a book called ‘The Revolt of the Masses’ in 1930. He wrote about the population explosion in Europe between the 19th and 20th Century. Europe had produced ‘a gigantic mass of humanity, which launched like a torrent over the historic area.’
•H.G. Wells also referred to the population growth with dismay. ‘The extravagant swarm of new births [are] the essential disaster of the nineteenth century.’
•According to Ortega, the population expansion had various consequences. 1) Overcrowding. 2) Intrusion. 3) The dictatorship of the mass.
•Ortega’s thinking is similar to that of Nietzsche, especially Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, who despised the ‘rabble.’
•‘We should see Nietzsche as one of the earliest products of mass culture. That is to say, mass culture generated Nietzsche in opposition to itself, as its antagonist.’
•Nietzsche’s view of the mass was shared by most of the founders of modern European culture. Ibsen, Flaubert, Knut Hamsun, Thomas Mann, Hermann and Gide all shared a similar view on the despicability of the masses.
•Each European country was shaped differently in its hatred for the masses.
•Between the 19th and 20th century, a literate public had come into being. The newspaper became aimed at the masses, with Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) pioneering this post-Education Act.
•The popular newspaper created an alternative culture, which ‘bypassed the intellectual and made him redundant.’ Northcliffe encouraged human interest stories, extending the typical themes beyond business and politics.
•European intellectuals rejected newspapers, believing the rabble ‘vomit their bile and call it a newspaper.’
•Some male intellectuals despised newspapers as they encouraged women. Northcliffe considered women a worthy audience and printed papers specifically aimed at women.
•Although many intellectuals of the time were showing contempt for the masses and newspapers, Arthur Conan Doyle instead created Sherlock Holmes, ‘a comforting version of the intellectual for mass consumption.’ Holmes, like Nietzsche is a product of mass culture. Holmes purpose being ‘to disperse the fears of overwhelming anonymity that the urban mass brought.’
•Sherlock Holmes used newspapers as a resource in his investigations, they are his ally. This heavily contradicts with the intellectuals’ horror at newspapers. This marked a fault line along which English culture was dividing.
•F. R Leavis believed in this divide in culture. The mass media- radio, film, Northcliffe’s newspapers, brought about ‘an overthrow of standards.’
•T.S Eliot writes in The Waste Land; ‘A crowd flowed over London Bridge so many, I had not thought death had undone so many.’ The implication seems to be that the crowds of people in London are not really alive, which corresponds to Nietzsche’s claim that life in the modern state is in fact, slow suicide.
•The idea that mass existence was not really living quickly became a popular idea, taken on by the likes of Orwell and D. H. Lawrence. Nietzsche and Lawrence both believe in the annihilation of those not worthy to live, although neither specifies how this annihilation should be done.
•Eugenics Education Society founded in 1907, wanted a more selective way of eliminating the masses. They hoped to discourage or prevent the increase of inferior breeds. W. B. Yeats joined the Society and Shaw and Aldous Huxley were sympathetic. Again, Nietzsche began this train of thought. In The Will To Power, he considers the establishment of ‘international racial unions,’ whose task would be to produce a superior race.
•T. S Eliot believed that in our bid to educate everyone, standards are lowered. He also believed that there were too many book published, another evil effect of democracy.
•Another evil of democracy is the expansion of colleges and universities, Eliot believed that the number of people receiving higher education should be severely cut.
•Aldous Huxley said on the spread of education; ‘Universal education has created an immense class of what I may call the New Stupid.’ Conan Doyle’s Holmes was again a contrast to this, as the books portrayed a positive view on education.
•The intellectuals could not of course prevent the masses from becoming literate but what they could do was produce literature that was too difficult for them to understand. The early twentieth century saw a conscious effort from the European intelligentsia to exclude the masses from culture. In England this movement was known as modernism. Literature and visual arts were revolutionized.
•Ortega thought that the function of modern art was to divide the public into two classes.
•Modern art, by demonstrating that men are not equal, brings historical development.
•One of the only twentieth century fictional character who stands out from the usual dreary representatives of mass men and women is Leopold Bloom, from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Bloom is not totally uncultured, but he is certainly no literary intellectual. Are mass men redeemed in Ulysses?
•Another despised symbol of mass culture from the intellectuals’ perspective was tinned food. ‘… it offends against what the intellectual designates as nature: it is mechanical and soulless.’
Rewriting the Masses
•The ‘mass’ is an imaginary construct.
•Ortega thought mass men could be marked out by the fact that they are unambitious and common, he also repeatedly refers to the brutality of the mass.
•Thomas Hardy spoke of the fear he felt being in such close proximity to the masses. Reimagining the mass and visualising how to dominate it was a vital component of mental stability according to Nietzsche. The essential function being to deprive the mass of their human status.
•Taking away the human status from the mass could also be done by converting them into scientific specimens (1930s Mass Observation). Example: Hitler’s scientific method of elimination Jews.
•Gustave Le Bon invented a new branch of science concerning investigating the mass. According to Le Bon ‘crowds are mentally inferior and intent on destruction.’ The modern era has been taken over by the masses.
•Freud agreed with many of Le Bon’s ideas and also extended his ideas. He associated the mass with evil.
•Elias Canetti- seen to be the most cited commentator on the mass, stands with the scientific perspective from Freud to Le Bon. Although his ideas of the mass and crowds are similar to Le Bon’s, he also saw the mass as the salvation of mankind. In a crowd, an individual can escape.
•The role of the camera and photography changed the world of art and literature. Photography was becoming easily accessible to everyone.
•Foster and Lawrence both longed for a mass untouched by modern industrial civilisation.
•Graham Greene singles out the unemployed as cause for concern. Their function is merely to be observed by the intellectuals.
•Wells was a key spokesman of the left. He finds difficulty in confronting the mass. His upbringing affected his idea and grasp of classes. Those who brought him up brainwashed him into his prejudices against working class.
The Suburbs and the Clerks
•The project of rewriting the masses was coloured by various historical factors. The spread of suburbs around major population centres and the increase in the number of white collar workers were influential.
•Suburban sprawl is a key theme in the writing of Edith Nesbit, whose children’s books helped fashion the minds of several generations. The urbanisation was not aesthetically pleasing and ruined the countryside.
•Shaw said ‘The great majority of men have no right to existence, but are a misfortune to higher men.’ This follows on from much of what Nietzsche believed.
•Clerks were rejected by intellectuals. John Betjeman and Stevie Smith wrote about this rejection of the clerks and suburbs, finding an eccentric voice by colonising abandoned territory.
•Stevie Smith adopted a more poetic voice when writing, avoiding the dignity and authority that males appropriated.
•Intellectuals generated an idea of natural aristocracy, consisting of intellectuals.
•Suggestions included the idea that there ought to be a secret knowledge which only intellectuals could possess, or the idea of hereditary aristocracy.
•Nietzsche asserts that men are not equal. It is a mistake to think that they are and this is to blame for the degeneracy of Europe. His beliefs defied Christian beliefs.
•Oscar Wilde says; ‘Aesthetics are higher than ethics.’ Metaphors of high and low culture
•Dismissal of logic and acceptance of self contradiction.
•Lawrence rejected logic, allowing him to keep hold of the idea of natural aristocracy.
•Lawrence was not like Nietzsche, the range and subtlety of his imagination went far beyond Nietzsce.
•How do we recognise natural aristocrats? Any aristocratic theory must take into account the supposed superiority of the natural aristocrats.
•What role does religion play? Greene was a Catholic whilst Nietzsche rejected Christian ideals and beliefs; however intellectuals have a tendency to invoke God when they are driven to justify their beliefs. Greene is unsure whether God exists but remains a distinguished believer.
George Gissing- ‘The earliest English writer to formulate the intellectuals.’ Speaks of cultural evils he sees around him. Even picking up a newspaper, one is exposed to vulgarity. Only got with women who were inferior to him in many ways, he was a woman beater.
H. G Wells- He was obsessed with reducing the world’s culture and population.
Arnold Bennett- His book was liked by the masses; he made money from it and was therefore despised by the Intelligentsia. Yet he believed intellectuals should write to appeal to a wider audience. Surely a logical thing to do.