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The Political Philosophy of Alvaro dOrs - .144 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER The Political Philosophy

Aug 28, 2018





    The Political Philosophy of Alvaro d'Ors

    The subject of this essay, don Alvaro d ' Ors, is almost totally unknown to theAmerican academic world, salve a small group of specialists in Roman Law.Although the author of more than a dozen books and several hundred articles,'practically nothing of his writing has been translated into English. Indepartments of Spanish Literature in this nation, the name d'Ors suggests hisillustrious father, Eugenio d'Ors, who brilliantly expressed a classical andMediterranean vision of Spanish existence for a generation of writers whoflourished in the years prior to the Spanish Crusade against Communism. Butthe authority of his son, don Alvaro, is recognized on the European continentin the highest circles of jurisprudence. He is cited everywhere in scholarlyarticles given over to issues ranging from Roman Law to modern constitu-tional theory. In Rome itself he is a legend.

    A thoroughly "university man, " almost quintessentially the type itself, hisstudies were interrupted by the Civil War when he enlisted as a Carlistvolunteer. With the war won in 1939, d'Ors returned to university life and hehas never left the academy in his long and distinguished career, first at theUniversity of Compostela and later at the University of Navarre. Seventy-three years old at the writing of this paper, he still spends time each day at theUniversity of Navarre where he lived the larger part of his academic career,as Professor ofRoman Law and as chief librarian. His formal retirement a fewyears ago was marked by the publication of studies honoring him, a lengthyFestschrift, as well as the appearance of several studies dedicated in whole orin part by his grateful students.

    Years ago the late Willmoore Kendall spotted something "curiously new"-

    I wish to thank the Earhart Foundation for a grant rendering it possible that I do this research.1. Rafael Domingo, Teoria de la "auctoritas" (Pamplona: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra,S.A., 1987). This is a thorough study of d'Ors teaching on the subject of "authority" which followshis teacher' s thought from authority in general, juridical and philosophical theory through to itsapplication in Roman Law; in the sources of justice; applications of the power/authority structurein political justice; authority and power in Canon Law; the University; and a general theory ofauthority itself.

    Dr. Domingo lists most of the significant writings of Professor d'Ors and the following list hasbeen taken from his book (24-29). Those works used by myself are cited in the app ropriate places.Above and beyond these academic studies, d'Ors has a rich body of literature published in thesemi-clandestine Carlist press during the regime of Franco. They have not been included or usedhere because of their immediate political import which d'Ors himself does not include under hisunderstanding of "theory" or "political philosophy." The list of d'Ors' works begins on p. xxx.


    or so he expressed it to me personally-in d'Ors' mind which made him notonly a man erudite in matters concerning Roman Law and Jurisprudence, butan original political philosopher. Kendall died years before the Spanishprofessor's thought had flowered into its fullness, Again, in our country, M.E. Bradford has long admired d'Ors, and only recently did I discover thatd'Ors today is recommending Bradford's A Better Guide than Reason to hisfriends and disciples. D'Ors generously admits his debt to the German KarlSchmitt, "who so sagaciously has infiltrated a juridical vision in the interpre-tation of political reality."' But d'Ors is by no means uncritical of Schmitt.

    I am personally convinced that Alvaro d'Ors is among the half dozen or sofirst political philosophers of this century. His speculations are as original asare those of Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, to mention the two contemporarypolitical philosophers best known in this country. My hope, in writing thisintroduction to d'Ors' thought, is that his work will be translated soon intoEnglish and thus given the chance to compete in an intellectual marketplaceprogressively dominated by the English language.

    A characteristic of d'Ors' thought is a suspicion of the purely abstract anda preference for the concretely juridical, for laws as interpreted by judges whoseek out "the just" in the contingencies of human existence. But this emphasisis by no means monolithic. The subjects he has written about are bewilderingin their analogical complexity: the differences between Greece and Rome astraceable to differences between seafaring and an earthbound society; thesharp antagonism between the modern State and other political forms inwhich men have lived their corporate existence; the roles of Empire andChurch in Western history; the innocent but incipient secularization implicitin the birth of International Law in Francisco de Vitoria; the ecumenicEmpire and the impossibility of a World State-and the list goes on and on.

    Don Alvaro in his very last book expressed his conviction that all philoso-phy, at bottom, is metaphysics. In his judgment that is as it ought to be, D'Orshimself is no metaphyician nor has he ever pretended to be. But it is one thingto be a professional metaphysician and it is something else-in the lastanalysis, something more important-to have a metaphysical grip on theworld. "Juridical and political thought must seek the primogenitive law inevery institution, the etymos nomos as we might call it, which lights up someintimate necessity justifying the historical development of that institution." 3D'Ors adheres to a thorough-going realist understanding of the world and inthe following essay I have ticked off a number of themes that dominate histhought. Some of them reveal a realism which is almost brutal, as evidencedby his reflections on violence.

    2. De la Guerra y de la Paz, 195.3. Forma de Gobierno y Legitimidad Familiar, 12.



    No matter how far back we trace the written history of man, no matter howdistant are his archeological and numismatic remains, we always seem to findat the origin of his story some act of violence. Some might be tempted to findin d'Ors a latter day Hobbes in Spanish form but, granted the likeness, acrucial difference remains. Hobbes postulated a jungle out of which manemerged into society but d'Ors never speaks of any such jungle anterior topolitical history. Wherever we look, no matter how far back we take theadventure of any race or community, we always discover some older politicalorder which is expelled, usually by the sword, yielding to a newer order ofthings. 4 The Hobbesian postulate of a pre-civilizational jungle is a scholar'shypothesis with no corresponding historical evidence to buttress it. If we staywithin the boundary of history, one society gives way to another, and it doesso by violence: the new order usurps the old. This observation is one withProfessor d'Ors' insistence that violence is not an epiphenomenon for politicaltheory: violence is constitutive. Violence, even war itself, are consubstantialwith man's life in history. Our author neither deplores nor exults in this truth.He simply accepts it as being one with human life as we have known it sincehuman records marked down man's progress through time.

    The word "violence" in the Spanish language suggests physical force. (Itdoes so as well in English). But the Latin violencia has as its root vis, or"Power." All political power guarantees order and the more "powerful" thepolity in question, the better the order. Hence the liberty of the subject is thebetter achieved when the power is "powerful," capable of violent activityagainst any threat to the order in question. A weak polity offers impoverishedorder and little hope against chaos. s The violent origin of political power,hence, is prolonged in the preservation of order. The enemy of chaos,therefore, is lodged in political power which is-the reader will pardon thetautology-powerful indeed. (The author is reminded of a remark made byThomas Molnar when Washington was burning in the late Sixties. When weran across a street in a neighborhood going up in flames, Molnar said to me:"I escaped Communist tyranny when I came from Hungary but at least we hadCommunist order over there and that is better than no order at all.") D'Orssays the same in any number of writings. Without order there is no justice, andorder, both in its primitive constitution and in its actual maintenance, reposesupon violence. Withdraw the police and society collapses. My thesis thatd'Ors in his realism is utterly unsentimental finds here both confirmation andelucidation. Possibly the late Yves Simon would have added as an addendum

    4. Cf., e.g.: La violencia y el orden, ( Madrid: Ediciones Dyrsa, 1987), 73-82.5. Ibid., 74-76.


    to Alvaro d'Ors' contention that in moments of total collapse in a society weoften can find islands of virtuous men who will not revert to savagery.' ButSimon's exception simply reaffirms d'Ors' thesis.

    Violence suggests war, both external against the enemy from without andinternal, against treason. A universal commitment to pacifism, according todon Alvaro, is a contradictory posture taken up against exigencies located inhuman nature itself. He finds, incidentally, this to be an aberration markingAmerican "imperialism"-a war against all wars. When all pacific methodshave been exhausted in adjudicating serious differences, the only recourse iswar-or surrender to the adversary which is simply a war lost, even withoutbloodshed. To outlaw war is itself an act of war against any and all litigants.The anti-war thesis, one with an abhorrance of all violence, is itself acontradiction in terms. D'Ors' realism is