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Donoso Cortes [1809-53] [see F&R IV, 1 ] was a Spanish Catholic counter-revolutionary thinker and actor in an age of materialism. Perhaps most closely akin in America to Orestes Brownson, Donoso was a fiery writer and speaker who blasted liberal half truths and helped develop a truly Catholic social theory. Below, Robert A. Herrera focuses on the Spaniard’s theory of dictatorship, which is inextricably linked to the social degeneration of our own times. According to Herrera, Dono so had much to say about preserving the remnants of culture against the day when a new order might be born from the chaos. Sometimes extreme, Donoso’s thought is always provocative a springboard for a searching reassessment of our most cherished ideals.

Although Donoso Cortes is barely a marginal figure in most histories of nineteenth century political thought, his contemporary importance was substantial, and he is even today able to elicit interest. A few decades ago, Araquistain noted that each `resurrection’ of Donoso studies coincided with the establishment of a dictatorship.(1) From a different ideological vantage point, Carl Schmitt-accused of preparing the way for the Hitler regime by means of his destructive critique of Democracy-characterized Donoso as the philosopher of radical dictatorship.(2) He made much of Donoso’s substitution of his theory of dictatorship for the already obsolescent legitimist argument in favor of restoration, and considers this his greatest contribution to counterrevolutionary theory. Other interpretations range from the pedestrian (Donoso as a conservative with living roots)(3) to the grandiose (Donoso as defending Christendom against the `socialist menace’ of his day by writing another Civitas Dei),(4) as well as rather arbitrary comparisons with Nietzsche(5) and Kierkegaard.(6) Whatever their differences, most interpreters agree that Donoso’s theory of dictatorship is central to his thought and bound tightly to his views on man and history.

Donoso’s `Speech on Dictatorship’ (1849) made him a major figure on the European political field: Frederick Wilhelm IV, Louis Napoleon, Pius IX, and Schelling were among the many influenced by him. Bismarck would later excoriate him for his advocacy of French-Austrian rapproachement to the detriment of Prussia. Donoso’s turn of mind was decidedly practical, and this praxis had a religious tone, which may, at least in part, account for his pessimism and ferocity in controversy. He was not engaged in combat with mere abstractions but with ideologies which take on concrete form and reflect the dramatic struggle between the `kingdom of God’ and the `kingdom of Satan’. It is this antagonistic conception of history and the world which is apocalyptic(7) and justifies the present use of the term. He was privileged in being able to take a direct role in public affairs, most notably in helping to generate and structure Pius IX’s Syllabus Errorum(8).

As an early analyst of the coming age of the masses, Donoso should be rescued from his unmerited obscurity. Moreover, his developing theory of dictatorship not only reflects his own thematic variations, and provides a thread which leads through the maze of his own thought, but also is of contemporary relevance, as the age he prophesied is no longer merely a speculative nightmare: it is here. It is not necessary to read Nietzsche, Spengler, or Ortega to realize that the `last men’, `mass man’, ‘trousered ape’ has come into his own. If Donoso’s `apocalyptic’ makes any sense at all it may incline us to modify our interpretation of the past two centuries as well as our evaluation of most public institutions and myths. If Donoso happens to be right we are living a stupendous lie, dulled by a specious freedom, paralyzed by the categorical imperative of never ending discussion, all the while blundering into a totalitarian age disguised under the unctuous facade of humanism and the greatest good for the greatest number.

Even worse, the `gigantic despotism’ foretold by Donoso will have been nurtured by those acts of moral and religious emancipation which, as the boast of the age, are beyond criticism. Who today would attack representative government, universal suffrage and freedom of the press? Even should we reject Donoso’s critique he still presents a valuable interpretation of the decline of the West as well as insights into its etiology. If at times Donoso is tediously apocalyptic, his rhetoric is never empty fustian. To rescue him from obscurity is something of an archeological task but not the mere excavation of an antiquarian curiosity. It is essential to both our understanding of the past and the exploration of future possibilities. Perhaps it may help to determine on which side of the looking-glass we presently find ourselves.


Because of the lacunae in scholarship on Donoso, a brief outline of Donoso’s career may be helpful as a prolegomenon to this theory of dictatorship. Donoso’s first political readings were liberal: Condillac, Destutt de Tracy, Rousseau, Voltaire, Helvetius, Montesquieu, Montaigne, and some of the ‘Romantics’. (10) Menendez Pelayo blamed `French education’ for his lack of rigor.(11) Donoso, at this time, evidenced intense enthusiasm over both the Thirteenth Century and the French Revolution. He shared the Nineteenth Century’s infatuation with itself: it continues the path of enlightenment by merging past wisdom with present experience. At the age of 27 Donoso was elected to the Cortes and, once ensconced in Madrid, proceeded to give a series of lectures entitled Lecciones de Derecho Politico, a valuable synthesis of Donoso’s early liberal political thought.(12) Somewhat later, in an undistinguished polemic with Rossi, a modest reaction to his ‘afrancesado’, liberal inclination set in and continued to gain force during the intermittent `exiles’ in Paris, with the deposed Maria Cristina. He came under the influence of De Maistre and other French traditionalist authors and formed part of a group of `moderate’ Spanish emigrees which also included Narvaez, Alcala Galiano, and Martinez de la Rosa.(13) Returning to Spain (only a week before Marx’s arrival in Paris) he again entered the political arena and his success was evidenced in the proclamation of Isabella II as Queen at the age of thirteen, the appointment of Fernando Munoz-the ex-guardsman Maria Cristina had married-as Duke of Riansares, and the couple’s return to Spain from exile. On October 25, 1848, Donoso was named Vicount del Valle and Marquis of Valdegamas.

Two events, one of a personal, the other of a political nature then excised Donoso’s residual liberalism: the death of his deeply religious, traditionalist brother and the 1848 revolutions. The first brought about a religious metanoia, turning his attention to the mystery of human destiny. The second brought about the collapse of the ancien regime, the exile of Pius IX (who had been vigorously defended by Donoso when he was attacked as ‘Robespierre with tiara’), and the fall of Metternich, all heralding the entrance of the masses into history. The 1848 revolutions have been described by a sympathetic critic, J.A. Hawgood, as “the `turning point at which modern history failed to turn’…this period during which the forms of government of states changed perhaps more sharply and in more interesting and varied ways than at any other time between the revolutionary decade of the 1790’s and the ten years that shook the world between 1910 and 1920.”(14) Where some historians view 1848 as the frustration of the best democratic aspirations of Europe, Donoso saw the pullulation of social decomposition.

Donoso’s sea change is evidenced by his three major speeches of 1849-1850.(15) He initiated his diplomatic career, first as ambassador to Berlin, an unhappy appointment, in which most of his time was spent in Dresden fleeing the cholera. Returning to Spain, he retired to his home at Don Benito and dedicated himself, with curious ambivalence, to reading devotional tracts ( Fray Luis de Granada was his favorite) and socialist literature, concentrating on Proudhon. Both tasks were in preparation for the composition of his major work, the Ensayo sobre el Catolicismo, el Liberalismo, y el Socialismo which was published concurrently in Madrid and Paris. Returning to the diplomatic field, Donoso spent the last two years of his life as Ambassador to France. Here, his religious inclination took on a more pronounced character: he fasted, used a hair shirt, visited the prisons, the poor, the sick. He died on May 3, 1853.

The most recent editor of his works, Father Valverde, suggests that Donoso is really a Counter-Reformation figure.(16) This is a serious misunderstanding, as Donoso’s era (1809-1853) can itself easily provide the adequate ground for the emergence of his peculiar character. Christianity was challenged by its own secular doppelganger. From Saint-Simon’s Nouveau Christianisme (1825) and Strauss’ Der Alte und Der Neue Glaube (1846), Proudhon, Bruno Bauer, Herzen, and others played manifold variations on the same theme: the inexorable advent of the new Kingdom of God, which is to say the Kingdom of Man. The revolutions of modernity derive their peculiarly intense powers of destruction from Christian principles which, albeit disfigured and distorted, still constitute their ground.

Loewith cites Immermann to this effect, that the political radicalism beyond all measure which has characterized all the great movements of Western history since Charlemagne has its ultimate source in the radicalism of the Christian message.(17) This expectation of the human kingdom generated the bizarre and grotesque. Nietzsche, for example, dated his Ecce Homo the first day of the year one (Sept. 30, 1888), adding a third dispensation to the course of history.(18) Comte invited the Jesuit General, in a letter dated Shakespeare 8, 68, to proclaim himself the spiritual head of the Church, live in Paris, and cooperate with the Positivists in favor of `occidental regeneration’ by working in the human metropolis.(19) If at times Donoso himself was tediously plaintive it can be excused in the light of the humanistic euphoria already prevalent during his life-time. But as secular hope increased, Donoso’s Christian hope became increasingly supra-terrestrial and transcendent. As in the writings of Deutero-Isaiah, deliverance will come, not from men, but from God himself who will bring in his Kingdom and usher in the age to come.(20)

The theme of dictatorship is already found in the fourth lecture of the early, liberal Lecciones de Derecho Politico, more or less as an appendage to his discussion of the `principle of intelligence’, to wit “the degree of power should be proportionate to the degree of intelligence.”(21) It follows that the more intelligent possess the right to rule and the less intelligent the obligation to conform to this rule. A society structured by the `principle of intelligence’ will have its proper limits; since there is no absolute intelligence there is no absolute sovereignty. The presumption exists that it would be possible to constitute a society structured hierarchically reflecting the different levels of intelligence and also provide for an equitable balance between a strong, though limited, authority, and freedom.

The greatest evil for normal societies is tyranny- which Donoso calls ‘omnipotencia social’-as it divides society into two opposing classes, tyrants and slaves. But dictatorship is not to be identified with tyranny and may be justified as an extraordinary measure in weak or fledgling societies. Furthermore, it is actually a necessity in those cases in which revolution has destroyed the very fabric of society.(22) The question must be asked: who is to be dictator? The answer to this question is very difficult since in these cases society finds itself in a political limbo resulting from the destruction of constituted authority and the division of the `people’ into rival camps. And who are the people, the executioners or the executed?

Donoso’s working out of these problems is disappointing. Dictatorial power should be assumed by the `strong man’ not provided for in constitutions who transcends the limits of law and philosophy. Though dictatorship is ‘una excepcion terrible’ it is decidely not an exception to the `principle of intelligence’ but acts as its particular confirmation. The dictator comprises, within his own person, all the intelligence within society-a sort of distillate-and the legitimacy of his authority is reflected in his ability to fend off and structure the chaos which threatens to destroy society.(23)

In the tenth lecture, Donoso discusses the problem of dictatorship from a different angle, the disintegration of society through the corruption of customs and mores. The erosion of society takes place slowly, almost imperceptibly. It may even take centuries. When this `evil’ reaches its zenith then society will imperiously demand either its salvation or its victims.(24) Once again, the provisional absolutism of a dictator is justified. As was the custom, Donoso here distinguished between political and social revolution; the latter deals with deeper strata of reality. Political revolution, more superficial, is nevertheless destructive as it weakens constituted power at the very moment when it is needed to preserve society. When the erosion of morals incubates revolution then the revolutionary core can be exorcised only through dictatorship, which can retard if not stop social decomposition, provide ideology with new directions, and stamp the rule of law on society and its basic unit, the family.

A few years later Donoso broached the theme from the perspective of legitimacy. Although this speech is more than usually hyperbolic and somewhat confused, the thrust of the argument seems to be that in societies there exists something similar to innate ideas necessary to their subsistence, and that one of these innate ideas is that of legitimacy.(25) But, as exceptional conditions cannot be judged according to the canons of `normal society’, the legislator who now aspires to govern by `ordinary law’, comprised of these rules and criteria applicable to normal times, is an ‘imbecil’.(26) None the less, in both ordinary and extraordinary times the basis of society is the same: the rule of law. As men have their foundation in God, so do societies have their foundation in law.

A reversal of these views comes in his famous `Speech on Dictatorship’ given in the Cortes on January 4, 1849, where Donoso attacks the notion that law is the foundation of society. Law has a function, to preserve society,, and if it fails to do so then legitimate recourse may be had to dictatorship which, after all, has impressive credentials. Athens, Rome, and France have all, at some time, been ruled by dictatorships. England is also included in this catalogue and, to the great amusement of Donoso’s opponents, so is God Himself, who acts `dictatorially’ when He suspends natural law in miracles.(27) The point is that dictatorship is a legitimate political option, at times even a necessary corrective for an exceptional situation. He is also making a case, on the home front, in favor of General Narvaez who had energetically-some would say ruthlessly-squelched the 1848 disorders.

Dictatorship is not a panacea. It is not always the appropriate remedy for political and social disintegration. The French Monarchy, for example, was `condemned’ in spite of its contortions to adapt to the spirit of the times. It is the sad case of a fossil-institution which cannot be resuscitated either by divine right or human prudence. Donoso believed the Republic was the instrument of a higher power.(28) Still the 1789 Revolution was self-destructive. It professed liberty, equality, and fraternity-values purloined from Christianity-but could only produce monstrous caricatures. Liberty became tyranny, democracy a ridiculous democratic-aristocracy, and fraternity, fratricide. The `three truths’ of the Revolution were transmogrified into the `three lies’, the `three blasphemies’.(29)


It is necessary to probe further and discover the causes of revolution as it lies close to the center of Donoso’s endorsement of dictatorship. He believed that the liberal view that the principal causes of revolution are poverty and tyranny and that it can be prevented through reform was both mistaken and dangerous.(30) It runs counter to history which, when viewed attentively, demonstrates revolution to be the malady of rich and free societies. The ancient world, in which slaves comprised the greater part of humanity, was singularly lacking in revolutions instigated by the downtrodden majority. All revolutions of import, Donoso indicates, were led by the wealthy and the aristocratic. The root cause of revolution is then neither human misery nor slavery but the exacerbated desires of the masses exploited by demagogic politicians. (3 1)

The weightiest argument in favor of dictatorship is its inevitability. Liberty no longer exists. It has been ravished by the demagogues of the world and will not recover its integrity for some time to come: it will not `resurrect’ on the third day, the third year, nor perhaps even the third century.(32) This seems a rash, not to say incredible, judgment only to those who have fallen into the `major error’ of the day, the naive belief that history moves ineluctably forward. It is really retreating: “vosotros creeis que el mundo y la civilizacion van cuando el mundo y la civilizacion vuelven.”(33) The world is lapsing into a new, more terrible paganism which will ultimately breed the most monstrous despotism in history. Europe will ultimately be subjected to a vast world empire of a Russian Rome: the Slavs and Germans are the races of `great solutions’.

This will occur because there are only two possible restraints (‘represiones’) on man, the inner (religious) and the outer (political). An inverse relation exists between them; when the `religious thermometer’ is low, the `political thermometer’ is high. The more interiorized religion and its mandates are the less necessary is external restraint. The less they are interiorized, the more religion loses its hold, the more necessary external restraint becomes. This is a law; “esta es una ley de la humanidad, una ley de la historia.”(34) History provides the necessary examples. Pagan society, lacking inner restraint, was constituted by a paradoxical mixture of tyrants and slaves. On the other hand, primitive Christianity, all inner restraint, did not have (or need) government. The Age of Constantine sows a`seed of license’ and from this there arises the need of external sanctions. Feudal times are vitiated by human passions and consequently a real, effective, government is constituted. Nonetheless, the medieval monarchy is still the weakest of governments.(35)

Donoso’s bete noir is the Protestant Reformation as it brings about a moral and religious `emancipation’ which entails the radical lowering of religious (inner) restraint.(36) So much for Protestant ‘interiority’. The result of this `emancipation’ is that monarchy becomes absolute, armies become permanent, the police is instituted, so that the government now possesses `a million arms’ (army), `a million eyes’ (police), and `a million ears’ (bureaucracy), even arriving at a simulacrum of God’s ubiquity through the telegraph.(37) At present (1849), the `religious thermometer’ is still falling and the situation is precarious. When religious (inner) restraint diminishes radically no civilized form of government is possible. Donoso distinguished between Greco-Roman culture and Christian civilization, an organic society permeated by the highest spiritual values. He denied that the notions of the ‘filosofos’-with whom he identified the French revolutionary ideologues-could sustain a civilization.

In the ancient world, tyranny was limited geographically. Rome was the only tyranny on a truly grand scale. But the world is presently able to generate a colossal and universal tyranny against which there is little hope of any effective resistance.(38) Physical (geographical) resistance has been annulled by modern communications, frontiers have been erased and distance obviated. Moral resistance has been vitiated by a gadarene division of minds-the press is the main culprit-and the death of patriotism. Moreover, although the only possible remedy to this state of affairs is a vigorous religious counter-offensive, it should not be expected. Nonetheless, delaying actions are possible either through a `system of resistance’ or a `system of concession’. But there is really no option as the question has already been decided by the 1848 revolutions. The apparently strong, popular, and (at that time liberal) Pius IX granted concessions and was banished from Rome. The apparently fragile French Republic resisted and conquered the `socialist menace’. The choice is simple: either resistance or destruction.(40)

Donoso would choose liberty over dictatorship if this were still a possible choice. But it is not.(41) Constitutional government is no more than a`lifeless skeleton’, a screen for the legitimate majorities to be victimized by turbulent minorities. The only choice which is still possible is not between liberty and dictatorship but between the `dictatorship of insurrection’ and the `dictatorship of the government’, between the dictatorship of the dagger and that of the saber. Faced with a choice between established authority and revolution, Donoso took his stand with established authority.

In Donoso’s letter of April 30, 1852, to the director of El Heraldo, attempting to clear up misconceptions concerning his Ensayo, he indicates that he never proposed either dictatorship or revolution as a social panacea.(42) It was not an attempt at speculation but rather the positing of a`historical fact’: when nations deviate from the `Catholic path’ both revolution and tyranny are incubated. His conclusion is simply that a return to the right path is imperative: “when societies do not obey the law of God they are given over to the brutality of facts.”(43) Further pertinent remarks are found in dispatches from Paris to the Spanish Foreign Office which are characterized by their practical character and unusual attention to detail. Dispatch No. 102 (6.1.51) explores the possibility of General Changarnier assuming power. Donoso indicates that although monarchy cannot arise spontaneously from a republic, a dictatorship can.(44) The strategic monarchical ploy is to establish a dictatorship and then find the means of putting the dictator under its obligation, in effect, to `elect’ its own dictator. Monarchy can then be restored through the will of the dictator after dismantling those institutions which made monarchy politically unviable. The most noxious of these subversive institutions, according to Donoso, are the press, the National Guard, and the jury system.(45)

Dispatch No. 376 (24.10.51) gives some further jaundiced remarks on the French scene and also establishes an interesting parallel between monarchy and dictatorship. Both enjoy unity of authority though in monarchy it is inherited and in dictatorship it is `accepted’ from the hands of the people. Revolution and anarchy are the two greatest political evils precisely because they fragment authority by conferring the government on all its members.(46) On the contrary, the process by which all members of a society select a leader who, once elected, rules by exercising unitary authority does not lead to the evils which result from the division of power, viz., anarchy and revolution. It appears that dictatorship offers France its only possible salvation.

We may ask what Donoso’s interest was in foisting a dictatorship on France, a country which he understood only imperfectly, in spite of cultural and religious sympathies? Why his support for Louis Napoleon, material as well as theoretical, in view of his later unflattering opinion of the `man of mystery without a secret’? To begin with, Donoso believed that while the 1789 Revolution had suppressed the aristocracy, the 1848 Revolution had, in effect, crushed the bourgeoisie. It follows that constitutional government, defined as “the peaceful organized preponderance of the bourgeoisie”(47) is no longer a possibility. Again, as the `dictatorship of the dagger’ is a present danger, the `dictatorship of the saber’ is the only effective antidote. France is the ideological center of Europe and if its extravagances are left unchecked they will soon `contaminate’ the entire continent.


It is not an arduous task to fault Donoso’s speculations. His rigor is unimpressive, his re-creation of history usually extravagant, and style at times leads content by the nose. But we should remember the woeful impoverishment of the Spanish intelligentsia: politicians and journalists were the `philosophers’ of the day and were usually inept. Donoso presents a striking contrast to this milieu, showing intelligence, insight, and even erratic though not always successful attempts at rigor. Living off the dregs of a palsied culture he attempted to interpret the present in the light of those principles which he believed had generated past civilization and which were still capable of doing so provided the historical life-world did not itself provide insuperable obstacles. The tragedy of Donoso’s theory resides in his belief that these insuperable obstacles had, in fact, been set up. But if the contemporary scene was, as he thought, a case of the absurd competing with the grotesque, and little if any hope is held out on the natural level, this is balanced by his larger view of God and history in which evil, though victorious on the natural level, is finally vanquished by direct divine intervention.

It is this apocalyptic character of his thought which gives Donoso’s theory of dictatorship its peculiar importance. Although it is true that it was conceived of by Donoso not as an ideal for all times but in response to what he saw as particularly dangerous circumstances, it is not less true that these circumstances hold for the remainder of the present age. This is to say that dictatorship is not a type of holding action valid for the nineteenth century only, but for the entire era caught in the avalanche begun by the revolutions of 1789 and 1848. Pouthas’ contention that the ideology produced by the French Revolution was exhausted by the aftermath of 1848 (48) is the opposite of Donoso’s view that the germination of the seeds disseminated by these revolutions would continue as a long, agonizing, dissolution, and end only in the generation of a new age. Graham indicates that Donoso wrote to his friend, the poet Tassara, “asking him to prophesy once again in verse the approaching death of the modern European world civilization and the birth of a new Middle Age …a new and universal City of God.”(49) Consequently, dictatorship is the prescribed means of preserving those residues of civilization, civility, and structure, which are imperiled by a dying world. This `prescribed means’ will last as long as the present aeon does, as long as there are `residues’ to preserve. Dictatorship as a solution is provisional only in a very unique sense.

Donoso had little sympathy for democracy, as he understood it as merely the political incarnation of pantheism. Parliamentarianism and government-by-dispute are only frauds perpetuated to justify and maintain the privileged status of the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia. They lead invariably to the paralysis of society and the trivialization of life. Though a good case can be made that European history subsequent to 1853 has proven him to be mistaken in many respects and his speculations may appear `a rather picturesque old antique’, this does not attenuate the significance of Donoso who puts our most cherished institutions under attack and demands that we rethink our principles and retrace our steps.

As I have suggested elsewhere(50), the philosophical background to Donoso’s theory of dictatorship is fascinating, and it provides a basis for our rethinking. It consists mainly in variations on and extensions of the themes of the French traditionalists. Religion constitutes the substructure of history and Catholicism is the vital core of religion. Doctrinal intolerance is then hardly an attack against human freedom but quite the opposite. It is society’s bulwark against chaos, for all error is ultimately reducible to religious error: social and political error is a facade for heresy. Donoso’s `Letter to Cardinal Fornari'(51) presents a good synthesis and vigorous defense of these views and their implications. He insists that the `principal heresies’ of modernity are the denial of sin and the rejection of Divine Providence. Man is then free to proclaim his `immaculate conception’, and displace the responsibility for evil from the individual to society.

Philosophy-Donoso identifies philosophy with rationalism-accepts the independence of reason by detaching it from the objective order and admits the natural perfectibility of man. Inevitably, this leads to the desacralization of society and to a new, unheroic, paganism. Philosophy becomes a construct of a reason in rebellion against truth, and thus acquiring a grotesque affinity to the absurd. This is illustrated in the paradox that revolutionary modernity rejects dogma yet rests its faith on the shaky basis of public assemblies and the press. Truth and error are conflated and all objective basis for order slips away.

Donoso believed that rationalism was the principle characteristic of liberalism and socialism. The first, as it possesses little if any inherent vigor, leads to the second, a far more vigorous though terrible entity. As liberalism despises `theology’ it ignores the intimate relationship between the political, social, and religious domains and is condemned to endemic superficiality. All its aspirations and projects are limited to the political sphere, mere surface phenomena, liberalism itself being controlled by the exigencies of the social and religious orders. Because of this, liberal government is unsatisfactory, doomed to extinction. The enemy of both the past and the future, it engages in the impossible task of attempting to rule without either God or the masses. It is the `breeding ground’ of Socialism which does have `theologians’ albeit demonic ones who carry the common rationalist credo to its radical conclusions, preparing the path for a monolithic tyranny.

Although Donoso expands the usual Traditionalist themes in many ways that deserve further attention, it is his theory of dictatorship which is most relevant to contemporary thought. Not entirely original in its conception and encumbered with archaisms it still takes into account the continuous sedimentation which has led to the present crisis of the West and provides both a genetic explanation for its development and a prognosis for the future. The `dictatorship of the saber’ may well be a passing phenomenon to be succeeded seriatim by other forms, but dictatorship, in one form or another, remains the bulwark of a continual holding action against the forces of chaos until there is nothing left worth preserving. His explanation may well be unacceptable, his prognosis distasteful. But if the study of Donoso’s theory of dictatorship persuades us to take a cautious second look at those historical and ideological accretions which have been accepted as valued common notions for the past two centuries, the further exploration of his work becomes a valuable and relevant task.


1 Luis Araguistain, Donoso Cortes y sn resonancla en Europa in Cuadernos, no. 3 (Sept.-Dec., 1953):12.

2 Carl Schmitt, Donoso Cortes in gesamteuropaelshen Interpretation, trans. A. Lopez-Amo, Interpretacion Europea de Donos Cortes (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, 1963), p. 133; 129-130.

3 Peter Viereck, Conservatism Revisited (N.Y.: Collier Books, 1962), p. 124. If the `conservative principles’ par excellence are proportion and measure as Viereck seems to think (Ibid., p. 32), and if conservatism may be defined as “a philosophy of imperfection committed to the idea of limits and directed towards the defense of a limited style of politics”, (Noel K. O’Sullivan, Conservatism (N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1976), pp. 11-12), it would be stretching the point somewhat to label Donoso a conservative.

4 Karl Loewith, Meaning in History (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 200. He is referring to Donoso’s major work, Ensayo sobre el catolicismo el llberalismo y el socialismo considerados en sns principios fundamentales in Obras Completas de Donoso Cortes, ed. Carlos Valverde, 2 vols. (Madrid: B.A.C., 1970), II, pp. 499-702. Also refer to Diego Sevilla Andres, El impacto de San Augustin en Donoso in La Cindad de Dios (El Escorial) Vol. II, pp. 621-625.

5 Erich Przywara, Dionysisches und Christlichea Opfer in Stimmen der Zelt (1935), #129, pp. 11-24.

6 Schmitt, op. cit., p. 63ff.

7 D.S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), pp. 104-139. The term ,apocalyptic’ is used in a rather liberal sense. Strictly speaking, apocalyptic deals with events `outside’ of time, not `within’ time. However, the present usage is current.

8 Though it was not promulgated, together with the attendant encyclical, Quanta Cnra, until December 8, 1864, its origins can be traced at least as far back as 1849. Refer to Norman Sykes, Religion and the Relations of Churches and States in The New Cambridge Modern History, ed. J.P.T. Bury (London: C.U.P., 1964) Vol. X, p. 89ff.

9 Anglo-American scholarship has been sparse, no more than commentary on the fringes, from Orestes Brownson (Union of Church and State in Catholic World, April 1867) to F.D. Wilhelmsen (Donoso Cortes and the Problem of Political Power in Intercollegiate Review, Jan.-Feb., 1967). Only one full-length study has been published, by John T. Graham (Donoso Cortes: Utopian Romanticist and Political Realist, Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1974) and it reflects those lackluster virtues and defects typical of most introductory texts. Though Graham is quite expert in the political and social vicissitudes of the times and Donoso’s place within them, he is somewhat ill at ease with the speculative and religious complexities of his thought. This general lack of interest in Donoso stems from several factors not the least of which is the radical character of Donoso’s thought and style, its flamboyance and bombast. His pessimism, religious ultramontanism, and his advocacy of dictatorship are alien to contemporary man. Furthermore, his status as a `Cassandra figure’-the phrase is Schmitt’s (Donoso Cortes, p. 29)-does not accord with the naive but deep-seated optimism of the Anglo-American mind. Also, there have been few Donoso exegetes who possess the `shadowy tongue’ mentioned by Belloc, that mysterious idiom which bridges two cultures taking historical, social and religious factors into account (On Translation in A Biographical Anthology, ed. by Herbert van Thal, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970, pp. 285-286).

10 Obras Completas, Vol. 1, pp. 25-27ff.

11 Antologia General de Menendez Pelayo, ed. J.M. Sanchez de Munian (Madrid: B.A.C., 1956), Vol. I, p.279, No. 1239; p.497, No. 1754, et al.

12 This is the opinion of the latest editor of his works, Fr. Valverde, Obras Completas, I, p.43. Almost a century ago it was exaggeratedly praised by Joaquin Costa, Filosofia Politica de Donoso Cortes (Madrid: Biblioteca Juridica de Autores Espanoles, 1884), Vol. 14. Donoso is here presented as the highest representative of political philosophy in Spain since Suarezl Menendez Pelayo is far more critical: though a good resume of Donoso’s ideas of his `first period’, the lectures show the poverty and vacuity of the so-called `eclectic’ school. Marcelino Menendez Pelayo, Historia de los Heterodoxos Espanoles (Madrid: B.A.C., 1956), Vol. II, p. 1056.

13 Obras Completas, I, p. 44ff.

14 J.A. Hawgood, Liberalism and Constitutional Developments in The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. X, p. 185.

15 ‘Discurso sobre la dictadura’, Jan. 4, 1849; Obras, Vol. II, pp. 305-323; ‘Discurso sobre la situacion general de Europa’, Jan. 30, 1850; Obras, II, pp. 450-466; ‘Discurso sobre la situacion de Espana’, Dec. 30, 1850; Obras, II, pp. 479-498.

16 Ibid., I, p. 79.

17 K. Immerman, Die Jugend vor Fuerfundzwanzig Jahren. Cited by Loewith in Meaning in History, p.209.

18 Loewith, Ibid., p. 211.

19 Jacques Chevalier, Histoire de la Pensee, trans. J.A. Miguez, Historla del Pensamiento (Madrid: Aguilar, 1959), Vol. IV, Appendix No. 152, pp. 656-657.

20 D.S. Russell, Method and Message, p.265ff. 21 Obras Completas, I, p. 389. 22 Idem.

23 Ibid., p. 391, Note A.

24 Ibid., p. 441.

25 Ibid., 712.

26 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 306.

27 Ibid., p. 309.

28 Ibid., 310.

29 Ibid., 310-311.

30 However, in reference to the 1848 revolutions, Languen points out that the years of 1846 and 1847 were  probably the worst of the entire century in terms of want and human suffering. The Revolution of 1848 (N.Y.: Harper Torchbooks, 1971), p.4.

31 Donoso, Obras, II, p. 311.

32 Ibid., pp. 315-316.

33 Ibid., p. 316.

34 Idem.

35 Ibid., p. 317.

36 “Germany’s revolutionary past is precisely theoretical: it is the Reformation. As at that time, it was a monk so now it is the philosopher in whose brain the revolution begins.” Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans. A. John and J. O’Malley, ed. J. O’Malley (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1970), pp. 137-138.

37 Donoso, op. cit., pp. 317-318.

38 Ibid., p. 319.

39 Ibid., pp. 319-320.

40 Ibid., pp. 320-322.

41 Ibid., p. 322.

42 Obras, Vol. II, pp. 740-741.

43 Ibid., p. 741.

44 Ibid., p. 805.

45 Idem.

46 Ibid., p. 826.

47 Donoso, op. cit., p. 827.

48 Charles Pouthas, The Revolutions of 1848 in The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. X, p. 414.

49 John T. Graham, Donoso Cortes, p. 179.

50 Faith & Reason, IV, pp. 60-63. 51 Donoso, op. cit., pp. 744-762.