Invertebrate Spain

José Ortega y Gasset

Read February-March 2005

Ortega y Gasset was many things; to the general public, he was perhaps most of all a powerfully corrosive essayist. This classic essay is his analysis of the Spanish nation, leavened with his typical mix of history, philosophy and psychology. Typically, he is not afraid to tackle such tricky topics as Spanish regionalism, using it to draw lessons on the meaning of nationhood.

Ortega y Gasset was one of the leading members of the Spain's Generation of '98. Even in this rational, modern group, he was a modernist and moderniser (as, for instance, Crow tells us). He was, for instance, stringent in his defense of Spain's Arab heritage. His mindset is never clearer than from his constant references to the language of science, using biology and physics as metaphors for nations and their trajectories. Indeed, at times, it can be difficult to tell whether these references are mere metaphors or something altogether more serious—prescriptive, even normative.

On the other hand, there are chilling echoes of the mistaken tracks of modernists. When Ortega y Gasset takes about purifying race, we know he cannot mean what that phrase has come to mean; but we also know of his stint in Germany and admiration for their philosophical traditions, and who knows exactly what parts of it he ingested? He wouldn't be the first modernist to be led astray by quasi-scientific arguments gone horribly wrong.

Setting aside these infelicities, however, this little book is worth reading if only for its powerful language, compelling metaphors, insightful study of history, and remarkably fresh (even prescient) analysis of the Spanish nation.