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Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The masses are the part of the population conceived of (often pejoratively) as common, ordinary, or lacking in intellectual or moral attainments.

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  • The masses demand a fighting President, and that means you’ve got to offend somebody, because the way I see it, a strong offense is the best attack.
    • Gracie Allen, How to Become President Ch. 6 : How not to offend anybody (1940)


  • If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.
  • What has set the mass in motion for any length of time is then called great. It is given the name of a historical power. When, for example, the vulgar mob has appropriated or adapted to its needs some religious idea, has defended it stubbornly and dragged it along for centuries, then the originator of that idea is called great. There is the testimony of thousands of years for it, we are told. But this is Nietzsche’s and Kierkegaard’s idea the noblest and highest does not affect the masses at all, either at the moment or later. Therefore the historical success of a religion, its toughness and persistence, witness against its founder’s greatness rather than for it.
    • Georg Brandes, “An Essay on Aristocratic Radicalism,” Friedrich Nietzsche, p. 20
  • the exploited masses awaken.
    • la masa explotada despierta.
    • Canción de la verdad sencilla/Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos translated by Jack Agüeros (1997)


  • Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them.
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life, Chapter 7, “Considerations by the Way,” Complete Works (1883), vol. 6, p. 237
  • Our modes of Education aim ... to do for masses what cannot be done for masses, what must be done reverently, one by one.


  • The masses are made to believe that they are not being led, but that they are acting spontaneously and governing themselves, and the fact that they believe this is a sign from which the extent of their stupidity may be inferred.


  • When an individual endeavors to lift himself above his fellows, he is dragged down by the mass, either by means of ridicule or of calumny. No one shall be more virtuous or more intellectually gifted than others. Whoever, by the irresistible force of genius, rises above the common herd is certain to be ostracized by society, which will pursue him with such merciless derision and detraction that at last he will be compelled to retreat into the solitude of his thoughts.
  • For what sense or understanding have they? They follow minstrels and take the multitude for a teacher, not knowing that many are bad and few good. For the best men choose one thing above all—immortal glory among mortals; but the masses stuff themselves like cattle.


  • Individuals of the contemporary generation are fearful of existence … only in great masses do they dare to live, and they cluster together en masse in order to feel that they amount to something.
  • The great masses, who have never been, in the history of mankind, more subject to hypnotic suggestion than they are right now, have become the puppets of the “public opinion” that is engineered by the newspapers in the service, it need hardly be emphasized, of the reigning powers of finance. What is printed in the morning editions of the big city newspapers is the opinion of nine out of ten readers by nightfall. The United States of America, whose more rapid “progress” enables us to predict the future on a daily basis, has pulled far ahead of the pack when it comes to standardizing thought, work, entertainment, etc.


  • The masses have never thirsted after truth. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.


  • The greater the industrial and political organization, the greater is the emphasis on the individual as a mere mass unit, and the smaller his importance as a single separate person.
    • Everett Dean Martin, The Conflict of the Individual and the Mass in the Modern World (1932), p. 27
  • Men in the mass never brook the destructive discussion of their fundamental beliefs, and that impatience is naturally most evident in those societies in which men in the mass are most influential. Democracy and free speech are not facets of one gem; democracy and free speech are eternal enemies.
  • In politics it is almost a triviality to say that public opinion now rules the world. The only power deserving the name is that of masses, and of governments while they make themselves the organ of the tendencies and instincts of masses. ... The mass do not now take their opinions from dignitaries in Church or State, from ostensible leaders, or from books. Their thinking is done for them by men much like themselves, addressing them or speaking in their name, on the spur of the moment, through the newspapers.
    • J.S. Mill, On Liberty (Henry Holt, New York: 1895), Chapter 3, pp. 118-119


  • The man who does not wish to belong to the mass needs only to cease taking himself easily; let him follow his conscience, which calls to him: “Be your self! All you are now doing, thinking, desiring, is not you yourself.”
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, “Schopenhauer as educator,” § 3.1, R. Hollingdale, trans. (1983), p. 127
  • This is age of the masses, who prostrate themselves before everything built on a massive scale.


  • The mass is all that which sets no value on itself—good or ill—based on specific grounds, but which feels itself “just like everybody,” and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite happy to feel itself as one with everybody else.
  • The most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection, mere buoys that float on the waves.
  • A characteristic of our times is the predominance, even in groups traditionally selective, of the mass and the vulgar. Thus, in the intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and, by their very mental texture, disqualified. Similarly, in the surviving groups of the “nobility,” male and female. On the other hand, it is not rare to find today amongst working men, who before might be taken as the best example of what we are calling “mass,” nobly disciplined minds.
  • The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.
It was not necessary to know much. So long as they continued to work and breed... They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work... a brief blossoming-period of beauty and sexual desire, they married... the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and... gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult. ~ George Orwell, 1984
  • That man is intellectually of the mass who, in the face of any problem, is satisfied with thinking the first thing he finds in his head. On the contrary, the excellent man is he who condemns what he finds in his mind without previous effort, and only accepts as worthy of him what is still far above him and what requires a further effort in order to be reached.
  • The Party taught that the proles were natural inferiors who must be kept in subjection, like animals, by the application of a few simple rules....It was not necessary to know much. So long as they continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern. They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through a brief blossoming-period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they were middle-aged at thirty, they died, for the most part, at sixty. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult... It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations... Even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice... As the Party slogan put it: ‘Proles and animals are free.’


  • There are a precious few whose studies are sound and honest and whose goal is truth and virtue. This is the knowledge of things and the improvement of moral conduct. … As for the others, of whom there is an enormous mass, some seek glory, an insipid, yet gleaming prize. But the majority aims only at the gleam of money, which is not only a rather poor reward, but dirty, and neither equal to the trouble involved, nor worthy of efforts of the mind.
    • Petrarch, “On the Various Academic Titles,” De remediis utriusque fortune, C. Rawski, trans. (1967), pp. 72-73


  • To disrespect the masses is moral; to honor them, lawful.
    • Friedrich Schlegel, Lucinde and the Fragments, P. Firchow, trans. (1991), “Athenaeum Fragments” § 211
  • The life of the masses is passed in dullness since all their thoughts and desires are directed entirely to the petty interests of personal welfare and thus to wretchedness and misery in all its forms. For this reason, intolerable boredom befalls them as soon as they are no longer occupied with those aims and they are now thrown back on themselves.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, p. 338
  • Since the mass of mankind are too ignorant or too indolent to think seriously, if majorities are right it is by accident.


  • When the ranks of society are unequal, and men unlike one another in condition, there are some individuals wielding the power of superior intelligence, learning, and enlightenment, while the multitude are sunk in ignorance and prejudice. Men living at these aristocratic periods are therefore naturally induced to shape their opinions by the standard of a superior person, or a superior class of persons, while they are averse to recognizing the infallibility of the mass of the people.

    The contrary takes place in ages of equality. The nearer the people are drawn to the common level of an equal and similar condition, the less prone does each man become to place implicit faith in a certain man or a certain class of men. But his readiness to believe the multitude increases, and opinion is more than ever mistress of the world. Not only is common opinion the only guide which private judgment retains among a democratic people, but among such a people it possesses a power infinitely beyond what it has elsewhere. At periods of equality men have no faith in one another, by reason of their common resemblance; but this very resemblance gives them almost unbounded confidence in the judgment of the public; for it would seem probable that, as they are all endowed with equal means of judging, the greater truth should go with the greater number.


  • Unfortunately the European concept "massman" came to America not from its great originators, Burckhardt and Nietzsche, but via its popularizer, the brilliantly learned but oversimplifying Ortega y Gasset. "Massman" is a valid enough term for the American Overadjusted Man but only on the condition that the middleclass nature of the American masses is first recognized and that "massman" is not made synonymous with workingman. Wealthy would-be conservatives, above all the prissy suburban "despisers of the mob," flatter themselves handsomely by assuming that "mass" means only manual worker and that they themselves are not massmen but rugged individualists. Hence the snobbish illusion that individualism is best protected from the mass by an anti-worker, narrowly commercialist politics and economics.

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