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New Left Review 6, November-December 2000


Peter Gowan on Jeffrey Johnson, ed., Selected Works of Juan Donoso Cortés. The prophetic insights of Spain’s saturnine master of anti-socialist statecraft, halfway through the nineteenth century.

PETER GOWAN

A SPANISH SINGLETON

In the world of thought, Spain has often seemed to be the absentee land of Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today only Unamuno and Ortega are remembered, however briefly, as figures of significance beyond the peninsula. Contemporary memory has all but completely repressed the one great exception to Spanish marginality on the intellectual stage of the continent, the extraordinary figure of Juan Donoso Cortés. Yet this was the thinker whom Metternich considered the foremost conservative political theorist and parliamentary orator of his time. Donoso exerted a profound influence not only on the Habsburg statesman and on a succession of Spanish monarchs, but on Louis Napoleon and Pius IX. Friend and confidant of the leaders of both liberal and conservative wings of French Catholicism, his speeches and writings were studied by Frederick William IV of Prussia and later by Bismarck and William I. In Russia, Nesselrode and Nicholas I were no less enthusiastic students of his ideas. Guizot, Ranke, Schelling and Comte all pored over his work and assented to themes within it. Yet in the provincial confines of the modern Anglo-American academy, Donoso—a pivotal figure in the history of nineteenth-century political ideas—has been almost completely overlooked. Until the 1990s, there was only one serious book in English on him, John Graham’s intellectual biography Donoso Cortés—Utopian Romanticist and Political Realist, published in the early 1970s. So it is welcome to have Jeffrey Johnson’s small collection of Donoso’s articles and speeches, and his promise of a new translation of Donoso’s Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism.

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