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

2 - Socialism and capitalism


Political theorists have become accustomed to using the opposition between individualism and collectivism as one way of categorising political perspectives. There are, naturally, points of convergence, but we feel entitled to make approximations according to whether a theory holds that the isolated individual exists or whether he or she is irremediably – and first and foremost – a part of a collective. In these terms it can be instructive to place a thinker somewhere along this spectrum, while it is particularly useful in Ortega's case because of the variety which emerges. This variety, on the theoretical level, is reflected in the strength of the support he accorded to socialism or liberalism at the practical level.

In a conference he gave in Bilbao in 1910 he said that ‘all individualism is mythology’ and affirmed that, ‘The isolated individual cannot aspire to being man. The individual human being, separate from society – as Natorp says – does not exist, he is an abstraction’ (OC 1, 504).

Two points are being made here. The first is that one is not entitled to conceive of the ‘isolated individual’, for this view ignores the context in which individuals find themselves – born into a particular family and living in a specific society. To abstract the individual from these circumstances is to misconstrue the nature of the human condition – a condition in which the individual is irrevocably situated in a society.

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