WHEN the Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, finished his lecture before an American audience at Aspen, Colorado, in 1949, the great German scholar Ernst Robert Curtius pointed to him and said: "There you have the Mediterranean and a country that ruled the world." The remark is worth keeping in mind when one thinks of Spain. I don't mean, of course, that Spain has preserved any of her former power or that she will regain it in the future. But a country which ruled the world--so few did--must have some features that are not likely to vanish into thin air. Such a country cannot be a nonentity; it should not be ranked among others which "statistically" seem similar in population, output, income, manpower or military strength, but have a quite different background and perhaps are newcomers on the historical stage instead of having had major parts in the making of history.
Many Americans still remember the tremendous impact that the Spanish Civil War had on their lives in 1936-39. For not a few who were then young it was an historical "coming of age;" some felt it as strongly as the subsequent World War in which the United States itself was engaged. In my opinion, this is proof that Spain, even in her decline, still "matters," still is a many-sided reality in the world, at least in the shaping of the Western man's soul.
The Spanish intellectual and literary élite again has proved to be influential in defining the trends of Western culture, despite the obvious fact that the total volume of its achievements lies behind that of Britain, Germany, France or the United States. It is sufficient to cite a few who rank among the great of the twentieth century: Unamuno, Ortega y Gasset, Juan Ramón Jiménez, García Lorca, Manuel de Falla, Picasso, Miró, Casals--not to mention others who are rated as high as these in Spain but have had less impact or popularity beyond its frontiers, such as
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