|Josef Váchal’s Cry of the Masses (source: vachal.cz)|
We operate according to our beliefs. There is the good old American stand-by - work hard, save your money, be a good citizen and you can have a safe, comfortable life. Or we profess a belief in God, or in bourbon , as in 'I believe I'll have another drink'. What we believe might be the most important part of who we are. Joseph posts a long quote from The Quest for Community by Robert Nisbet on Arimathea that has a few words to say on the subject. Here is an excerpt:
“Masses,” writes Dr. Arendt, “are not held together by consciousness of common interest, and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties, or municipal governments, or professional organizations, or trade unions.”
The essence of the masses, however, does not lie in the mere fact of numbers. It is not the quantitative but the qualitative aspect that is essential. A population may be vast, as is that of India, and yet, by reason of the stability of its social organization, be far removed from the condition of massdom.
What is crucial in the formation of the masses is the atomization of all social and cultural relationships within which human beings gain their normal sense of membership in society. The mass is an aggregate of individuals who are insecure, basically lonely, and ground down, either through decree or historical circumstance, into mere particles of social dust. Within the mass all ordinary relationships and authorities seem devoid of institutional function and psychological meaning. Worse, such relationships and authorities come to seem positively hostile; in them the individual can find not security but despair. “The despair of the masses,” concludes Peter Drucker, “is the key to the understanding of fascism. No ‘revolt of the mob,’ no ‘triumphs of unscrupulous propaganda,’ but stark despair caused by the breakdown of the old order and the absence of a new one.”