A century of security and prosperity (the nineteenth, that is) has produced a populace of spoiled brats. That’s the main contention of Ortega y Gasset’s famous book. The new type, which he calls “mass man”, is distinguished above all by ingratitude and complacency. He has grown so used to stable government and a rising standard of living that he has come to imagine that these exist automatically without any human effort. Being oblivious to the effort needed to maintain and run a civilization, he certainly feels no responsibility to contribute to the endeavor, but rather settles for demanding a greater and greater share of the spoils. Mass man has no interest in the science that gives him his technology or in the history and culture that form his civilization. The mass calls on the state to gratify its desires by bullying those who stand in its way, oblivious to the ruin this will eventually bring.
The noble man always serves some good or outside himself and judges himself by a harsh external standard. (Noblesse oblige.) Mass man is satisfied with himself as he is. (He has self-esteem, we might say.) He has opinions, picked up from the prejudices and buzzwords of his surroundings, on every topic. He has no interest, however, in investigating whether his opinions are actually true. He doesn’t feel the need to have what he regards as good reasons, much less to investigate the reasons for and against each view before coming to a decision on a particular issue. He thinks his opinions have value just because they are his. This is only a particularly obnoxious example of mass man’s total self-complacency. Experts in narrow technical fields are some of the worst mass men, as their expertise in one field makes them even more smug and incurious in their ignorant appraisals of everything else.
It seems to me that a certain percentage of traditionalist intellectuals are in reaction against something like Ortega's mass man. They have an instinct toward nobility of character and bearing, of moral integrity, of the pursuit of a higher, complex truth, of an elevated culture and companionship, of beauty and refinement, of self-discipline and courage.
However, from at least the late 1800s onward, it has been clear that Western culture was slipping increasingly toward dominance by that of the mass man (and by the mid-1900s that dominance was close to complete).
What does all that mean? It means that we have a potential problem with traditionalist intellectuals. In the early 1900s, a group of liberal intellectuals felt alienated from their own culture and so turned against it, preferring to form a subculture of their own - with disastrous consequences for Western history.
And what does a traditionalist intellectual do who similarly feels alienated from a culture based on mass man? I wonder if it pushes some to become curmudgeonly or bitter, and to feel a superior disdain for the mainstream of their own society. In other words, there is no longer a positive regard for the ordinary man and woman of their own tradition, which then sours the whole outlook.
There has to be some sympathetic understanding that it is not given to everyone to set a higher ideal for themselves; but that there is still much within the life of the ordinary person to admire; and that the role of those who are drawn to higher ideals is to act creatively in the world to positively influence their own society and culture.