“The traditional commonplace scandalizes modern man. The most subversive book in our time would be a compendium of proverbs.”

For the last few days I have been perusing a website dedicated to posting English translations of the aphorisms of Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila (aka “Don Colacho”).


While we would not see eye-to-eye on all matters, I have very much enjoyed his way with words and the consideration of his views. (His wicked sense of humor helps.) From this piece on his life:

“His work is very quotable, since it consists almost entirely of one-to-four-line sentences, which their author called ‘annotations on the margins of an implicit text,’ an opus magnum that has disintegrated into glosses. Gómez Dávila himself said that he worked half his life an his notes, until only the essence remained: ‘The writer who has not tortured his sentences tortures his reader.'”

The blog linked above has done a great job of posting and categorizing the quotes, and I have included the numbers here so that one can look up the quotes in their original Spanish on that page.  

There are many, many more quotes at the source page, but without further ado, enjoy a few of  my favorites:

On Arts…

Whoever does not move among works of art as if among dangerous animals does not know among what he moves. (#2,032)

….& Letters:

To understand a text, one must walk around it slowly, since no one gets in except through invisible posterns. (#2,096)

On Taste:

An intelligent touch can make the austerity imposed by poverty culminate in the perfection of taste. (#2,778)

On Manners:

A little patience in dealing with a fool helps us avoid sacrificing our good manners to our convictions. (#500)

On Moderation:

Wisdom consists of being moderate not out of horror of excess, but out of love for the limit. (#72)

On Friendship, Love, & Sexuality:

Our own cross burdens us less than the one we cannot help our beloved to carry. (#2,389)

Let us repudiate the abominable suggestion that we should renounce friendship and love in order to banish misfortune.
On the contrary, let us mingle our souls just as we weave our bodies together.
May the beloved be the land of our shattered roots. (#377)

Let us learn to accompany those we love in their errors, without becoming their accomplices. (#1,407)

Eroticism, sensuality, and love, when they do not converge in the same person are nothing more, in isolation, than disease, vice, and foolishness. (#414)

On Porn:

The ability to consume pornography is the distinctive characteristic of the imbecile. (#2,396)

On Objectification and Abstraction:

When the object loses its sensual fullness and becomes an instrument or a sign, reality evaporates and God vanishes. (#1,384)

On Ideological Purity:

May God preserve us from purity, in all fields.
From the mother of political terrorism, from religious sectarianism, from ethical severity, from aesthetic sterility, from philosophical stupidity. (#1,246)

On Solutions, Convictions, & Ideals:

Whoever is not ready to prefer defeat in certain circumstances sooner or later commits the very crime he denounces. (#2,386)

Someone who has been defeated should not console himself with the possible retaliations of history, but with the patent excellence of his cause. (#2,599)

A personal group of authentic solutions has the coherence not of a system but of a symphony. (#1,644)

On Politics & Movements:

Participants in a political movement are normally ignorant of its aim, its motive, and its origin. (#2,220)

Those who seek to abolish man’s alienation by changing the juridical structure of the economy remind one of the man who solved the problem of his marital misfortune by selling the sofa on which the adultery took place. (#879)

On the Society vs. the State:

The modern mentality does not conceive that order can be imposed without resorting to police regulations. (#1,585)

The modern state is the transformation of the apparatus which society developed for its defense into an autonomous organism which exploits it. (#1,527)

In medieval society, society is the state; in the bourgeois society, state and society confront each other; in the Communist society, the state is society. (#62)

Wise politics is the art of invigorating society and weakening the State. (#55)

Dying societies accumulate laws like dying men accumulate remedies. (#1,312)

On Modern Industrial Society:

Perception of reality, today, dies crushed between modern work and modern entertainment. (#1,103)

Instead of “industrial society,” it is in fashion to say “consumer society” in order to avoid the problem by pretending to confront it. (#1,557)

Industrial society is condemned to forced perpetual progress. (#257)

On Technique & Technology:

Technology does not fulfill man’s perennial dreams, but craftily mimics them. (#29)

The so highly acclaimed “dominion of man over nature” turned out to be merely an enormous capability to kill. (#2,968)

In order not to think of the world which science describes, man gets drunk on technology. (#720)

Between the dictatorship of technology and the technology of dictatorship, man no longer finds a crack through which he can slip away. (#1,981)

On Artificial Intelligence:

If man ever managed to fabricate a man, the enigma of man will not have been deciphered, but obscured. (#1,126)

On Irreligious Times:

In spiritually arid centuries, the only man to realize that the century is dying from thirst is the man who still harnesses an underground spring. (#2,792)

On Progress:

Progress in the end comes down to stealing from man what ennobles him, in order to sell to him at a cheap price what degrades him. (#890)

On Capitalism & the Bourgeoisie:

If one only aspires to provide a growing number of persons with a growing number of goods, without worrying about the quality of the persons, or of the goods, then capitalism is the perfect solution. (#2,002)

It turns out it is impossible to convince a businessman that a profitable activity can be immoral. (#2,426)

The Gospels and the Communist Manifesto are on the wane; the world’s future lies in the power of Coca-Cola and pornography. (#2,983)

On Marxism and the Left:

I understand that Communism which is a protest, but not that which is a hope. (#1,523)

Marxism will only rest when it has transformed peasants and workers into petty-bourgeois office clerks. (#447)

Liberalism proclaims the right of the individual to degrade oneself, provided one’s degradation does not impede the degradation of one’s neighbor. (#1,976)

On Revolutions & Revolutionaries:

Revolutions are carried out in order to change the ownership of property and the names of streets.
The revolutionary who seeks to change “man’s condition” ends up being shot for being a counter-revolutionary. (#2,523)

Revolutions are frightening, but election campaigns are disgusting. (#1,444)

On Reaction & the Reactionary:

Leftists and rightists merely argue about who is to have possession of industrial society.
The reactionary longs for its death. (#2,179)

The reactionary does not yearn for the futile restoration of the past, but for the improbable rupture of the future with this sordid present. (#1,297)

Though he knows he cannot win, the reactionary has no desire to lie. (#914)

On History & Historiography:

No problem exists which can be understood outside its historical context, nor which can be completely reduced to it. (#2,078)

The historian who speaks of cause, and not of causes, should be fired immediately. (#2,844)

The historian’s task consists less in explaining what happened than in making understood how the contemporary understood what happened to him. (#765)

On Political Discourse:

Public political discussion is not intellectually adult in any country. (#2,885)

On General Discourse:

We need people to contradict us in order to refine our ideas. (#106)

With somebody for whom certain terms must be defined one must speak of some other topic. (#2,393)

On Education & Intelligence…:

A thought should not expand symmetrically like a formula, but disorderly like a shrub. (#2,124)

Whoever tries to educate and not exploit a people, or a child, does not speak to them in baby-talk. (#211)

Intelligence, in certain ages, must dedicate itself merely to restoring definitions. (#1,676)

The idea of the “free development of the personality” seems admirable as long as one does not meet an individual whose personality has developed freely. (#436)

…& Stupidity:

In the modern world the number of theories is increasing that are not worth the trouble to refute except with a shrug of the shoulders. (#2,838)

On Passing Judgment:

To demand that the intelligence abstain from judging mutilates its faculty of understanding.
It is in the value judgment that understanding culminates. (#1,692)

To maintain that “all ideas are respectable” is nothing but pompous nonsense.
Nevertheless, there is no opinion that the support of a sufficient number of imbeciles does not oblige one to put up with.
Let us not disguise our impotence as tolerance. (#1,042)

On Relativism, Cultural and Otherwise:

Relativism is the solution of one who is incapable of putting things in order. (#2,103)

When one is confronted by diverse “cultures,” there are two symmetrically erroneous attitudes: to admit only one cultural standard, and to grant all standards the same rank.
Neither the overweening imperialism of the European historian of yesterday, nor the shameful relativism of the European historian of today. (#2,673)

On Philosophies…:

The sinister structure of arguments in favor of the radical absurdity of the world wavers in the presence of the lightest thing that fulfills us. (#2,263)

What is difficult about a difficult philosopher is more often his language than his philosophy. (#2,881)

…and Theology:

Modern theologies tend to be the contortions of a theologian who is trying to avoid admitting his unbelief to himself. (#2,201)

Religious thought does not go forward like scientific thought, but rather goes deeper. (#2,545)

The impertinent attempt to justify “the ways of God to man” transforms God into a frustrated schoolmaster who invents educational games that are both cruel and childish. (#2,415)

The modern theologian longs to transform Christian doctrine into a simple ideology of community behavior. (#948)

On Faith & Belief:


Faith is not an assent to concepts, but a sudden splendor that knocks us down. (#1,815)

That Christianity cures social diseases, as some say, or that, on the contrary, it poisons the society that adopts it, as others assert, are theses that interest the sociologist but are of no interest for a Christian.
A convert to Christianity has converted because he believes it is true. (#445)

The psychological study of conversions only produces flowers of rhetoric.
God’s ways are secret. (#2,504)

On the Liturgy:

A cloud of incense is worth a thousand sermons. (#2,551)

Christianity, when it abolishes its ancient liturgical languages, degenerates into strange, uncouth sects.
Rationalizing dogma, relaxing morality, simplifying the rite, do not make it easier for the unbeliever to approach [the Church], but rather [for the Church] to approach the unbeliever. (#2,552)

On the Function of the Church:

The Church’s function is not to adapt Christianity to the world, nor even to adapt the world to Christianity; her function is to maintain a counter-world within the world. (#2,843)

The true religion is monastic, ascetic, authoritarian, hierarchical. (#962)

Religion did not arise out of the need to assure social solidarity, nor were cathedrals built to encourage tourism. (#48)

On Catholic Life:

A Catholic should simplify his life and complicate his thought. (#320)

God does not ask for our “cooperation,” but for our humility. (#771)

The religious life begins when we discover that God is not a postulate of ethics, but the only adventure in which it is worth the trouble to risk ourselves. (#843)

On Catholic Doctrine, and Reform:

Catholicism does not solve all problems but it is the only doctrine which raises them all. (#385)

Whereas the Protestant depends on a text, we Catholics are the process where the text was born. (#1,360)

Once contact is broken with Greek and Latin antiquity, once its medieval and patristic inheritance is lost, any simpleton turns into its exegete. (#1289)

Progressivism, Modernism, and the Church:

Atop the bell tower of the modern church the progressive clergyman, instead of a cross, places a weathervane. (#898)

The modern Christian feels professionally obligated to act jovially and jokingly, to show his teeth in a cheerful grin, to profess a slavering friendliness, in order to prove to the unbeliever that Christianity is not a “somber” religion, a “pessimistic” doctrine, an “ascetic” morality.
The progressive Christian shakes our hand with the wide grin of a politician running for office. (#711)

Religious progressivism is the task of adapting Christian doctrines to the opinions sponsored by news agencies and publicity agents. (#753)

The Gospels, in the hands of a progressive clergyman, degenerate into a compilation of trivial ethical teachings. (#1,688)

Those who replace the “letter” of Christianity with its “spirit” generally turn it into a load of socio-economic nonsense. (#2,732)

On Questioning and Rejecting Faith and God:

There are many who believe they are God’s enemies but only manage to become the sacristan’s enemies. (#2,612)

Nothing upsets the unbeliever as much as defenses of Christianity based on intellectual skepticism and internal experience. (#2,961)

On Sin…:

Those sins that scandalize the public are less grave than those it tolerates. (#918)

Sins that appear “splendid” from afar are from close up nothing more than small sordid episodes. (#2,155)

Christianity did not invent the notion of sin, but that of forgiveness. (#994)

…and its Consequences:

I do not know of a sin which is not, for the noble soul, its own punishment. (#333)

Radical sin relegates the sinner to a silent, gray universe, drifting on the surface of the water, a lifeless shipwreck, toward inexorable insignificance. (#1,914)

On the Lovely Mystery of the World:

Contemplated in light of our sorrow or our happiness, of our enthusiasm or our disdain, the world displays a texture so subtle, an essence so fine, that every intellectual vision, compared to that vision of the sentiments, barely seems like clever vulgarity. (#636)

On the Ideal Life:

To live with lucidity a simple, quiet, discreet life among intelligent books, loving a few beings. (#497)


Featured Image:
Bruegel, Pieter, The Elder. The Hay Harvest (aka “Haymaking”). 1565. Oil on Wood. Lobkowicz Collection.
(Credits for photos of Dávila unknown.)
“Don Colacho.” Don Colacho’s Aphorisms. N.p., 24 Mar. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. ““The Traditional Commonplace Scandalizes Modern Man. The Most Subversive Book in Our Time Would Be a Compendium of Proverbs.”.”  Ortolana Studio & Press, 19 Apr. 2017. Web.

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