When Will the Masses Just Give Up?

Fred Siegel of St. Francis College in Brooklyn argues that the highbrow class has killed culture.

Mencken and Huxley shared an aristocratic ideal based on an idyllic past. They romanticized a time before the age of machinery and mass production, when the lower orders lived in happy subordination and when intellectual eccentricity was encouraged among the elites. In this beautiful world, alienation was as unknown as bearbaiting and cockfighting, “and those who wanted to amuse themselves were,” in Huxley’s words, “compelled, in their humble way, to be artists.”

They considered the egalitarianism of American democracy a degraded form of government which, in Ortega’s words, discouraged “respect or esteem for superior individuals.” Intellectuals, they complained, weren’t given their due by the human detritus of this new world. Huxley, a member of the Eugenics Society, saw mass literacy, mass education, and popular newspapers as having “created an immense class of what I may call the New Stupid.” He proposed the British government raise the price of newsprint ten or twentyfold because “the new stupid,” manipulated by newspaper plutocrats, were imposing a soul-crushing conformity on humanity. The masses, so his argument went, needed to be curtailed for their own good and for the greater good of high culture.

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