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Juan Donoso Cortés

Juan Donoso Cortés Spanish author, political theorist and diplomat

Spanish author, political theorist and diplomat
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Spanish author, political theorist and diplomat
Countries Spain
Occupations Writer Philosopher Politician Diplomat Journalist Educator
Gender male
Birth 6 May 1809 (Don Benito)
Death 3 May 1853 (Paris)
Star sign TaurusTaurus
Education University of Salamanca
The details

Juan Donoso Cortés, marqués de Valdegamas (6 May 1809 – 3 May 1853) was a Spanish author, conservative and Catholic political theorist, and diplomat. He was a descendant, through his father Pedro Donoso Cortés, of the conquistador Hernando Cortés.


Cortés was born at Valle de la Serena (Extremadura). At 11, he had finished his education in the humanities, and at 12, he had begun the study of law at the University of Salamanca; at 16, he received his degree of licentiate from the University of Seville, and at 18, he became professor of literature at the College of Caceres.

Carried away by the rationalism prevalent in Spain following upon the French invasions, he ardently embraced the principles of Liberalism and fell under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom he later characterized as "the most eloquent of sophists".

He entered politics as an ardent liberal under the influence of Manuel José Quintana. His views began to modify after the rising at La Granja, approaching a counterrevolutionary outlook and became more marked on his appointment as private secretary to the Queen Regent. His political thought found its most lucid and orderly expression in his Lecciones de Derecho Politico (1837).

Alarmed by the proceedings of the French revolutionary party in 1848–1849, Donoso Cortés issued his Ensayo Sobre el Catolicismo, el Liberalismo, y el Socialismo Considerados en sus Principios Fundamentales (1851), was written at the instance of Louis Veuillot, who was an intimate friend of the author and places Cortés in the first rank of Catholic apologists and especially Ultramontanism. It is an exposition of the impotence of all human systems of philosophy to solve the problem of human destiny and of the absolute dependence of humanity upon the Catholic Church for its social and political salvation.

The Ensayo failed to arrest the movement fully against which it was directed, but, it remains amongst the finest specimen of political prose published in Spain during the 19th century.

He became ambassador at Paris and died there on 3 May 1853.

Donoso Cortés's works were collected in five volumes at Madrid (1854–1855) under the editorship of Gavino Tejado.


In his Political Theology (1922), political philosopher Carl Schmitt devotes large portions of his final chapter ("On the Counterrevolutionary Philosophy of the State") to Donoso Cortés, praising him for recognizing the importance of the decision and of the concept of sovereignty.


  • Obras de Don Juan Donoso Cortés, Marqués de Valdegamas, Ordenadas y Precedidas de una Noticia Biográfica por Gavino Tejado, Impr. de Tejado, 1854-1855:
  • Obras Completas de Donoso Cortés, Juan, Marqués de Valdegamas, 1809-1853, 2 Vols., Editorial Católica, 1946.
  • Obras Completas. Edición, Introducción y Notas de Carlos Valverde, 2 Vols., Editorial Católica, 1970.

English translations of Donoso Cortés


"True progress consists in submitting the human element which corrupts liberty, to the divine element which purifies it. Society has followed a different path in looking upon the empire of faith as dead; and in proclaiming the empire of reason and the will of man, it has made evil, which was only relative, contingent and exceptional, absolute, universal, and necessary. This period of rapid retrogression commenced in Europe with the restoration of pagan literature, which has brought about successively the restoration of pagan philosophy, religious paganism, and political paganism. At the present time the world is on the eve of the last of these restorations, – that of pagan socialism." (Letter to Montalembert, June 4, 1849.)

"It follows from this that the Church alone has the right to affirm and deny, and that there is no right outside her to affirm what she denies, or to deny what she affirms. The day when society, forgetting her doctrinal decisions, has asked the press and the tribune, news writers and assemblies, what is truth and what is error, on that day error and truth are confounded in all intellects, society enters on the regions of shadows, and falls under the empire of fictions…"

"The doctrinal intolerance of the Church has saved the world from chaos. Her doctrinal intolerance has placed beyond question political, domestic, social, and religious, truths—primitive and holy truths, which are not subject to discussion, because they are the foundation of all discussions; truths which cannot be called into doubt for a moment without the understanding on that moment oscillating, lost between truth and error, and the clear mirror of human reason becoming soiled and obscured…"

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