January 8, 2010

Hierarchical Axiology

Note: This entry is designed to give the reader some idea of Gómez Dávila's "hierarchical axiology," the intersection of values and hierarchy. This philosophy is what lies behind most of his observations on other topics, and is essential to his entire work. Indeed, as he said in his essay "The Authentic Reactionary," the reactionary seeks out values in history; he is a "hunter of sacred shade upon the eternal hills." This entry focuses on the philosophical aspect of hierarchy; hierarchy as a principle of social order is addressed more fully in the entry on democracy and equality.


None of us finds it difficult to love the neighbor who seems inferior to us.
But to love someone we know is superior is another thing. (#677)

There is something definitively vile about the man who only admits equals, who does not tirelessly seek out his betters. (#2,655)

Loyalty to a doctrine ends in adherence to the interpretation we give it.
Only loyalty to a person frees us from all self-complacency. (#2,445)

Authentic superiority is intolerable for the fool.
Its simulacra, on the other hand, fascinate him. (#2,007)

He who accepts the rank which nature assigns him does not turn into the mere absence of what he is not.
Even the most modest thing has, in its proper place, immeasurable worth. (#324)

Every non-conformist knows, in the depths of his soul, that the place his vanity rejects is the exact same place his nature has assigned him. (#975)

To be a protagonist in the drama of life, it is enough to be a perfect actor, whatever the role one plays.
Life has no secondary roles, only secondary actors. (#416)

There is no contemptible occupation, as long as it is not credited with any importance it does not have. (#1,873)

Society tends to be unjust, but not in the way the conceited imagine.
There are always more masters who do not deserve their position than servants who do not deserve theirs. (#509)

In aristocratic times what has value is priceless; in democratic times what is priceless has no value. (#1,679)

If we do not have hierarchies, we are eventually unjust with everything.
Even with what we were, or what we are. (#1,224)

Duties or pleasures, objects or persons: it suffices to move them from the subordinate place corresponding to each one to turn them into nothing. (#974)

Pleasures abound as long as we do not confuse their ranks. (#2,517)

The reactionary is not upset by certain things, but by anything out of place. (#1,622)

The world becomes filled with contradictions when we forget that things have ranks. (#2,664)

The total truth will not be the indigestion of a dialectical process that swallows all the partial truths, but the limpid structure in which they are ordered. (#1,824)

The lower truths tend to eclipse the highest truths. (#2,785)

Truths do not contradict each other except when they fall out of order. (#2,575)

Authority is not delegating men, but procuring values. (#570)

Revelation is the value that suddenly supervenes on a psychological event. (#943)

Values, like the soul, are born in time, but do not belong to it. (#1,025)

Values, like souls for the Christian, are born in history but are immortal. (#1,264)

Values are not citizens of this world, but pilgrims from other heavens. (#1,037)

Everything that has value in the world is incongruous to it, and the world does not drag it along into the sunset.
Our past happinesses await us at the end of the day’s journey to anoint our injured feet. (#1,750)

All earthly splendor is the labor of astounded hands, because no splendor depends on the human will.
Because all splendor refutes the radical assertion of sin. (#1,910)

“Meaning,” “significance,” “importance,” are terms which do not merely designate transitive relations.
There are things with meaning, significance, importance, in themselves. (#2,841)

Everything rolls toward death, but only what lacks value rolls toward nothingness. (#1,938)

Man rarely understands that nothing is permanent, but that some things are immortal. (#2,473)

We should not be frightened: what we admire does not die.
Nor be delighted: neither does what we detest. (#2,056)

We who want to admit nothing but what has value, will always seem naïve to those who recognize nothing but what is in force. (#2,830)

History owes its importance to the values that emerge there, not to the masses of men who are shipwrecked there. (#1,481)

The sensual is the presence of a value in the sensible. (#250)

The history of art is the history of its materials, its techniques, its themes, its social conditions, its psychological motives, or its set of intellectual problems, but never the history of beauty.
A value has no history. (#606)

The perfection of a work of art depends on the degree of obedience of its diverse elements to their proper hierarchy. (#1,641)

We should only encourage someone to do something that is worth doing because it is worth it.
Goodness for goodness’s sake, truth for truth’s sake, art for art’s sake. (#2,607)

Nothing endures for certain and only instances count, but the instant reserves its splendor for someone who imagines it to be eternal.
The only thing that has value is the ephemeral which appears immortal. (#790)

It is not true that things have value because life matters. On the contrary, life matters because things have value. (#73)

The indemonstrability of values makes obvious opinions seem daring to one who does not see values. (#2,420)

When we make a value judgment let us never invoke authorities.
The value judgment testifies to itself. Every argument degrades it. (#2,126)

To live is modern man’s only value.
Even the modern hero does not die except in the name of life. (#350)

Elegance, dignity, nobility are the only values life does not succeed in disrespecting. (#133)

Discipline, order, hierarchy, are aesthetic values. (#2,483)

Good manners, in the end, are nothing but the way in which respect is expressed.
Since respect, in its turn, is a feeling inspired by the presence of an admitted superior, wherever hierarchies are absent—real or fictitious, but revered—good manners die out.
Rudeness is a democratic product. (#644)

Man’s different postures place him before different values.
There exists no privileged position from which to observe the conjunction of all values into one single value. (#1,730)

Not reject, but prefer. (#249)

He who knows how to prefer does not exclude.
He puts in order. (#2,510)

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)

It is not to resolve contradictions, but to order them, to which we can aspire. (#1,836)

Leveling is the barbarian’s substitute for order. (#215)

Hierarchies are heavenly.
In Hell all are equal. (#1,451)

In society just as in the soul, when hierarchies abdicate the appetites rule. (#1,719)

Man emerges from the beast when he orders his instincts hierarchically. (#1,917)

The authentic individual cannot be added up; he can only be placed in order. (#1,978)

Only by establishing hierarchies can we limit the imperialism of the idea and the absolutism of power. (#1,490)

Absolutism, whether intellectual or political, is the capital sin against the hierarchical method.
Usurpation, by one of the terms in the system, of the liberties of the others. (#1,701)

The absolutist wishes for a sovereign force that will subdue all others, the liberal a multitude of weak forces that will neutralize each other.
But the axiological commandment decrees hierarchies of multiple vigorous and active forces. (#1,925)

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