Old Civil Wars Never Die: Like Zombies They Are Raised By History to Devour Us


For those who worry over civil war, Spain hovers on the edge of memory: history’s blood-red incandescence now sold as essence of nostalgia.


For those who never bathed in a Pete Seeger concert, receiving Pasionaria baptism as Guantanamera, there are more recent evocations at hand, like Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) and The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo). The dark dreamscape of the Republican cause is still lovingly curated in Hollywood. The Spanish Civil War is venerated as a sacred pleasure among churchgoing Woke, titillating and tantalizing the Progressive imagination.


Romanticizing the Republican cause long precedes the Church of Woke. Contemporary Hollywood drafted the missal while battle yet raged, canonizing Americans who volunteered to “fight Fascism” in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, like the warrior saint Gary Cooper in Hemingway’s novel — then movie — For Whom the Bell Tolls (the author hand-picked both Cooper and Ingrid Bergman for the 1943 film).


There were no more demonic foes than the Spanish fascists (save, perhaps, SS Nazis). The holy aura of this Manichaean battle between good and evil was framed, fixed, and forever affirmed. Hollywood still occasionally reprises the blood on The Spanish Earth with romantic frissons like Hemingway and Gellhorn (2012). The canon was fixed: 110% in favor of the “democratic” Spanish Republic.


In today’s Spain — today’s reality — however, this is apparently no longer enough.

The über-historian of the Spanish Civil War, Stanley Payne, tells us, in May’s issue of First Things, how Spain is now gripped in a kind of modern-day inquisition, seeking to root out all things remotely connected to the Franco era.


Yet he demonstrates how post-Franco Spain seemed to break and throw off the shackles of both Fascism and Communism: First — in the later 1970s — instilling true democratization, which then delivered twenty pacific years of national consensus. Yet such amity was strangely followed by a slow return to partisanship, which, in the past decade, turned hard and uncompromising. Rising up was a Neo-Socialist campaign to take control of politics and culture. Now this impetus is transfigured into a naked appropriation of history itself. Finally, as you can read: To the very criminalization of history.


So the terror and horror of the Spanish Civil War has quite literally been disinterred, and its rotted remains again made holy, or else desecrated, according to their provenance in the scripture of good and evil. Payne’s judgment is damning:


The twenty-first-century ideology of the Spanish left rejects nearly all aspects of the past. It is hostile to most traditional values, unlike classic social democracy or even, in some respects, revolutionary Marxism-Leninism. The new ideology emphasizes cultural and sexual revolution. History is a political show ­trial, little more than a record of heroes and villains. Its major function is to unmask oppressors, separating past generations into victims to be affirmed and sanctified and victimizers to be silenced and demonized. It projects guilt onto scapegoats of the past, especially if they can somehow be identified with political opponents in the present.
The dead are not allowed to rest in peace but are enlisted in the undying struggle between good and evil. Francisco Franco, gone for nearly half a century, must be liturgically disinterred and reburied. The classification of victims and victimizers assumes cultic significance. The former are honored and play salvific roles, much as heroes do in traditional culture. The latter are ritually condemned and cast out. This charade of “memory” is a grotesque, secularized pastiche of Christianity, slapped together by radical anticlericals. It is, in its way, even more “religious” than was the Cult of Reason in the French Revolution.


Can you see how like American society this is, in pulsing, reanimated agonistes! What was, now can never be laid to rest: It must always be slaved to the service of the new theology.

Yet pushing further, how does this seamy electric vivisection of the past serve urgent, current sacred agendas?


Today’s larger Woke message is clear, whether to society in Spain or the United States:


First, it is clear that there is to be no such thing as reconciliation — nor any sort of historical healing.


Second, the Manichaean struggle of the 1930s never went away: it has always been with us. Yet it lay hidden, waiting in occult slumber until called forth.

Third, resistant conservative bastions — and their backward and superstitious vision of life and society — can no longer be tolerated. Its very primitive persistence is sufficient alert that the threat did not end with History.


Fourth, History shows that — unless the call of the primitive is fully eradicated — Spain (America) remains in danger of Fascist reinfection.


So what does this inescapable reanimation of Spain’s hitherto long-buried tragedy tell us about our own national civil war trajectory? Just this: our Church of Woke — like Spain’s — truly seeks to eradicate us: Meaning, the Christian, the familial, the world of ancient human community; now unclean subversive, seditious.


What is happening, right now, in “democratic” Spain, will soon sweep over us Americans wholesale. Can we even imagine how some terror long buried might, like a miraculous demon, rise from the History’s dead to destroy — not simply our civilization — but all our life hopes as well?