Man and His Circumstances: Ortega as Educator

by Robbie McClintock

Below you will find the original title page, copyright page, dedication, the General Editor's Foreword, and my Preface.

Use the column to the left to navigate through the whole book, which I organized in two parts demarcated gently by the chronology of Ortega's life and more substantially by the intellectual context I used in each for interpreting his intellectual biography. Thus the first, "A Spaniard and His Circumstances," concentrates on Ortega's commitments primarily within the Spanish public sphere from his entry into it early in the twentieth century until his withdrawal from in in 1933 with the collapse of the Spanish Republic. The second, "Europe: The Second Voyage," puts Ortega's thought in a broader Western context, Europe in an extended sense, concentrating on his ideas more than his activities, which were greatly reduced by exile, war, and repression.


Meditaciones del Quijote, 1914, Obras I, p. 325.

I see in criticism a vigorous effort to give power to a chosen work .... Criticism is not biography, nor is it legitimate as an independent activity unless it aims at perfecting the work. To begin with, this means that the critic has to introduce in his essay all the emotional and intellectual devices thanks to which the average reader will receive the most intense and clear impression of the work possible. The critic proceeds by pointing his effort towards the affirmative, and by directing it, not to correcting the author, but to giving the reader a more perfect visual organ. One perfects the work by perfecting the reading of it. Ortega

Over ten years ago, while browsing in the Princeton University Bookstore, my eye was caught by What Is Philosophy? Good question!, I thought. I had entered my undergraduate studies with an instinctive reverence for philosophy as the first among disciplines; but the philosophy courses I then took were all disappointing: invariably they concerned philosophies, not philosophy. The author of the book that chance had brought me to, José Ortega y Gasset, was unknown to me, but on quick perusal he seemed worth reading. Read him I did, and I have been doing so since.

What Is Philosophy?—with its concern for the ego living in the world, for the person thinking, choosing, doing—is a work well calculated to move a young man in his last year of college as he begins to face seriously the question of what he would do with his life. Ortega offered no substantive answers to this perplexity, for answers depend on the unique actualities of each separate self and its particular circumstances, but he greatly reinforced my developing sense of the importance, the continual importance, of deciding on one's future. We live, not for a final answer, but by endlessly asking the question, what am I going to make of the coming instant? By constantly asking this question, one shapes a continual present according to the vision of the future and the comprehension of the past that one commands at each successive instant. Such thoughts, which had already been germinating in me, were brought to life by Ortega's prose; hence from the very start, he convinced me that he was part of the past that I should seek to comprehend should I want to shape my present according to a vision of a future.

In quick order, thereafter, I read Man and People, The Modern Theme, and The Revolt of the Masses. Here I encountered Ortega's public relevance, a relevance that has grown as the prospect of public affairs has become monotonously more bleak. At the time of first encounter, the Kennedy-Nixon campaign was moving towards its denouement, and the contrast between the noble man and the mass man that Ortega so sharply drew seemed to resonate perfectly with the contrast between Kennedy's apparent style of aspiration and Nixon's self-satisfaction. Thus, despite his own pessimism about the politics of any nation, Ortega at first seemed to explain the why and the wherefore of the political hope dawning within me. After all I had learned from others to think that America was special, exempt from the foibles of the European nations.

Events soon shattered these first hopes and relentless retrospect has made me doubt their reality. Being American for me has ceased to be sufficient, no more significant in itself than my being from New York and you perhaps from Milan or somewhere else. During the last decade, events and Ortega have made me into a European: I pledge my allegiance to that chancy, uncertain, but constructive process of transcending the nation, transcending the state, and transcending coercion in the conduct of public affairs in the post-industrial West. And much of what I have to say about Ortega is intended—in keeping with his own example—as a small but serious contribution to the creative effort of devising a future for the West.

I have shaped this book, however, not only in response to my general circumstances, but to my more immediate ones as well. I went to graduate school with strong intellectual interests and weak disciplinary commitments. David Steward and I recurrently argued over whether one could follow one's interests within the academic grind. With some luck, some faith, and lots of friendly help, one can. Help first came to me from Lawrence A. Cremin, whose colloquium in the history of American educational thought redeemed an otherwise desolate Spring term in 1962. He convinced me not to drop out of graduate school and to take up the history of education, pointing out that it was a field undergoing thorough revision with plenty of room within it for the pursuit of my interests. His advice was excellent, and his teaching has been central to my development into a professional scholar.

In the Department of Philosophy and the Social Sciences at Teachers College, I studied with George Z. F. Bereday, Philip H. Phenix, R. Freeman Butts, and, most importantly, Martin S. Dworkin. Dworkin is a committed educator; he pours his energy into teaching, into imparting his engagement with the life of reason, into opening access to all he knows. In his seminar on "Education, Ideology, and Mass Communications" I encountered Ortega in a course for the first time, and my work in this seminar was the beginning of the long process by which Ortega became the topic of my dissertation. But Dworkin's teaching has been invaluable to me in other respects. I had studied Ortega on my own, and also knew the work of Camus and Jaspers fairly well. But through a torrent of references to all sorts of thinkers, Dworkin opened to me the diverse elements of nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought. And equally important, he drove me to the Greeks, especially to the pre-Socratics and Plato, not to decide that they held this or that, but to contend on my own with the questions they raised.

During the academic year of 1963-64, I participated in the doctoral seminar on European intellectual history jointly given by Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling. Together, they elicit what the aspiring graduate student thinks is his best effort, and each then subjects that effort to thorough constructive criticism. With the criticism I began the unfinished task of learning how written language works. In my seminar paper, which was on Ortega, I contended that a commitment to educate informed all his activities. Professor Barzun encouraged me in this view—one would not be far off applying the same thesis to his own varied accomplishments —and he became co-sponsor with Professor Cremin of my dissertation. Professors James F. Shearer and Francisco García Lorca commented on the prospectus of the dissertation and the former agreed to oversee the Hispanic side of my studies. Thereafter, my work was cut out for me, and my main intellectual interest was, at last, the center of my academic endeavors.

I spent the summer of 1965 in Madrid working in the archives of the Hermeroteca Municipal and of Revista de Occidente. In particular, José Ortega Spottorno and Paulino Garagorri helped make my research in Madrid fruitful and have encouraged me considerably through their continued interest in my work. Garagorri has directed me to much material that I would not have known to look for without his help.

A number of continuing conversations with friends have also deeply influenced this work. In one sense, the book is an attempt at an operational answer to a problem Philip Weinstein and I have repeatedly discussed: how can the critic avoid being a mere parasite living off the work he criticizes? A number of ideas in the book have been sharpened through conversations with Francis Schrag about freedom and the responsibilities of the intellectual who is at once committed to pursuing truth and to acting in an imperfect world. My conception of Rousseau and of the state owes much to discussions with Dan Brock about the limits of authority and abstractions such as the general will.

In producing the book itself numerous persons have helped, particularly Janet M. Simons and Robert Bletter. Here I again especially thank Martin S. Dworkin, this time not as teacher, but as editor. He has had the fortitude to keep me from deciding prematurely that the work was finished. It now embodies my best effort, one which I hope will be found worthy of its subject.

Robbie McClintock