In Miguel de Unamuno’s “The Tragic Sense of Life,” he asserts that he is a “man of contradiction and quarrel” not because he lacks the ability to grasp one path as his own, but that he realizes that it is within his right as a free being to traverse across multiple paths, to experience more than one way to live his life. Furthermore, Unamuno adds that not only is he - and, by extension, us – capable of maintaining this dichotomy experiences, but that as a conscious being, he considers it his life mandate to take advantage of any and all opportunities made available to him without worrying over whether it undermines the decision or opportunity that came before. This compulsion to act, this drive to act according to his inner impulsion to “create his [own] spiritual world” (158) is what Unamuno deems the utmost charge in his life. And through a rather skillful network of adjoining metaphors, Unamuno successfully reasons for why he believes his perspective should extend beyond the realm of “he” and into the scope of the royal “we.” But through all his discussions, all his illustrations of why the man who acts with personal conviction than from an obligation to simply do what is expected of him, Unamuno never really reconciles his philosophy with his fleeting mention that “[a]ct so that. . . in the judgment of others you may deserve eternity” (159).
In my view, it seems that Unamuno trumpets a mode of being that moves forward without concern about expectations from others, about the rationalizations and generalizations one can easily find themselves stuck in. A life lived with unbridled “passion and even against all reason” (159) is what Unamuno values the most, but how will that affect one’s ability to co-exist in a world with other immortality-seeking beings? On one hand lies the argument that such fervent adherence to one’s own morals is dangerous, wrong, and that in order to fashion a society in which all individuals feel free to pursue their greater purpose, one must relinquish other smaller freedoms for the sake of communal safety. On the other – and this is the stance in which I believe Unamuno bases his argument – is the belief that any and all limitations on one’s freedom violates the very nature of that freedom, that one must act wholly and completely from one’s inner desire without relying on any external dimension. But wouldn’t that extreme sense of freedom conflict with another’s freedom and cause strife and even suffering? It seems, then, that the answer lies somewhere between those two extremes, in some elusive middle ground that has yet to be revealed. For through all our readings from Kierkegaard and Sartre and Heidegger (oh my!), they have expounded in detail on the need for individuality and self-reliance. But how does that self-reliance translate into a functioning nation?