The Intellectuals and the Masses  

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"The intellectuals could not, of course, actually prevent the masses from attaining literacy. But they could prevent them reading literature by making it too difficult for them to understand—and this is what they did. The early twentieth century saw a determined effort, on the part of the European intelligentsia, to exclude the masses from culture. In England this movement has become known as modernism. --John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses, p. 16-17

"Many too many are born ... Far too many live, and far too long do they hang on their branches. If only a storm would come and shake all that is rotten and worm-eaten from the tree!" --Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

"It was a European obsession, tied up in European fears of a Malthusian crisis, which was adopted after a lag by American writers such as H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis. Baudelaire and Nietzsche were the pioneers, leading their followers to an aristocratic contempt for democracy, capitalism, bourgeois values, and the United States of America. Baudelaire had spoken for example of "a knave in Benjamin Franklin's style, the rising bourgeoisie come to replace the faltering aristocracy." A nostalgia for aristocracy bubbled up in the century after 1848, a treason against the liberal polity. Modernism, says Carey, is a literary theory of fascism. One finds it still among certain literary intellectuals, many of whom think of themselves as politically progressive."[1] --Donald N. McCloskey commenting on John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses (1992)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Intellectuals and the Masses is a 1992 literary history book by John Carey. In his critique of elitism, John Carey, holds Nietzsche as one of the earliest products of mass culture, because it created him "as its antagonist." The immense popularity of his ideas among early twentieth-century intellectuals suggests the panic that the threat of the masses aroused. W. B. Yeats recommended Nietzsche as "a counteractive to the spread of democratic vulgarity".

The obscurities of modern art and literature, according to Carey, were devised by the intelligentsia to exclude the new reading public for whom they had contempt--a thesis that Carey applies here to, among others, George Gissing, H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, and Wyndham Lewis. Nietzsche, Yeats, Shaw, Flaubert, Ibsen, Ortega y Gasset, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce -- indeed the entire modernist movement, says Carey, depicted the masses and the popular culture they generated with disdain.


ISBN 0-571-16926-0 The Intellectuals and the Masses (1992) - John Carey

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