When I see things like this, I can’t help thinking about the strange and awful Fascist slogan from the Spanish Civil War, as described a couple of years ago by Martin Peretz in The New Republic:
“¡Viva la muerte!” Long live death! In Spain in the ’30s, it roused crowds of the Fascist right to frenzy. It was the rallying cry of one Jose Millan Astray, commander of the Spanish Foreign Legion, one of Franco’s insurgent generals, whose body bore the stigmata of battle. He was, the historian Hugh Thomas tells us, “a man from whom there seemed more shot away than there was of flesh remaining … but one leg, one arm, few fingers left on his one remaining hand.” He was apparently fearless. In the strenuous 1936 Battle of Madrid, the conquest of University City was a prime Fascist goal, and Millan Astray’s other rousing catchphrase, “¡Abajo la inteligencia!” did some of the literal rallying. Down with intelligence! These twin appeals to nihilism, the twin appeals of a shard of a man, always mustered the mob.
Until one day, when the Festival of the Race–a Fascist contrivance–was being celebrated at the University of Salamanca, one of the world’s oldest institutions of higher learning, in the presence of the bishop, the civil governor, Señora Franco, and Millan Astray. In the chair as rector of the university was one of the not inconsiderable number of intellectuals who, appalled by the Communist takeover of the Republic and by Republican atrocities, had gone over to the rebels. He was the great classicist and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, known to us primarily as the author of The Tragic Sense of Life, the leading spirit of Spain’s Generation of ’98, an ornament of civilization itself. But Millan Astray shouted the usual demented words nonetheless.
“Just now,” Unamuno intoned, “I have heard a necrophilious and senseless cry: ‘Long live death.’ And I, who have spent my life shaping paradoxes … I must tell you that this outlandish paradox is repellent.” He went on a bit about the Fascist indulgence of mutilation and destruction, and then Millan Astray once again shouted, “Down with intelligence!” And Unamuno left the ceremonial hall. On the morrow he was placed under house arrest. And within a few months he was dead.