Passing bull 181 – The vice of silence, when silence is a lie


The Spanish Civil War was full of horror.  It was also full of bullshit.  Priests exhorted the faithful not to consort with Jews or Freemasons.  The fascists – Falangists – were on a Crusade.  They had a kind of evangelical medievalism and they sought a return to ‘chivalrous Christianity’ – unless of course the Crusaders were butchering Jews or Muslims.  In his wonderful history of the conflict, Hugh Thomas sees conservatism, fascism and ‘reactionary nostalgia’.  What a great phrase for our time!  We are everywhere surrounded by a reactionary nostalgia that is rooted not in history but in dreams – or nightmares.  The Falangists had their own inane version of ‘Make Spain Great Again.’

What we need is someone to take a stand against nonsense.

One person did so, heroically, in Spain.  The writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno was the rector of the University of Salamanca.  That city was the base for Franco.  Miguel had originally favoured the nationalist (fascist) cause, but he became ‘terrified by the character that this civil war was taking, due to a collective mental illness, an epidemic of madness, with a pathological substratum.’  He thought that Franco’s Catholicism was not Christian.  At a fascist meeting at the University under a portrait of Franco, a bishop and others gave hot tempered speeches in the presence of a mutilated war hero (General Astray).  Vows were given to exterminate Basques (of whom Unamuno was one) and Catalans.  The cry went up: ‘Viva la Muerte!  Long live death.’  Something in the philosopher snapped.

All of you are hanging on my words.  You all know me and are aware that I am unable to remain silent.  At times to be silent is to lie.  For silence can be interpreted as acquiescence.  I want to comment on the speech [of a professor] – to give it that name.  Let us waive the personal affront implied in the sudden burst of vituperation against the Basques and Catalans.  I was myself born in Bilbao.  The bishop here is, whether he likes it or not, a Catalan from Barcelona.

There was a silence pregnant with fear.  No one spoke like this in fascist Spain.

Just now, I heard a necrophilistic and senseless cry ‘Long Live Death.’  And I, who have spent my life shaping paradoxes which have aroused the uncomprehending anger of others, I must tell you as an expert authority, that this outlandish paradox is repellent.  General Astray is a cripple.  Let it be said without any slighting undertone.  He is a war invalid.  So was Cervantes.  Sadly, there are all too many cripples in Spain now.  And soon there will be even more of them if God does not come to our aid.  It pains me to think that General Astray should dictate the pattern of mass psychology.  A cripple who lacks the spiritual greatness of a Cervantes is wont to seek ominous relief in causing mutilation around him.

General Astray shouted ‘Death to Intellectuals.’  Terror and pandemonium filled the air.  ‘Long Live Death.’  The philosopher went on.

This is the temple of the intellect.  And I am its high priest.  It is you who profane its sacred precincts.  You will win because you have more than enough brute force.  But you will not convince.  For to convince, you need to persuade.  And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: reason and right in the struggle.  I consider it futile to exhort you to think of Spain.  I have done.

I will not insult the memory of this very great man by adding any comment of my own.  The fascists did not murder Unamuno, but he died shortly after this of a broken heart while under house arrest.  The fascists then named a concentration camp after him.

There was of course great evil on both sides.  The republicans put on a show trial of the one-time leader of the Falangists, José Antonio.  I expect that the charge was treason, since it was the fascists who had rebelled against the lawful government.  (That did not stop the fascists killing out of hand those who resisted the resistance.)  Antonio conducted his own defence with great dignity and courage, but the preordained sentence of death was given and then unlawfully carried because of a well justified fear that the government would commute the sentence.  But Antonio, ‘with the chivalry that his enemies never denied him’, had successfully argued that his brother and his brother’s wife should not be shot too.  In the course of that plea, he made an observation that was simply beyond the horizon of people like Stalin and Franco.  ‘Life is not a firework that you let off at the end of a garden party.’

In his Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Professor Simon Blackburn says that Unamuno ‘developed an existentialist Christian theology, premised on a tragic view of life and mortality.’  He was an intensely spiritual man.  He said: ‘Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.’  This Spanish man of God therefore had more than one thing in common with a German man of God, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.


Weak borders, divisive identity politics, the attack on core freedoms and undemocratic rule by PC elites are hallmarks of government by green-left MPs.  Elect them at your peril.

The Australian, 10 December, 2018

What might it be like to live in a blinkered but labelled world beyond rational thought where some sad souls have nightmares at the mere thought of the other side having a look in?

I need not name the authoress, whose soul suffers dire torment that the IPA has not been able to staunch.

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