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  • Print publication year: 1989
  • Online publication date: March 2012

4 - Conservatism and elitism


Ortega's lack of enthusiasm for the Conservative Party in Spain, whether it was run by Cánovas or any of his successors, was total. This is not to claim that he never made conservative-sounding remarks, but that if he did, it was not because he was in favour of the conservatism of the Conservative Party, but because certain of conservatism's central features – such as its anti-utopianism – appealed to him.

Conservatism, generally speaking, has to do with the notion of gradual change, which in turn derives from a characterisation of the human being as embedded in present circumstances which are irremediably rooted in the past, and which circumscribe our potential for action. The conservative frame of mind is past- rather than future-orientated.

Ortega's general insistence is upon the human being as an active, forward-thinking creature, but the stress which he places on the activity of the human being has its limits – limits which are derived from its circumstance. It is clear that his analysis of the relation between me and my circumstance is going to put him at odds with any form of Utopian creationism. We cannot create solutions out of thin air because we are irrevocably committed to acting within a certain framework which is constituted by our circumstance. This is the full meaning of a remark which has already been commented upon: ‘The only thing which ought to be is that which can be, and the only thing which can be is that which is already developing within what is’ (OC 3, 101).

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An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega y Gasset
  • Online ISBN: 9780511898044
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