Man and His Circumstances: Ortega as Educator
by Robbie McClintock
Chapter VIII — Failure
"Ideas políticas, 11," El Sol, July 1, 1922, Obras XI, p. 19.
With more good will than perspicuity, Some think Parliament would be better if a few professors and writers of respectable stature took part in its internal life. To be sure, today the only figures anointed with a few drops of prestige belong to the scientific, literary, and artistic fraternities.... Nevertheless, I doubt very much whether the direct intervention of the intellectual would improve politics. History more properly suggests that in politics intellectuals have been able to do only one thing: to be in the way.
VIII — Failure
Ortega's public power was that of a clerc; he was a man of the world who continually confronted his people with worthy standards and the woeful gap between these ideals and human achievements.
From 1898 to 1931 Spanish history was a halting, definite movement towards the peaceful, thorough reformation of the body politic. Through ups and downs, through dictatorship and freedom, the impetus that at once sustained and modulated this progress was the vigorous political journalism of Spain's best thinkers. It was as if Madison, Hamilton, and Jay had kept Publius at work for over thirty years. Unamuno, Ortega, and many others campaigned continuously to enlighten, provoke, and caution the Spanish people. Their effort succeeded.
Greatness beckons when a nation develops a powerful corps of teachers and journalists who are neither cynical nor Utopian, neither doctrinaire nor decadent. Thanks to such a corps, Spain made extraordinary progress towards the peaceful reconstruction of its politics and society. This progress seems all the more remarkable when compared to the concurrent decline of other European countries. Owing to the horror of the Civil War, we often forget that in 1931 Spain had a peaceful yet popular revolution. Bloodless coups and bloody rebellions are commonplace occurrences; but the thorough, relatively stable transfer of power from an ancient Monarchy to republican Spain is unique in recent history. In 1931 there was no putsch, no coup, no rebellion; there was simply a compelling recognition, created largely by the clerisy, that the reasonable course was the transfer of power to republican leaders. Therefore, one observes with regret how the clerisy convinced itself that in 1931 the millennium had arrived: Ortega and other intellectuals hurried to participate in practical politics. Doing so, they destroyed their claim to stand apart as constructive critics who could modulate the clash of conflicting powers. Doing so, they deprived the new Republic of the intellectual leadership that had made its auspicious advent possible. These were decisive errors.
The force of political criticism depends on the critic's separation from direct involvement in the internal political process. As soon as a critic is implicated with immediate responsibility for practical decisions, his criticism will be dismissed as self-serving. Until the Second Republic, Ortega's power as a political educator arose from his independence, his obvious distance from official Spain.
See "Vieja y nueva política," 1914, Obras 1, especially 277–9.
"Entreacto polémico: Para el Conde de Romanones," El Sol, March 15,1925, Obras XI, p. 59.
"El poder social," 1927, Obras III, p. 499.
Throughout most of his career, Ortega understood the source of his power. By contrasting official Spain and vital Spain he ingeniously forced listeners to suspend their interest in the gossip of capital politics and to concentrate on substantive issues. The League for Spanish Political Education had critical authority because its members put themselves above the fray, neither seeking office nor shunning office, believing that these were irrelevant to their tasks. In 1925 Ortega described how a clerisy should influence the practical world. Ideally, he said, an intellectual should ignore politics and concentrate on his strictly intellectual concerns. But troubles rent Spain; crises threatened Europe: intellectuals could not prudently disregard mundane affairs. In lieu of disengagement, Ortega offered this principle: "that in order to make politics, the intellectual must make it as an intellectual and not compromise the virtues and imperatives of his vocation and discipline." Two years later he was even more explicit: "even in exceptional cases, it greatly behooves the writer to separate his intellectual labor from his political anxiety, and when he does not do this, to require of his political interventions all the elevated virtues that rule intellectual work"
An indication of the difficulty that Ortega had in acting as a clerc after he had participated in politics is found in the reaction of his fellow intellectual-turned-politician, Manuel Azaña. Thus, in the Memorias intimas de Azaña, edited by Joaquín Arrarás, 1939, pp. 179–180, Ortega's criticisms of partisanship in the Republic were dismissed as an attempt to appease the Jesuit backers of El Sol for the passage of Article 26, which closed the religious orders. El Sol, which had long crusaded for better lay education, was anything but a pro-Jesuit paper! Care, however, should prevent one from taking the Memorias to be an accurate indication of Azaña's views and character; the book was an extremely fragmentary selection from Azaña's diary, and the selection was made by an enthusiast of Franco and published just after the Civil War. It is a masterpiece of political satire, and the added Falangist caricatures show that not all of the Spanish wits were on the loyalist side.
Ortega failed to maintain this principle. As long as he was in opposition, he preserved his independence and remained true to his intellectual vocation. But in 1931, without the tangential discipline of belonging to a non-participating opposition, he became too deeply implicated in partisan politics; soon he began to seek followers rather than to speak his mind. Consequently, when he became convinced in 1932 that he could no longer participate effectively in the very system he had helped create, he could only withdraw and maintain silence, obviously disturbed, but with no grounds for disinterestedly speaking out: he had ceased to be above the fray. New efforts at his old style of criticism were rebuked as sour grapes; a disgruntled aspirant for office found that his prerogatives as a clerc existed no more. Then it was, when his Spanish hopes had run aground, that Ortega announced his second voyage.
For Ortega's activities in Argentina and Chile at this time see articles about him in La Nación, September 1, p. 1; September 1, p. 6; September 6, p. 6; September 12, p. 6; November 24, p. 1; and December 6, p. 6. For the excellent reports of his lectures with extensive transcripts, see La Nación, September 25, p. 7, October 1, p. 4; October 9, p. 8, October 15, p. 11, October 29, p. 7, November 10, p. 8, November 14, p. 8, December 25, p. 6; and December 28, p. 6. There are good records of his tour and lectures in Institución Cultural Española, Anales, Vol. III, pp. 185–248. For the Madrid interest in Ortega's lectures see the news reports in El Sol, April 3, May 30, September 1, November 9 and 15, 1928; and January 3, 19, and 22, 1929. In addition, see the commentaries in El Sol: "Un discurso: Ortega y Gasset en la Argentina," January 8, 1929: "Impresiones de Hispanoamérica: Hoy llega a Madrid D, José Ortega y Gasset," January 20, 1929, and Luis Echavarri, "Ortega y Gasset y la joven intelectualidad argentina," February 16 and 22, and March 6, 1929. The text of Ortega's "Discurso en el parlamento chileno," 1928, 1955, is in Obras VIII, pp. 377–382.
Ortega began his drift into active politics in 1929. The previous year he had toured Latin America giving highly acclaimed lectures. The President of Argentina had attended when Ortega presented a preliminary version of The Revolt of the Masses to the Society of Lectures in Buenos Aires. These talks and his special course on What Is Philosophy?, given at the University of Buenos Aires, were enthusiastically received and prominently reported in the Argentine press, especially in La Nación. Madrid papers, in particular El Sol, echoed reports of Ortega's reception, enhancing his reputation as the Spaniard who could best create living cultural ties between Spain and its former colonies. This reputation was further increased when Ortega addressed the Chilean parliament, an unusual honor. El Sol ran several articles analyzing Ortega's sway over Latin American youth: his accomplishments, the commentators found, suggested that Spain's strength would depend on the ability of its intellectuals to inspire a trans-Atlantic cultural commonwealth to concerted actions.
Ortega returned to Spain in January 1929 to find that he was something of a celebrity and that a major conflict between the Universities and Primo de Rivera was brewing. The Dictator developed the delusion that he could at once improve higher education and decrease political opposition from intellectuals by fixing a faster pace on both the faculty and the students. Orders, especially ones that command a forced march, are never well received in academe; hence, as frequently happened, Primo de Rivera's results did not accord with his intentions. The attempt to subject academic requirements to worldly expediencies, the ill-fated Article 53 of the University Statute, put the University of Madrid out of operation for a year and confirmed the intellectual community as the Dictator's implacable foe. Student strikes and demonstrations against Article 53 in particular and the government in general enlivened February and early March. The government could not control the students, and in desperation the Dictator closed all universities for two weeks and that of Madrid until January 1, 1930.
With the students sent home, the professors took up the cause. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, the great historian and director of the Royal Academy, a man not notorious for dabbling in the politics of protest, announced his sympathy with the students. From his unsilent retirement, having years before renounced his university posts over another clash between state and student, Unamuno called on the mature to take up the battle that the young had bravely waged. Ortega was prominent among the professors who answered Unamuno's call using their talents to oppose the Dictator. Along with four others, Felipe Sánchez-Román, Luis Jiménez de Asúa, Fernando de los Ríos, and Alfonso García Valdecasas, Ortega resigned his professorship to protest the closing of the university. He did not, however, give up his teaching vocation. He hired the Sala Rex, one of the larger theaters in Madrid, and advertised in the papers that he would continue his university course, charging a small fee to cover expenses. His gesture was a great success. Attendance began high and grew steadily: midway in the series he had to hire a still larger theater. His lectures on What Is Philosophy? were popularly known as "The Course" in recognition that through them the University was still in operation.
Anonymous, "El curso de D. José Ortega y Gasset," El Sol, May 21, 1929.
Luis de Zulueta, "Lecciones de Ortega y Gasset:' El Sol May 21, 1929.
For press coverage of Ortega's lectures see El Sol, April 10, 13, 17, 23, and 27; May 4, S, 11, 15, and IS, 1929. The lectures were also reported carefully in Voz, same dates. In addition to the commentaries cited in footnotes, see Victoriano García Martí, "Comentarios del día: Las conferencias de Ortega y Gasset," Voz, April 30, 1929; and Manuel García Morente, "El curso de D. José Ortega y Gasset," El Sol, June 2, 9, 25, and 30, 1929. For transcripts of the lectures see ¿Que es filosofía?, 1929, 1957, Obras VII, pp. 275–438.
Ortega and his friends were deceived by "The Course." Couching his thought in clear and elegant prose, he presented an existential ontology that was as advanced as Heidegger's. Many who listened avidly to the lectures, or followed them in the papers, were not university students. Observers took the surprising heterogeneity of his audience as a sign that the Spanish people had finally matured, that all the efforts to create a cultivated elite had succeeded. For this reason, El Sol asserted in an editorial that "the course of Sr. Ortega y Gasset, besides having been a philosophic course, can very well qualify as an historic fact." What began as a gesture became a desideratum; here, unexpectedly, was the awaited sign that the moment for Spanish renovation had arrived. If the precondition for Spanish regeneration was the existence of a truly cultured minority, one that could give the country a backbone, in Ortega's phrase, then the hour had come: suddenly, in the audience of "The Course," the renovating elite seemed to present itself to the eyes. In describing the sight, Luis de Zulueta became almost lyric with joy: "the theater was full. A numerous and diverse public. Neither a single group, nor a single color, nor a single sex, nor a single class of the society. It is an intellectual selection, but one made spontaneously, freely. . .. An excellent symptom. A favorable sign of the times. Now in Madrid people fill a theater, day after day, only to learn philosophy."
La rebelión de las masas, 1930, Obras IV, p. 147. The key to this polemic is the attack on "the happy few," Ibid., p. 151, Also the argument, Ibid., p. 150, that there were no longer any genuine aristocracies would, in the context in which it was published, only undercut the raison d'être of the Monarchy.
After years of work, a new politics seemed imminent. The pace quickened. Ortega honed his political journalism to make it move events. His Argentine lectures on the mass man—how timely!—these he worked into a long series of articles that came out in El Sol through the fall of 1929 and the spring of 1930. In this, its proper context, The Revolt of the Masses was anything but a conservative tract; it served well in the campaign to bring down the Dictator and then the Monarch. As Ortega defined the mass man, there were no more prominent examples than Primo de Rivera, the King, and those around them. The first installment gave the clue: masses did not mean "either solely or principally" the working masses; masses meant men in every social class who were satisfied with themselves, who were unwilling to discipline themselves. Mass men proliferated among intellectuals and the vestiges of "nobilities," nobodies who claimed special privileges in society. "In contrast, it is not unusual today among the workers, who formerly could be patronized as the purest example of what we are calling 'mass,' to encounter eminently disciplined characters." In the taxing turn Ortega gave to his conception of the truly noble life, in making it denote rigorous self-discipline in the service of man's highest ideals, he provided the rationale for a profound attack on the Spanish monarchy and the established classes, and for a call to visionary reform.
To suggest that The Revolt of the Masses was only, or even primarily, a tract against the complacencies of the Spanish Monarch and his minions would be excessive. But in it Ortega contended, in vivid, compelling prose, that power—political, economic, technical, cultural—was exercised by men of no special competence, men who took more from civilization than they contributed. The señorito satisfecho, the sated swinger, was anything but the self-disciplined worker and peasant. Repeatedly Ortega likened the character of the mass man to that of the fils de famille, especially to that of the hereditary aristocrat. Who would give flesh to these similes? Who but the established groups around the government and the King? Ortega challenged them on the most fundamental grounds: their moral claim to authority.
"La moral del automóvil en España," El Sol, August 23, 1930, Obras IV, pp. 84–8.
In summer 1930 Ortega reiterated this critique with his essay on "The Moral of the Automobile in Spain." Spaniards ranked fourth in the number of cars per capita; their roads were terrible and sparse; Spain produced no cars; automobiles in Spain were always clean and luxurious. The lesson was clear: in Spain, neither the automobile, nor the members of the leisured class who owned them, served any use.
"El error Berenguer," El Sol, November 15, 1930, Obras XI, p. 279. The effect of the phrase can be gauged by the attention given to it by the monarchist historian, Melchor Fernández Almagro, Historia del Reinado de Don Alfonso XIII, p. 562; and by Mori's use of it to identify Ortega in the chronic1e of the Constituent Assembly, Crónica, Vol. 1, p. 95.
The polemic against the ruling groups culminated in the fall. In "The Berenguer Error," Ortega used his knack for coining slogans that crystallized strong feelings to denote the King as the real obstacle to reform. When Primo de Rivera had resigned early in the year, Alfonso X!II had General Berenguer form a government, which was charged with promoting a "return to normalcy." Berenguer's task was to reconstruct a government based on the Constitution of 1876, which Primo de Rivera had suspended in 1923. The King asked an impossible task of his General, Ortega asserted, for the King, not the Dictator, had been the fundamental abnormality in recent years. Monarchy was normal only insofar as the Monarch was the educator and spiritual leader of his people, Ortega contended. At this, the King had proved himself incompetent. Hence the greatest abnormality in Spanish life had become the Monarchy. "Spaniards! Your State does not exist! Reconstruct it!" To close his brief against the King, Ortega adapted a phrase from Cato's implacable cry against Carthage; immediately, it became a bond among republicans—"Delenda est Monarchia."—Monarchy must be destroyed!
By the end of 1930, agitation for a republic could not be contained; a revolution was merely a matter of time, and not much time at that. Ortega and the clerisy were but a small, yet significant part of those calling for change. Several workers parties, especially the Socialists, several Republican parties, and several regionalist movements, especially the Catalan left, were cooperating, despite some strains, to bring down the government and to constitute a new system. These organized groups were the practical powers forcing revolution. Yet the intellectuals were also essential: they brought popular opinion to the point of accepting a republican solution to the vacuum of authority. In December 1930 an unsuccessful republican uprising had been easily put down. In the aftermath, the Athenaeum of Madrid was closed because that meeting place for intellectuals had become—nay, it had always been—a center of republican aspirations. Such measures were of no avail; discussions that previously went on in public, now took place in private. In February 1931, Ortega, the novelist Ramón Pérez de Ayala; and the great doctor Gregorio Marañón, organized the Group in the Service of the Republic, giving intellectuals a national organization through which to express their republican commitments. The Group operated as a correspondence society with local chapters all over Spain. It did a great deal to help republicanism come to power without an outright, violent revolution.
General Berenguer had set a "normal" election to the Cortes for February, but abstentions were so heavy that the election was a farce. In an admission that the "return to normalcy" had failed, Berenguer resigned. The government of Admiral Aznar was no more effective. On April 12, municipal elections were held throughout the nation. Returns showed a landslide for republican candidates. The position of the Monarchy had become untenable. Two days later King Alfonso XIII left Spain, and his ministers negotiated the transfer of power to a provisional republican government, most members of which had lately been in jail for their political dissidence.
The fall of the Monarchy had been like the kill in a corrida: with the exhausted government's attention fixed on the muleta, the red flag of revolution, the republicans pierced the heart from above and in the open, yet unseen and unexpected, with the thin rapier of electoral victory. But unlike a corrida, the political spectacle does not end. With the fall of the Monarchy the direction of republican activities had to shift from the negative tearing down of the old system to the positive building up of a new one. Here certain divisions became apparent.
Two developments in bringing down the Monarchy were particularly significant in constructing a republic: the Pact of San Sebastian and the Group in the Service of the Republic. On August 17, 1930, leading Republicans, Catalan nationalists, and Socialists had agreed in the Pact of San Sebastian to work cooperatively for a republic, by use of force if necessary. Although several of Ortega's intellectual allies, including his brother, Eduardo, took part in the Pact, it was primarily a practical political alliance between the major republican organizations. Hard bargains were struck about the means for bringing down the Monarchy and about the future features of the republic. In April, the Revolutionary Committee created through the Pact became the Provisional Government. The blocs represented by the signatories to the Pact were the practical backbone of the Republic; and despite certain tensions and changes in leadership, this coalition clearly dominated the new government at least to the November 1933 elections.
"Agrupación al servicio de la República: Manifesto," El Sol, February 10, 1931, Obras XI, p. 127.
There are a number of documents of and about the Group in the Service of the Republic in Ortega's Obras XI, especially pp. 125–143, 291–300, 425–431, 516–8. Other important documents on the Group are in Ramón Pérez de Ayala, Escritos políticos, especially pp. 214–236.
The Group in the Service of the Republic was a new organization, the purpose of which differed from the Pact. The Group, which was not founded by an alliance between existing organizations, was not intended to be a political party. Members of the Group were committed to political education; they had little practical power; their spokesmen did not represent large blocs of votes. The Group aimed to put the intellect of Spain in the service of a republic, or as its manifesto said, "to mobilize all Spaniards of an intellectual office in order to form a copious contingent of propagators and defenders of the Spanish Republic."
Together the Pact and the Group served a common purpose. No one had to make an either-or choice between the tendencies represented by the Pact and the Group, for both shared a valid, useful, sincere commitment to creating a new republic. The Pact stood for the practical reality of the republic, the Group for its intellectual ability. Members of the latter, however, had to make a serious decision: how could the Group best serve a republic that would be built upon the practical politics of the Pact? This question was especially important in determining the policy of the Group towards the Constituent Assembly. Ortega miscalculated in answering this question.
"Un proyecto." El Sol. December 6, 1930, Obras XI, pp. 280–290.
On December 6, 1930, as a sign of the weakening Monarchy, Ortega had published an essay requesting that a national convention be convened to draw up a new constitution. This essay, "A Project," reveals Ortega's expectations about the Constituent Assembly. He identified two groups as dangerous to real progress: those who did not want a new state and those who immediately wanted a radical social revolution. Essentially, both these groups scorned the Spanish nation and looked at politics as means for advancing their particular interests. The views of these extremes were short-sighted; any state founded on one or the other of them would be doomed to perpetual instability. The alternative would be a great, cooperative effort in which all could work to organize a new state, a state designed for all, not for one or another of its principal groups.
Pascal, Pensées, no. 353, W. F. Trotter, trans.
Ortega might have taken as a motto for his convention Pascal's statement that "we do not display greatness by going to one extreme, but in touching both at once, and filling all the intervening space." Drawing up a good constitution was more an intellectual than political endeavor, it seemed to Ortega. In order to create a governmental mechanism that would allow all groups to coexist and that would nevertheless be politically effective, the framers would have to account wisely for all aspects of the nation, even those they disliked. Destiny called Spain's intellectuals to the task of discovering a political system that could form and implement significant national policies and that could do so without driving any major group into a desperate resistance for the sake of survival. Clearly, Ortega expected the Constituent Assembly to be composed of patriotic personages who, like the American founding fathers, would draw up with a minimum of partisan self-serving an enlightened, enduring, adaptable basis for government. This task done, the founders would then disband and return to their respective occupations. Perhaps Ortega should have read Beard.
Ortega conceived of the Constituent Assembly in the mold of vital politics. Destiny beckoned and the people would spontaneously push forward those men gifted with genius; or, more precisely, the occasion was such that an unexpected excellence and enlightenment would be engendered in those the people advanced. For Ortega, a political movement that merited being called vital, as opposed to the merely official, was a spontaneous unity in the pursuit of a great task. Now the moment approached when the vital politics of those who had been pursuing Spanish renovation would merge into a new official politics, that of the Second Republic. Ortega saw the Constituent Assembly as the culmination of the vital politics. The Assembly, he thought would be unified by a desire to provide Spain, and through Spain, Europe, with the key to unlock the constraints of the nineteenth-century state and to point the way for the European peoples to regain their proper form.
On the basis of these assumptions, it made sense for the Group in the Service of the Republic to seek an active part in the Constituent Assembly. The deliberations would call for intellectual vision; as in any intellectual consideration, the opinions backed by the best reasons would carry the greatest weight. The Group comprised many of Spain's most respected thinkers. They would be looked to as the men best able to divine the features of a constitution that would prove, through the experience of future centuries, to be exemplary. In an Assembly vitally committed to producing such a document, the Group would be listened to not in proportion to the power of its constituents, but in proportion to the wisdom of its members. Such expectations lured the clerisy into political activism.
"Ortega y Gasset habla en Léon:' El Sol, June 28, 1931, Obras XI, p. 303.
I rely for my knowledge of the Constituent Assembly on Mori, Crónica, especially Vols. 1–4, 6, 7, and 9; and on Rhea Marsh Smith, The Day of the Liberals in Spain, which is the best study of the Assembly in English. The judgments, however, about how it might have succeeded are my own. There is a good, concise chapter on the Constituent Assembly by Gabriel Jackson in The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931–1936, pp. 43–55.
Despite the Assembly's glowing oratory of statesmanship, Ortega's belief that official politics would give way to vital politics in the Assembly was invalid. A Constituent Assembly that would have fulfilled Ortega's expectations would have been an extraordinary assembly indeed. Dominated by a non-ideological bloc, it would have studied the nation disinterestedly to discover the kind of state the nation needed as a whole. Then, it would have tried to design a state to fit these specifications. While campaigning, Ortega described such deliberation: "the state is an immense machine that a national collaboration constitutes in order to serve the public life, and the process for inventing a machine is this: first, one decides what are the objects that one wishes to obtain with it and then one molds the parts and the mechanism into the form that best conduces to these objects." But the actual Constituent Assembly did not proceed in this manner.
To begin, the dominant blocs were not disinterested; they had strong ideological commitments. The larger parties had definite preconceptions about the constitution, they knew what they wanted, and bargains had been made to ensure the realization of these expectations. Hence, the Assembly had strong ties to the vieja política. Instead of beginning to deliberate by working out agreement about the functional attributes to be given the new state, the Assembly began with a projected draft of the Constitution, the juridical features of which were then re-examined in debate. Although this procedure was the only workable one in a convention of 470 persons, it encouraged partisan groups to ignore careful consideration of the Constitution as a whole and to concentrate on amending the project with their favorite proposals. Most debates concerned amendments, and in the end the Constitution was more a lawyer's derivative from advanced constitutional theory than an original contribution to the advance of that theory. An Ortegan Assembly would have had to go to the people, the whole people, to help them understand the Constitution, to create a genuine desire to live by its rule, and to overcome the fears of republican government. Spaniards were not politically sophisticated, and only if they fully comprehended the constitution, finding themselves deeply in concord with it, would it become the basis of a truly vital yet official politics. In reality, the members of the Assembly knew that they had drafted a divisive document, for most deputies, Ortega included, opposed a plebiscite to ratify their work for fear of unnecessarily aggravating national divisions.
At the outset, members of the Group might have realized that their assumptions concerning the Assembly were wrong. The Assembly was too large to accomplish much beyond endorsing the preconceived opinions of its majority. Its mandate was too strong, enabling well represented groups to try to build a bias in favor of their interests into the system. The Assembly's strong mandate, however, failed to isolate it from electoral pressure, for there was nothing to prevent it from patterning parliament on itself and transforming itself into the first parliament, as in fact it did. Voting by lists encouraged a convention of parties rather than one of personages. All these facts might have suggested to Ortega that the Assembly would not be a body in which farseeing statesmanship would dominate. The Group erred in trying to shape the Republic by taking an active part in the Assembly. By doing so, they had no real effect on the Constitution, and they dissipated the clerisy's influence. Their prestige, which was great, might have been put to better use as a journalistic, educational force keeping the interests of the nation before the Assembly, and interpreting to the nation the work of the Assembly. In this role the Group could have continued, long after the Constitution had been framed, to act as a moral influence, raising the tone of political practice and modulating the swings of political passion.
In retrospect, one can see a serious ambiguity in Ortega's political criticism. Beginning with his convocation address to the League for Spanish Political Education and continuing up to his participation in the Constituent Assembly, Ortega alternated between making two different contrasts: sometimes he pitted the new politics against the old politics and at others he opposed a vital politics against official politics. As long as the new politics was in opposition, the two contrasts could be used interchangeably; but they were not the same. The antipodes denoted by each contrast were different: a new politics suggested that the old would in time be replaced, or at least reduced to a mere vestige like the British monarchy; but a vital politics might very well exist permanently in a continuous, productive tension with the official. As long as the vieja política reigned in Spain, Ortega did not need to clarify these distinctions. But failing to do so, he was not prepared for the time when the new politics would become an official politics. Then, by being drawn into the new, official politics of the Second Republic, he gave up his basis for engaging in vital politics. Perhaps American proponents of the new politics should ponder this distinction.
Ortega failed to clarify whether civic pedagogy was a permanent complement to official, practical politics, or whether it was a temporary endeavor that would transform the corrupt old ways into a pristine, new system. By taking the Group in the Service of the Republic into the Constituent Assembly, he acted as if the latter were true, as if vital politics were an historical anomaly to be rendered unnecessary by the new constitution. The fall of the Monarchy, however, did not end the need for Spain's clerisy to crusade with their pens for a more enlightened, humane public life. As it turned out, the results of the Constituent Assembly were far from perfect, but they were good enough; instead of establishing a new politics, they laid the groundwork for the thorough reform of the old. With strong, disinterested leadership of public opinion, the Second Republic might have performed with more stability than it did. Such leadership was lacking, for the clercs who had performed this office for more than thirty years and who could have continued to do so, had over-engaged themselves and undercut their intellectual authority. In the Constituent Assembly they fell short and did not write the perfect constitution. Thereafter, their criticism, which might have modulated political practice, was liable to be dismissed as the losers' laments.
For Ortega's position on the Catalan Statute, see Mori, Crónica, Vol. 6, especially pp. 112–153, 331–429; and Vol. 9, especially pp. 402–468. This source is much more useful than the text of Ortega's speeches as they were reproduced in El Sol or in books, for Mori included the whole development of the issue, other important speeches, comments from the floor, etc. The transcripts of Ortega's speeches are also in Obras XI, pp. 455–488, but Mori is still a better source. Unamuno's position may be found in "Discurso sobre la lengua española," his Obras III pp. 1350–1361, the transcript of his statement on the issue shows that he was allied with Ortega's position. For Ortega's views on the welfare state as they were expressed in the Assembly see "En el debato político," "Sobre lo de ahora," and "La rectificación de la República," Obras XI, pp. 348–356, 360–6, 398–417. For Ortega's view of the relation of church and state, see his speech in the Assembly, "Proyecto de Constitución," September 4, 1931, Obras XI, especially pp. 382–3. For his view of anti-clericalism and the Monarchy after its fall, see "La rectificación de la República," December 6, 1931, Obras XI, especially pp. 407–9, and "Antimonarquia y República," Luz, January 7,1932, Obras XI, pp. 418–9. As can be seen from Mori, Crónica, Vol. 3, pp. 280–6, the Law of the Defense of the Republic went through with surprisingly little discussion. For the feelings raised by the trial see Ibid., Vol. 4, pp. 295–370.
In the Constituent Assembly, Ortega's claim to intellectual aloofness was steadily eroded. Through the summer and fall of 1931, the aura of partisanship around the Constitution disturbed him. Particularism became prominent. For instance, the regional groups did not contribute a unique outlook on the whole project; they insisted instead that a particular outlook be reflected in certain parts of the project. Hence, Ortega, a leading proponent of regional autonomy, found himself in opposition to the Catalan Statute and certain language matters: rather than grant autonomy for regional affairs, the Statute seemed to grant to a single region the right to speak authoritatively on certain national matters. Likewise, the Socialists seemed less concerned with perfecting the national economy than they were with inserting into the Constitution advanced welfare provisions that were probably not possible given the existing level of production in Spain. Ortega strongly welcomed the welfare provisions as humane, progressive, and just; he worried, however, that those who were primarily responsible for these provisions would think they had completed their task and would not carry through by leading a cooperative effort to expand the economy, an effort that alone could make good on the welfare state that the Assembly had so generously promised on paper. Then, to make matters worse, the old anticlericals reveled in pushing through Article 26, which provided the authority to disband any religious order that threatened the state. By disbanding the Jesuits and stipulating that all education be immediately laicized, thus mandating the discontinuation of many more schools than the new government could create, the Assembly severely complicated the new Republic's excellent efforts to improve public instruction.
Such moves struck Ortega as a sacrifice of the national interest to satisfy the passions of large, doctrinaire groups. The Law of the Defense of the Republic, inserted towards the end of the Assembly's work, signified that the deputies knew they had failed to produce a national constitution: the framers of the new state were already preparing to defend it from powerful enemies within the nation. Finally, the Assembly indulged in the gratuitous trial in absentia of the King, which served nothing except to aggravate the monarchists. Such developments did not augur well for proponents of the new politics.
"Un aldabonazo," Crisol, September 9, 1931, Obras XI, p. 387.
Like several other intellectuals who served in the Assembly, and many who observed from without, Ortega had serious reservations about the Constitution. "An immense number of Spaniards," he wrote towards the end of the Assembly's work, "who collaborated in the birth of the Republic by their actions, by their votes, and, what is most effective of all, by their hopes, are now saying between their worries and discontents: 'This isn't it! This isn't it! The Republic is one thing. 'Radicalism' is another. If not, let it wait." When the moment for ratification came, of course, Ortega voted for the Republic; after all, it was a start and a great improvement over either dictatorship or the Constitution of 1876. But then, like any politician who accepts an imperfect work that he has helped to produce, Ortega set out to make the Constitution better by correcting its deficiencies in the realm of practice. Thus Ortega was drawn deeper and deeper into practical politics. Since partisanship was the major deficiency of the new Constitution, Ortega rather desperately decided that the creation of an inclusive, non-partisan party might best correct the weaknesses of the new system.
For the publicity campaign leading up to Ortega's speech, see "En vísperas de un discurso: Ortega y Gasset y el futuro de España," El Sol, November 17, 1931; "Una cuartilla de Don José Ortega y Gasset," El Sol, November 18, 1931; "Notas políticas: El esperado discurso de Don José Ortega y Gasset," El Sol, November 27, 1931; and "El discurso de Don José Ortega y Gasset: Un llamamiento para la creación de un partido de amplitud nacional" El Sol, December 8, 1931. Cf. "Hablando con el Sr. Ortega y Gasset después de su discurso," Crisol, December 7, 1931. The last two articles have very useful information on judging the effect of Ortega's speech. For his desire for a national party prior to the fall of the Monarchy, see "Organización de la decencia nacional," El Sol February 5, 1930, Obras XI, pp. 269–273. Ramón Pérez de Ayala's essays "Sobre los partidos políticos," Escritos políticos, pp. 237–252, are also pertinent.
Even before the fall of the Monarchy, Ortega had called for a party of national unity; and as the work of the Assembly drew to a close, he renewed this plea. Final ratification of the Constitution was to occur in December 1931, at which time the Assembly would elect a President, who in turn would appoint a Prime Minister. To be effective, this non-partisan party would have to elect its candidate as President, so that he could ask the party to form the government. This condition drew the potential party into competition with others, making it a partisan non-partisan party! In November rumors began to appear in the press that Ortega would found a political party. These rumors were compounded with denials into a considerable publicity campaign, which built up to a speech that Ortega gave on December 6, a few days before the final votes. Before a large audience of notables, Ortega outspokenly analyzed the shortcomings he felt would endanger the soon-to-be-established Republic. He addressed himself before the fact to "The Rectification of the Republic," and he asked that "a party of national amplitude" be created under the leadership of Miguel Maura. Only such a party could offset a drift towards the polarization of the Spanish polity.
At first, the idea of a non-partisan party may seem absurd; under the circumstances, it may well have been impossible. The potential plausibility of this party of national amplitude stemmed from the fact that large, conglomerate parties can form in two different ways. On the one hand, coalitions of interest groups, which believe that to the victors belong the spoils, form when the components agree to divvy up between them the best plums of the political process. The Pact of San Sebastian provided the basis for such a party, and Manuel Azaña led this dominant coalition of left Republicans, Socialists, anti-clericals, and Catalan nationalists. On the other hand, occasionally more idealistic coalitions are built upon hopes for the future nation. These have had strong, intuitive appeal in poor, struggling countries. In difficult situations, diverse groups sometimes realize that by concentrating on national development they will be better off by having a smaller share of a larger nation than by taking the maximum share of the present nation. Such a national government ruled Britain in World War II, and analogous examples of "one party democracies" have become familiar in newly emergent nations. Such non-partisan governments usually come into existence either in response to dire threats to a nation's existence or as the result of a charismatic leader winning control over the nation's means of force. Neither condition held in Republican Spain.
"La rectificación de la República," Obras XI, p. 416.
Ortega tried to create a disinterested coalition party solely by suasion. Strong currents of political idealism existed in the Assembly; and in Ortega's speech he tried to capitalize on that idealism, hoping to break Azaña's coalition and to replace it with a more inclusive, idealistic one under Maura's leadership. As usual, Ortega was eloquent. He played on all the statesman-like hopes that had been voiced in the Assembly. He appealed particularly to the Socialists, for they were the next to largest group in Azaña's coalition and the one most susceptible to Ortega's nationalistic humanitarianism. He tried to base the new coalition on the three groups that he thought were the best endowed with inner human strengths. The new party would be "constituted by working men, mental workers and manual workers . ... These workers are called, before anyone else, to this undertaking, for the life of a nation is in substance two things: manufacturing and mentefacturing. These two potencies—these and a third, youth—have to set the tone of any possible new party."
"El discurso de Don José Ortega y Gasset," El Sol, December 8, 1931.
El Sol sampled reactions to Ortega's speech by leading politicians. Predictably Miguel Maura was enthusiastic. Unamuno was complimentary, but refused to comment on Ortega's political propositions. What mattered, however, was the reaction of the Socialists; they proved to be polite but uninterested. Fernando de los Rios commended Ortega's patriotism, but added that the existing parties could best accomplish the policies called for. Álvaro de Albornoz and Marcelino Domingo thought that the party Ortega sought would, in effect, weaken the left and strengthen the right; it therefore should be opposed. Others believed that the existing parties were sufficient and that it was improper to criticize the Republic on the eve of its being constituted. The party of national amplitude died aborning. Three days later the Assembly elected Niceto Alcalá-Zamora as President, who soon announced that the Azaña government had been formed.
For speeches made in this effort, see "Nación y Trabajo: he aquí el tema de la Agrupación al Servicio de la República: 'Hoy no es possible un partido conservador': Elocuente brindis de Don José Ortega y Gasset en Granada," El Sol, February 5, 1932; and "Don José Ortega y Gasset en Oviedo: 'La política Republicana se ha de cimentar sobre dos principios: Nación y Trabajo'," El Sol, April 12, 1932. For articles written about a national party, see "Hacia un partido de la nación," Luz, January 7, 15, and 29, 1932; "Estos republicanos no son la República," Luz, June 16, 1932; and "Hay que reanimar a la República," Luz, June 18, 1932. Ortega's withdrawal from politics was first made public in "Conferencia de Don José Ortega y Gasset en la Universidad de Granada: 'Tras dos años de exorbitancia política—dice—vuelvo plenamente a la conciencia intelectual'." El Sol, October 9, 1932. See for all except the first and last mentioned Obras XI, pp. 425–450, 489–493.
"Carta," Luz, April, 1933, Obras XI, p. 520.
Ortega did not immediately give up hope for a new party. In the following months he toured the provinces studying the possibilities of converting the Group in the Service of the Republic into a national party. He spoke in the north at Oviedo and in the south at Granada, both times explaining the rationale for a non-partisan coalition. He published a series of articles on its importance, but by the summer of 1932 the impossibility of making a majority party out of a minority organization of citizens and amateur politicians had discouraged him. Further, his efforts at political criticism were being dismissed as the recriminations of a frustrated politician. Putting up a good face, expressing confidence in the Republic and hope for the future, the Group disbanded. Ortega soon announced his withdrawal from politics: he had tried and failed. "This sonorous and perfect failure gives me the right to silence." He broke his silence briefly after the 1933 elections to write in favor of the turn away from domination by the left, and he again called for enlightened, clear-headed government in the name of the whole nation. But the resentful effort by the right to undo two year's work by the left dashed Ortega's renascent hopes. Except for his grudging declaration of allegiance to the Republic early in the Civil War, he thereafter remained silent about Spanish politics.
"El silencio, gran brahmán," 1930, Obras U, pp. 625–633.
Yet silence still resounds as a sonorous symbol. Silence, Ortega wrote, was a great teacher, for a well-placed pause signified as much as many words. In this case silence taught that only under certain conditions could the intellectual take an effective part in politics; when those conditions were absent the intellectual should quietly prepare for the day when they would return. Years before Ortega had written that when men begin to fight with one another they cease to discuss their differences rationally. To stay out of such conflicts, the intellectual should say nothing, for whatever he said would be used as a club, not as a reason. Force was the ultima ratio; and when men resorted to it, they were impelled to try to mobilize all available talent and power—right became a mere tool of might.
"Carta," Luz, April, 1933, Obras XI, p. .519.
Ortega quickly realized that he was compromised with respect to Spanish public affairs. His self-imposed silence preceded the Civil War: "since August  I have suspended my political activities, not only the parliamentary ones, but absolutely all of them, so that no one can claim without shame that since then I have made any act of political organization or even of expressing simple opinion, apparent or latent, direct or indirect, on the surface or beneath it." From mid-1932 until his death, Ortega maintained, with minuscule exceptions, an adamant silence on matters of Spanish politics. Instead, he devoted himself to the interests of intellect. By doing so, he ensured that, come what may, he could work towards two goals: he could return to the practice of civic pedagogy with respect to Europe rather than Spain, and he could try to preserve the disciplined intelligence that had been nurtured in Spain and that might someday again pervade the conduct of political life.
By being silent, and by not taking part in the looming fray, the intellectual preserved certain possibilities, namely the possibilities of alternatives to the conflict. During his political activities Ortega contended that a peaceful, progressive Spain would be one that was led by a coalition of labor, intellect, and youth. This coalition failed to form in 1931, and since then certain silences have preserved the possibility that sometime in the future it will manage to come into being. Note that clercs like Ortega began their silence about four years before the Civil War; it would be wrong to fill in the silence with the passionate shouts that still echo from the conflict. Most of the intellectuals who had labored for decades to regenerate Spain perceived by 1932 that they had failed. The problem was to find a way by which progressive groups could endure the coming conflict without having their competencies crushed. Ideology was incidental: Spanish progress would come only when hard labor, cogent intellect, and vibrant youth managed to concert their efforts spontaneously. The great danger in the coming reaction was not that a retrograde ideology would push out the nominal liberalism of the Second Republic, but that one or more of the truly progressive groups in Spain would be decimated.
For Ortega, the Civil War and the long period of marking time that followed were a tragic but historically insignificant incident. Reaction, a return to past traditions, was impossible, he believed. History was an ongoing movement a continuous flow from the past into the future; hence a people could not escape into the safe certitudes of yesterday. Reactionary movements could try to impose myths on reality; but the reality would remain, and eventually when people became bored with stasis, leaders would be forced to begin again to deal honestly with the reality and retrace the steps that had previously been taken. Thus, conservatism could not permanently undo the accomplishments of progressivism; at worst the conservative could force the progressive to retrace his steps and forgo for a time further advance. The major steps taken prior to 1931 towards Spanish progress had built up the components of the coalition of labor, intellect, and youth. Through the reaction the task was to preserve these parts and to prepare for the time when they could again try to come together.
That day may be approaching. The victors in the Civil War face a profound political problem: reactionary regimes rarely prepare adequately for the transfer of power, for their eyes are always on the past and they fail to foresee the morrow. But a transfer of power ineluctably approaches and the faint efforts to prepare for it show, both positively and negatively, that the intrinsic power of Ortega's coalition of labor, intellect, and youth will have to be taken into account. The clearest sign is negative: the major efforts to suppress possible sources of unforeseen change in the established power structure have been aimed directly at workers, writers, and students. The vaunted liberalization of Spanish rights in recent years amounts to the following: there will be general freedom of speech and assembly provided that workers, intellectuals, and students do not give themselves independent organizations and do not concert their social concerns.
More important, however, are the positive signs (in 1970) that Spain's progressive groups are revitalizing. That all men are mortal is obvious; the recent concern about the transfer of power in Spain is not merely, or even mainly, a function of the Caudillo's age. The present situation does not presage a resurfacing of the conflict fought out in the Civil War. The silence that preserved the possibility of a coalition of labor, intellect, and youth, also preserved the possibility of a re-alignment of forces. The present interest in the transfer of power has arisen mainly because members of the present government realize that the community of interest between components of Franco's coalition—the Army, the Church, and wealth—is no longer solid. In the thirties, the progressive, republican advance was broken from within by an inane, gratuitous, excessive anti-clericalism. Since then the Church has changed—and so has the outlook of workers, writers, artists, and students. In the newspapers, interesting signs of the time keep recurring. So-called Communist workers are arrested for holding illegal meetings in their churches; a Bishop argues scathingly for the moral necessity of land reform; Barcelona students and professors are besieged in a Convent and arrested for demanding the right to organize independently; young priests are clubbed in a demonstration in support of students. What all these and many other signs mean for the future of Spain depends entirely on what many particular Spaniards decide to do. Labor, intellect, and youth have come through the reaction largely intact. And if the Church were to liberalize .... At the present time one can only say that judicious silence has ensured that all is now possible in Spain, and one suspects that the time is not too distant when, ironically, judicious silence will seem to have been an excessively timid commitment.
Yet silence is not the same as inactivity. Ortega's disappointment with the course of events from 1932 onward must have been profound. Fortunately, however, his work was not inextricably bound to his taking an active part in Spanish public affairs. Ortega was a "good European." One of the inspirations for his effort at the reform of Spain had been to point the way by which the European nations could get in shape and transcend their parochial limitations. This European goal remained alive for Ortega; his Spanish failure even intensified it, for he saw that the failure was a symptom of Europe's decadence.
To see the Spanish failure as a European symptom, one should look beneath the surface of the Civil War and the events before and after it. For Ortega, the failure of Spain, and his own failure with respect to it, went much deeper than the failure of a particular political program. Anyone with Ortega's knowledge of history is fully aware of how changeable political fashion has always been. One finds no fundamental significance in this sphere. The failure of Spanish reform was more profound. The failure appeared to be nothing less than a failure of culture itself; it seemed to be a terrible confirmation of the thesis advanced in The Revolt of the Masses that there was a radical defect in European culture. Spain, like the rest of Europe, was showing that its elites on both the right and the left did not understand the principles of the civilization for which they were responsible.
During his long silence about Spain, Ortega devoted himself to an examination of Europe's cultural principles. This re-examination of Western culture has facilitated a re-alignment of forces within Spain and throughout the West, and in this facilitation we find a worldly justification for the quiet labors of Ortega and other reflective men who chose to be silent in times of passion. It is not an accident that religion, labor, intellect, and youth have changed during the past third of a century. Let us turn to Ortega's small but significant part in this reorientation of Western culture.
Greater dooms win greater destinies.