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You can go to cart and save for later there. The Politics of Mass Society - eBook. Average rating: 0 out of 5 stars, based on 0 reviews Write a review. Tell us if something is incorrect. Book Format: Choose an option. Product Highlights The Politics of Mass Society explores the social conditions necessary for democracy and the vulnerabilities of large scale society to totalitarian systems. Mass movements mobilize people who are alienated from the social system, who do not believe in the legitimacy of the established order, and who.

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The Politics Of Mass Society

Get to Know Us. Customer Service. In The Spotlight. Shop Our Brands. All Rights Reserved. Cancel Submit. How was your experience with this page? Needs Improvement Love it! Such a state of anomie generates the quest for new authority and heightens receptivity to pseudo-authority.

As in the case of the search for community, mass analysts try to identify the symptoms and consequences of inappropriate and inauthentic responses to genuine needs for authoritative standards and direction. The rise of charismatic leadership testifies to this need. But of greater significance is the quality of this leadership—whether it is the carrier of new values or merely the popularity of a demagogue or celebrity.

Where mass media of communication and the techniques of manipulation and mobilization are highly developed, it hardly suffices to say that popular enthusiasm is sufficient to demonstrate a charismatic relationship. The conditions of mass society facilitate the fabrication of charisma in the absence of value commitment on the part of either leaders or masses.

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More generally, whenever the claim to authority is based substantially on the manipulation of symbols rather than on the invoking of standards, one may speak of pseudo-authority. What concerns mass analysts are situations in which there is a marked discrepancy between the symbols and the substance of authority. The claim that public opinion is authoritative under conditions of modern mass democracy is a case in point.

Where public opinion becomes a slogan for whatever is believed to be popular, rather than a process and product of public deliberation and discussion, it is a form of pseudo-democracy. This is a powerful tendency in mass society because of the difficulties of making and eliciting personal responses in mass arenas and bureaucratic institutions. The ease of mass manipulation and the difficulty of public deliberation favor the symbols of democracy without the substance, especially where the symbols are widely stereotyped in terms that do not invite close scrutiny or comparison with actual experience Selznick The most extreme manifestation of manipulated and mobilized opinion is found in totalitarian systems.

The unanimous elections, the staged demonstrations, and the mass indoctrination programs reveal the possibilities of pseudo-democracy. Totalitarianism itself is greatly facilitated by the existence or creation of masses of people who are not attached to independent social groups. Indeed, the study of totalitarianism is instructive because it shows how the effort to mobilize a whole population actually requires the destruction of bonds of authority and community and their replacement by ideological organizations. However, the ultimate reliance of totalitarian regimes on the use of force testifies to the limits of this strategy of mobilization.

Moreover, mass conditions do not by themselves produce totalitarianism. The existence of modern technology plus the availability of large numbers of socially unintegrated people make totalitarianism possible, but a number of other conditions must be present to prepare the way for totalitarianism. Theories of mass society are sometimes said to be prophecies of despair Bell ; Shils But they need not be so construed. That the mass analyst tends to be a pathologist of contemporary society in no way denies the existence in that society of creative and value-sustaining social forces. Properly incorporated into social science , the concepts of mass society invite analysis of the conditions under which mass processes are strong or weak.

Thus, mass analysis may take on new significance in alerting students of non-Western societies to certain pathologies of social development. Perhaps more important for social thought than any particular proposition of mass society is the concern this perspective represents for assessing the quality of culture and social institutions. If social science is to pursue this kind of inquiry, however, it will have to renew its communication with the humanities.

Leader and Vanguard in Mass Society | The MIT Press

For if the idea of mass society has greatly influenced social science, its formulation and development have been to a considerable extent the work of philosophy, history, and literature. Arendt, Hannah The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York : Meridian. New York : Collier. Blumer, Herbert Collective Behavior. Pages in Alfred M. Lee editor , New Out-line of the Principles of Sociology. Glencoe, III. Evanston, Le Bon, Gustave The Crowd. New York: Macmillan. New York: Norton.

New York: Harcourt. Boston: Harvard Univ. Merton, Robert K. New York: Harper. New York: Praeger. Nisbet, Robert A. New York: Oxford Univ. Park, Robert E. Collected Papers, Vol.

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New Haven : Yale Univ. Edited and translated by Kurt H. Tocqueville, Alexis De Democracy in America. New York: Knopf. A paperback edition was published in by Vintage and by Schocken. Translated and edited by Charles P. East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. A paperback edition was published in by Harper. Translated and edited by Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills.

Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. September 25, Retrieved September 25, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.


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Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. The mass society theory, in all its diverse formulations, is based on a sweeping general claim about "the modern world," one announcing a "break-down of community. These formulations argue the collapse of the stable, cohesive, and supportive communities found in the days of yore.

In modern times, as a consequence, one finds rootlessness, fragmentation, breakdown, individuation, isolation, powerlessness, and widespread anxiety Giner ; Halebsky The original formulations of this position, those of the nineteenth century, were put forth by conservatives, by persons identified with or defending the old regime. These were critiques of the liberal theory or, more precisely, of liberal practice. The basic aim of the liberals was to free individuals from the restraints of traditional institutions.

That aim was to be accomplished by the dismantling of the "irrational" arrangements of the old regime. Liberals, understandably, were enthusiastic about the achievement: Free men could do things, achieve things, create things that were impossible under the old arrangement. The collective benefits, they argued, were or would be enormous. The conservative critics agreed about some aspects of the history. They agreed about the general process of individuation.

They, however, called it fragmentation or a decline of community. More important, they provided very different assessments of the consequences. At its simplest, the liberals argued an immense range of benefits coming with the transformation, a conclusion signaled, for example, in Adam Smith 's title, The Wealth of Nations.

The mass society theorists agreed with the basic diagnosis but drew strikingly opposite conclusions pointing to a wide, and alarming, range of personal and social costs. The modern world begins, supposedly, with an enormous uprooting of populations.


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Ever greater numbers are forced from the small and stable communities into the large cities. In place of the strong, intimate, personal supports found in the small community, the large cities were characterized by fleeting, impersonal contacts. The family was now smaller. The isolated nuclear family—father, mother, and dependent children—was now the rule, replacing the extended family of farm and village.

The urban neighborhoods were and are less personal. The frequent moves required in urban locales make deep, long-lasting friendships difficult if not impossible. As opposed to the support and solidarity of the village, instrumental and competitive relationships are typical in the large cities and this too makes sustained social ties problematic. In the mass society people are "atomized. The claims put forth in this tradition are typically unidirectional—the prediction is "more and more.

The nineteenth-century versions of this theory focused on the insidious role of demagogues. In those accounts, traditional rulers, monarchs, aristocracy, and the upper classes did their best to govern fundamentally unstable societies. But from time to time, demagogues arose out of "the masses," men who played on the fears and anxieties of an uneducated, poorly informed, and gullible populace.

The plans or programs offered by the demagogues were said to involve "easy solutions. The demagogues brought revolution, which was followed by disorder, destruction, and death. The traditional patterns of rule were disrupted; the experienced and well-meaning leaders were displaced, either killed or driven into exile. The efforts of the demagogues made an already-desperate situation worse. Conservative commentators pointed to the French Revolution as the archetypical case with Robespierre and his associates as the irresponsible demagogues.

Mass society theorists also pointed to the experience of ancient Greece and Rome. There too the demagogues had done their worst, overthrowing the Athenian democracy and bringing an end to the Roman republic. The republic was succeeded by a series of emperors and praetorians, men who, with rare exceptions, showed various combinations of incompetence, irresponsibility, and viciousness. The lesson of the mass society theory, in brief, was that if the masses overthrew the traditional leaders, things would be much worse.

The "successes" of liberalism, the destruction of traditional social structures, the elimination of stable communities, and the resulting individualism also called "egoism" could only worsen an already precarious situation. The theory, accordingly, counseled acceptance or acquiescence. It is easy to see such claims as ideological, as pretense, as justifications for old-regime privilege. Such claims were and are given short shrift in the opposite liberal dramaturgy and, still later, in the dramaturgy of the left.

In those opposite accounts, the old regime is portrayed as powerful. The rulers, after all, had vast wealth and influence; they controlled the police and the ultimate force, the army. In private accounts, however, the leaders of the old regime reported a sense of powerlessness. Their "hold" on power, they felt, was tenuous; they stood on the edge of the abyss. Chateaubriand, the French ambassador, congratulated Lord Liverpool on the stability of British institutions. Liverpool pointed to the metropolis outside his windows and replied: "What can be stable with these enormous cities?

One insurrection in London and all is lost. In , the restored monarchy in France collapsed after only a week of fighting in the capital. In , Louis Philippe 's regime fell after only two days of struggle. A month later, the Prussian king and queen, effectively prisoners of the revolution, were forced to do obeisance to the fallen insurgents. The queen's comment—"Only the guillotine is missing.

Jones declared that "during long periods of this time, many conservatives felt that they were irretrievably on the defensive, faced not with just electoral defeat but also doomed to become a permanent and shrinking minority, exercising a dwindling influence on the mind and life of the nation. Early in the twentieth century, sociologists in Europe and North America developed an extensive literature that also argued a loss-of-community thesis. Simmel's essay, "The Metropolis and Mental Life," had considerable influence in North America , especially in the development of sociology at the University of Chicago.

Park's essay, " The City : Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment," provided the agenda for generations of sociologists. The contacts of the city may indeed be face to face, but they are nevertheless impersonal, superficial, transitory, and segmental. Whereas the individual gains, on the one hand, a certain degree of emancipation or freedom from the personal and emotional controls of intimate groups, he loses, on the other hand, the spontaneous self-expression, the morale, and the sense of participation that comes with living in an integrated society.

This constitutes essentially the state of anomie , or the social void, to which Durkheim alludes" p. Writing almost a half-century after Wirth, sociologist Barrett A. Lee and his coworkers—in an important challenge to those claims—commented on this tradition as follows: "Few themes in the literature of the social sciences have commanded more sustained attention than that of the decline of community. In its basic version, the thesis exhibits a decidedly antiurban bias, stressing the invidious contrast between the integrated small-town resident and the disaffiliated city dweller" pp.

Those sociologists do not appear to have had any clear political direction. Their work was value-neutral. It was pointing to what they took as a basic fact about modern societies without proposing any specific remedies. Later in the twentieth century, a new version of the mass society theory made its appearance.

This may be termed the left variant. All three versions of the theory, right, neutral, and left, agree on "the basics," on the underlying root causes of the modern condition, all agreeing on the "decline of community. In the rightist version, the rulers face a serious threat from below, from the demagogues and their mass followings.

Their control is said to be very tenuous. In the left version, the rulers are portrayed as skillful controllers of the society. The key to their successful domination is to be found in their adept use of the mass media. The bourgeoisie, the ruling class, or its executive agency, the "power elite," is said to control the mass media of communication, the press, magazines, motion pictures , radio, and television, using them for their purposes.

News and commentary, much of it, is said to be self-serving. It is essentially ideological, material designed to justify and defend "the status quo. Advertising in the media serves the same purposes—distraction, creation of artificial needs, and provision of false solutions. The bourgeoisie, it is said, owns and controls "the media. The near-helpless audience as ever, atomized, powerless, and anxious is psychologically disposed to accept the "nostrums" provided.

Elements of this position appeared in the writings of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci , with his concept of ideological hegemony. Some writers in the "Frankfurt school," most notably Herbert Marcuse , also argued this position. It appeared also in the work of C. Wright Mills, in his influential book, The Power Elite.

Many others have offered variants of this position. The left mass society theory provided a third "revision" of the Marxist framework, that is, after those of Bernstein and Lenin. It is the third major attempt to explain the absence of the proletarian revolution. Marx and Engels assigned no great importance to the mass media.

They occasionally referred to items in the "bourgeois" press, adding sardonic comments about its "paid lackeys. They could not stop or reverse the "wheel of history.

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The controllers of the media were able to penetrate the minds of "the masses" and could determine the content of their outlooks. The masses were said to be drugged or, to use a favored term, they were "narcotized. In the s, in the Eisenhower era, the mass media were unambiguously affirmative about "society" and its major institutions.

Families were portrayed as wholesome and happy; the nation's leaders, at all levels, were honorable and upstanding. It was this "affirmative" content that gave rise to the argument of the media as manipulative, as distracting. In the late s, media content changed dramatically. Programs now adopted elements of the mass society portrait, dwelling on themes of social dissolution. Families, neighborhoods, and cities were now "falling apart. Unlike the right and left versions of the mass society theory, these critics do not appear to have any clear political program.

They appear, rather, to be driven by an interest in "exposure. Studies indicate that most of the participants are modern-day liberals, not socialists or Marxists. The mass society theory has had a peculiar episodic history, a coming-and-going in popularity. It had a wave of popularity in the s when Karl Mannheim , Emil Lederer, Hannah Arendt , and Sigmund Neumann, all German exile-scholars, attempted to explain the major events of the age. A sociologist, William Kornhauser presented an empirically based synthesis in , but this effort, on balance, had little impact.

In the s, the wave of "left" mass society theorizing appeared, beginning with the influential work of Herbert Marcuse. In , Charles Reich's The Greening of America appeared, a book destined to have, for several years, an enormous influence. It provided a depiction of the nation that was entirely within the mass society framework: "America is one vast, terrifying anti-community. The great organizations to which most people give their working day, and the apartments and suburbs to which they return at night are equally places of loneliness and isolation.

Modern living has obliterated place, locality, and neighborhood" p. Few research-oriented social scientists have given the mass society theory much credence in the last couple of decades, this for a very good reason: virtually all the major claims of the theory have been controverted by an overwhelming body of evidence Campbell et al. The mass society portrait is mistaken on all key points. Most migration is collective; it is serial, chain migration, in which people move with or follow other people, family and friends, from their home communities.

Most migration involves short-distance moves; most migrants are never very far from their "roots. The typical mass society account, moreover, is truncated, providing an incomplete narrative. The "lonely and isolated" migrants to the city supposedly remain that way for the rest of their lives. Those lonely people presumably have no capacity for friendship; they are unable to get together with others to overcome their powerlessness, and so forth.

Many academics in other fields, however, continue to give the theory considerable credence. It is a favorite of specialists in the literary sciences, of those in the humanities. The theory, as noted, is also a favorite of journalists, of social affairs commentators, of writers, dramatists, and poets.

This paradoxical result requires some explanation. The literature dealing with "the human condition" has a distinctive bifurcated character. The work produced by research-oriented scholars ordinarily has a very limited audience, most of it appearing in limited-circulation journals for small groups of specialists. Those specialists rarely attempt to bring their findings to the attention of larger audiences. Attempts to correct misinformation conveyed by the mass media are also infrequent.

The producers of mass media content show an opposite neglect: they rarely contact academic specialists to inquire about the lessons found in the latest research.

The Foreign Policy of Mass Society. Part II

Those who argue and defend mass society claims, on the whole, have an enormous audience. Writing in , Daniel Bell , the noted sociologist, stated that apart from Marxism, the mass society theory was probably the most influential social theory in the Western world. Four decades years later, the conclusion is still valid. The intellectual productions based on this theory reach millions of susceptible members of the upper and upper-middle classes, most especially those referred to as the "intelligentsia.