Monsters are What Reason Dreams About: Goya on Political Rationalism

Reason Dreams of Monsters

Francisco Goya’s 1799 etching “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos” usually is mistranslated as “the sleep of reason produces monsters.” The word sueño typically (and clearly in this context) means “dream.” The mistranslation implies that monsters emerge when reason ceases to be vigilant; what Goya meant, rather, is that “monsters are what reason dreams about.” 


Now that we have extirpated religion from politics, we have entered a new age of monsters. Liberal politics, as Joseph Bottum observes, has become spiritualized, with its own Inquisitions and witch-hunts. And our popular culture is populated by monsters as never before (roughly one in eight feature films features supernatural monsters of one sort or another).  Our foreign policy proceeded as if Montesquieu were a universal salve to heal the wounds of distressed societies, and has merely succeeded in launching monsters upon the world on the grand scale.


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