Never has anyone ruled on this earth by basing his rule on any other thing than public opinion.
In these words, Jose Ortega y Gassett, most famous for a book entitled Revolt of the Masses, affirmed the eternal truth and problem of rule by consent. Ortega y Gassett, a classical liberal theorist from Spain, spent his career warning readers of the dangers presented by unmediated majorities. One rules only when and how the public allows, and so, in the modern era, one must rule in a manner the masses find acceptable. The result, he argued, has been cultural degradation.
According to Ortega y Gassett the masses, by which he meant all those of commonplace mind who are satisfied to be commonplace and seek to impose their commonality on all of society, had come to rule in Europe during the early twentieth century. Masses, now deeming themselves capable and rightful in ruling, came to see themselves as possessed, not merely of instinct and tradition, but of ideas. Yet these ideas, he argued, were vulgar intellectualisms; they lacked culture and understanding, particularly regarding the role of higher authorities in formulating rational responses to human circumstances. The result was a kind of barbarism, with “ideas” merely the product of self-satisfied self-reflection. For the sake of civilization itself, he asserted, the masses ought to surrender direct control over politics to cultivated individuals of strong, independent mind.
Read more at The Imaginative Conservative.