The Birth of Aspen Institute España

Aspen Institute España was established in 2010 as an independent nonprofit foundation to foster value-based leadership and thoughtful reflection on the principles that define an open society. It provides a neutral and balanced forum in which committed members of society debate significant issues. Its activities include seminars, debates, lectures, and custom programs.

The bicentennial celebration of the birth of Wolfgang Goethe in 1949 served as inspiration to bring together a group of prominent intellectuals from all over the world in Aspen, Colorado, so they might collectively search for a solution to the profound crisis which affected the West following the two World Wars. Among others, this group included Albert Schweitzer, Thornton Wilder, Arthur Rubinstein, and José Ortega y Gasset. The challenge to find a redemptive path for a disoriented civilization, seen through the lens of pragmatic optimism so characteristic of the North American Enlightenment tradition, gave way one year later to the creation of the The Aspen Institute. Over the years, The Aspen Institute has grown and developed into an international reference forum for debate. During this time, its brand and method have spread to other societies around the globe who have recognized the added value of a dialogical method based on the values which define an open society.


The Aspen Institute and José Ortega y Gasset

Since 1950 the Institute has carried out its mission through four major types of initiatives: seminars, conferences, public policy programs and leadership programs.

The Aspen model has evolved to such an extent that its initiatives range from the classic Aspen Seminar, based on classic and contemporary texts reflecting the breadth of human civilization, to a wide variety of public policy programs in education, energy, technology, environment, healthcare and economics, among many others.

In 1949, at the invitation of Robert Hutchins, Chancellor of the University of Chicago and benefactor of what would later become the “Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies”, Ortega y Gasset agreed to visit the United States. During his visit to Aspen, Ortega participated in the Goethe Bicentennial event. The philosopher, second only in reputation to Albert Schweitzer, who delivered the keynote address, joined luminaries like Thornton Wilder, Arthur Rubenstein, Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, and many others. In his Aspen lecture, Ortega y Gasset reflected on the drama of life, which he defined as the “struggle to achieve being that which one has to be”. Ortega y Gasset reminded the audience that too often we avoid ourselves because we fill our lives with “the system of our occupations, –the serious ones as well as the frivolous”. Upon his return from Aspen to Madrid, Ortega y Gasset wrote a long letter to the gathering’s organizer, Walter Paepcke. In that letter, which was ultimately an influential text for the history of The Aspen Institute, Ortega y Gasset expressed his delight that Paepcke was considering establishing an institution akin to a university at Aspen. “As I give myself wholeheartedly to whatever I am doing—it is the only way to do things well and be oneself completely—I abandoned myself entirely to Aspen during those two wonderful weeks I spent there; that is, I absorbed that atmosphere to the very marrow of my bones. Thus, many things came to me and cause me to react to them. Hence, one day there appeared to me, suddenly and all together, along with many other subjects, the ideas I shall now succinctly expound.” “I see in your initiatives a magnificent possibility for the creation of something completely new, much needed in America today.” Something with a “clear, definite, attractive pedagogical, thus human, style, endowed with great allure for the best American conscience.”

The Institute, formally known as The Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, started its activity in 1950 with Ortega y Gasset as a Trustee. His vision had been realized, not just in the name, but in the didactic and educational aims of the Institute.