In my opinion, one of the sharpest and most well-articulated philosophers and thinkers of the 20th century was the Spaniard José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955). Even though he was considered a liberal of his time, his writings contain wisdom that could be used to debunk today’s leftists and academic pundits, and to enlighten the reader about his own role in life and the world. Ortega’s philosophy was directed towards life itself, often called ratiovitalism, a concept thorougly explained in some of his lessons of the late 1920s and early 1930s, and for the English reader found in the collective posthumous work What Is Knowledge?.
Ortega—who was mainly active in Madrid as a professor of philosophy, but also studied in Germany and lived in Argentina and Portugal—certainly had his flaws, such as the idea that ”man has no nature.” We know from twin studies and comprehensive work in subjects such as evolutionary psychology and behavior genetics that human beings are partly, even largely, affected by their genetic dispositions. In this sense man indeed has a nature and is not born as a blank slate.
On the other hand, some of the core strengths were his balanced views on epistemological perspectivism (no real knowledge, only different perspectives) versus realist objectivism (complete knowledge about reality). A trivial yet enlightening example of Ortega’s sharp mind and didactic skills, explained in one lesson from the late 1920s (and collected in What Is Philosophy?): A person cannot see or grasp an orange in its entirety, even though one may twist and turn the fruit or cut it into thin slices. One might have a concept of the whole of it, but one cannot have the entire picture.
If we cannot even fully understand a trivial thing like a piece of fruit, how can a person understand ”society,” ”economy,” ”culture” and other much more complex and multi-layered phenomena? However, a person can know more or less by taking different positions and collecting reliable data, but must be aware of that any conception of complete knowledge is, most likely, an imaginary state of mind.
Consequently Ortega, who rejected idealism, also focused on becoming rather then being in many of his philosophical works. In the manosphere many focus on becoming, like with regard to various aspects of self-improvement, but perhaps one should find a proper balance between one’s being and to become better throughout various phases of life?
Regardless of how one looks upon that particular aspect, I will focus on some of the major benefits of Ortega’s writings. These are more related to both self-improvement and social analysis, rather than general philosophy, and as such of more relevance for ROK readers. However, the philosophical angle grants these dimensions more depth and wisdom.
1. Take personal responsibility depending on the current circumstances
For men in general, rather than to try to live the perfect life it is more about to do the best under the individual circumstances. Ortega wrote in his first major philosophical work, Meditations on Quixote (1914), “I am I and my circumstance; and, if I do not save it, I do not save myself”. Hence, do not give up on life and yourself, regardless of the current circumstances that you are facing.
Ortega has also asserted that, ”Effort is only effort when it begins to hurt.” Thus work hard and rarely expect anything else than things to be that way if you want to make some kind of difference, or even to keep one’s head above the surface under some circumstances.
On the same topic he also wrote: ”The difficulties which I meet with in order to realize my existence are precisely what awaken and mobilize my activities, my capacities.” Life only becomes trully valuable when people step outside the vegetative consumerist state of being and actually do something at least slightly demanding.
2. Cultivate a strong individual character
The aristocratic mind, in contrast to the mass mind, puts efforts on oneself and tries to complete tasks without having to be pushed around or motivated by various external forces. Ortega wrote in his most famous work, The Revolt of the Masses (1930):
“For me, then, nobility is synonymous with a life of effort, ever set on excelling oneself, in passing beyond what one is to what one sets up as a duty and an obligation. In this way the noble life stands opposed to the common or inert life, which reclines statically upon itself, condemned to perpetual immobility, unless an external force compels it to come out of itself. For there is no doubt that the most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection; mere buoys that float on the waves.”
3. Reason against mob mentality
In the current centrist mass democratic Western societies, as well as in historical socialism and extreme nationalism, the so-called mass man (or massive feminists) have emerged and continuously tried to appeal to the larger masses’ lower instincts by different means. Everyone who does not agree with the current agenda runs the risk of being eliminated (or at least run out of the workplace and mainstream social circles, or having one’s mother’s home address exposed). Ortega wrote in The Revolt of the Masses:
“The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. As they say in the United States: “to be different is to be indecent.” The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.”
And more specifically, ”under the species of Syndicalism and Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions.”
The wise man knows how to identify and hence avoid these ideologies and to cultivate his own self, according to his particular disposition in combination with the circumstances of life, but never let go of reason as a main constituent of existence.