Review of ‘The Intellectuals and the Masses’ by Prof John Carey
|T.S. Eliot sets out one of his plays as a diagram|
|Who else but D.H. Lawrence|
Professor Carey aims accusations against Yeats, Wells, Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence among others. These accusations mainly concern the writers’ shabby treatment of those ‘not in the know’. Who these people are, Carey cannot ascertain, only that they are probably poor, living in the London suburbs, and attempting to make a paltry living at anything that their betters claim is not ‘art’, however their betters may define what ‘art’ is, exactly. This lumpen mass of proletarians, or whatever you want to call them, read newspapers and go to movies in an attempt to make sense of their limited lives. The fact that their lives are limited does not move the intellectuals to compassion. Instead, they react with outright condemnation. They complain that there are too many people in the world and believe that this creates a mass kind of culture that interferes with their livelihood and their belief in themselves as an intellectual elite. To highbrows looking across the gulf, it seemed that the masses were not merely degraded and threatening, but also not fully alive.  p.10.
The rest of the book is a well-researched and written argument that points to the elitism of a number of revered writers and how such a mindset can be directly linked to the rise of European totalitarianism and the persecution of the Jews. The final chapter entitled ‘Wyndham Lewis and Hitler’ is a devastating critique on the similarities between Hitler’s ideas about culture and those of the English intellectuals of the same period. The Americans possessed cars, clothes and refrigerators, but the Third Reich boasted 270 opera houses, giving it the right to look down on American philistinism and crass materialism, an attitude shared by many English writers and intellectuals. p. 198-99.
|Wyndham Lewis was also a painter|
I think that books and investigations of this kind have the capacity to inherently change the way we think about the people whom we view as having a talent that is somehow unique, and superior to anything we would be capable of doing ourselves. I recall wading through the letters of outrage published in the Age Monthly Review from readers who were convinced that these accusations of Wagner being an unattractive individual -- at the very least -- were not only superfluous when it came to judging his music, but downright slanderous, that is, if Wagner had been alive to answer to them. With time however, this new information becomes accepted as part of the textual rendering of the person’s life. It becomes possible for any individual interested enough to either accept this new information as fact, or deny it for their own personal reasons. To accuse the investigator of being intolerant of the person in question’s own beliefs or the times in which he lived, or attempting to be too politically correct. cannot stand up if the information is well researched and argued in a convincing way. I believe this is the case with Cary’s book.
‘The Intellectuals and the Masses’ galvanised me in its own way, concerning the nature of social elites, their purpose, and the people we inadvertently choose to rule over us.
My footnotes are taken from 'The Intellectuals and the Masses' by John Carey, London, Faber & Faber, 1992.
The Intellectuals and the Masses