Juan Donoso Cortes held theology as the highest of all sciences, which influences all aspects of life.1 His idea is that a person’s fundamental beliefs on God and, from there, Man will shape how he views the world and how he will act in it (Cortes investigated the implications of this theory in the political world, leading to his designation as a “political theologian”). From this, it can quickly be intuited how destructive and revolutionary heresy is, which is why our forefathers sought to suppress it and promote orthodoxy. Cortes outlines the effects of certain errors on contemporary Europe in his “Letter to Cardinal Fornari,”2 which is worth evaluating for the modern day reactionary. Cortes presents, from a layman’s perspective, the origin of the corruption of the current political order: theological and metaphysical error. While these false beliefs are centuries old, his objective is not to trace their genealogical lineage, though it can be attempted as Voegelin showed with his writings on recurring Gnostic themes that have continued into the modern era, but to point out their novel application.
Cortes argues that all currently widespread error stems from the rejection of two core Catholic principles: Divine Providence and the Fall of Man. We will be more concerned with the latter in this article. What makes these negations unique to our situation is the field on which they are deployed. In earlier times, heresy was often constricted to religious matters and metaphysical speculation. Nowadays, the infection has taken hold in the political and social spheres and runs rampant. Let’s see how.
The first religious error of the most recent times was the principle of the independence and sovereignty of human reason. This error in the religious order corresponds to the affirmation of the sovereignty of intellect in the political, which has been the universal foundation of public law of those societies gestated in the first revolutions. Here parliamentary monarchies have their origin along with the electoral census, the separation of powers, the free press, and the inviolable tribune.3
Man’s reason was wounded by his Fall and certain truths became unattainable, leading to necessity of faith. When the Fall and sin are denied, reason takes over society and religion is cast aside. If man’s reason is perfect, or perfectible, then “rule by the intelligent” becomes the ideal as opposed to divinely appointed monarchs. The proud revolutionaries saw themselves as great legislators whose Cult of Reason would triumph over the ancien regime; as long as the great minds continue to rise to the top, then everything will work out. No doubt this error has been one of the bloodiest in the history of politics, as self-appointed philosophers clashed with one another over whose reason was more reasonable, the solution being to chop off heads. The vestiges of this error remain today with the reverence of education and accreditation, as well as the worship of science. If reason is the ultimate judge, then everything that exists can be known by reason and anything that can’t be known by reason doesn’t exist. Hence, we have materialism, skepticism, and so on. Let’s continue.
The second error corresponds to the will, and it consists, in the religious order, in affirming that the will, in itself just, does not need to be inclined to the good through the impulse of grace. This religious error corresponds to the political error which affirms that, since there is no will which is not just, there must be no directors or directing. Universal suffrage is based on this principle.
Here we have the degeneration from “enlightened” aristocracy to democracy. With the acceptation of the inherent goodness of man’s will comes the purity of all intentions. This is where we get Classical Liberalism and its ilk. One person’s conception of the “good life” is just as valid as any others; no one must be taught to strive for virtue and inner discipline. Grace is not needed anymore to cleanse our corrupt will and bring it in line with the greater Divine will. The only thing that matters is man himself. Just leave everybody to themselves and they will be perfectly just and upright. Man can decide for himself. Let him vote. And women, too. Not only is such a view outright dangerous since it is so conducive to sin, but it also creates radical individualism and atomization. All community must be torn down as any guidance is an infringement upon will. Thus, the destruction of the family, local church, ethnicity, thede, etc. begins. This quickly degrades into the next, and most pernicious, error:
The third error refers to the appetites, and it consists in affirming, in the religious order, that, accepting the immaculate conception of man, the appetites must be excellent. This religious error corresponds to the political error which states that all governments should be ordered to a single end: the satisfaction of every concupiscence. Upon this principle are based the socialist and demagogic systems [i.e. anarchism and communism] which struggle today for dominance and which, if things follow their natural course, eventually will achieve it.
When we grant the purity and righteousness of reason and will, we would then ask “How, then, could passions and desires, being likewise inborn, possibly be bad?” So begins the reign of appetite, which according to Cortes was rising even during his lifetime about two hundred years ago. The political paradigm has nearly completed shifted to be focused on human appetite; political discourse is focused on money and goods in order to figure out how to bring about the most comfort. It’s simply a question of how we should go about personal fulfillment; either we unleash everyone to fend for themselves or we chain them together and force the food, alcohol, sportsball, and pornography down their throats. Either tear down all the institutions to liberate man once and for all, or prop up Big Mama Guv’ment to take care of all the needs, wants, wishes, and whims of her babies. Choose either enslavement to vice or enslavement to the state. Gone are the days of discipline and cultivation of virtue. The way has been cleared for every sort of wickedness and iniquity. We have unchained the lion of passion, and wherever he goes, blood and damnation follow.
In this way, the disruptive heresy which consists, on the one hand, in denying original sin, and on the other, in denying that divine direction is requisite for man, first leads to the sovereignty of the intellect, then to the affirmation of the sovereignty of the will, and finally to the affirmation of the sovereignty of the passions; that is, to three disruptive sovereignties.
Man is a fallen creature, not some rising beast as many moderns claim. From what appears a simple error seemingly confined to theological and philosophical debate springs a whole host of evils. The point that I want to get across is that ideas have consequences. Knowing what a person believes is absolutely vital to understand how they think and act. Christian orthodoxy was carefully guarded by our ancestors not only because it is true, but also because it allows for the continuation of a stable and ordered society. Nothing like the kingdoms of the Middle Ages will return until people return to a medieval mindset. The key to any restoration is belief. To change the world, one must first change what men believe. Alas, none of us in this small corner of the internet are in a position to influence the greater society. However, this does not mean that there is no work to be done. We must seek and hold firm to true doctrine. Once universal truths are now beyond the pale. Let’s dig them up and polish them until they shine. We can start by rooting out heresy in ourselves before moving on to those around us. Change the minds of men, and you will change their lives.
1. Essays on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism, Chapter 1
2. While practically unheard of in our time, his letter went on to influence Pope Blessed Pius IX’s famous Syllabus of Errors.
3. This and the following quotations from the letter can be found in R.A. Herrera’s collection of Cortes.