Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Gómez Dávila in 1930, aged 17.
Born (1913-05-18)May 18, 1913
Bogotá, Colombia
Died May 17, 1994(1994-05-17) (aged 80)
Bogotá, Colombia
Nationality Colombian
Alma mater University of Paris
University of Los Andes (co-founder)
Religion Roman Catholicism
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region American philosophers
School Traditionalist conservatism
Main interests
Politics, religion
Notable ideas
Authentic reactionary

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (18 May 1913 – 17 May 1994) was a Colombian writer and thinker who is considered one of the most intransigent conservative political theoreticians of the twentieth century.

Gómez Dávila's fame began to spread only in the last few years before his death, particularly by way of German translations of his works. He was one of the most radical critics of modernity whose work consists almost entirely of aphorisms which he called "escolios" ("glosses").


Gómez Dávila was a Colombian scholar who never held any university post but spent most of his life in the circle of his friends and within the confines of his library. He belonged to the upper circles of Colombian society and was educated in Paris. Due to severe pneumonia, he spent about two years at home where he was taught by private teachers and developed a lifelong love of classical literature. He never, however, attended a university. In the 1930s he went back from Paris to Colombia, never to visit Europe again, except for a six-month stay with his wife in 1948. He built up an immense library containing more than 30,000 volumes around which his literary existence centred. In 1948 he helped found the Los Andes University in Bogotá.

In 1954, Gómez Dávila's first volume of works was published by his brother, a compilation of notes and aphorisms under the title Notas I – the second volume of which never appeared. The book remained virtually unknown because only 100 copies were printed and these were presented as gifts to his friends. In 1959, he followed this with a small book of essays under the title of Textos I (again, no second volume was published). These essays develop basic concepts of his philosophical anthropology as well as his philosophy of history, often in literary language full of metaphors. In these essays, he first voices his intention to create a "reactionary patchwork" because reality, he said, cannot be represented in a philosophical system.

After the collapse of the military dictatorship in 1958 Gómez Dávila was offered the post of chief advisor to the state president which he rejected as he did with respect to later offers, in 1974, to become ambassador in London. Though he supported the later president Alberto Llera's role in bringing down the dictatorship, he refrained from any political activity himself, a decision he had already reached early on in his practice as a writer.

From this decision resulted his strong criticism not only of left-wing but also of right-wing and conservative political practices, even though his explicitly reactionary principles show some similarities to conservative viewpoints. His skeptical anthropology was based on a close study of Thucydides and Jacob Burckhardt as well as his affirmation of hierarchical structures of order on society, state and church. Gómez Dávila emphatically criticised the concept of the sovereignty of the people as an illegitimate divinisation of man and a rejection of the sovereignty of God. He was likewise deeply critical of the Second Vatican Council which he saw as a deeply problematical adaptation to the world. He particularly deplored the destruction of the Latin liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of the Council. Similar to Juan Donoso Cortés, Gómez Dávila believed that all political errors ultimately resulted from theological errors. That is why his thought can be described as a form of political theology.

The modern ideologies such as liberalism, democracy, and socialism, are the main targets of Gómez Dávila's criticism, because the world influenced by these ideologies appeared to him decadent and corrupt.

Gómez Dávila discussed a vast range of topics, philosophical and theological questions, problems of literature, art, and aesthetics, philosophy of history and the writing of history. He employed a literary method of succinct statements with a great sensibility for matters of style and tone. The literary method he developed to perfection is the gloss, the scholion, which he used to comment on the world, particularly in the five volumes of Escolios a un texto implícito (1977; 1986; 1992) that he published from the seventies to the nineties. He created "the reactionary" as his unmistakable literary mask and made it into a distinctive type of thinking about the modern world as such. In his later work he attempted to define the "reactionary" with which he identified in an affirmative way by locating him somewhere beyond the traditional position of left and right. On the basis of a Catholic traditionalism influenced by the intellectual probity of Nietzsche and others he criticized modernity and saw his work as that of a partisan for a "truth that will not die".

Gómez Dávila made no attempts to make his writings widely known. Only by way of German (and later Italian as well as French and Polish) translation beginning in the late eighties did Gómez Dávila's ideas begin to be read among poets and philosophers such as Robert Spaemann, Martin Mosebach, Botho Strauß, Reinhart Maurer, Rolf Schilling, Heiner Müller, Franco Volpi, Asfa-Wossen Asserate and Krzysztof Urbanek.

List of works

July 2006. Hardcover, 408 pages. Villegas Editores. ISBN 958-8156-70-X, ISBN 978-958-8156-70-5

Selected aphorisms

From Succesivos Escolios a un Texto Implícito, Bogotá, 1992 (reprinted Barcelona 2002).

Works on Gómez Dávila

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