The mass-man would never have accepted authority external to himself had not his surroundings violently forced him to do so. As to-day, his surroundings do not so force him, the everlasting mass-man, true to his character, ceases to appeal to other authority and feels himself lord of his own existence. On the contrary the select man, the excellent man is urged, by interior necessity, to appeal from himself to some standard beyond himself, superior to himself, whose service he freely accepts…. Contrary to what is usually thought, it is the man of excellence, and not the common man who lives in essential servitude. Life has no savour for him unless he makes it consist in service to something transcendental. Hence he does not look upon the necessity of serving as an oppression. When, by chance, such necessity is lacking, he grows restless and invents some new standard, more difficult, more exigent, with which to coerce himself. This is life lived as a discipline — the noble life.
For me, then, nobility is synonymous with a life of effort, ever set
on excelling oneself, in passing beyond what one is to what one
sets up as a duty and an obligation. In this way the noble life
stands opposed to the common or inert life, which reclines
statically upon itself, condemned to perpetual immobility, unless
an external force compels it to come out of itself. Hence we apply
the term mass to this kind of man- not so much because of his
multitude as because of his inertia.
As one advances in life, one realises more and more that the
majority of men are incapable of any other effort
than that strictly imposed on them as a reaction to external
compulsion. And for that reason, the few individuals we have
come across who are capable of a spontaneous and joyous effort
stand out isolated, monumentalised, so to speak, in our experience.
These are the select men, the nobles, the only ones who are active
and not merely reactive, for whom life is a perpetual striving, an
incessant course of training. Training = askesis. These are the
José Ortega y Gasset, ‘The Revolt of the Masses’.