*Zea, Leopoldo

Leopoldo Zea

Leopoldo Zea



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Zea, Leopoldo

Mexican, 1912–
Among the practitioners of the essay of Latin American cultural identity, Leopoldo Zea emerges as one of the outstanding figures of the 20th century. From his seminal essay, “En torno a la filosofía americana” (1942; On American philosophy), until now, his work exemplifies and marks the stages that Latin American thought has followed, from attempts to recuperate cultural patrimony to the articulation, beginning in the 1960s, of a discourse of liberation. Because of the geographic distribution of his essays, their content, and, above all, the repercussion and influence of his ideas, Zea is a continental essayist. A prolific writer, author of dozens of books of essays, he stands out equally as a leader of the Latin Americanist movement and as an untiring motivator and organizer of meetings of intellectuals in various Latin American countries. His essays are difficult to classify; they pertain to what came to be called in the 1980s “cultural studies.” His concerns, however, have remained constant: they are reflections on the problem of identity and on the structures that govern the unavoidable interculturality of Latin American peoples.
Thus, the context of his work is Latin America, but his national vocation (Mexico) and his regional vocation (Latin America) develop within a Western cultural context and within an explicit search for the liberation of the human being.
Zea became known as an essayist in the early 1940s, principally through two continentally recognized Mexican magazines: Cuadernos Americanos (American notebooks) and Filosofía y Letras (Philosophy and letters). In the first, which stands out for the aesthetic quality of its essays, he brings forward his most influential ideas; for the second, which is more specialized, he was acclaimed by the academic community for his profound thinking. However, both magazines reveal one of the distinctive attributes of his style: the depth of the theme must not affect the clarity of the exposition. Zea writes for an educated public, but he does so without the technical vocabulary of the specialist. His first major book, El positivismo en México (1943; Positivism in Mexico), is an early example of his affiliation with what we now refer to as cultural studies; it is an interdisciplinary work written with the depth of the specialist, with the stylistic concern of the artist, and above all, with the reflective spirit of the essayist who essentially initiates a dialogue. Zea questions and deconstructs logocentric assumptions, especially those that have attempted to impose European perspectives, which in Latin America seemed to perpetuate a situation of cultural colonization.
Zea’s work first emerges in dialogue with that of Ortega y Gasset and afterwards with that of Heidegger and Hegel; but the roots of his ideas really lie in the Latin American essay tradition of Simón Bolívar, Andrés Bello, Juan Alberdi, and, most of all, José Martí, all of whom form an intimate part of his intellectual context. Even though we cannot speak of stages, in the sense of ruptures, in Zea’s essayistic production, we can trace in his works the same process that has governed Latin American thought during the second half of the 20th century. Zea subscribes to José Martí’s assertion that “Barricades of ideas are worth more than barricades of stone” (“Nuestra América” [1891; “Our America”]). For this reason, in his first essays, such as Positivism in Mexico and Dos etapas del pensamiento en Hispanoamérica (1949; The Latin-American Mind), Zea concerns himself with the recovery of the Latin American intellectual legacy. He discovers the dimensions of Latin America’s colonial reality and initiates a process of deconstruction of the diverse colonial structures through the essays later collected in seminal works such as Conciencia y posibilidad del mexicano (1952; Consciousness and possibility for the Mexican), América como conciencia (1953; America as consciousness), Latinoamerica y el mundo (1960; Latin America and the World).
The political, economic, and cultural globalization of the 1960s instigated his reflection on the structures of intercultural dialogue that seem to stratify relations among men: according to Zea, the terms “first and third world,” “developed and underdeveloped” nations, “center and periphery” have resulted in a division among human beings as “men and pseudo-men.” In these cultural structures, Zea recognizes renovated forms of colonialism that he is committed to denouncing. He published during these years reflections that would later give rise to the formulation of a liberation ideology, expressed in works such as La filosofía americana como filosofía sin más (1969; The American philosophy as philosophy), La esencia de lo americano (1971; The essence of the American), Dependencia y liberación en la cultura latinoamericana (1974; Dependence and liberation in Latin American culture), and Dialéctica de la conciencia Americana (1976; Dialectic of the American consciousness). This period coincided with intense Latin American cultural movements: hence the impact of Latin American fiction and the opening it created by reintegrating European writing to its regional context and giving rise in the Western world to the writings of other regions—Africa and Asia—which until then had remained marginalized. During the same period there was a resurgence of liberation theology as a philosophy that focuses the mission of religious institutions on regional necessities. In this context, Zea’s essays, collected in books such as Discurso desde la marginación y la barbarie (1988; Discourse on marginalization and barbarism) and Filosofar a la altura del hombre (1993; To philosophize at the height of man), question the assumed universality of European philosophical thought in order to deconstruct it. Zea finds that “to know oneself equal by being distinct is, precisely, the essence of the social relation between individuals and nations…[which] permits human beings, or nations, to recognize themselves in another as a fellow human being and thus as an equal.”


Leopoldo Zea Aguilar. Born 30 June 1912. in Mexico City. Studied at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Ph.D., 1944. Associated with Tierra Nueva (New earth), 1940–42. Taught philosophy at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, Mexico City, 1942–47, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Villa Obregon, 1944–76 (then emeritus professor), and El Colegio de México, from 1946. Married Elena Prado Vertiz, 1943 (divorced, 1977): four daughters and two sons. Head of department of intellectual cooperation and university studies, Secretary of Public Education, 1953–54; secretary of permanent commission, UNESCO, Consejo Consultivo, 1953–54; director of cultural relations, and special deputy and plenipotentiary, Secretary of Exterior Relations, 1960–66. Lectured at many universities and government institutions throughout the world. Contributor to various journals. Editor of México y lo mexicano series of essays.
Married Elena Rodríguez Ozán, 1982. Editor, Cuadernos Americanos, from 1987.
Awards: many, including the Justo Sierra Prize, 1944; National Arts and Sciences Prize, 1980; Gran Cruz de Alfonso X el Sabio (Spain), 1984; honorary degrees from several universities; Commander, Legion of Honor (France).

Selected Writings
Essays and Related Prose
El positivismo en México, 1943; as Positivism in Mexico, translated by Josephine H.Schulte, 1974
Apogeo y decadencia del positivismo en México, 1944
En torno a una filosofía americana, 1945
Ensayos sobre filosofía en la historia, 1948
Dos etapas del pensamiento en Hispanoamérica: Del romanticismo al positivismo, 1949;
as The Latin-American Mind, translated by James H.Abbott and Lowell Dunham, 1963
Conciencia y posibilidad del mexicano, 1952
La filosofía como compromiso, y otros ensayos, 1952; edited by Liliana Weinberg de Magis and Mario Magallón, 1991
América como conciencia, 1953
El Occidente y la conciencia de México, 1953; as Mexican Consciousness and Its Role in the West, edited by Amy A.Oliver, translated by Michelle B.Butler and Michael A.Ervin, 1993
La concienda del hombre en la filosofía: Introducción a la filosofía, 1953
La filosofía en México, 2 vols., 1955
América en la concienda de Europa, 1955
Esquema para una historia de las ideas en Iberoamérica, 1956
Del liberalismo a la revolución en la educación mexicana, 1956
Las ideas en Iberoamérica en el siglo XIX, 1957
América en la historia, 1957; as The Role of the Americas in History, translated by Sonja Karsen, 1992
La cultura y el hombre de nuestros días, 1959
Latinoamérica y el mundo, 1960; as Latin America and the World, translated by Frances K.Hendricks and Beatrice Berler, 1969
Dos ensayos: Del liberalismo a la revolución en la educación mexicana; Problema cultural de América Latina, 1960
Antología del pensamiento social y político de América Latina, 1964
El pensamiento latinoamericano, 1965
Latinoamérica en la formación de nuestro tiempo, 1965
La filosofía americana como filosofía sin más, 1969
Latinoamérica: Emancipación y neocolonialismo, 1971
La esenda de lo americano, 1971
Dependencia y liberación en la cultura latinoamericana, 1974
Dialéctica de la conciencia americana, 1976
Filosofía y cultura latinoamericanas, 1976
Latinoamérica: Tercer mundo, 1977
Filosofía de la historia americana, 1978
Simón Bolívar, 1980
Latinoamérica en la encruijada de la historia, 1981
Sentido de la difusión cultural latinoamericana, 1981
Latinoamérica, un nuevo humanismo, 1982
Discurso desde la marginación y la barbarie, 1988
Descubrimiento e identidad latinoamericana, 1990
Regreso de las carabelas, 1993
Filosofar a la altura del hombre, 1993
Also edited many anthologies on Mexican culture and Latin American thought.

Further Reading
Cerutti Guldberg, Horacio, “La polémica entre Salazar Bondy y Leopoldo Zea,” in his Filosofía de la liberación latinoamericana, Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1983:161–68
Fornet-Betancourt, Raúl, editor, Für Leopoldo Zea, Para Leopoldo Zea, Aachen: Augustinus-Buchhandlung, 1992,
Gómez-Martínez, José Luis, “La crítica ante la obra de Leopoldo Zea,” Anthropos 89 (1988):36–47
Gómez-Martínez, José Luis, Pensamiento de la liberación, Madrid: EGE, 1995
Gracia, Jorge J.E., “Zea y la liberación latinoamericana,” in América Latina, historia y destino: Homenaje a Leopoldo Zea, vol. 2, Mexico City: National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1992:95–106
Guadarrama González, Pablo, “Urdimbres del pensamiento de Leopoldo Zea frente a la marginación y la barbarie,” Cuadernos Americanos 36 (1992):51–64
Hale, Charles A., “Sustancia y método en el pensamiento de Leopoldo Zea,” Historia Mexicana 20, no. 2 (October–December 1970):285–304
Kourím, Zdenék, “La obra de Leopoldo Zea: Los últimos 25 años,” in Filosofar a la altura del hombre by Zea, Mexico City: National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1993:31–71
Lipp, Solomon, Leopoldo Zea: From “Mexicanidad” to a Philosophy of History, Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1980
Lizcano, Francisco, Leopoldo Zea: Una filosofía de la historia, Madrid: Cultura Hispánica, 1986
López Díaz, Pedro, Una filosofía para la libertad: La filosofía de Leopoldo Zea, Mexico City: Costa-Amic, 1989
Medin, Tzvi, Leopoldo Zea: Ideología y filosofía de América Latina, Mexico City: National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1992
Mues de Schrenk, Laura, “El problema de nuestra identidad en el pensamiento de Leopoldo Zea,” in América Latina, historia y destino: Homenaje a Leopoldo Zea, vol.
2, Mexico City: National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1992:247–56
Nogueira Dobarro, Ángel, and others, “Leopoldo Zea: Filosofía de la historia latinoamericana como compromiso,” Anthropos 89 (1988):1–64
Oliver, Amy, “Values in Modern Mexican Thought,” Journal of Value Inquiry 27 (1993):215–30
Rippy, Merrill, “Theory of History: Twelve Mexicans,” Americas 17, no. 3 (January 1961):223–39
Roig, Arturo Andrés, “La filosofía de la historia mexicana,” in his Teoría y crítica del pensamiento latinoamericano, Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1981:186– 97
Sauerwald, Gregor, “Leopoldo Zea und die Philosophie der Befreiung,” in América Latina, historia y destino: Homenaje a Leopoldo Zea, vol. 2, Mexico City: National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1992:341–54
Schutte, Ofelia, “The Master-Slave Dialectic in Latin America: The Social Criticism of Zea, Freire, and Roig,” The Owl of Minerva 22 (1990):5–18
Schutte, Ofelia, “The Humanity of Mestizaje and the Search for Freedom: Zea, Roig, and Miró Quesada on Consciousness,” in her Cultural Identity and Social Liberation in Latin American Thought, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993:109–39
Weinberg de Magis, Liliana, “Leopoldo Zea: América como sentido,” in América Latina, historia y destino: Homenaje a Leopoldo Zea, vol. 2, Mexico City: National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1992:415–526

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