Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Intellectuals and the Masses

The French Revolution was not just a shock for the people living in Versailles. When it occurred it essentially sent shock waves through most of the elite as the peasants made it more than clear. If they massed together, not even the monarchy was safe.

John Carey is a professor of English at Oxford University and the author of The Intellectuals and the Masses. He in no way condones the views set by the elite but showcases their values in his book.

The elite had always sat high and dry, safe in the knowledge that the people beneath them in the hierarchy were too stupid to realize that they could be doing better with their lives than building carts and doing other physical labor. However, times were changing, and social developments meant that crowds of people were now learning to read and growing in power. People like Lord Northcliffe jumped on this new cultural change and created newspapers pandering to their needs. The newly invented tabloid embraced the lives of everyday people. It specialized in being picture heavy, so that it was even easier to read than before. This led to the belief that the common newspaper bypassed the intellectual. On top of that they were enabling woman to become clever, something unheard of.

A rift was created between England, a rift brought about by fear as the elite desperately tried to cling on to their status in the social order. They knew that once everyone else became educated, there would be nothing setting them apart from the rest of England. So they created modern art. Modern art being something so unintelligible and so unlike the art that had come before it, only they could understand it. Modern art was apparently the "superior art", it belonged to them and if you didn't understand it, you were not `elite`.

These extreme views were epitomized in a few individuals in particular.
  • Gissing-Apparently the earliest English writer to formulate the intellectuals, he only slept with woman who were inferior to him and would regularly boast about beating them up. He believed woman's education was to blame for the cultural change. Upon writing his book "In the year of the jubilee" he states that aspects such as fashion illustrate the folly and greed of woman and everything to do with their attire. When he travelled to Italy in later life he was greatly moved by the sight of a peasant. Although he couldn't care less about the person as a human being, he is moved by the notion that somewhere in the world, certain people are still in their place and are still working the land with no inclination to be educated.
  • H.G Wells- Another one who holds woman's education responsible. "Woman's craving for material things has ruined mankind". He also believed in sterilization and elimination of certain members of the human race. Those suffering from genetic illnesses or those who are not mentally stable should be killed or sterilized. "The way of Nature in this process is to kill the weaker". He dreamed of a modern Utopia in which we would all live in a Big Brother-esque world, where we'd all be recorded according to fingerprints and numbers. Everyone is kept control of. The fact that this would be so appealing is no surprise, since this is what the elitist were most afraid of, losing their power over the masses.
  • Wyndham Lewis-A huge supporter of Hitler, he greatly appreciated the idea of eliminating certain races and certain human beings. He thought that the world had become just one big melting pot, where races and culture were no longer distinguishable. Pedigree and class were incredibly important to the intellectuals during this century, and the fact that Englishmen essentially came from the same stock as Shakespeare would have been a great source of pride. Therefore other cultures were thought less of. The idea that racial purity generated strength, meant that health of the race was paramount.
The mass was seen to be spreading in an unhealthy way. Suburbs which were built to accommodate the ever growing population were condemned for ruining the countryside and were said to be worse than slums. When they were eventually built, they were thought of to be breeding grounds for, not only more masses, but diseases and further education opportunities. Everything the elite detested.
Freud described these masses as a primal horde/pack. The idea of it plays to animal instincts. Those who are apart from the mass have successfully managed to suppress their unconscious desires and instincts. They have successful Ego's and Superego's and are therefore better humans than those giving way to their need to huddle together.

Characters such as Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses is also mass. Yet through the book, we get to know him extremely well. His fears, his fantasies, his desires etc. Joyce individualizes someone from within a crowd and shows that they are all human, not just one body of people. Yet the idea that education should be a privilege still held. Nothing so fine should ever be so common. Only higher forms of life actually live, the rest should merely survive.

Things like the cinema and movies and even newspapers were seen as cheap forms of entertainment, tacky and not intelligent. Even the newly invented crematorium was seen as a "conveyor belt" into death. The crowds had even over crowded the cemeteries. This all eventually culminated in the holocaust during Hitlers reign in the Second World War. Whether the situations Carey pinpoints in his book is to blame is debatable. Though it is clear the intellectuals mentioned were great supporters and would not have protested the thought of it happening. As D.H Lewis made clear, the mass murder of millions of people would be no more terrible than the fall of leaves in the autumn.

The masses were to blame for everything over the coming years; woman's rights, marriage problems, disbelief in God and the grand principle of female independence. The elite tried their best to make education as inaccessible as possible to the inferior masses and to some extent this is still continuing today.

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