Maeztu was born to a Basque father and an English mother in Vitoria, the capital of Alava province, on May 4, 1875.
He was among the young Spanish intellectuals deeply affected by their country's humiliating defeat in Spanish–American War of 1898, along with José Martínez Ruiz ("Azorín"), Pío Baroja and others forming the literary Generation of '98. His first collection of essays was published in 1898 under the name Hacia otra España ("Towards a Different Spain").
An early advocate of Socialism, he became disillusioned by the Great War while serving as the London correspondent for several Spanish newspapers, traveling in France and Germany.
After returning to Spain, Maeztu rejected many of his friends and argued that human reason alone was not enough to solve social problems, and argued for the importance of strong authority and tradition rooted in the Roman Catholic Church. These ideas were embodied in his 1916 book, Authority, Liberty, and Function in the Light of the War, first published in English, and later in Spanish as La Crisis del Humanismo (1919).
Maeztu became one of the most prominent defenders of the regime of Miguel Primo de Rivera, and called for Spain to "recover its 16th-century sense of Roman Catholic mission." In 1926 his literary essays were published in Don Quijote, Don Juan y La Celestina, and in 1928 he served as Spanish ambassador to Argentina.
Along with Pedro Sainz Rodríguez and others, Maeztu founded the right-wing, monarchist Acción Española political movement in 1931. In 1934, his final published book was written, Defensa de la hispanidad ("In Defense of Spanishness"), advocating "a return to pure Spanishness" and strongly condemning Liberalism and the French Revolution's slogan "Liberté, égalité, fraternité".
On October 29, 1936, Maeztu was murdered by Republican soldiers in the early days of the Spanish Civil War while near Madrid. The following last words are attributed to him: "You do not know why you kill me, but I know why I'm dying: For your children to be better than you!" His political thoughts had a profound influence on Chilean historian Jaime Eyzaguirre.
His younger sister was the Spanish educator and feminist, María de Maeztu who founded the Residencia de Señoritas and the Lyceum Club in Madrid, and his younger brother was the painter Gustavo de Maeztu who has a museum named for him in the Palace of the Kings of Navarre in Estella, Spain.
Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset dedicated his book Meditations on Quixote (1914) to Maeztu — "A Ramiro de Maeztu, con un gesto fraternal."(1899). Hacia otra España
(1911). La Revolución y los Intelectuales
(1916). Inglaterra en Armas
(1919). La Crisis del Humanismo
(1920). Del Espíritu de los Vascos
(1926). Don Quijote, Don Juan y La Celestina
(1934). Defensa de la Hispanidad
(1935). La Brevedad de la Vida en la Poesía Lírica Española
Works in English translation