doxa.comunicación | 30, pp. 19-36 | 21

January-June of 2020

Esmeralda Balaguer García

ISSN: 1696-019X / e-ISSN: 2386-3978

The concept of public opinion is present in these three books because it is a concept that enables us to discern the spirit of the time in question. As Ortega states in “De puerta de tierra”, public opinion is the “colour”, or “tone”, of a particular era. It is the clearest manifestation of the spirit of an age, of the type of man that predominates, and the types of opinions, ideas and preferences that are held. If, in these essays, Ortega dissected the man and the society of his time and examined the problems facing Europe, it is clear that he could not ignore a concept as powerful as public opinion. As we will see, public opinion is a system of verbal usages that emanate from the discourse of the collective, and are imposed upon the individual insofar as they remain valid. If those in power wish to retain their hold on power, they cannot go against public opinion, as it is the true origin of public power.

The aim of this article is to produce an in-depth analysis of public opinion. It is a concept that gives rise to many questions: who is the subject of public opinion? What is it based on? What does its power consist of? How long does it last? Or in other words: what does its validity depend on? A public opinion, regardless of its specifics, may be contrary to personal opinion, although it does not have to be. Ortega, taking the analysis to its ultimate conclusion, holds that personal opinion is filtered through the spirit of the age, and through usage attains the status of public opinion. This is the natural mechanism that leads to the formation of public opinion. It stems from a thought-out personal opinion that is in some way “true”, in the sense that it is the expression of the true nature of things. This shall be explored in full in the second part of this article.

In Nietzsche’s view, the philosopher teaches us to oppose our own era, to oppose public opinion. He exists so that we can learn how to live with the tempestuousness of existence and thought, so that the process of shipwreck is mediated by constant swimming; hence, insofar as he explores these ideas, the philosopher’s life is in danger as he becomes –as stated in the quotation at the start of this article– a hated man. This figure of the philosopher resembles that of the prophet who preaches in the desert, a figure that Ortega invokes on several occasions and which is present in the thought of the intellectuals of his era.

We can delineate the profile of Ortega’s prophet through two key ideas: 1. “A ‘pure-blooded’ prophet cannot be content with anything less than turning things upside down” (Ortega, 2004-2010, ch. V: 614). Or, to put it another way, the philosopher-prophet upends and questions everything. Ortega maintains that a prophet is a prophet against, like any thinker. The philosopher-prophet, meanwhile, is a thinker against public opinion. 2. “There is no fate more melancholy and superfluous than that of the prophet. Cassandra, the first prophetess, received from Apollo the gift of being able to see the future, although her foresight was subject to one condition, that nobody believed her” (Ortega, 2004-2010, ch. VI: 947). The fate of the philosopher-prophet is to preach in the desert, to be ignored and even to be hated; because his task is to provoke everyone who remains unconscious in the face of their own existence. Ortega makes a clear distinction between the prophet and the politician, and between the philosopher and the politician, although he insists that the prophet and the philosopher are synonymous in this context. If the politician governs and directs the masses, then the prophet, in contrast, rules over consciousness and administers divinity (Ortega, 2004-2010, ch. III: 901). In The Revolt of the Masses, Ortega once again makes this distinction, in relation to the idea of the prophet as an advisor to the politician; or to put it another way, in order for the politician to govern with rectitude, he needs to pay attention to what the philosopher-prophet is saying.