Aphorisms of Don Colacho

Here are some aphorisms of the Colombian thinker, Nicolás Gómez Dávila (“Don Colacho,” 1913–1994), whose compendium, Escolios a un texto implícito, is among the significant documents of the 20th century. His work had been translated into many European languages, but not English; a gentleman named “Stephen” in Irving, Texas, is remedying this defect by posting his own translations in a searchable weblog. (He cannot be adequately praised.) We have shamelessly stolen every one of these items from that marvellous blog:


There are two kinds of men: those who believe in original sin, & idiots.

Humanity is the only totally false god.

Reason, Progress, & Justice are the theological virtues of the fool.

Either man has rights, or the people is sovereign. The simultaneous assertion of two mutually exclusive theses is what people have called liberalism.

Liberalism proclaims the right of the individual to degrade himself, provided his degradation does not impede the degradation of his neighbour.

Under the name of liberty, man conceals his hunger for sovereignty.

To refute the new morality, one needs only to examine the faces of its aged devotees.

Envy is the key to more stories than sex.

Without a hierarchical structure it is not possible to transform freedom from a fable. The liberal always discovers too late that the price of equality is the omnipotent State.

Those whose gratitude for receiving a benefit is transformed into devotion to the person who grants it, instead of degenerating into the usual hatred aroused by all benefactors, are aristocrats; even if they walk around in rags.

Ingratitude, disloyalty, resentment, rancour define the plebeian soul in every age, & characterize this century.

The necessary & sufficient condition of despotism is the disappearance of every kind of social authority not conferred by the State.

Natural disasters devastate a region less effectively than the alliance of greed & technology.

Science’s greatest triumph appears to lie in the increasing speed with which an idiocy can be transported from one location to another.

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

The reactionary does not become a conservative except in ages which maintain something worthy of being conserved.

Thought tends to be a response to an outrage rather than to a question.

The root of reactionary thought is not distrust of reason but distrust of the will.

Metaphysical problems do not haunt man so that he will solve them, but so that he will live them.

An “explanation” consists in assimilating a strange mystery to a familiar mystery.

By replacing the concrete sense perception of the object with its abstract intellectual construction, man gains the world & loses his soul.

A dentistry degree is respectable, but a philosophy degree is grotesque.

The impact of a text is proportional to the cunning of its insinuations.

Literary skill consists in keeping a phrase at the right temperature.

Classical literature is obviously not prelapsarian, but happily it is pre-Gnostic.

Every work of art speaks to us of God; no matter what it says.

A good painting cuts short the art critic’s lyricism.

Goya is the seer of demons, Picasso their accomplice.

Civilizations enter into agony when they forget that there exists not merely an aesthetic activity, but also an aesthetic of activity.

The Muse does not visit the man who works more, or the man who works less, but whomever she feels like visiting.

Even though history has no laws, the course of a revolution is easily foreseen; because stupidity & madness do have laws.

History is full of victorious morons.

In history it is wise to hope for miracles, & absurd to trust in plans.

To proclaim Christianity the “cradle of the modern world” is a grave calumny.

There is some collusion between scepticism & faith: both undermine human presumptuousness.

Wisdom comes down to not showing God how things should be done.

Reason is no substitute for faith, as colour is no substitute for sound.

When he died, Christ did not leave behind documents, but disciples.

My convictions are the same as those of an old woman praying in the corner of a church.