*Tierno Galván, Enrique

Tierno Galván, Enrique

Tierno Galván, Enrique



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Tierno Galván, Enrique

Spanish, 1918–1986
In the preface to Sobre la novela picaresca y otros escritos (1974; On the picaresque novel and other writings) Tierno Galván lists three major obstacles to his intellectual development during the early years of the Franco regime: scholasticism, existentialism, and the influence of the Generation of 1898. Against such formidable heritage, Tierno’s essays form a stark contrast to the principal intellectual currents of post-Civil War Spain and constitute a rejection of the Spanish and European humanistic traditions. The author repeatedly and systematically impugns the hallowed categories of personalism, subjectivism, and mental or inner life (intimismo), in the name of a thorough and absolute secularization of society based on the principles of utility, efficiency, and material wellbeing.
Indeed, while his distinguished contemporaries Xavier Zubiri, Pedro Laín Entralgo, and Julián Marías were involved in such issues as transcendence, the essence of Spain, or the philosophy of José Ortega y Gasset, Tierno was reading the works of Spinoza, Gottlob Frege, and Wittgenstein, whose Tractatus logico-philosophicus he translated into Spanish. An early interest in neopositivism soon led Tierno to embrace a Marxist view of society, which during the 1960s he cloaked in the presumably neutral language of neopositivist sociology. With the publication of Razón mecánica y razón dialéctica (1969; Mechanical reason and dialectical reason), an openly Marxist agenda informs his essays and political activities, first as opposition figure representing the Social Democratic Party of Spain, and eventually as mayor of Madrid. The author often stated that his intellectual mission was to educate the Spanish people’s social intelligence.
The first step toward this goal consists in destroying the assumptions of Western humanism, which include metaphysics and subjectivism: “I believe that subjectivism (intimidad) is the greatest obstacle to material and spiritual happiness… By subjectivism I mean the psychic space from which we oppose the world” (La realidad como resultado [1957; Reality as result]).
Tierno’s style and temper may be traced to the essays of Francis Bacon. Although separated in time and space, both writers share a distinct method and program for the reform of philosophy. Like the father of the English essay, Tierno too criticizes the erroneous and misleading habits of mind that obstruct the aims of genuine science. Both share a distaste for metaphysics, favor demonstration over invention, and lament the intellectual’s inadaptability to the world. The Englishman’s stylistic influence is particularly evident. Tierno appropriates Bacon’s observation in The Advancement of Learning that “The aphorism cannot be made but of the pith and heart of the sciences.”
Inspired by Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Tierno penned his first major work in the form of some 200 aphorisms with the title La realidad como resultado—a trenchant critique of metaphysics and an apology for the verification principle.
Tierno’s aphoristic style stands out against the often prolix, digressive, and anecdotal essays of his contemporaries. Essentially, the aphorism is for Tierno an epistemological tool of maximum intellectual rigor, economy, and precision. Thinking through aphorisms involves a series of independent, spaced enunciations that convey truth in a compact, atomized form. Distrustful of systematic demonstrations on a grand scale, the author finds the aphorism especially suitable to the fragmentary view of knowledge and the simultaneity of experience that characterize modernity.
The author’s essays may be divided into both formal and informal categories. The formal works, marked generally by an aphoristic style, reflect Tierno’s commitment to the neopositivist and Marxist principles of sociological analysis (e.g. La realidad como resultado; Conocimiento y ciencias sociales [1966; Knowledge and the social sciences]).
The informal essays, in line with the moralist tradition of the early Marx and Nietzsche, show a critical consciousness directed toward the transformation of the social order within the framework of a revolutionary ideology. To accomplish his political and ethical aims Tierno favors the rhetorical strategy of dissociation. This consists of a series of shocking antitheses, often oxymoronic, designed to disrupt the associations inherited from humanist and personalist modes of thought. Thus, one finds expressions such as “the trivial is destiny” (Desde el espectáculo a la trivialización [1961; From spectacle to trivia]); “philosophy should be a vulgar discipline” (Acotaciones a la historia de la cultura occidental en la edad moderna [1964; Marginal notes on the history of modern Western culture]); “the scientific control of human relations will lead to happiness”; “The world is not the dwelling place of man” (Diderot como pretexto [1965; Diderot as a pretext]). This last statement speaks of the author’s concern for “the destiny of the species” rather than that of the individual or the person.
Following Wittgenstein, Tierno believes that whereof one cannot speak one should remain silent; he nevertheless accepts the existence of the mysterious and assigns literature and the arts the task of expressing the ineffable, provided that such expression is confined to the finite and the mundane. In ¿Qué es ser agnóstico? (1975; What is an agnostic?) he writes in the hope that “a new type of man will appear, for whom nothing finite will be alien.” In this brave new world humankind will have abjured transcendence.
Free from the dualisms and scissions imposed by the humanist tradition, individuals will be reconciled with their species: “No agnostic can be an end in himself, but only as part of the world as the objective expression of the species.” Installed in a finite world as its home, humanity will live in “serenity without resignation.”
The forceful, vital, iconoclastic style of Tierno’s essays surprised Spanish intellectuals of the Franco era, most of whom had ignored or severely marginalized the currents of logical positivism and Marxism. By eschewing the rhetorical habits of his contemporaries—exordium, digression, personal anecdote, metaphoric transposition— Tierno’s terse, economic style will be remembered as the antipode to the essayistic tradition of Unamuno and Ortega y Gasset.


Born 8 February 1918 in Madrid. Fought with the Republican forces, and cofounder of the Socialist Party of the Interior (later the Popular Socialist Party), during the Spanish Civil War. Studied for law degree, 1942, and doctorate in law, 1945. Married Encarnación Pérez Relaño: one son. Professor of political science at the Universities of Murcia, 1948–53, and Salamanca, 1953–65, then dismissed: reinstated after Franco’s death, 1976; visiting professor at various universities in the United States. Acquitted on charges of trying to overthrow Franco, 1961. Defense lawyer for political defendents, late 1960s–early 1970s. Elected president of the Social Democratic Party of Spain, 1978.
Elected mayor of Madrid, 1979–86.
Died (of cancer) in Madrid, 20 January 1986.

Selected Writings
Essays and Related Prose
La realidad como resultado, 1957
Desde el espectáculo a la trivtalización, 1961
Tradición y modernismo (lectures), 1962
Acotaciones a la historia de la cultura occidental en la edad moderna, 1964
Humanismo y sociedad, 1964
Diderot como pretexto, 1965
Conocimiento y dencias sociales, 1966
Razón mecánica y razón dialéctica, 1969
Escritos, 1950–1960, 1971
La rebelión juvenil y el problema en la universidad, 1972
Sobre la novela picaresca y otros escritos, 1974
¿Qué es ser agnóstico?, 1975
Idealismo y pragmatismo en el siglo XIX español, 1977
Bandos del Alcalde, 1986

Other writings: works on Spanish philosophy and literature.

Further Reading
Díaz, Elías, Pensamiento español en la era de Franco: 1939–1973, Madrid: Tecnos, 1983
Marichal, Juan, El nuevo pensamiento político español, Mexico City: Finisterre, 1966
Mermall, Thomas, The Rhetoric of Humanism: Spanish Culture After Ortega y Gasset, New York: Bilingual Press, 1976:85–107
Sistema: Revista de ciendas sociales issue on Tierno Galván, 71–72 (June 1986), particularly articles by Elías Díaz and Raúl Morodo

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