When Juan Donoso Cortes was busy making a name for himself all over Europe with his apocalyptic prognostications concerning the weakness of liberalism and the coming doom of socialism, a contemporary of his up in Denmark was busy penning books which would be read by a few hundred people and understood by even less. Within a few decades of their respective deaths, all of Europe — and eventually the world — would know the name Soren Kierkegaard. Few could recall that Cortes had ever existed at all.
Sure, there were always some thinkers — mainly of a Catholic bent — who remembered Cortes and tried to keep the flame of his memory alive. But when Europe didn’t collapse in the 19th C. (it would wait until the 20th for that), Cortes looked like a false prophet. His theologically informed sense of history failed to offer up any “iron laws” of how events would inevitably unfold. And even though some of Cortes’s predictions, such as the rise of Russia, did, in a certain sense, pan out in the next century, it didn’t happen quite as he predicted. The two world wars were not fought over socialism and Russia, which was in the midst of social and spiritual decay by 1917, became a different sort of world power — one which Cortes did not contemplate during his lifetime.
Yet there is still value in reflecting on Cortes’s writings. He was too unsystematic and anti-theoretical to provide useful concepts that can be readily redeployed today. But what he did supply was a temperament, one tilted toward action over easygoing contemplation. In other words, Cortes is a prophet of an active form of “illiberal Catholicism,” one that is not afraid to take risks and speak openly, for it always has the truth on its side. Whereas the forces of darkness, both in Cortes’s time and in our own, are taken to hiding their banners when they march into battle or declaring that they are up to something other than what it is they are actually doing, Cortes is a model of unwavering, even defiant, dedication to the cause of Christian civilization.
Cortes was a man preaching to men. Today we sit like little children at his feet, waiting to grow-up but hoping we actually won’t. Cum essem parvulus loquebar ut parvulus sapiebam ut parvulus cogitabam ut parvulus quando factus sum vir evacuavi quae erant parvuli. Ah, the horror of it all — to think we might no longer simply scratch our heads and chatter, but do something with what we have been taught. There’s money to be made, tenure to secure, book deals to lock down, baseball games to watch, and Facebook feeds to update.