Man and His Circumstances: Ortega as Educator
by Robbie McClintock
Chapter VII — The Spain That Is
"Selección," El Sol, August 20,1926, Obras 6 XI, p. 99.
I firmly believe in the possibility—note, in the possibility—that Spain will now begin a new historic ascent. I firmly believe that in a few years we can make of Spain, not the richest or the most learned country, but the healthiest one, politically and socially, of all Europe.
VII — The Spain That Is
Ortega—an upper-class radical, passionately in favor of social change, winning note at the age of thirty with his address "On the Old and the New Politics"—exemplifies an apogee of the post-Marxian left. Abhorring bourgeois complacency, the military mind, and the politics of interest groups, he thought that the populace could be aroused to reform the nation by reasoned recognition of abuses, an appeal to conscience, and the impassioned proposal of plausible alternatives. At heart, but not intellectually, he was an anarchist who insisted that any worthwhile social order could not be imposed upon the people, for it had instead to emanate from their spontaneous concord. In retrospect, Ortega seems to have been ahead of his time, especially for a Spaniard. He was convinced that the democratic revolution could not stop once its original material and civil goals had been approximated: the revolution had to be carried through the cultural sphere as well, so that the community would not remain riven in two parts, the cultured and the uncultured. In Spain, furthermore, the material revolution even seemed likely to follow, not precede, the cultural.
For instance, as recently as 1965, the liberal publicist, Michael Harrington, devoted considerable space in The Accidental Century to debunking a reactionary Ortega. With gusto, Harrington destroyed a burlesque of The Revolt of the Masses, exposing its retrograde implications. See The Accidental Century, pp. 213-9.
Except for educators, especially John Dewey, American social critics have generally not thought democracy is a cultural problem, as much as one of economics and politics. Hence, in the United States, Ortega's political thought did r .t lend itself to easy comprehension. And owing to the special importance English-speaking leftists gave the word "'Masses," especially during the depression, The Revolt of the Masses was absorbed immediately into the debate between liberals and conservatives. The former condemned Ortega as an anti-democratic elitist who wished to thwart the progress of the poor, and the latter welcomed him for his opposition to the further expansion of the state. Although misdirected, these partisan interpretations have persisted. Yet Ortega's political commitments merit more careful treatment, for the old divisions to which he was assimilated tell us little about the new realities to which he spoke.
Throughout the West, the political divisions characteristic of the industrial nation-state are becoming increasingly irrelevant. The traditional separation between right and left resulted from fundamental disagreements over the proper role of government in regulating economic and social affairs. Other, more subtle problems of regulation are coming to the fore, namely those concerning character, culture, and the spiritual quality of life; with these problems there is a reversal of the field. On the one hand, the right is becoming increasingly willing to use the state to uphold the sanctity of established mores and to preserve a cultural quiet, a bourgeois homogeneity, favored by a "silent majority"i on the other, the left more and more calls for individual autonomy, civil liberties, and cultural laissez-faire. Ortega and this new left have much in common. It was the fascist state, not the socialist, that he condemned; and in spiritual matters he stood for intellectual autonomy, cultural pluralism, and the full, free expression of diverse commitments.
"Ideas políticas, VI," El Sol, July 26, 1924, Obras XI, p. 49.
Ortega may help clarify the cultural politics arising in the West. If so, the truly important aspect of his political thought will be found in his sense of a cultural Kinderland. But the very people who might learn from these reflections are the ones disposed to distrust his supposed anti-democratic elitism. The supposition of this elitism was formed in misunderstanding of his writings and in ignorance of Ortega's actual political activities, which were substantial. To be sure, for him, practical politics remained secondary to cultural politics; but institutional reform was still important. "Culture, education will be everything in Spain because the rest is nothing. Political reform signifies only an orthopedic expedient to make the cripple walk and the handless grasp .... The substantial reform of our nation will be that of our society, not of our politics." All the same, the orthopedic expedient deserved serious attention, and much of what Ortega taught, wrote, and published concerned the reorganization of Spanish public institutions. This concern, not partisan reactions to The Revolt of the Masses, evidences the character of his hard political commitments.
See Vieja y nueva política, 1914, Obras J, pp. 269-270¡ "Sobre el fascismo," 1925, Obras 11, pp. 503–4; and Del Imperio Romano, 1914, Obras VI, p. 102. CE. El tema de nuestro tiempo, 1923, Obras III, p. 156; and "La constitución y la nación, IV," El Sol, January 25, 1928, Obras XI, pp. 217-8.
A prolonged encounter with Ortega's political writings shows that through many changes of subject and situation, his method of political reasoning remained constant. He often repeated Fichte's phrase defining the politician as the man who made manifest "that which is."' It would be a mistake, made all too easily, to think that the Fichtean politician, responsible to "that which is." would be an unprincipled opportunist, a man at peace with the powers that be, or an officeholder content to take the easiest, safest, most "realistic" course in any situation. A politician who makes manifest "that which is" would not be a man who was eager to follow public feeling dutifully, to avoid all suspicion of "rocking the boat," to respond in sympathy with every whim of his constituents, or to compromise his goals whenever they clashed with the seeming facts of public opinion. After all, both Fichte and Ortega were philosophers; and the calling of philosophers has always been to get beneath the flux of appearance, to uncover a stable reality, to substitute for that which seems to be that which really is. Hence, we can learn more about "that which is" by examining the epistemology of politics, the critique of how men should reason politically, than we could by surveying the political conditions of Berlin in 1807 or Madrid in 1931.
Plato, Republic, II, 351-368.
This contention was used with effect by Socrates against Thrasymachus in Republic, I, 336B-354C, and against Polus in Gorgias, beginning 466D; and is al the heart of the discussion between Socrates and Callicles in Gorgias 481B-527E, for Callicles was willing to deny it. For Aristotle, see Nicomachean Ethics, I, i-iii.
See especially, "No ser hombre de partido," 1930, Obras IV, pp. 75-83.
"Entreacto polémico: II: Del realismo en política," El Sol, March 16, 1925, Obras XI, pp. 63-4. See also, "Hacia un partido de la nación—Platónica advertencia sobre la responsabilidad del Estado," Luz, January 15, 1932, Obras XI, pp. 419-422.
Ortega had a classical view of political reasoning. For him as for the classical tradition, the fundamental political reality was found in the aspirations that men pursued, not in the conditions under which they lived. As Plato showed in the way that he had Glaucon and Adeimantus introduce the problem of justice, leadership was possible only with respect to intrinsic values that, even under the most horrible conditions imaginable, would still be deemed the proper goals by men. As with Plato and with Aristotle, so with Ortega: the supreme good was the end of political science and the measure of political reality. Ortega insisted that every person and group had a "destiny," which was its best possible achievement, and life was an effort to fulfill this possibility. "Realistic politics is the politics of realization. Realization is the supreme mandate that defines the arena of politics. It does not conflict with the ideal, but imposes concretion and discipline on it." Here Ortega faced the rigorous demands of a truly practical politics. "Realism is more demanding [than idealism]: it invites us to transform reality according to our ideas and, at the same time, to think our ideas in view of reality, that is, to extract the ideal, not subjectively from our heads, but objectively from things. Every concrete thing-a nation, for example-contains, next to what it is today, the ideal profile of its possible perfection. And this ideal, that of the thing, not of ourselves, is truly respectable."
"Perpetual Peace," in: Immanuel Kant, On History, Lewis White Beck, ed. and trans., pp. 65-135.
In "Perpetual Peace" Immanuel Kant reasoned that the ideal implicit in any functioning government, no matter how localized its jurisdiction, was a universal government in which the entire human community, not simply its parts, was ordered by a rule of law. Here Kant exemplified how the critical philosopher could develop positions of practical significance: one did it by showing precisely what rational consequences were entailed with the profession of a particular aspiration. Kant's procedure was to show men, who recognized in themselves an aspiration to live under a rule of law within a particular locality, that they could rationally uphold the localized legality only by asserting a rule of universal law. This procedure led to a distinctive conception of statesmanship. The statesman would start with a people's professed ambitions; he would then show the people what aspirations these rationally implied; and he would finally help find the way to fulfilling these real goals. As Ortega suggested, such political reasoning was not merely a heady, illusive idealism. It began from certain hard facts and from them proceeded to some of our most cherished political hopes.
I am, of course, speaking here of the ruler of men, not of crowds. The aspirations of a crowd are notoriously easy to sway. But it is a mistake to cal1 the urges that make and move crowds "aspirations." Crowds come info being only where authentic aspirations are absent or suspended. And even with crowds, it is doubtful that a leader can willfully manipulate its urges. Instead, he must take its urges into account and address himself to these with a semblance of consideration. See Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd, especial1y p. 113, n. 1, and generally, pp. 101-140. Crowds exist as the symbiotic correlate to the inner emptiness of their would-be masters; and neither crowds nor their masters are good bases for polities. Both are best avoided; see Seneca, "On Crowds," Epistulae Morales, VII.
An effective examination of certain aspects of this function that aspirations can perform will be found in The Political Illusion by Jacques Ellul, Konrad Kalen, trans.
In significant ways, aspirations, if they are authentic aspirations, are more fundamental political facts than are physical conditions. Within limits, any ruler has the power to alter at will the conditions under which a people live. A ruler can change conditions by force; he can change aspirations only by reason. To reason about aspirations a ruler needs to accept them as given facts impervious to his arbitrary will; then he can enter into open communication about the meaning of these aims. In doing so he recognizes, in both word and deed, that the humanity of his subjects is equal to his own: the ruler ceases to be a law unto himself. This aspect of aspirations, that they can only be governed by reason, is the human basis of equality before the law. Further, as diverse aspirations undergo public examination, a multitude of personal commitments will be made by all who partake in the discussion; it is these commitments that aggregate into significant community decisions. Here, then, in the fact that our personal aspirations pattern our daily acts and that these acts shape the real potential of the community, is the basis of participatory government. When confronted by serious, authentic aspirations, a ruler can only lead, he cannot direct. No formal machinery, no Bill of Rights or Constitution, can sufficiently guarantee our freedom and dignity; the vitality of our personal aspirations is the sole, substantial, ultimate check on arbitrary power.
See "Mirabeau o el político," 1927, Obras 111, pp. 603-637.
See "Maura o la política," El Sol, December 18, 19, 22, and 31, 1925; January 7 and 10, 1926, Obras XI, pp. 71-91.
Because aspirations are primary in public affairs, no man has the right to by-pass the will of his compatriots; and this fact means that politics becomes less a matter of power and more a matter of reason. The politician becomes the man who can understand and make manifest the full implications of what it is that his compatriots profess to will. Hence, for Ortega, the great example of the politician was Mirabeau, not because Mirabeau was effective in the Machiavellian sense of gaining and keeping power, but because he divined the one political system—constitutional monarchy-that was suitable for France after 1789: only this system was rationally consistent with the diverse aspirations released by the Revolution; only it could make effective use of the remaining French traditions and provide a stable, progressive rule. Likewise, for Ortega, Antonio Maura epitomized Spanish politics because among the politicians of official Spain, only Maura was willing to ask what the accepted goal of a stronger national system really entailed, and only Maura was willing to pursue wholeheartedly (albeit imperfectly, as Ortega saw it) the difficult, federalist reforms that this goal logically implied.
Make no mistake: this mode of political reasoning, reasoning from aspirations, is not fool-proof. Its use by shallow men is dangerous, for it can lead (by wrong reasoning, one must interject) to a situation in which a limited goal seems to justify unlimited means. But those who are willing to renounce reasoning from aspirations because it is susceptible to abuse should be ready to renounce all that goes with it, for instance, personal reasonableness in public matters, the dignity of man, equality before the law, and the democratic ideal. Unless we hold men responsible for their aspirations and deal honestly with these, there is no substance to our conceptions of reason,. dignity, equality, and democracy, for these great concepts will have become mere euphemisms for the tyranny of a self-subsistent state that reigns over all. Beware those favored phrases-"a free society," "the free world."
Ibid., p. 90.
A general drift into totalitarianism is slowly laying bare a radical choice: politics can either be the critique of aspirations or the manipulation of objects. For Ortega the choice was clear. He renounced paternalistic manipulation. "There is no other way to educate and chastise the public conscience than to make it responsible for its acts." To be sure, when rational politics failed, manipulation and force were necessary; that it to say, they became unavoidable, for they are the consequence of reason's failure; but this is not to say that they are therefore desirable as some think when pronouncing on the mythical a needs of society." Ortega realized that reliance on power was a symptom not of political supremacy, but of political bankruptcy. The true object of politics was not to maximize power, but to minimize it; and one pursued this object by holding people morally responsible for their acts, by giving up all claims to direct their activities authoritatively} and, in doing so, gaining a basis for criticizing, educating, and chastising their aspirations.
"Una manera de pensar." España, October 7, 1915, Obras X, p. 337.
Because two different principles can guide public affairs—force or reason—Ortega, and everyman, had an occasion for a commitment. Ortega committed himself to reason, not to force. He recognized, to be sure, that occasionally it was reasonable to give way to force, to defer, when reason would not work, to those committed to the rights of might: "when arms are taken up we should put down our pens ... " But Ortega did not put down his pen to take up arms; he put it down because there was no use writing for an audience of armed partisans: they cared for prose only insofar as it served as propaganda. Ortega believed that one's rational authority was higher if one relied on it alone. The apparent man of reason, who, when his reasons were rejected1 immediately called in force, had little claim to thoughtful attention. Consequently, Ortega's political judgments rarely concerned manipulatory policy; it was not his office to engineer consent.
"Sobre la vieja política," El Sol, November 27, 1923, Obras XI, p. 30.
If critics work with restraint, maintaining rational pressure perpetually against those who rule by manipulation, they can exert tremendous power solely by means of reason. The critic can make politics without resort to force by subjecting every effort to engineer consent to dispassionate scrutiny. If the claims of the powerful prove deficient, more and more people will withhold assent and refuse to cooperate constructively with the regime. As time goes on, the despotic ruler will have decreasing resources at his command with which to maintain his power over a progressively more restive populace. Ortega's opposition to the dictator Primo de Rivera took this form. When Primo de Rivera came to power, Ortega did not rush into overt, armed opposition. Instead, along with other intellectuals, he critically attacked the veil of legitimacy over the Dictatorship. The Dictatorship claimed justification by asserting that it alone could rid Spain of the vieja política. Let Primo de Rivera live up to that purpose, Ortega said; let him rid the nation of the "cynicism, unscrupulousness, incompetence, illegality, and caciquismo" of which he, the Dictator, was currently the most prominent example; let him abdicate. Maintaining such attacks on Primo de Rivera's presumption of legitimacy, Ortega and other critics abraded the Dictator's authority until the regime, losing its natural backers in Church and State, starved for talent, unable to solve the nation's problems, beset by numerous challengers, withdrew. Here was critical politics in action. For Ortega, political rationalism did not m€an reasoning about the use of force, but making politics solely by the use of reason.
Politics, thus, began with the aspirations that men professed; it functioned by bringing men to examine th€se aspirations and to become aware of the actions that their goals required. The political critic proceeded by putting certain basic questions. What were the aspirations that did, that could, and that should move men? Were these aspirations possible ones? That is, were they possible with respect to the rational will; could a person will them without willing contradictory things? Were the aspirations possible with respect to the actualities of the time and place in which they were to be pursued? What were the conditions under which one could fulfill these aspirations? How could such conditions be brought about? What particulars could and should one personally will in order to help attain these general goals? Were these particulars consistent with the supreme good? If the critique of aspirations provoked by these questions worked perfectly, politics would merge with education and ethics, and the state would truly wither away. But in the absence of its perfection, the critique of aspirations was still a useful tool of piecemeal reform; as more persons were led to take responsibility for their own conduct, there would be less occasion for the community to be governed by the rule of force. In this way, the critique of aspirations could work within a political system based on force. Its partial effectiveness was Ortega's practical basis for opposing a vital politics to the official politics of Spain.
Ortega's political writings were a continuous critique of the aspirations manifested by leading Spaniards. Taking up a goal that had been widely professed, he would show by critical analysis what conditions would make the goal possible and what particular activities might bring it to fruition. With such a critique, Ortega confronted his readers with three alternatives: show by more cogent reasoning that the aspiration really entailed different particulars, renounce the aspiration as undesirable, or accept the particulars and seek to realize them. In this way, the critique of aspirations would lead to spontaneous, practical consequences without abusing the dignity of other persons.
Together, Ortega's critiques amounted to a vision of a possible Spain, one in which Spaniards faced their true problems and resolved to surmount them. Indeed, Ortega lacked both the means and the intention to compel the realization of this reform of Spanish life; but part of the reformer's discipline-if he would have his work be the result of reason-is to restrain his eagerness and to rely on the choice of those involved to act on principles, not on interest. Without such restraint, the anxious reformer will merely habituate his wards to respond to compulsion, not to conviction, and the reform will be as insecure as those who forcibly imposed it. The reformer can properly do no more than criticize ambitions and show what the hard choices are. The men who are called in a reform to change their ways have to make certain difficult commitments; that is, to prefer magnanimity to force, justice to riches, temperance to satiety, and culture to acclaim. Since such choices have not yet been made by significant Spaniards, the nation's problems have been perpetuated; consequently, Ortega's vision of the Spanish future is still relevant to the present day.
Ortega began his critique with the aspiration to have a Spanish nation. "Are we able to make a national Spain?" When the question whether Spain should or should not exist was put to Spaniards, all but the most extreme separatists would unequivocally affirm the desirability of a national existence. This affirmation could be the basis of a Spanish future. To clarify it, Ortega critically elucidated the consequences of the commitment: What national ideals could move Spaniards despite their great diversities? What particular institutions should Spaniards accept in order to make good on their basic aspiration to have a Spanish nation? If Spaniards were to make their commitment to Spain's existence more than an empty piety, what did they need to do?
Such questions elicited Ortega's reflections on Spanish politics. His answers were twofold: on the one hand, he identified the historical impediments that hindered the achievement of Spain's national potential, and on the other he showed how these impediments might become irrelevant if Spaniards recognized that their national aspirations entailed commitments to regionalism, industry, competence, and democracy.
"¿Reforma del Estado o reforma de la sociedad?." El Sol, November 22, 1927, Obras XI, p. 187.
Ortega steadily upheld both the negative and positive side of his position. The critique of aspirations cannot produce instantaneous results; suasion becomes powerful when pertinacious—like a prevailing wind, which by blowing steadily and firmly bends the growing trunk, the unwavering winds of doctrine enduringly point life towards the better. Month after month, year after year, the critique must go on, converting men of power ever anew to higher ideals. Ortega's aim was to change his nation's character; at best it was slow business. "Those who wish a different, better Spain must resolve to modify the repertory of Spanish life, and to judge as superficial all reforms that are not oriented by this resolve. Precisely for this reason, institutions serve reform not when one takes them by themselves, hoping for their abstract perfection, but when one forges out of them instruments capable of transforming the uses of collective life and the very character of the average Spaniard."
Lawgivers, as distinct from lawmakers, are particularly interested in the effects of various institutions on the character of the people. The elder Plato thus examined the potential preambles to the Laws, testing various regulations to see which could justify themselves by their healthful effects on human character. Thus, the French philosophes and the American founding fathers insisted that only a virtuous people could maintain civil freedom and that the only institution worthy of free men was one that conduced to preserving their virtue. Thus, too, Ortega was remarkably sensitive to the effects institutions had on character. He rejected the established institutions of Spain because they perpetuated and intensified Spanish weaknesses and caused Spanish virtues to atrophy. He suggested that the reform of the state be designed to reverse these influences.
In a well-known work, Invertebrate Spain, Ortega presented the negative side of his position by exposing the historical traditions that detracted from Spain's national existence. Spanish institutions had been adapted to performing a function that had long since ceased to exist, and no new mission had been developed by Spanish leaders. Such a condition was pure frivolity, and participation in it had bad effects on Spanish character.
A nation existed, Ortega contended, because diverse groups shared a common ideal that enabled them to cooperate and compete in an effort to accomplish a sovereign task without destroying their diversities. The traditional ruling ideal of Spain, imperial conquest, had lost its force. Hence, each subsidiary group that had been a part of Spain now turned inwards. Lacking an ,inspiration that transcended its immediate concerns and brought it into contact with other elements of the nation, each became obsessed with its parochial aspirations and problems. Soon each inward-looking group began to confuse itself with the whole nation. Particularism resulted. Cohesive regions, narrow interest groups, self-serving professions, and separate classes lost the habit of taking account of others, especially of those who were not closely organized. Particularism led to the imbecilic arrogance that typified Spanish affairs. If the "true" Spain was synonymous with the military, with Barcelona's businesses, with landed wealth, or with Madrid socialism, why should the leaders of these groups bother with the rest? Two years before General Primo de Rivera gave further proof of the point, Ortega described the military, with its penchant for pronunciamentos, as the group that best exemplified the Spanish tendency to confuse the interests of region, profession, and class with those of the nation. Until this tendency was overcome and replaced with a capacity for prolonged cooperation in the pursuit of high ideals, the Spanish nation would not rejuvenate.
"Sobre la vieja política," El Sol, November 27, 1923; Obras XI, p. 30.
Despite its fame, this historical critique was not the most important of Ortega's political writings. In it, Ortega was uncharacteristically negative. He condemned the attitudes of the ruling groups without offering a significant alternative. Yet Ortega usually dwelt on the positive side: "the important thing is not to castigate the abuses of the governors, but to substitute for them the uses of the governed." Particularism prevented Spaniards from achieving their national potential, but this abuse resulted nearly automatically from the lack of a powerful national ideal. Consequently, the critic needed to do more than debunk particularism. Spaniards would avoid the destructive consequences the present system had for their character, if they could define the proper uses of their public life: a national ideal that would work in the twentieth century. Only the discovery of such an ideal could end the political frivolity that encouraged particularism. In one way or another, most of Ortega's political essays concerned this possibility.
See Meditaciones del Quijote, 1914, Obras I, p. 332; and "Moralejas," 1906, Obras I, p. 46.
In his youth Ortega had liked to tell about a noble, but unintelligent, schoolboy. It was the custom in Spanish schools to seat pupils according to academic rank, and one unfortunate fellow always ended up in the dunce's chair. The boy, however, refused to be daunted; to him the seeming desiderata of formal rank were insignificant, and he reassured himself with the thought that someone had to be last and that what mattered was that he made for himself the best of whatever position he had. This boy knew his dignity. In like manner, the realities of resources meant that Spain could not be an imperial power. But national virtue was not displayed by dominion over others and pre-eminence in military and commercial might. The real measure of worth was dominion over oneself. Here Ortega saw a significant opportunity for Spain to take a leading part in European affairs. Ortega foresaw tremendous transformations in the industrial West and he sensed that in the course of these many nations would succumb to a new barbarism. Spain would achieve greatness by maintaining a humane stability through these transformations. Spain could excel if it would simply attend to its proper business; then it would show to the rest of Europe that a people could quietly and reasonably set its house in order.
See, for instance: "Actos de la F.U.E.: Conferencia de Don José Ortega y Gasset," El Sol, October 10, 1930. Cf. Obras XI, pp. 194, 196, 236, 252, 257, and 261; Obras II, p. 547; Obras IX, p. 266; and 50 an.
"Un proyecto." El Sol, December 6, 1930, Obras XI, p. 290.
In his political writings Ortega frequently used the athletic phrase: Spain's destiny was "to get in shape," "to be in form." Latin America and especially Europe needed the example and leadership of a people who were in shape, for the Latin Americans had a new world to master, and the Europeans had the awesome task of transcending their national existences and creating a new, more inclusive polity. In both cases, the job could not be done by people who were out of form. "In 1812 we made a constitution that was copied by the entire Continent. This does not mean that we may not now offer it a different model. To do so, it will suffice that Spaniards resolve to shake off their inertia and their prejudices, and that they be, above all, what they have been at certain times in their history: magnanimous and faithful to great tasks."
Americans are being forced, like it or not, to conceive of their national destiny as a matter of thrusting imperial grandeur, excursions into space, and vast military might. Hence some may find the ideal that Ortega offered to be singularly unmoving. As it was, it failed to move certain Spanish personages. Yet for many others it was a meaningful goal. The ideal of national form was analogous to the ideal of personal composure, being at peace with oneself, accepting one's situation and destiny, and steadfastly attending to the fulfillment of these inwardly determined possibilities. A nation that turned away from world affairs and concentrated on getting in shape, would not be isolationist; on the contrary, Ortega realized that such disciplined restraint was the precondition of transcending the outworn national system of Europe. National composure was the basis of neither isolationism nor internationalism, but of supranationalism. Nor did Ortega's ideal entail a withdrawal from the great challenges of life; on the contrary, it required a commitment to doing something substantial about the mundane, difficult problems that persisted close to home.
There was a certain Stoic greatness in the ideal that Ortega put before Spaniards, and the people of Spain, who long ago contributed so much to Stoicism, came close to fulfilling it. Perhaps this fact in part explains the profound, persisting emotions unleashed by the Civil War. The past achievements of the Republic did not make sensitive men from around the world come to its assistance. Rather, the hope that the Republic symbolized throughout the West drew them there. In the years that Italy sank more and more deeply into fascism, Spain worked itself out of a worse situation towards a humanitarian, liberal government. When all the grand nations were suddenly paralyzed by the great depression, Spain gamely embarked on a peaceful and profound reform. As Germany succumbed to Nazi brutalism, Spain seemed to show that at least one nation could substantially transform itself without tearing itself apart or imposing its worst elements upon the whole. The Civil War was such a trauma for idealistic citizens of the West precisely because Spain had symbolized for a few short years the hope that a nation still could peacefully change for the better, that without bloodshed it could freely get itself in shape. The ideal that Ortega put before Spaniards was the conviction that Spain could make itself worthy of symbolizing such a hope.
To get in shape and to lead other states by example, Spaniards needed to attend closely to the effects of their institutions on their character. Ortega's discussions of particular reforms all pertained to this question; as he said, he tried to forge instruments capable of transforming the uses of collective life and the very character of the average Spaniard. Here was his vision of the Spain that is; it was to be realized by fulfilling the possibilities of regionalism, industry, competence, and democracy.
"Ideas políticas, V," El Sol, July 26, 1924, Obras XL p. 49.
From 1914 through 1931, these themes kept recurring in Ortega's political essays. He did not spin out great schemes for formal institutions. The solutions of Spain's problems would be achieved when the people perfected their character. Thus regional laws were not as important as sincere, intelligent tolerance of regional customs and aspirations. Ortega was less concerned about the reorganization of industry than he was about the will to work, for no amount of reorganization would make the national product sufficient if it continued to be stunted by under-employment, inactivity, and laziness on every level. Likewise, schools alone could not improve a people who were unwilling to recognize and reward competence. Finally, to make a formal democracy work, Spaniards needed to develop a spontaneous democracy in which various sectors of the society took an interest, each in the others, for only then could the power of the cacique and other local despots be broken. Formal provisions for regionalism, industry, education, and democracy were not, however, unimportant; Ortega simply contended that the spiritual commitment was the prior condition of successful, constructive activities. Because the reform of character was so important to Ortega, most of his political writings were attempts at political education. In the course of discussing this or that particular, he was trying to cultivate in the character of his readers the qualities that would put Spain in form. Typically, in closing a long essay on "Political Ideas" Ortega exclaimed, "Education! Culture! Here is everything. This is the substantial reform."
"Provincianismo y provincialismo," El Sol, February 11, 1928, Obras XI, p.237.
Ortega's regionalism began with a commitment to the Spanish nation. He did not accept the validity of the opposition: either regionalism or nationalism. In one essay he claimed that the solution to the separatist problem was an elegant one, for it would be arrived at by turning upon the difficulty itself, regional loyalties, and making that the basis of a stronger Spanish nation. "The future of Spain will be made by managing to change the sign of this unique energy and understanding that beneath the provincial negation of Madrid there beats a more healthy, noble urge: the desire to affirm itself."
"Sobre el processo Rull," Faro, April 12, 1908, Obras X, pp. 47-50.
"Maura o la política," El Sol, December 22, 1925, Obras XI, p. 79.
National divisiveness had been created in the seventeenth century when the monarchy and church had attempted to protect their interests by instituting a centralized government. Spain, Ortega reminded his readers, had originated from the joining of separate kingdoms, none of which gave up their individuality in the merger. The fiction that Spain was a unified nation-state to be ruled by an administration centralized in Madrid was the cause of Spanish divisiveness, for it capped the nation's true well of talent -the regions-and it forced the various peoples of Spain to look elsewhere for fulfillment. To have an efficient administration and to free the genius of the people, the politics of Spain should be organized regionally. As early as 1908 Ortega had written that it was futile to try to suppress separatist terrorism; repressive laws passed in Madrid would simply intensify the combat. The true solution was to show that Spain could encompass both regionalists and centrists. Madrid, unlike Paris, was too weak to be a dominant capital. "In no sense, not even the intellectual, has Madrid fulfilled its mission of being a capital. Madrid has failed." These were hard words for a Madrileño to write, but Ortega believed that they were the key to the solution of the regional problem: Madrid had had its turn and failed; now it was the time to see what the provinces could do when given thorough regional autonomy.
"El estatuto catalán," May 13,1932, reprinted in Mori, Crónica, Vol VI, p. 126, and in Obras XI, p. 469.
Early in 1926 Ortega made the first of his several proposals for decentralization; his proposals show well how institutional reforms could be used to change Spanish character. A particular political system rewarded a particular set of character traits, and hence by changing the political structure one could take a significant step towards reforming the national character. Ortega saw regional autonomy as a means for increasing the political economic, and social maturity of the Spanish people. Without an opportunity to use their abilities in significant situations, the people could not develop their abilities. If the average Spaniard was to take a constructive part in popular government, it had to be in local and regional government, for in these spheres the issues were concrete and they made a difference to the common man. With respect to these issues the pueblo could make good use of its innate virtues without being unduly handicapped by its lack of formal education. But Spanish centralism had made local and regional affairs the purview of civil governors appointed by the Minister of the Interior. Instead of being responsible for their local and regional affairs, the people theoretically participated in resolving the abstract questions of national politics, yet they had little liking, capacity, or concern for these general questions. The civic talents of the Spaniards had not developed because self-government had been withheld where it might have mattered and provided where it was irrelevant. "Up to a few years ago, a very few years, the population of Barcelona and its province, with the million inhabitants of its capital, was governed by precisely the same institutions as were those of Soria and Zamora, two tiny villages. And presently some people wonder at Barcelona's singularly subversive inspiration!"
"Provincianismo y provincialismo, 11," El Sol, February 14, 1928, Obras XI, p.238.
Other proposals followed, some of which slipped past Primo de Rivera's censors, others of which were suppressed until after the Dictator fell. The provinces, with their accidental boundaries, should be consolidated into rational regions that would be workable political and economic units. The members of each region would command resources sufficient to promote their own affairs effectively. Such a political structure would encourage the average citizen to transform his deep local ties into political commitments of regional significance, commitments that were personally meaningful and that transcended his immediate, local realm. With time and effort, these regional involvements might gain true national import. In this way, the nation could turn responsibility for all but the very broadest problems over to those who had an immediate interest in their outcome; power would be wielded by men who were actually concerned with the policies in question. Whereas centralization had inhibited the local development of talent, decentralization would encourage it; thus the political structure would be made into a means for cultivating improvements in the Spanish character. "It is evident that if [the average Spaniard] succeeds in motivating himself by resolutely taking into his own hands the responsibility for his local life, we will have converted an inert, routine, torpid person into an active, ambitious, enterprising, restless creature. The tone of the normal existence will have changed. In each corner of Spain the vital pulse will have quickened; in each day more will happen: there will be more labors, more projects, more loves, more hates."
España invertebrada, 1921, Obras 111, p. 121.
Regional autonomy would open to Spaniards more significant channels of self-development. But autonomy was not a mysterious mechanism that would perfect men by itself. Its results would be salutary only if Spaniards resolutely willed to make themselves more competent. The basic problem in Spanish public affairs, Ortega contended, was the incompetence of the leaders and the people's extraordinary tolerance of incompetence in their leaders. "The absence of the excellent, or what is nearly the same, their scarcity, has acted on all our history and has stopped us from becoming a reasonably normal nation."
"Vaguedades: I: Sobre todo, que no se reforma nada," El Sol, March 6, 1925, Obras XI, pp. 51-2.
Not infrequently, the inability of countries like Spain to achieve a stable representative government is attributed to the absence of a thriving middle class. Many Spaniards, Ortega included, saw the matter differently. To them, the great enemy of reform was the petit bourgeois. "Everywhere in the nation the morality, ideology, and sensibility of the petit bourgeois reign, dominate, and triumph. And the bourgeois is, by definition, the man who is without curiosity, who is incapable of looking beyond his routine horizon, who feels fear before every change, and who is what he is because he lacks the mental agility to depict for himself, in the face of the ruling reality, another aspiration." No reform was possible until this mentality was changed, and the way to change it was to confront oneself and others with disquieting opinions, for incompetence resulted from a complacent character that needed above all to be disturbed.
See "El error Berenguer," El Sol. November 15, 1930, Obras XI, pp. 274-9.
"Ligero comentario." El Sol, January 1,1930, Obras XI, p. 112.
But Ortega reserved his most biting scorn for the incompetence of the upper classes. It is remarkable that The Revolt of the Masses has been thought to have been an attack on the social advance of the lower classes when the financier, the industrialist/ the socialite, and the heir were so explicitly made the prototype of the mass-man. To Ortega the Spanish monarch was a prime example of the tendency to meddle in matters where one was incompetent while ignoring one's real duties. In general Ortega condemned the upper classes for thinking that they could leave leadership to others, that they did not need to hold themselves responsible to hoi polloi, and that they could while away the passing days longing idly for the golden years when their self-interests were synonymous with the interests of the state. "But—damn it!—to the banker, to the industrialist, to the magistrate, to the powerful trader, to the 'aristocrat' of the Rolls and the cocktail,to the professor, to the bishop, to the prior of the retreat, to the engineer, to the matron's physician . .. , to all these there pertains an enormous burden of responsibility." Their responsibility was to symbolize and actualize the dynamic competence that superior culture gave. Instead the upper classes complained and carped and did their best to thwart the efforts of other groups to improve their lot. For Ortega, a conservative upper class was a contradiction: if the class was truly pre-eminent, it could not help but exert progressive leadership by virtue of its superior abilities; whereas if it truly inhibited the progressive development of the nation, it could not be composed of the most able men and thus it could not be a class worthy of its pretensions to superiority. In shirking their responsibility to be a positive symbol of excellence to the rest of the nation, the "superior" classes proved themselves to be, in relation to their duties, the most inferior of all classes and the most petit bourgeois of all Spaniards.
See the letter from Genaro Artiles, et al., and Ortega's reply, printed as a pamphlet, Madrid, April, 1929, Obras XI, p. 104.
Besides his many-sided effort to undermine the self-satisfaction of incompetent pretenders to position, Ortega carried the theme of competence to the level where it really counted, that of particular, positive skills. One of the groups to whom Ortega most consistently made this appeal was youth. Youth still had the time to make itself competent, and there was nothing that could so disturb the complacency of the established as competent youths seeking to push their ineffective elders from position. Thus, in 1914 Ortega made collaboration with youth one of the primary features of the League for Spanish Political Education. Thus, in 1929 he advised a group of young intellectuals to enter politics with no connections to the past, but with a steadfast willingness to seek out every possible issue and to subject it to rigorous original analysis. In these, as in several other cases, Ortega advised youths to test the mettle of their elders by confronting those in established positions with competent, original undertakings. If the elders lacked the ability to adapt, so much the worse for them; it would simply prove the incompetence of the established leaders. "Today we have to invent everything: great themes, juridical principles, institutional patterns, moving emotions, and even the vocabulary."
"Competencia," El Imparcial, February 9, 1913, Obras X, p. 230.
"El momento española: políticos y técnicos," El Sol, February 26, 1920, Obras X, pp. 629-632.
"Hoy aparecerá en la 'Gaceta' la Real Orden contra 'El Sol,' Admirable carta de Don José Ortega y Gasset," El Sol, July 29, 1920, cf. "El Señor Dato y los periódicos," Obras X, pp. 659-662.
"Sobre lo de ahora," Crisol, August 6, 1931, Obras XI, pp. 364-6.
In addition to youth, Ortega called on the technician to pride himself in his competence. Thus, in discussing agricultural reform he wrote: "No doubt, God will reward our good will, electing us to salvation in the blue prairies of heaven ... But the good will that suffices to get us to heaven does not suffice to organize the countryside. In this task economic science is alone useful and indispensable. Et si non, non. Numbers, statistics, complicated systems, a bureaucratic corps of great wisdom and solicitude, an enormous quantity of prosaic competencies-without these our agriculture will not ascend to heaven." In discussing whether technicians or politicians should head the major ministries, Ortega suggested that to preserve technical excellence and autonomy, the technician should not be converted into a politician responsible for bartering political priorities. Ortega personally took pride in his own mastery of journalistic and publishing techniques, and his scorn for the Spaniard's tolerance of incompetence was fully revealed in his biting reaction to the government's attempt to impair El Sol's competitive position. Finally, Ortega's respect for expertise led him to propose, as a member of the Constituent Cortes that constituted the Second Republic, that a Council on the National Economy be created, that it should have on it Spain's best economists, and that it be given wide powers for drawing up and implementing long-term national economic plans like those used in the U.S.S.R.
"Alma de purgatorio," España, March 5, 1915, Obras X, p. 287.
A characteristic of Ortega's outlook on the problem of competence was his belief that the way to particular improvements had to be paved by those with general abilities. He was often more eloquent about skill in general than about particular skills, about competence as an abstract ideal than about special competencies. And he had good reasons for this emphasis. Excessive centralization was just one of many means that the Spanish had for shunting talented, skilled persons into closed, ineffectual avenues of endeavor. On the one hand, the problem of competence was a question of the nation's need for many different, particular skills, and on the other it was a matter of the more basic need to create a demand for these. To foment a demand for various skills, it was important to promote a general respect for ability and to develop an esprit de corps among the competent. The way to do these things was to praise the ideal of competence. Hence, Ortega often spoke of competence apart from particular skills: for instance, "Enthusiasm and competence should be the alpha and omega of the new politics."
What Ortega called "enthusiasm" in this slogan, coined in 1915, he later called "work" or "industry." Under this heading he sought to promote both industriousness and industrialization.
In part, Ortega called for the radical social and economic reorganization of Spain, but he added that the reorganization should be wrought by class cooperation instead of class warfare. A cooperative revolution was not as impossible as radical and reactionary orthodoxies would have people believe. Since Ortega did not subscribe to a materialistic, deterministic conception of man's intentions and since he thought that men could choose rationally the principles by which they would live, he did not believe that class conflict was inevitable. Conflict or cooperation resulted from the intentions of those involved; it all depended on whether the intentions that different groups chose to pursue conflicted or coincided. Class cooperation, however, was difficult; and in Spain it could be sustained only by a common commitment to an ideal of enthusiasm, of work, of industry. Ortega believed that by absolute, intrinsic measures all classes of Spain would be better off economically and civilly if each would stop trying to aggrandize itself at the expense of others and if all would throw themselves with enthusiasm and determination into getting the job done.
"Miscelánea socialista." El Imparcial, October 6, 1912, Obras X, p. 206.
Clearly, the job to be done was the renovation of Spain. Leadership in this cooperative effort would come from the strongest group, the workers. "On the day that the Spanish workers abandon abstract words and recognize that they suffer, not only as proletarians, but also as Spaniards, they will make the socialist party the strongest party of Spain. And in doing so, they will make Spain." Ortega maintained this conviction, voiced in 1912; and to understand his political economy we need to grasp the depth of his faith in the potential for leadership in the working classes. Too many liberal reformers have become accustomed to deriding the gospel of work as an opium pushed by complacent capitalists. In doing so, we fail to realize that this gospel, albeit according to certain different saints, is the core of most leftist efforts at national development. Ortega was no doctrinaire; he vigorously defended the liberty of industry vis-a-vis the state when the vieja política threatened El Sol. But as we shall see, for a Spaniard committed to economic renovation under the leadership of the working classes, the doctrine of free enterprise had implications unfamiliar to those accustomed to seeing it put only to conservative uses. Capital was capital; the important thing for Spain was not whether it was owned privately or publicly but that all the scarce capital be fully employed.
"Rectificación de la República," December 6, 1931, Obras XI, p. 405.
"En el debate político," July 30, 1931, Obras XI, p. 352.
"Sobre lo de ahora," Crisol, August 6, 1931, Obras XI, pp. 364-6. Cf. "Circular de la Agrupación al Servicio de la República," January 29, 1932, Obras XI, pp. 427-8.
Ortega's commitment to the cause of the working classes did not begin with doctrine, but with a search for a dynamic force that could quicken the pace of Spanish economic activity. Development had to be driven by a dynamic force. The most powerful one in Spain was the working classes; more than any other group, the Spanish workers were willing to exert themselves, and therefore Spain's development, its push to fuller employment of all its resources, should be led by the workers. "Whatever are the political differences that exist, or that can exist tomorrow in our public life, it is necessary that none commit the stupidity of not knowing that, for sixty years, the most energetic force in universal history has been the magnificent upward movement of the working classes." Ortega stayed aloof from the Socialist Party per se, for he thought it was too much like a party of the vieja política. But he stayed close to the Socialists. Thus, in the Constituent Assembly he told his Socialist colleagues that "whatever may be the distances between me and the totality of this theory [Marxism], my agreements with it are much more than enough to enable us to walk together for a long time." In the elections to the Constituent Assembly Ortega's organization, the Group in the Service of the Republic, backed Republican-Socialist candidates and appealed mainly to a constituency of intellectuals, professionals, and workers. And Ortega's economic liberalism was not a mere ploy to win election. Thus, his proposal in the Constituent Assembly for a Council on the National Economy was to institute an agency for national planning with real powers; the Council was to be an independent branch of the state that was charged not only with drawing up developmental plans like the Russian, but also with the power and duty to mandate the allocation of the resources needed to implement the plans it drew up.
Both the Socialists and Anarcho-Syndicalists were powerful agencies of popular education and mobilization, but in different ways both had tendencies towards political particularism, aiming to improve their lot not through national improvement, but through the destruction of wealth; this particularism could prevent workers from being sources of national leadership. Ortega devoted much effort to combating this tendency, and his main argument was the idea of industry, the gospel of work. Owing to chronic underemployment, many Spanish workers and peasants held that with increased production, economic and social justice would leave everybody, both the rich and the poor, better off. Ortega tried to keep this conviction in the foreground, for it was the conviction that could make the working classes the source of national reform. Ortega seriously contended that the class struggle could be ended if there was a general commitment to work; and he used this contention, strange as it may seem, as a successful argument in campaigning for election in a primarily left-of-center, working-class constituency.
"Nación y trabajo: he aquí el tema de la Agrupación al Servicio de la República:' El Sol, February S, 1932. Cf. "Discurso en Qviedo," April 12, 1932, Obras XI, pp. 440-4.
In Spain, the gospel of work cut both ways. If the capitalist could demand a day's work for a day's wage, the worker could demand the full employment of capital. In a country in which considerable idle wealth coexisted with severe underemployment, there was good reason for the poorer classes to rally to the idea of industry and there was good reason for believing that the interests of productive labor and productive capital had much in common. In this context there was more sense than would at first appear in Ortega's statement that his "idea of work should make the abyss that exists between workers and those who are not workers disappear, for as the former work with the hoe on the divine earth, the latter will work by means of their capital." The rights of capital depended on its full employment, not as a source of profit, but as a means of production. At a time when villages were spontaneously expropriating idle land so that they could put the hoe to it, Ortega's conception of industrious cooperation was a constructive, humane basis for reforming the chronic condition of underemployment: those incapable of making their wealth productive would forfeit their claim to ownership.
Ortega's life-long political struggle was against the vieja política, that destructive competition between organized interest groups for special benefits to be gained at the expense of the nation. The purpose was to create a national economy, an economy to which all Spaniards contributed and from which all Spaniards benefited. Rather than the current slogan, toda por la patria, all for the fatherland, which merely rephrases the organic principle of the old politics, toda de la patria, all from the fatherland, Ortega would have said una patria par toda, a fatherland for all. Thus, with this demand in his political economy for participation in public life by all members of the community, we arrive at the fourth of Ortega's basic political commitments, that is democracy. It was his genuine democratic feeling that truly set him apart from the sectarians of the old politics and the fundamental law.
Exponents of every form of government currently subscribe to democratic rhetoric. Therefore let us be specific: the democrat believes in the dignity of man, seeks to implement the general will, and provides for popular participation in the determination of policy.
Men who believe in human dignity believe that each man, no matter how humble he may be, has qualities of unique and noble worth within his capacity. Further, each man shares equally in a common humanity: all men are brothers because the life of everyman is a continual struggle to realize his unique and noble potentials. The function of democracy is to make the governors respect the dignity, the worth, of each person: to do so, democracy gives each a voice in the affairs of the commonweal, so that the governors will not, in their ignorance, suppress the very virtues of the people. Ortega's democratic commitments were based on a belief in human dignity. Consequently, he was not bent, like so many politicians, on getting people to tell him what he wanted to hear; he was sincerely interested in the way other persons defined life for themselves. With the League for Spanish Political Education, this commitment resulted in a spontaneous effort to create channels of communication between the rustic peasant and the urban professional. In the same spirit, Ortega was a peripatetic philosopher who spent much time wandering about Spain, and his bittersweet essays on Spanish character testify to his concern to understand and celebrate the unique characters of diverse persons.
From the beginning Rousseau has suffered at the hands of critics who will substitute a Bon mot for an argument. To me, Rousseau's writings are second only to Plato's in their heuristic value; and being inclined to approach Rousseau's writings as heuristic stimulants, not epitomes of some dogma—romantic, democratic, totalitarian, or anti-intellectual—I find most of the debate about Rousseau incomprehensible. Rousseau's writing reflects a deep sympathy with the thought of Plato and the Stoics; Rousseau had internalized their work, and surely the greatness of the "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" is that it displays the proper use of civilization in the course of condemning the abuse of civilization. Rousseau should be read, responded to, reflected on; he does not provide doctrines: he may, however, stimulate thought. Since my sophomore year in college I have found Rousseau to repay careful, recurrent reading. I am closest to the two "Discourses," Emile, and The Social Contract, and have learned much from having dealt with the last two works in a Colloquium I have given over the past five years. I think, as a brief commentary, Jacques Barzun's discussion of Rousseau in Classic, Romantic, and Modern, II, i-ii, pp. 18-28, is without match. It is especially valuable for driving home the point that The Social Contract does not concern the mode of conducting practical politics—Rousseau was neither a democrat nor a totalitarian—but the conditions under which any system of conducting practical politics can be considered legitimate. The two books by Ernst Cassirer, The Question of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Peter Gay, trans., and Rousseau, Kant, and Goethe, Gutmann, Kristeller, and Randall, trans., are helpful, especially in locating Rousseau in the history of ideas. For those who want a check on the Confessions, Jean Guéhenno's Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2 vols., John and Doreen Weightman, trans., is excellent, although it does not try to assess Rousseau's intellectual background in much depth, an assessment that seems to me crucial in deciding how to read Rousseau. The Bibliothèque de la Pléiade edition of Rousseau's Oeuvres complètes is excellent, presenting his works in a readable format, with sufficient critical apparatus to inform oneself of the issues but not so extensive or intrusive that it interferes with following Rousseau's argument.
Rousseau, Du contrat social, Livre 1, Chap. I, Oeuvres complètes, III, p. 351.
Respect for the dignity of different individuals logically leads the political thinker to a concern for the general will, a concern that was essential to Ortega's conception of democracy. In part, when Ortega distinguished between the old and the new politics, he distinguished between a political life guided by the will of all and one inspired by the general will. To be sure, Rousseau's presentation of these two political drives was flawed. But the distinction between them, which did not begin with Rousseau, is essential to democratic theory. The will of all is a balance of factions; it is the dominant opinion, the one that comes out on top after all the interests favoring different positions have been mobilized and pitted against each other. Most political acts reflect the will of all; it guides the practical operation of power. But Rousseau was inquiring not into the nature of political power. Instead, he reflected on the nature of political legitimacy. "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. He who believes himself the master of others lets himself be more a slave than they. How is this change made? That I ignore. What can render it legitimate? That question I believe can be solved."
What is the general will? This question, to be answered coherently, should be refined into two. What is the concept of the general will? What, in an actual political situation, is the general will? Rousseau offered no answer to this second question; as Plato never gave a substantive statement of what the Good in actuality is, Rousseau never gave a substantive statement of what the general will is. Instead, Rousseau postulated the concept of the general will. If, he suggested, the substantive actuality of the concept was known, authority could be rendered legitimate; and he laid down very rigorous conditions that would have to be met before knowledge of the general will might be attained. As a concept, the general will postulates the idea of a common interest, a common interest that comes into being as men choose to live with other men. In theory, authority based truly on this common interest would be a legitimate authority, for in choosing to live in community with other men, a man rationally committed himself to will to act in ways consistent with the interest of the community in which he has chosen to partake. Or, to put the negative: a man who willed to act contrary to the interest of the community would act contrary to his basic intention of living in community with others. Let us leave to metaphysicians the question whether actual communities have real interests,. or whether communities really exist apart from their members; Rousseau did not pronounce upon these points. Likewise, let us leave to the historians of political theory the question whether Rousseau bears responsibility for the crimes later committed by erring men who claimed to know and embody the substantive general will. There is, at least, a concept of the general will; we have been reflecting on it.
Throughout Platonism, throughout Stoicism, throughout Rousseau's Contrat social, there runs the recognition that wise political deliberation will result from a sober, intelligent, informed, independent search, a search that is always humbled by the idea of the general will; that is, the idea that the community has an interest, that only this interest could legitimate authority, and that this interest is never clearly apparent, if it can ever be apparent at all, to any individual or group. The idea of the general will is essential to democratic politics and limited government: it reiterates to rulers the humbling fact that the most they can claim for their policies is prudent expediency, never unrestrained legitimacy; it saddles the would-be leader with continuous self-doubt; it creates a never ending need for the serious, open examination of every policy and piety. As happened in history, by immeasurably raising the criteria for legitimacy, the idea of the general will significantly reduced men's deference to arbitrary authority.
Ibid., Livre IV, Chap. 2, pp. 440-1.
Once arbitrary authority gives way to constitutional government and a rule of law, due emphasis on the idea of the general will reinforces the fact that democracy entails a tremendous self-discipline on the part of each citizen. Contrary to stereotype, Rousseau was profoundly prudent when he observed that to arrive at a sound popular decision one should ask the people, not whether they approve or reject a proposition, but whether they believe the proposition to be in accord or not to be in accord with their common interests. To answer this question, each person would have to deliberate seriously and independently about the nature of the community in which he sought to participate. The idea of the general will tells men little about what in any particular case should be done. Instead, the idea sets forth criteria that should influence the way men proceed to deliberate about what they should do. Thus Rousseau, who had nothing to say about which policy goals were in fact consistent with the general will, was explicit and rigorous in discussing how men should deliberate about policy.
Standards of public deliberation are always important in public affairs. As history shows, the results at different times of a particular political system vary tremendously in quality: monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and even tyranny have each, on occasion, promoted the good life for all, and at other opportunities they have each sunk all into times of trouble. One of the fundamental sources of these variations may well have been the willingness or unwillingness of those who made decisions to do so, not by asking whether they themselves approved of their particular policies, but by pondering whether their policies accorded with the common interest.
"Un proyecto:' El Sol, December 6, 1930, Obras XI. p. Z88.
Ortega thought that Spaniards needed to alter their procedures for deliberating about policy. If they kept in mind an idea of a general, Spanish will, they would greatly democratize their political procedures. The political inertia of most Spaniards allowed the tradition of particularism to persist. Particularism signified that in thinking about public policy, men were considering only their most immediate interests, not their common interests. The vieja política responded not to the common interest of the whole community, but only to that of its dominant parts. If numerous members of the community remained silent, it would be next to impossible to take them into account in deliberating on public policy. Hence political apathy played into the hands of particularist groups. Ortega thought that a democratic regionalism would encourage the political participation of the traditionally inert members of the community. To the degree that such regional participation led to more active national participation, the range of opinions that would be articulated in politics would increase; this increase would enhance the possibility of governing in accord with the interests that every Spaniard, each in his separate uniqueness, had in Spain. To find this Spain in which there was room for everyone, each Spaniard needed to contribute his part. "We aspire to institute a state that will be for all Spaniards. We wish to erect a great, commodious house where there will be room for all."Democracy was important, first, as a means of making the political process take every Spaniard into account.
See "Ideas políticas: Ejercicio normal del parlamento." El Sol, June 28 and July 1 and 2, 1922; "Ideas políticas," El Sol. June 29 and July 3, 12, 13, 19, and 26, 1924; and "La constitución y la nación," El Sol, January 11, 14. 18, 25, and 26,1928; Obras XI, pp. 14–25, 32–49, and 201–227.
To suffuse a political system with the spirit derived from the idea of the general will, it is not sufficient merely to ensure that all are taken into account. That is only the first step, which is consistent with both the idea of the will of all and the idea of the general will. The second step, which follows from the idea of the general will alone, is more intangible; Ortega called it the "dignification" of the political process. For years Ortega tried to convince his compatriots that a national parliament would work only if its function was dignified; that is, if the day-to-day details that the national government traditionally meddled with were turned over to the regions where concern for them was appropriate. The national government should confine its attention to full, imaginative deliberation over major issues concerning the whole nation.
When such deliberations are to be conducted by deputies of the people, there is disagreement about the nature of democratic procedure. Some believe that deputies should be bound to represent the express wishes of the majority of their constituent•; others think that the deputies should sift all the opinions of the people and advance the one that they find most reasonable. The idea of the general will suggests that the latter procedure is more proper. The practice of Ortega's Group in the Service of the Republic was an excellent example of a representative deliberation in this second sense. No qualifications of doctrine, class, or region were put on those to whom the Group would listen. Ortega was not a cynical democrat; he believed that politics was a work of reason, that men entered politics to reason in common about common problems, and that it was not reasonable to ignore the sincere opinions of any man. As we shall see, this respect for the opinions of all men, this willingness to assume that all deputies in the Constituent Assembly were sincerely anxious to use reason disinterestedly to discover the best possible constitution for the nation, was at once the strength and the weakness of Ortega's political position.
See La rebelión de las masas, 1930, Obras IV, pp. 150–1; d. España invertebrada, 1921, Obras 111, pp. 93–100.
It is ironic that Ortega should have acquired a reputation for being anti-democratic. As soon as one examines his actual political commitments, one discovers that they were uncompromisingly democratic. As has been suggested, the misapprehension has resulted largely from the selective concentration on certain works and from the difficulty of access to others. For example, Ortega's statement that a society, to the degree that it is a society, must be aristocratic, has become notorious; and people who habitually think of democracy as being opposed to aristocracy generally misunderstand it. But the corollary to his conviction about the aristocratic nature of society is a less well-known assertion about the democratic nature of government. Ortega made this assertion both before and after making his notorious statement in The Revolt of the Masses, so it cannot be explained away as a temporary change of heart. The corollary is this: under modern conditions, a government, to the degree that it is a competent government, must be democratic.
"La rectificación de la República," December 6, 1931, Obras XI, p. 409. Cf. "Dislocación y resturación de España: II: Condiciones," El Sol, July 17, 1926, Obras XI, p. 96.
The contemporary state requires a constant and all-embracing collaboration from all its citizens, and it does this not only by reason of political justice, but of ineluctable necessity. The problems of the present state are of such quantity and quality that they require the continuous concern of all its members. By this necessity, which the conditions of modern life inexorably impose, the state and the nation have to be fused into a unity; this fusion is called democracy. This means that democracy has ceased to be a theory and a political credo for which some agitate, and that it has converted itself into the inevitable anatomy of the present epoch; it is not only that in the present there are democrats, but that democracy is the present.
Public affairs have reached such a degree of complexity that democracy is a necessity i since the intricate web of interpersonal relations that constitutes the industrial nation-state is the actual locus of public affairs, policy formation cannot in fact be confined to the exalted few—despite pretension, all are involved. This ineluctable democracy was inescapably implied as each person sought to turn on an electric lamp, to open a newspaper, to don machine-woven cloth, or to board a train or trolley; this democracy was the fundamental feature of the Spain that is. Yet this democracy in which each must take account of all, for he depends on all, is the democracy that has been most easily scorned, not only in Spain, but throughout the contemporary West. Blinded by the illusions of power each pridefully takes account only of his friends, his class, his party, his union, his club, or his group. The fatal contradiction of the nation-state in Spain and elsewhere is a disjunction between the citizens' character and their circumstances. When the nation-state finally achieves a thorough integration of its members, linking them together in a web of mutual dependencies, it loses the spiritual inspiration, the common ideal, that prompted each member to look beyond his immediate self-interest and to subordinate his particular urges to the pursuit of a shared ideal. The nascent nation could tolerate diversity yet it was able to achieve spiritual unity; the mature nation necessitates unity yet it can only occasion dissension. Can the nation-state survive when its democratic reality—the need of each to take account of all—is chronically ignored?
To extinguish hubris is more needful than to extinguish fire.