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    The Long View: Questions and Answers on 9/11

    If I were on the ball, I would have posted this on 9/11.

    Part of the reason I foster John's memory is that he perceived the structure of events so acutely. He knew the worst outcome of 9/11 for the United States would be a universal loss of will, rather than any kind of actual military defeat, which no terrorist group has ever been able to do. The United States has many sins to answer for, but the world would likely be a far worse place without us filling the role that we do.

    There is a prediction buried in this post that seems like it has come true: security institutions have expanded to fill the gaps exposed by 9/11 and the Global War on Terror. Partly, this is due to an increase in trained personnel who need something to fill their time.

    Questions & Answers on 911


    Q: Why was the World Trade Center attacked on September 11, 2001?

    A: For glory, in this world and the next. The attackers wish to create an aggressive theocracy in the Persian Gulf. The presence of the United States in the region thwarts that ambition.


    Q: Are there contributing factors?

    A: The US neglected the region after the Gulf War in order to deal with domestic matters. The US response to attacks on US installations and personnel has been symbolic and ineffective. This was good evidence that the US is unable to retaliate seriously.


    Q: Why do the people of the Middle East hate the US enough to do this?

    A: They don't. Hate is not the explanation. Brutal acts will be committed when they seem likely to be profitable and to go unpunished. As the decline in domestic crime in the US during the 1990s demonstrated, the search for "root causes" is an evasion.


    Q: Is it arrogant for Americans to seek to enlist the whole world in the conflict?

    A: The necessary is never arrogant. True arrogance consists in the attitude of some Americans that they are so safe that they need not concern themselves with mere questions of survival, but need focus only on ascertaining their own degree of culpability for the attack.


    Q: Is this the end of globalization?

    A: In effect, September 11 signifies an attempt to export Middle Eastern political culture to the rest of the world. When commerce expands beyond the range of law enforcement, piracy is the result. September 11 probably initiated a decade-long process of expanding security institutions to cover the global economic system.


    Q: Was September 11 the beginning of a war between civilizations?

    A: Yes, though the conflict is an asymmetric encounter between states on the one hand and private adventurers on the other. The conflict will continue to be asymmetric, even if states join the adventurers. To put the matter briefly, the West is approaching a phase of unity, while Middle Eastern civilization continues the disintegration that began with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The conflict will accelerate both processes.


    Q: Is this the end of "The end of History"?

    A: Not in the sense that Francis Fukuyama meant in his book by that name. The conflict that began on September 11 does not present the question of which ideology will prevail within Western society. Those issues have been settled. The September 11 conflict is just a fight for the survival of Western society.

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    The Long View 2002-04-15: 2002 < 1914

    I loved Star Trek: TNG growing up. Looking back, I can see John's point though. The series really was relentlessly PC, but in a sunnier, happier time when PC hadn't metastasized yet.

    John was also correct in noting that despite popular millennial theology to the contrary [for both Christians and Muslims], war in the Middle East is currently unlikely to cause World War III. Peace is in fact possible, since the general unrest in the Middle East is a contemporary invention. Ukraine may be another story.

    2002 < 1914


    The Star Trek series spun off several television sagas in later decades, my least favorite of which was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Nonetheless, even that lifeless exercise in political correctness produced a few interesting story ideas, such as the episode about the alien society whose language seemed to consist almost entirely of proper nouns. Eventually, the crew of the Enterprise realize that the aliens' references to persons and places were really concise references to historical incidents. The key to communicating with them was building up some common history to refer to.

    The use of historical events as symbols is not novel. That's how the I Ching works, for instance. Often, though, we use dates rather than proper nouns. There was an example of this in the Sunday New York Times of April 14. In an essay entitled "When Savage Passions Set a Trap for the World," R.W. Apple considered the significance of "August 1914" for the current state of things in the Middle East.

    There are obvious differences, of course, and Apple does not fail to mention them. The biggest is that there is no Mutual Assured Destruction treaty system connecting Arabs, Israelis, and Iranians to the world's great powers. It was almost the case in Europe in 1914 that a war anywhere on the continent would oblige every major power to fight on one side or the other. The mechanism was not as automatic in practice as it was on paper. Some historians have exaggerated the amount of freedom that the British had about intervening in Belgium, but certainly the British obligations were more diplomatic than legal. The Italians actually reneged on their understanding with Austria and Germany when the time came; they even joined the other side later. Still, a general war was the path of least resistance. One of the powers would have had to adopt a steadfast new policy to prevent it. In the Middle east today, the path of least resistance has the opposite slope. If outside powers really want to pick a fight with each other, they might do it in the Middle East, but only if they abandon their policies of many years' running.

    The parallel that Apple does see is that war in the region might be not so much inevitable as irreversible. Particularly if civilian populations become more and more targeted, it will become impossible for the immediate parties to negotiate, even if they have a mind to. The same emotional investment would trap their patrons and make them unable to talk to each other. The result could be not so different from that of the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. Before that point, even after the invasion of Belgium, it might have been possible for the Western powers to negotiate a settlement. A viable settlement might even have been possible had one side won a decisive victory. As things turned out, however, the result was a bloody stalemate for which all parties wanted revenge.

    For my part, I hold that the significant analogy between the events of 1914 and those of recent history is the 911 attack, and that the only strong parallel is with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Serbian terrorists of the dreaded Black Hand hoped that a general war would make the Great Powers withdraw from the Balkans, much as Al Qeda hopes with regard to the Middle East today. The Serbian strategy worked, and Yugoslavia was their reward. Al Qaeda is less likely to succeed, but of that more below.

    The biggest difference from 1914 is that it is anachronistic to talk about "Great Powers" in the plural. No matter how interested China and the European Union and Russia may be in the Middle East, none of them has the ability to project significant force into the area. The US does not have unlimited military options, either, but it is unique in having some options. (This is the real meaning of hegemony in a demilitarized world: the hegemon is the smart kid in the dumb room.) The notion that the Middle East is the point from which a world war of the Great Powers could start is a fixed feature of the popular imagination. For many quite astute people it is a point of theology. Nonetheless, it is very hard to spin even an improbable scenario that would result in such a conflict. The world has lost the structural prerequisites for a world war.

    Readers will note that, in this piece, I have not distinguished the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the Al Qaeda War, or either of them from the threat of weapons of mass destruction produced by Iran and Iraq. The omission is deliberate, since the distinctions are largely chimerical. Iran subsidizes the terrorist campaign against Israel, Iraq had quite a lot to do with 911, and the Palestinian campaign legitimizes both regimes domestically. The real issue is the fate of Saudi Arabia; the Palestinian question is a carefully maintained diversion.

    The long-term solution is obvious enough: regional demilitarization and the limitation of sovereignty. Some foreign policing will be necessary, as will some segregation of populations. As the Ottomans demonstrated for 500 years, peace in the region is possible.

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    The Long View 2002-04-11: Tobacco, Guns, and Slavery Reparations

    This was John's specialty, and it shows. Twelve years later, these topics are still topical, although they have evolved in interesting ways. Tobacco has become quite the pariah following the capitulation of the tobacco companies, but it isn't done yet. Hipsters insist on smoking even though is it deeply gauche to their betters. Guns are still very much in the news, and now the courts have started to apply strict scrutiny to 2nd Amendment cases. Slavery reparations is the most interesting. This is an idea that will not die. John suspected that slavery reparations could not survive a litigant as combative as the gun manufacturers have been. I think this is likely true, since any attempt to apply slavery reparations using actual legal principles would corrupt everything, including the plaintiff's lawyers. However, there is reason to suspect that slavery reparations are a strategy that still makes sense.

    Tobacco, Guns & Slavery Reparations


    There was an old Monty Python skit, in which supposed "men in the street" were interviewed about their views on taxes. One of them, a staple Monty Python character called Mr. Gumby, says "I think we should tax all people standing in water." Then the camera changes to a wider shot and we see that Mr. Gumby is standing in a stream. He looks down and says "D'oh!" like Homer Simpson himself. This should be the reaction of all thinking people toward the jurisprudential fashion for expanding civil liability to remote defendants based on social evils

    You really don't want to live in a world where these suits could succeed. Even as I write, law professors are bringing suits against a number of entities that did business with slaveholders 150 years ago, or against entities whose predecessors in interest did business with slaveholders, or whose predecessors in interest did business with industries that were somehow connected with slaveholding. One does not quite know what to say about claims like these. Some of the people organizing these suits teach at Ivy League universities, some tiny fraction of whose endowments come from slavery-related businesses. Other organizers were educated at those universities, often in buildings constructed in small part with tuition paid by slave-holding families. By the logic of the reparations suits, the houses of the people bringing them could therefore be attached, since the property was purchased in part with funds paid by tainted institutions, or earned through professional skills gained in part at tainted institutions. As Mr. Gumby would say, "D'oh!"

    Arguably, the beginning of evils was the relaxed attitude toward property confiscation that legislatures began to adopt as part of the effort against organized crime. (The federal RICO statute may yet engulf the whole universe, but that's another story.) However, things did not get out of hand until the anti-cigarette litigation started to succeed. The problem was not so much the claims by individuals that their wills were overborne by nicotine addiction and tobacco industry propaganda. Such claims required little new law. The big change was when the state and federal governments demanded to be paid by the tobacco companies for health costs associated with smoking.

    The logic of those claims is still breathtaking. For one thing, the governments were under no obligation to pay for health costs, so it is hard to see how they could demand compensation for providing a service they undertook voluntarily. For another, smoking probably reduces total health-care costs; it kills people before they can rack up the high medical bills associated with old age. And in fact, courts were not terribly receptive to the arguments from governments for compensation. It is almost certain the claims would have failed, had they been litigated straight through the system. However, the tobacco companies chose not to do that.

    It has been a long time since tobacco was the sort of industry that attracted businessmen of the first caliber. Tobacco products, with few exceptions, are insubstantial commodities, compounded of weeds, paper, and advertising. Tobacco companies are cash cows, run by stolid lawyers and MBAs who chose the industry because it was not supposed to require any imagination. Faced with the choice of years of litigation in defense of abstract legal principles or of buying peace with large settlements, they chose the peace. The cows would be a little thinner, perhaps, but at least the executives could be reasonably sure the herd would not be slaughtered.

    More recently, dozens of governmental entities across the country brought coordinated suits against gun makers. Allegedly, the manufacturers sold guns knowing that they would be bought by criminals, thus running up the bills of municipalities for law enforcement and emergency medical care. This is a slightly better argument than the one brought against the tobacco companies; police protection is a basic function of government, and anyone who makes it harder arguably should have to pay for it. However, that still leaves the fact that the crimes that are costing all the extra money are not being committed by the gun makers, or with their encouragement.

    Gun makers, it seems, are made of sterner stuff than tobacco executives. They have fought the suits tooth and nail, with overwhelming success. The reason they fought is not far to seek. While it is possible to make guns profitably, the business is not the money machine that cigarette making is. Prices of guns cannot be raised arbitrarily. Gun makers simply cannot afford to settle. Also, for better or worse, some people love their guns, including, apparently, the people who make them. Moreover, many people are politically committed to the wide distribution of guns. Ideology, we see, counts for far more than mere nicotine addiction.

    In each of the situations where attempts are being made to generalize liability, there is a class of people with motives that are more or less pure. Tobacco-haters are at least as ideologically committed as gun-lovers; it was their luck to link with tort lawyers at the right point in history. The anti-gun litigation is more political. It looks well for a city government to issue press releases announcing these suits. So far, they have done little harm, though in the long run they will probably cost the cities that bring them some money. The saddest case of all is the reparations movement, which reflects the decay of venerable civil rights organizations into protection rackets. Those organizations are themselves much more vulnerable than any of the entities they are pursuing. They will not survive this project, if they encounter defendants as combative as the gun makers.

    Before anyone attempts some daring new use of the tort system, there is this point to consider: the legal system exists to keep the peace. We don't have tort suits to enforce people's rights or to vindicate justice, though one goal of government is to try to make the courts do those things. We have courts so that private parties will not settle their disputes with gunfire. When the interests of the whole of society are involved, and people have strong opinions on both sides of a question, the matter is best left to politics.

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    The Long View: Earthly Powers

    Some of John's central ideas about the Papacy are contained herein. The 18th and 19th centuries were a time of rampant nationalism in Europe, and the Pope was the head of the last institution that could effectively resist the nation-state. As the latter half of the nineteenth century built to a revolutionary crescendo that would reach its culmination in the Great War, Pius IX and Leo XIII filled this unlooked for role in their own characteristic ways.

    Earthly Powers
    The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe from the
    French Revolution to the Great War

    By Michael Burleigh

    HarperCollins Publishers 2005 Harper Perennial 2007
    529 Pages, US$16.95
    ISBN 978-0-06-058094-0


    The conventional narrative of the intellectual history of the modern West is that the 18th-century pioneers of European thought were won over to an agnostic version of the Enlightenment, which then spread throughout the 19th century to all levels of society. Religion was replaced by science and ideology. State-supported ecclesiastical institutions were replaced by secular ones, especially in the areas of education and social services. The result, in the 20th century, was a largely secular world, in which religious sentiment was residual. The politics of the Enlightenment in power was conducted according to what moderns imagined (however catastrophically) to be the dictates of reason.

    This very entertaining book by Michael Burleigh, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society who has written extensively on the intellectual origins of Nazism, does not quite do an "everything you know is a lie" reversal of this story. He does argue that the progress of secularism has by no means moved only in one direction. The eclipse of traditional religious life, where that has occurred, has rarely been followed by a flowering of scientific rationalism. Rather, it has been a segue to "political religion," in the form either of Christianity reinterpreted in a nationalist sense or of politics invested with ultimate meaning.

    The book takes the story from, roughly, the French Revolution to the First World War. (A second volume, Sacred Causes, covers the 20th century and later.) The tale of "political religion" in Earthly Powers follows the familiar inflections of 19th-century history: post-Napoleonic reaction; the spread of liberal nationalism; the revolutions of 1848, the appearance of the social-revolutionary Left; and on through the darkening of the European political horizon following the Franco-Prussian War. By this account, the spiritual history of the West was worked out in the interconnected but distinct systems of France, Germany and Britain (there is also some attention to the peculiar cases of Russia and Poland). The author does not attempt a detailed treatment of religion in the United States, but America comes into the story nonetheless, largely through the vibrant enterprise of transatlantic anglophone evangelicalism, but also in part through the influence of American Catholicism on the Vatican. The Catholic Church, in fact, is among the few links common to all these stories, to some extent even with increasingly mad Russia. It has been said (though not by the author) that the template for all claims of political liberty in the West was the defiance by the popes in the 11th century of the Holy Roman Empire in the Investiture Controversy. In this reviewer's opinion, at least, one could recast the history in Earthly Powers as the story of how the somnolent, post-baroque papacy was again dragged, kicking and screaming, into the role of chief defender of the human spirit against the pretensions of politics.


    * * *

    By the end of the 18th century, the decentralizing facet of the Reformation had succeeded everywhere. Except for a few sects and revivalist movements, the institutional face of Christianity was the national church. Such institutions supported the monarch (in a few cases, the republic commonwealth) and preached social doctrines as little disruptive as possible of a presumably perennial status quo. The supranational character of Christianity was preserved in theory in Catholic ecclesiology, but in practice the universal Roman church was divided among dioceses subservient to the national monarchies. Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II was in fact a great reformer when he was not urging Mozart to use fewer notes. He nationalized the property of monasteries that did not provide medical or educational services, and generally turned the Catholic Church in his wide domains into a branch of the civil service. In France, the already ancient tradition of "Gallican" semi-independence simply intensified during this period. At ground level, French priests were men of some education, as had also been the case in the Church of England since Stuart times. They often viewed themselves as civilizing agents in the profounder parts of France Profound. The higher clergy, again in France as in England, for the most part viewed Christianity benignly, but ordinarily their attention was elsewhere.

    The papacy on the eve of modernity was the executive of a rather derelict central Italian principality. Its ancient religious dignities did little to raise its modest diplomatic profile. The Habsburgs had a right to veto uncongenial candidates to the Throne of Saint Peter (a right they kept until the beginning of the 20th century). The pope's encyclicals could not be published in France without the royal permission. Everywhere the appointment of bishops was largely within the control of secular governments. Generally, the pope's ability to sway political events, and even the development of doctrine, was approaching the nadir of a centuries-long decline. The one Catholic institution that had revived something of the universal profile of the High Medieval church, the Society of Jesus, was (temporarily) suppressed by the popes themselves in 1773, largely in response to complaints from the Spanish and Portuguese governments about Jesuit interference with Iberian mistreatment of the South American Indians.

    More broadly, long before the French Revolution, it was plain that the political actor in European civilization for the next few generations would be the nation state. The irony was that the royal dynasties had at first imagined they would benefit from this. In fact, the "throne" part of the ancient alliance of throne-and-altar tended to dissolve into popular nationalism. "Secularization" in the 19th century usually meant the search of the religion part for a new partner.

    France was unusual in that it sometimes went beyond secularization to attempt "laicization," a conscious and ideologically motivated effort to drive religion from public life. Famously, an episode of the French Revolution was the only time until the Bolshevik Revolution in which a European government tried to extirpate Christianity itself. However, the author makes the novel point that the buildup to that enterprise was motivated part by the lingering effects of Jansenism, a school of thought within Catholicism with a Calvinist take on predestination. For the purposes of this story, its chief peculiarity was to make God as implacable as physics but not as easy to understand. It was rigorist and puritanical in morals and disparaging of the hierarchy, but tinged with pentecostalism and even millenarianism. Jansenism was eventually declared a heresy, but any doctrine that could win the allegiance of minds on the order of Blaise Pascal was going to have some lingering effects. It persisted in the growing intellectual opposition to the old regime, where it made common cause with freemasonry. The constellation of opposition ideas was still more influenced by Rousseau's surmise that society cannot do without religion, but that society was (or should be) national rather than universal, and that the best religion was therefore a national religion.

    The brief attempt to create a Deist "Republic of Virtue" in France discredited the idea of manufacturing a post-Christian national cult. If there was going to be a religion of France, it would have to be some form of Catholicism; from that principle, later French republicans drew the conclusion that there should be no religion, except as a most private matter. In Germany, however, Rousseau's endorsement of a national religion fused with the Lutheran tradition of the state church. It acquired real force from the early Romantic version of German nationalism. German Romanticism endorsed a universal ethic, but held that this must everywhere be incarnated in a colorful variety of national traditions. This was a key element of German liberal Protestantism. That strand of Protestantism was also keen on keeping up with the latest developments in philology (hence, in fact, the "Higher Criticism" of the Bible). It was also amenable to a Hegelian view of progress. History tended to be seen as the clarification of national Ideas.

    In France and Germany and Britain, the churches after the Revolution experimented with support for the powers that be, when those powers were amenable to accepting their support, or forming adventurous alliances with the growing middle class, or with the new industrial working class, or both. These efforts had an audience: the respectable classes had drawn the conclusion that traditional religion was an invaluable bulwark against chaos. Except sometimes in France, the new appeal of religion was not that of pure reaction. There were movements in all the churches to reinterpret the Christian mission as in part a social gospel. Christian trade unions and workers' benevolent associations sprang up, with varying degrees of success.

    Although everywhere thought was given to the evangelization of industrial workers, these efforts probably went furthest in Britain. The country was already in the midst of a Nonconformist and Dissenter popular revival when the period covered by this book began. The revival from the beginning had emphasized sobriety of life and improved public order. It soon fed into the reformist schemes of the new, market-friendly Liberalism, and later into campaigns for the betterment of the working class. After a period of confused distaste, the Church of England joined in. Indeed, the Anglican Establishment became a serious (though of course not vulgarly enthusiastic) student of the new social questions. The church developed a vital and imaginative evangelical wing. As the author points out, citing from the works of acute Victorian observers, it was never clear just how effective all this effort really was in reaching the genuinely immiserated industrial workers. However, it did lend a Christian tinge to English socialism that distinguished it from most of its European counterparts well into the 20th century.

    In France the Church after 1848 tarnished what had been an improving image by lending its support, and tying its fortunes, to the venal and fundamentally unserious regime of the Second Empire. Since the Napoleonic settlement, the Church had been willing enough to accept the delegation from the state of responsibility for most education at the lower levels. (A point bewildering to an American reader: when the churches throughout this story complained of state oppression, they were often complaining in part about cuts in education subsidies paid from tax revenues, and even cuts in clerical salaries paid by the state. Similarly, when the churches sometimes declared against the separation of church and state, what they often meant in context were state programs to expropriate church-built schools, hospitals, and houses of worship.) Be that as it may, the education the French church provided was believed to have been found wanting in 1871, when Prussia defeated France. The Church absorbed much of the blame under the ensuing Third Republic. It did not help matters that the French Church had developed a reactionary monarchist streak that made it difficult for the Church to cooperate with republican France. Nonetheless, the Third Republic would, at first, take the church's grudging "yes" for an answer on the question of basic loyalty. However, the situation became more tense the more corrupt the Third Republic itself became. There came a point when the state seemed unwilling to tolerate even private religious schools, and shut down religious orders that manifestly were valuable public resources. Bishops could not be appointed without government approval, and the government was not approving.

    The Dreyfus Affair may have extended the life of the Third Republic beyond its deserts, we are told: the catastrophic decision of conservative Catholic groups to support the fraud that sent Dreyfus to Devil's Island ensured that, when the fraud was exposed, there seemed to be no alternative to the incompetent laicist regime and its Mason-ridden army. (Yes, there are Masonic networks of influence, and in French history they have rarely made things better.)

    The history of religion in Germany was divided along two parallel tracks: the project of liberal Protestantism to continue modernizing itself in order to stay relevant, and the effort by the ever more victorious Kingdom of Prussia to make the Catholic Church as irrelevant as possible. The German churches attempted to reach out to the new urban industrial society, but with perhaps more success on the Catholic side than on the Protestant. However, the liberal synthesis of the Higher Criticism and a theodicy of nationalism did find some favor in the new imperial government. Perhaps inverting the root meaning of "liberal," this synthesis in practice became a willingness to consecrate any political tendency that seemed historically successful. This willingness would have sorry consequences for German Protestantism in the 20th century.

    Regarding the Catholic Church, the new German nationalism tended to share the French laicist view of 1871: the Church was responsible for weakening France. The Prussian victory of that year was celebrated in part as a victory of progressive Protestantism over Catholic obscurantism. In the famous Kulturkampf, Bismarck's government attempted to ensure that the first loyalty of all Germans would be to the empire rather than to a foreign religion. That was easier to do in Prussia than in the new empire as a whole, but Prussia was the bulk of the empire. Wherever possible, the state attempted to take control of Catholic institutions and civil associations, or to close those that could not be controlled. Priests and bishops went to jail. However, as the author points out, in this relatively civilized time religious repression was a matter for the courts and (often unenthusiastic) police, not for firing squads and concentration camps.

    Returning to the resurrection of the papacy, we note again that it was forced into a new role by virtue of the kind of institution it was: the last transnational authority in the whole of the West. Governments, including sometimes traditionally Catholic governments, were making wider and wider claims to govern the souls and expropriate the stuff of their subjects. The subjects needed someone to appeal to over the heads of their governments, and the pope was elected. Even so, it took two generations for the popes to get a clue about what they should be doing. The Church had never had a particular animus against democracy or republicanism as political forms; the papacy in particular had never been happy with absolute monarchy. Still, the Holy Roman Empire had been shut down during the Revolutionary-Napoleonic emergency, and the same had very nearly happened to the Catholic Church. The papacy was stunned into prolonged political reaction. Despite warnings from Catholic reformers that the company of kings could be lethal, popes who could be induced to comment on social questions continued to say that they saw no reason why the world could not continue to be run by squires and parsons, with the Church receiving due support from its royal overlords.

    In the second half of the 19th century, the popes lost control of the papal states to the House of Savoy. The temporal authority of the popes became confined to the diplomatic fiction of Vatican City. Nonetheless, in some ways this revolutionary era was the most stable in the history of the Church: there were just two papacies, those of Pius IX (1846 to 1878) and Leo XIII (1878 to 1903), during the whole period. It is common to contrast these as the Bad Reactionary Pope and the Good Liberal Pope, but the author makes clear that the story was more complicated than that.

    Pius IX (Pio Nono, to his friends and detractors) was quick and generous with anathemas. As he grew older, his list of things to dislike about the modern world grew ever longer. The list grew to include most of the world's monarchs (Pius had been so ill-advised as to rely on Napoleon III as his principal secular patron). Nonetheless, though he notoriously declared it a heresy to hold that the Holy Father must conform himself to progress, he also noted in the same Syllabus of Errors that it is anathema to hold the state to be the source and definer of political rights. For that matter, even his opposition to the formation of the Kingdom of Italy had a sort of grumpy integrity. The new kingdom, based in the north of the country, was much unloved, and contemporaries as well as historians have noted that the extension of its dominions to the south of Italy had something of a colonial character.

    Conversely, it is clear that Leo XIII was the pope who finally got the memo about the real merits and demerits of the modern world. His encyclicals make clear the compatibility, if not the necessity, of democratic political institutions with Catholic doctrine. He held up church-state relations in the United States as a model to the French. His social encyclicals also cast doubt on the adequacy of liberal economics, in the 19th-century sense of "liberal": any economic system existed for the benefit of the people who lived under it, so that a purely laissez faire system that tolerated persistent mass destitution was a violation of natural rights. Still, even sunny Leo XIII did not quite grasp the full implications of his own ideas. He ended the Kulturkampf with Bismarck by diplomacy, to the great annoyance of the Catholic parties in Germany; they had been conducting a brave and not whole unsuccessful resistance by democratic means. He attempted the same with the Third Republic, with less success. He may have succeeded only in alienating the Catholic establishment there, which of course considered itself much more Catholic than any pope.

    All these threads, including the bizarre decline of Russia from Orthodox revival to liberation theology to nihilism, were only prologue to the operatically apocalyptic climax of the First World War. In France, oddly enough, the war brought a kind of cultural peace. Many French Catholics might loathe the Third Republic, but they loved France. Religious people and institutions gave an account of themselves in the war that softened the antagonism of Left and Right. In Germany and England, the religious establishments embraced the causes of their respective regimes with great eagerness. This enthusiasm in part took the form of social work for the troops and medical care for the wounded, much of it under fire; this won the churches great credit, at the time and since. However, the churches identified the will of God with the political projects of their states. On both sides, religion therefore suffered in the disillusion that followed the war.

    Again, the position of the papacy was most interesting. Benedict XV had had the misfortune to be elected in September 1914. From the first, he tried to negotiate a peace based on the status quo ante, or at least as ante as he could get. Eventually, he wound up referring peace feelers to President Wilson, whose views on ending the war were not at first very different. Meanwhile, he tried to keep Italy out of the war because (a) Italy would probably lose, creating a revolutionary situation in the aftermath, or (b) the slithersome House of Savoy would be in the winning coalition, thereby complicating future negotiations about the regularization of the status of the Vatican. These were acute surmises.

    Again, the author has written a second volume that takes the story of the relationship of religion and politics in the West through the 20th century. Eventually, a third volume will have to be written, to bring the story to a close with the end of modernity in the 21st.

    Books on Related Topics

    Holy Madness

    The Flame is Green

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site



    CrossFit 2014-08-28

    Overhead squat

    Heavy single OHS

    135# PR!

    15 minute EMOTM

    • 1st minute: 7 OHS [85#]
    • 2nd minute: 45 second plank
    • 3rd minute: 7 kipping chest to bar pullups



    CrossFit 2014-08-27

    Black and Blue

    5 rounds

    • 10 power cleans [65#]
    • 10 burpees

    Time 9:11


    The Long View: Werwolf!

    Werwolf wasn't the only partisan organization organized in post-WWII Germany. However, Werwolf was probably the best known. Here, John imagines what might have been if the remaining Nazis in 1945 hadn't been too otherwordly to be effective.

    The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946
    by Perry Biddiscombe
    University of Toronto Press, 1998
    455 Pages, US$ 39.95
    ISBN: 0-8020-0862-3


    Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Gauleiter of Berlin, showed no signs of slacking in the months before he killed himself in Hitler's bunker on May 1, 1945. According to the selections from his diary edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper and published as "Final Entries 1945," he not only attended to his ordinary duties regarding national editorial policy and the defense of the city, but also found time to do things like review the new tax code and to arrange for an annoying colleague to be drafted. Of all these activities, however, perhaps the most surreal was his enthusiastic support for the "Werwolf" movement.

    Goebbels spoke of the Werwolf almost as if it were an electoral campaign. Despite the other things he had on his mind, he exerted himself to create a new Werwolf radio station, and even tried to found a newspaper. (The radio station actually operated for a few weeks.) Propaganda for and about the Werwolf were among the last products of the regime. In retrospect, some commentators have tended to dismiss the Werwolf as something of a Nazi hoax, one whose primary effect was to induce the western Allies to invade Germany on a broad front, rather than go directly for Berlin. Still, I for one have sometimes wondered just what this "Werwolf" effort was, and how seriously the Nazis took it.

    Perry Biddiscombe, an assistant professor of history at the University of Victoria, answers in "Werwolf!" all the questions you are likely to have about the movement, and in a very readable form. (Don't be intimidated by the apparent size of the book, by the way: the text ends at page 285, followed by notes and appendices.) "Werwolf!" provides valuable insights into the "polyarchic" nature of the Nazi regime, both in its salad days and in its dissolution, as well as a general overview of the last few months of the war in Europe. Finally, though the author does not address this matter, the book may provide some useful ideas for counterfactual speculation about the possible evolution of National Socialist society, had it survived the war.

    The term "Werwolf" is the equivalent of the English "werewolf," meaning "man-wolf" or "lycanthrope." There is, however, another term, "Wehrwolf," which is pronounced about the same as "Werwolf," but which means "defense wolf." "Wehrwolf" actually has a long association with irregular warfare in Germany. A famous novel by that title, written by one Hermann Loens and published in 1910, was a romantic treatment of peasant guerrillas in northern Germany during the 17th century. Though this novel was in fact promoted by the Nazi government, particularly the Hitler Youth, the spelling "Werwolf" was favored when the Germans began planning for partisan warfare, because the Nazis had had a competitor on the Right in the 1920s called the "Wehrwolf Bund." Besides, "Werwolf" sounded more feral.

    As with so much else the Nazi government did, the Werwolf initiative was something of a pillow fight, with different actors competing for control of Werwolf organizations and with different ideas for what the Werwolf was supposed to do. The original concept was clear enough, however.

    "Clausewitzian partisans" are part of orthodox military doctrine. They are militia who operate behind the lines in territory occupied by the enemy. Their function is to cut supply lines and generally cause confusion, but their operation presupposes the continued existence of a national government and a conventional army. The Germans had experience fielding irregular forces of this nature, both against Napoleon and in the form of the independent "Freikorps" units that operated in eastern Germany during the chaotic period just after the First World War. The Germans started thinking about them again as soon as the situation on the Russian front began to deteriorate, and in fact anti-Communist partisans did the Red Army appreciable damage. It was only in the last half of 1944, however, that the Germans began to focus on the possibility that the Allies might have to be resisted within Germany itself.

    This was a job that no major player in the German government or the military wanted to be associated with until the last moment. Thinking about the penetration of Germany, even the extended Germany of Hitler's annexations, implied a fair amount of defeatism. Additionally, the military was not keen on sharing its dwindling resources for training and material with civilian stay-behind groups. In principle, the Werwolf was commanded by SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, through a back channel consisting of local chiefs of police. These middle-aged men tended to regard partisan activity as somewhat disreputable, and in any case had no idea how to go about it. Far more dynamic, and only nominally under SS command, was the Werwolf program operated by the Hitler Youth. The story of the Werwolf proper, in fact, is largely a cautionary tale about what happens when you give teenagers a license to kill.

    Despite all obstacles, training programs were improvised for youths and adults, though the courses sometimes lasted just days. Underground bunkers were prepared in isolated areas, from which the Werwolf were supposed to emerge to strike terror into the enemy. Werwolf was supposed to mesh into the larger project of establishing an "Alpine Redoubt," a base in Austria and mountainous southern Germany to which conventional forces might retreat. Certainly the major Werwolf training bases were located in that area. The last-minute attempt to build underground facilities in the Alps were too little, too late, and the armies ordered to go there never arrived, for the most part. In the final few days, Hitler decided to stay in Berlin, rather than go south and try to organize the Redoubt from Berchtesgaden. Still, it was not quite just a propaganda ploy.

    What did the Werwolf do? They sniped. They mined roads. They poured sand into the gas tanks of jeeps. (Sugar was in short supply, no doubt.) They were especially feared for the "decapitation wires" they strung across roads. They poisoned food stocks and liquor. (The Russians had the biggest problem with this.) They committed arson, though perhaps less than they are credited with: every unexplained fire or explosion associated with a military installation tended to be blamed on the Werwolf. These activities slackened off within a few months of the capitulation on May 7, though incidents were reported as late as 1947.

    The problem with assessing the extent of Werwolf activity is that not only official Werwolf personnel committed partisan acts. Much of the regular German fighting forces disarticulated into isolated units that sometimes kept fighting, even after the high command surrendered.. In the east, units that had been bypassed by the Red Army tried to fight their way west, so they could surrender to the Anglo-Americans. In the west, the final "strategy" of the high command was to stop even trying to halt the Allied armored penetrations of Germany, but to hit these units from behind and cut off their supplies. Perhaps the most harrowing accounts in the book are those relating to the expulsion of the ethnic German populations from the Sudetenland and the areas annexed by Poland. The latter theater in particular seems to have been the only point in the European war in which a civilian population was keen about a "scorched earth" strategy.

    Very little Werwolf activity was directed with an eye toward political survival after the complete occupation of Germany. The Nazi leadership could not bring themselves to think about the matter. Certainly Himmler could not. In the last days before his own suicide, he tried to close the Werwolf down, the better to curry favor with the western Allies. Still, elements of the movement did make some plans for after the war. The Hitler Youth branch devised a political platform for a peaceful, postwar, Werwolf political organization. They also took steps toward ensuring financing for these efforts. In the last days of the war, forward-looking Nazis scurried about Germany with funds taken from the Party or the national treasury, buying up businesses "at fire-sale prices," as Biddiscombe dryly puts it. These enterprises prospered slightly in the months following the end of the fighting, but were wrapped up by the occupation authorities by the end of 1945.

    This brings us to the role of the Nazi Party in the Werwolf movement. An aspect of the Third Reich on which Biddiscombe lays great stress is the surprisingly derelict state of the Party itself. When the Party was new, it was in many ways a youth movement, or perhaps a brilliant propaganda machine that mobilized a youth movement. Even before the war began, however, it had become little more than a patronage organization, notable mostly for its corruption. The old guard, who had come to power with Hitler, had no new ideas themselves and stubbornly refused to make way for new blood. The Gauleiter, or district leaders, were not an elite, and the organizations they commanded did not attract persons of the first quality.

    This situation particularly frustrated the "old fighters" like Goebbels and Robert Ley, the labor chief, and Martin Bormann, Hitler's party secretary. Though they continued to have considerable influence on policy because of their strong personal relationships with Hitler, nevertheless they had long been losing institutional power as the Party was eclipsed by the SS. That organization could make some claim to being an elite. At the very least, it was still more feared than despised. Thus, in the closing months of the regime, some of the Party leaders saw the Werwolf as an opportunity to wrest power back from the Reich's decaying institutions.

    Goebbels especially grasped the possibility that guerrilla war could be a political process as well as a military strategy. It was largely through his influence that the Werwolf assumed something of the aspect of a terrorist organization. Where it could, it tried to prevent individuals and communities from surrendering, and it assassinated civil officials who cooperated with the Allies. Few Germans welcomed these activities, but something else that Goebbels grasped was that terror might serve where popularity was absent. By his estimate, only 10% to 15% of the German population were potential supporters for a truly revolutionary movement. His goal was to use the Werwolf to activate that potential. With the help of the radical elite, the occupiers could be provoked into savage reprisals that would win over the mass of the people to Neo-Nazism, a term that came into use in April 1945.

    Bizarre as it may seem, Goebbels saw the collapse of the Reich as the opportunity to put through a social revolution, particularly a social revolution manned by radicalized youth. Always on the left-wing of the Party, Goebbels felt that Hitler had been mislead by the Junkers and the traditional military into bourgeois policies that had corrupted the whole movement. With Germany's cities in ruins and its institutions no longer functioning, the possibility had arisen to start again from scratch. Biddiscombe notes that Hermann Rauschning , a former Nazi official who defected to the West before the war, called Nazism a "revolution of nihilism." Biddiscombe suggests that the radical wing of the Party, freed by defeat from the responsibility for actual government and the constraints of a conventional war, reverted in the final days to the nihilistic essence of Nazism.

    In some ways, Goebbels' policy resembled what Mao Zedong did in China. Even the plans for the Alpine Redoubt are reminiscent of the Long March to the base at Yennan. Before the Long March, the Chinese Communist Party was a fairly conventional Stalinist organization. It presupposed the facilities of civilization for its operation. When it descended from the mountains after the war with Japan ended, however, the Communist Party was something like a new society in itself. Goebbels hoped for something similar in Europe, counting on the sudden outbreak of a war between the western and eastern Allies to provide the strategic breathing room for a renewed regime to coalesce. When no such war broke out, and the Alpine Redoubt proved to be just another Nazi pipe dream, the Werwolf simply evaporated.

    While perhaps one should not press the Chinese comparison too far, still it is probably significant that the most radical manifestations of Chinese Communism appeared a good 15 or 20 years after the Party came to power. They appeared in time of peace, as old party hands tried to retake control from the conventional organs of government. If the Nazi state had won its war with the Soviet Union and fended off invasion from the West, might something similar have happened? The early Nazi enthusiasm for socialism and social solidarity had become largely rhetorical by 1939, but the ideas always remained, ready to the hand of bold Party officials who might someday find the arrogance of the SS too threatening.

    Perhaps the Werwolf is the dim reflection in our world of another future. In that world, the 1960s see Brown Guards take over the streets of Germania, the new Nazi capital. Egged on by Old Fighters behind the scenes, they demand that the aristocrats of the SS get off their high horses and learn from the Volk. Ancient universities are closed down or turned into schools of indoctrination. Elderly scholars are sent to country districts to raise pigs. Gullible journalists arrive from abroad, and send home admiring articles about how the Germans must be understood on their own terms.

    Any scenario in which the Third Reich lasts longer than it did is unpleasant to think about. In this one, however, there is at least a built-in consolation. The Nazi empire, held together by coercion, would probably have blown up as soon as the effectiveness of its military was degraded by revolutionary fervor.


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    The Long View 2002-04-03: The Necessary Man

    As it turns out, we now have an excellent idea of just what evils were occasioned by deposing tyrants in the Middle East. However, John was correct in pointing out that the Ottomans were less likely to bribe their problems to go annoy their neighbors. Twelve years on, I'm not sure it was worth it, but I can at least see the argument.

    The Necessary Man

    The last, best hope of tyrants these days is the argument that deposing them will just occasion worse evils. You hear this most frequently about President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Remove him, the argument goes, and Iraq might split into three parts, or require prolonged occupation, or something. The same point has also been made about Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. Supposedly, he has been all that prevents the Palestinian areas from disintegrating into local chiefdoms, each under the control of its own terrorist organization.

    This strategy does have precedent, particularly in the Middle East. During the fifty years before the First World War, the Ottoman Empire still ruled most of the area, and even part of the Balkans, but it was known as "The Sick Man of Europe." Despite the empire's growing weakness, however, the Great Powers kept it in existence because they could not decide what would happen to the pieces it after it broke up. Their caution was merited. The disposition that the Allies ultimately made of the former Ottoman territories was well characterized by David Fromkin's history of the region, The Peace to End All Peace.

    The problem with extending this analogy to the Middle East today is that even the late Ottoman Empire functioned, after a fashion. Though the communities of the empire were increasingly unhappy under the imperial roof, and though the government often responded with repression, at least the Ottomans did not export their problems with minority groups. The empire was in greater danger from its neighbors than they were from the empire. This is not the case with Baathist Iraq or the Palestinian Authority, polities whose aggressiveness is mitigated only by their incompetence.

    The notion that it is always best to keep the devil you know does have a drawback: it seems to commend itself chiefly to devils. Albert Speer, the Nazi Minister of Armaments, noted this in late April of 1945, when regime continuity was the cutting-edge policy prescription among his colleagues. He put the matter well in his memoir, Inside the Third Reich (1970), pp. 486-7.

    "The world in which Himmler was still moving was fantastic. 'Europe cannot manage without me in the future either,' he commented. 'It will go on needing me as Minister of Police. After I've spent an hour with Eisenhower he'll appreciate that fact. They'll soon realize that they're dependent on me, or they'll have a hopeless chaos on their hands.'...

    "Finally, Himmler after all held out a faint prospect of my becoming a minister in his government. For my part, with some sarcasm I offered him my plane so that he could pay a farewell visit to Hitler. But Himmler waved that aside. He had no time for that now, he said. Unemotionally, he explained: 'Now I must prepare my new government. And besides, my person is too important for the future of Germany for me to risk the flight.'"

    Not really.

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    The Long View: Soft Landings

    John was an unaffiliated, but not wholly unrespectable scholar, of millennialism and millennial movements. Here is one of his conference papers on millennialism, tying together his interests in millennialism, cyclical models of history, and books.

    Presented at the Fifth Annual Conference
    of the
    Center For Millennial Studies
    Boston University
    October 28 -- October 31

    Soft Landings: "Generations," Tolkien & Preterism

    hree things often go without saying when we examine an apocalyptic interpretation of history, particularly somebody else's apocalyptic interpretation of history. The first is that the ideas in question are always chiefly concerned with expectations for the future. The second is that these expectations are always disappointed or deferred. The third assumption, often implicit, is that the system we are dealing with is naive in some way, so that serious people need not consider it on the merits. What I would like to do here is briefly sketch three models of history, models that have some popular currency and that have a strong eschatological element, about which none of these assumptions is true. All of the models, I would argue, are examples of the millennial imagination at its constructive best.

    As a preliminary matter, there are a few theoretical points that have to be addressed, the chief of which is how can we talk about people's eschatological expectations being fulfilled if the world has not ended yet. We do this, as you might expect, by expanding the definitions. When we talk about familiar apocalyptic notions, such as the Tribulation or the Battle of Armageddon or the Millennium, we are talking about instances of the structural features of a kind of story. I will spare you a full structural description. As we all know, this is the kind of story that has a golden age in the past, a buildup to a dramatic climax, and often an anticlimactic postscript followed by a final resolution.(1) Some models of history with this structure take up all the time there is, so that when you reach the eschaton, there is nothing more to be said. On the other hand, with a cyclical model, it is obviously possible to have an eschaton both in the past and the future. A linear model can also do something like this, as St. Augustine did when he identified the whole era of the Church with the Millennium of Revelation 20.(2)

    The point to keep in mind is that the age after the culmination of history, which we may call the Millennium for convenience, can be a habitable place. That is, it can be continuous with profane history, even if you have to pass through a great Tribulation to get there. However, the expectation even of a habitable Millennium can still generate familiar forms of millenarianism.



    Consider the generational model of history developed and marketed by Neil Howe and William Strauss over the past decade or so.(3) Howe has degrees in history and economics, and Strauss has both an advanced degree in political science and a track record as a political humorist, but what they are most famous for is the minor cult that began with the publication in 1991 of their first book, "Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069." It is hard to say how well-known their ideas are, but their promotional skills are undeniable. Their 1993 book, "13th Gen," which dealt with Generation X, apparently earned them a following among this group. This was partly because of their genuine compassion for the no-hope slackers of the world, and partly because they described a vital role for them in the coming crisis of the first three decades of the 21st century. They now run two online discussion groups.(4) Their greatest coup yet, however, maybe their book published just this fall, "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation." If Hegel had written a baby-care book to promote his philosophy of history, it would have been something like this. Before we get to the up-and-coming Millennials, however, let me just briefly outline Strauss and Howe's system.

    Models of history based on the idea that successive generations have character-types that repeat themselves are not new. Probably the best-known examples are the theories of fluctuating political styles developed by the Arthur Schlesingers, junior and senior.(5) (Recent books such as "Bobos in Paradise" and "The Greatest Generation"(6) suggest that a generational approach to history is becoming fashionable.) Few such models, however, are quite as comprehensive as Strauss and Howe's. Their graphs and charts are as complicated as anything you will find in astrology. There is even a personality classification system that is as much fun as sun signs.

    According to Strauss and Howe, a generation is a 20-year block of demographic cohorts who might be expected to have comparable experiences at each stage of life. The key to the system is the hypothesis that a society-wide crisis tends to fix the character of the generation then in young adulthood. If the crisis is successfully overcome, they are heroes: they get special deference for the rest of their lives. The formation of a Hero generation begins a predictable sequence of four generational types that appear over a period of 80 to100 years, during which social mores relax and then tighten again.

    I could describe in detail what these four generational types are like, and I could describe the four ages within the 90-year cycle in which each matures in turn. But I won't.(7) Here is all you really have to know. The baby-boom generation, called the "Boomers" for short, are like the generations of the First and Second Great Awakenings. Generation X is like the Lost Generation of the 1920s. The generation of Jefferson and Hamilton is like the GI generation of the Depression and World War II era. The Millennial Generation, the oldest of whom turned 18 just this year, should be a Hero generation, like the GIs. Strauss and Howe have sketched their probable lifecourse to the very end of the 21st century.

    Objections can be raised to every point of their model. For one thing, the very existence of the First Awakening has been questioned. (8) For another, even social scientists who share many of Strauss and Howe's ideas about the American prospect manage to do without the generational mechanism. (9) Nonetheless, whatever its ability to predict the future, the model does give us a very workable framework for the past. Grammar school history teachers, I am told, love it for that reason. The model plausibly identifies the great crises of American history as the Depression and World War II era, the buildup to the Civil War, the American Revolution and constitution-forming period, and earliest of all, King Philip's War and the Glorious Revolution. These crises really are all about 90 years apart. It is not hard to think of them in terms of the premillennial tribulation, because that is how many people did who lived through them did.

    As for forecasting the future, Strauss and Howe have not done badly so far. In the early 1990s, when it seemed that kids were getting stupider every year and criminologists were predicting an impending generation of super-predators, the "Generations" model predicted better scholastic performance and lower crime rates. Strauss and Howe predicted (and advocated) the spread of school uniforms. On the whole, in fact, they anticipated the current cultural and political environment, in which you can get away with anything, provided you do it "for the children."

    These Millennial children Strauss and Howe talk about are members of the generation that supposedly started to be born about 1982. They still have a few years more to appear. If all goes well, the Millennials will build a society that is safer, more orderly, and in some ways blander. `N Sync will soon prevail over Limp Bizkit. Millennials are more interested in team work than in self-expression, they value unity more than diversity. They will tend to elaborate rather than collapse gender roles. Like the GI Generation, Millennials will favor mass organizations, such as labor unions and churches, even though they will be less spiritual than Boomers.

    The Millennials will gel, however, only if society as a whole passes through the next Crisis. Strauss and Howe have no idea of the content of that Crisis, so they give us numbers. They suggest that, sometime in the second half of this decade, an event comparable to the financial collapse of 1929 will mark the beginning of 20 years of menace and danger. This degree of vagueness is a little unusual in date setters. Also unusual is that they don't advise their readers to prepare by buying bottled water or shotguns, but by supporting measures for ordinary good government. (10) A theme that runs throughout all their books is to urge moderation on the Boomers. They say this generation, which will occupy the senior leadership role during the Crisis, is fundamentally fanatical and will need watching. By Generation X.

    If the next three decades are negotiated successfully, the Millennials will dominate the rest of the century. Should they come into their kingdom after the Crisis, the period of their greatest power will be a time analogous in many ways to the Eisenhower era, with similar virtues and faults. Strauss and Howe identify several such periods in the past. On the whole, they tend to be characterized by prosperity, consensus, and a high level of moral obtuseness. In other words, they may be the Millennium, but they are not paradise. So here we have a model of history whose working parts resemble ordinary premillennialism. It does have lower stakes, however. All Strauss and Howe's books are profoundly patriotic, but they do make clear that the purposes of God and all his angels do not turn on the historical development of the United States. They also make historical salvation a matter of free will. They point to the Civil War era as a Crisis that America failed, because of the inflexible fanaticism of the Boomer-like generation of the Second Great Awakening. Another difference, of course, is that the model is as much about the past as the future. These are all characteristics that it shares with another model of history that, perhaps not coincidentally, also seems to hold strong appeal for young people.



    J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings," was first published in 1954 and apparently cannot go out of print. Tolkien, we all know, was an Oxford philologist who was best known professionally for his studies of "Beowulf" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Beyond that, he has a lot to answer for. "The Lord of the Rings" is the book that saddled us with sword-and-sorcery pulp-fiction and videogames. The trilogy itself is written in a pseudo early-modern prose that is widely imitated and often cringe-making. Still, the trilogy is on the short list for the most popular work of the 20th century. (11)

    There is in fact a fair amount of serious Tolkien scholarship, but, fortunately, not enough to spoil the fun. (12) Critics tend to treat the trilogy as a conventional novel, though Tolkien himself insisted it was a romance. Be this as it may, several mysteries about the trilogy are cleared up if we think of it as an apocalyptic novel, written from a Roman Catholic perspective.

    There is an asymmetry in the religious publishing industry. Premillennial Protestant apocalyptic novels have been with us since the 1930s, and there have been enough of them in recent years to create their own fiction category. (13) The number of Catholic novels of this type, at least by my count, does not reach ten, even if you include doubtful candidates, such as Walker Percy's "Thanatos Syndrome." (14) Now maybe Catholics just lack the apocalypse gene, or maybe this sort of fiction withers under the anti-millenarian eye of St. Augustine. Or maybe Tolkien's trilogy satisfies the apocalyptic impulse in people who don't know they have it.

    "The Lord of the Rings" is 600,000 words long, which is a bit much to describe in detail here. There are just a few points we need to highlight. The trilogy is essentially a story about the experiences of ordinary people in a world war. The chief enemy in this war is a demonic eastern figure who relies as much on deceit as on force. Resistance to him is centered in a crumbly old empire whose capital simultaneously resembles Constantinople and Rome and Vienna. The core kingdom has been without a king for many centuries. It is ruled by a steward in the king's name, and the monarchy has become just a constitutional myth. The setting for the story is the historical crisis in which this myth comes true. The third part of the trilogy is called "The Return of the King," a title that might reasonably be said to have a millenarian overtone.

    Bits and pieces of traditional Christian apocalyptic are scattered throughout the trilogy. The Enemy looks more than a little like Antichrist. The Dwarves (not "Dwarfs"; "Dwarves") are by Tolkien's own admission supposed to be like the Jews, even down to having a species of Zionism. (15) The future king descends to the land of the dead and returns. Some of these elements are familiar from any work on comparative mythology. This is true of Christian eschatology in general, but there is a difference with the trilogy.

    In modern apocalyptic fiction, such as the "Left Behind" series, you will, of course, get to have lunch with the Antichrist, and you will be taught the premillennial model of history in great detail, but these stories are often really about how the everyman characters handle themselves in a morally charged situation. (16) "The Lord of the Rings" is just the same: the hero-myth is in it, but it's not about the hero who becomes king. The chief subplot concerns the exhausting journey of an everyman named Frodo to destroy a talisman on which the power of the demon ruler depends. At the moment of climax, he caves, and he loses the will to throw the magic ring into the volcano. The essential act is performed for him, by a kind of miracle. As in traditional eschatology, in fact, the whole world is saved providentially. The characters never had the power to save themselves. The moral is that some duties can be binding even in a situation that is hopeless by any rational standard .

    Tolkien had a donnish sense of humor, and maybe the greatest practical joke of his career was his insistence in the Foreword to the Second Edition to "The Lord of the Rings" that the work is not an allegory, and particularly that it is not an allegory of the Second World War. (17) While this is a question of degree, we don't have to take altogether seriously his injunction to separate "The Lord of the Rings" entirely from history, especially in the light of the connections Tolkien himself drew between his service in the First World War and his first attempts at writing fantasy. (18) Certainly one of the ways that Tolkien's fans entertain themselves is by finding parallels between the world of the "Lord of the Rings" and that of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. For instance, the steward who nominally rules in the place of the king looks an awful lot like a pope, and not just any pope, but like Pope Pius X. (Actually, Pope Saint Pius X.) Both the steward and Pius were given to visions of impending crisis, and both might be characterized as successful reactionaries who were criticized later for going overboard. (19) The greatest parallel, however, is the sense throughout "The Lord of the Rings" of "here we go again."

    The imaginary history of Tolkien's imaginary world is characterized by a series of epochal struggles against evil, stretching all the way back into mythological time. These apocalyptic episodes are not cyclical. What they share is a certain "type." John Cardinal Newman, another English Catholic, summed up this way of looking at history in a sermon given about a century before the trilogy was published:

    "In truth, every event in this world is a type of those that follow, history proceeding forward as a circle ever enlarging. The days of the Apostles typified the last days...In like manner every age presents its own picture of those future events, which alone are the real fulfillment of the prophecy which stands at the head of all of them." (20)

    This is probably the smartest thing that anybody ever said about the Book of Revelation.

    "The Lord of the Rings" is in the same tradition, and not least in the final chapters, when the ancient kingdom is restored. Many of the features of traditional millennialism are there. There is a great feast after a battle like that of Armageddon. The restored king hands out judgments. Want disappears. Major warfare ceases. The world is set to rights, but it's still the same world. When the protagonists get back home to their Shire, they find that it has fallen into the hands of socialists, so they have to organize a liberation movement. Frodo the veteran gets little honor in his own country, and his adventure leaves him chronically ill. Mortality is not repealed, and neither is the prospect that the Shadow could take another form in the future.

    "The Lord of the Rings" is not simply an allegory of the life and times of its author, but clearly its point of reference is the first half of the 20th century. For my money, in fact, when people in the future teach courses on the 20th century, the only items the syllabus will really need is "The Lord of the Rings" and that Terry Gilliam movie, "Brazil." (21)



    Tolkien, like Cardinal Newman, was using a method of interpretation that comes to us from St. Augustine, and which is the dominant way that the West has thought about the Last Things. Even if Tolkien's eschaton can be said to lie in the past, still the overlap of history and eschatology is typical rather than absolute. Is it possible to have a model of history that identifies some past event absolutely and uniquely with the eschaton? Sure: that is pretty much what Francis Fukuyama's did in "The End of History and the Last Man," and actually, when you see how narrowly he defined history, his thesis is still defensible. (22) Another such model, one that may have better hope of a mass audience, starts with the proposition that all biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the first century AD.

    This idea is not new. (23) Its most recent incarnations are called Realized Eschatology, or Covenant Eschatology, or preterism, or Transmillennialism (TM). (24) Preterism is the generic term I use. In any case, I gather that most of the credit for reviving this class of eschatology goes to the Reverend Max King of the Parkham Road Church of Christ in Warren, Ohio. (25) He became vocal on the subject in the early 1970s, in opposition to the premillennialism that was then getting wide distribution thanks to Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth." (26) Preterism has its share of schisms and schools, but one thing that all preterists seem to have in common is deep embarrassment at the game of "pin the tail on the Antichrist" that many pretribulationists have been playing with secular history these last thirty years. Something else they all have in common is keen interest in any millennial disappointment that may attend the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They believe, not unreasonably, that this state of mind could get their ideas a wider hearing.

    Preterism can be viewed as an attempt to deal with the so-called "Olivet Discourse" found in the Synoptic Gospels, where Jesus explains about the Last Things. In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of future false Christs. He speaks of coming persecutions and tribulation and says, "[t]herefore when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place -- let him who reads understand -- then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." A little later Jesus says, "But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty." The verses that C.S. Lewis called "the most embarrassing in the Bible" (27) are 33 and 34: "Even so, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened."

    Now, something is not computing here, but it is not entirely clear what. The higher criticism has said for more than a century that this chapter is an oblique reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, recast ten or twenty years later as a prophecy. However, many people have had trouble understanding why the evangelists writing at the late dates favored by the higher critics would create what was already a stale prophecy. (28) A more traditional approach, like that of Cardinal Newman, has it that the people of Jesus's generation did live to see a type of the end of the age in the destruction of the Temple. (Preterists call this position "partial-preterism.") What the preterists say is that the end of the Temple was not just a type of the end of the age, it was the end of the age, and that AD 70 was the date of the final Parousia.

    The details of the argument are ingenious. A popular work, "Beyond the End Time" by John Noe (29) shows how the prophecy of "70 Weeks of Years" in Daniel 9 can be used to date the fall of Jerusalem quite precisely, assuming you start the prophecy running from the right point in the fifth century BC. This use of Daniel in Christian apologetics is hardly new. In this version, the life of Jesus and the forty years before AD 70 become the last week. Noe expands on Max King's suggestion that those last 40 years were actually the Millennium of Revelation 20, which makes perfect sense if you think of the Millennium as the pause between the climax and the final resolution of a story. (30) Noe also explains how the imagery of the Son of Man coming on a cloud fits well enough with the imagery the Old Testament conventionally uses to describe the chastisement of a city. What Noe and other full-preterists wish to emphasize is that the prophecies and the types of the Old Testament were wholly fulfilled in the New Testament period, and there is nothing more to be done.

    Preterism can have some striking implications. For one thing, preterism requires that the whole New Testament canon, including the Book of Revelation, must have been completed by AD 70. This is a hard proposition to defend. (31) Preterism also discounts features of the popular religious landscape. There is no Rapture or Second Coming to look forward to. The creation of Israel in the 20th century becomes just another political event. Extreme forms of preterism are almost antinomian. The New Testament Church, from a preterist perspective, was the creature of a transitional period that ended in AD 70, and so did its charismatic gifts. These include, for instance, speaking in tongues and the office of apostle. The end of the latter is not an uncommon idea among Protestants. However, the people to whom Jesus is represented as giving these powers are also the ones to whom he gave the Great Commission, and whom he told to perform the Lord's Supper. While most preterists are at pains to distance themselves from what they call "hyper-preterism," the fact remains that preterism can make it hard to argue that Christians are required by Scripture to do anything at all. (32)

    On the other hand, preterists also believe that now is still the early church, so there is lots of time to address these issues. In fact, there will still be lots of time in 1,000 or 10,000 years, since the duration of the New Covenant is infinite. Though preterism itself does not logically require any particular political or social orientation, its modern incarnation was founded by people who were alarmed by the tendency to disengagement traditionally associated with premillennialists like Hal Lindsey. Many of its adherents are in fact simply rather extreme Reformed Presbyterian post-millennialists.

    While preterism is therefore not so different from more familiar forms of amillennialism, it goes St. Augustine's eschatology one better. Augustine suggested that the age of the Church was the Millennium, but there was still a futurist element in his interpretation of prophecy, one that was to some extent still linked to the geography and history of the Middle East. In contrast, Preterism, to use a $10 term from complexity theory, is "non-scalar." Without breaking the link to history, it can at least contemplate a future that is not parochial. This might not be a bad idea.



    There are many reasons why people become interested in millennial studies. For one thing, there is all that cinematic violence. Jonestown, the Tai Ping Rebellion, the Muenster Commune; all are great, gory history. And of course, revolutionary millenarianism is a key feature of history whose importance is often still not fully appreciated. However, if destructive and pathological behavior were all the apocalypse were about, it would be hard to see why the idea persists. You might think that even the human race would have learned something by now.

    It is much more likely that we keep pursuing the millennium because that is, on the whole, a sane way to deal with history. The world has yet to come crashing down universally, but it has often done so locally, and people have to deal with that. When they try to make the world a better place, they need a model that offers both hope and caution. The three models of history we have examined can provide those things, and in that I think they are typical of the way the Millennium really works.

    Thank You.


    (1) "The Sense of an Ending" by Frank Kermode (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967) gives a manageable treatment of the apocalypse as a feature of story structure. See also "The Perennial Apocalypse," John J. Reilly (London: Online Originals, 1998)

    (2) "History of the Idea of Progress," Robert Nisbet (New York: Basic Books, 1980), p. 68.

    (3) William Strauss and Neil Howe:
    ______"Generations: History of America's Future, 1584--2029" (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991)
    ______"13th Gen : abort, retry, ignore, fail?" (New York : Vintage Books, 1993)
    ______"The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy" (New York: Broadway Books, 1997
    ______"Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation" (New York: Vintage Books, 2000)

    (4) (September 15, 2000):

    (5) "The Cycles of American History," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin: 1986) "New Viewpoints in American History," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1922, 1977)

    (6) "Bobos in Paradise : The New Upper Class and How They Got There," David Brooks (New York : Simon & Schuster, 2000)

    "The Greatest Generation Speaks : Letters and Reflections," Tom Brokaw (New York : Random House, 1999)

    (7) The "Fourth Turning" (op. cit.) gives the mature form of Strauss and Howe's system. See the review of the book in "Apocalypse & Future: Notes on the Cultural History of the 21st Century," John J. Reilly (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2000), p. 222; also online at

    (8) "Inventing the Great Awakening," Frank Lambert (Princeton University Press, 2000). The standard work on the importance of the Awakenings is William McLoughlin's "Revivals, Awakenings and Reform: An essay on religion and social change in America" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).

    (9) E.g., "The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism," Robert William Fogel (University of Chicago Press, 2000) Despite the many similarities, Strauss and Howe's works are not cited.

    (10) "The Fourth Turning," op. cit., pp. 305 et seq.

    (11) This according to surveys by UK Channel 4 and Waterstones Booksellers.

    (12) "Tolkien: Man and Myth," Joseph Pearce (London: HarperCollins, 1998) The Tolkien Society (

    (13) "When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture," Paul Boyer (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press, 1992), p. 106

    (14) David van Meter listed the following Catholic apocalyptic novels on his "Marian Apparitions" site ( as of September 15, 2000:
    MacFarlane, Bud Jr. Pierced by a Sword : A Chronicle of the Coming Tribulations. Fairview Park, OH: St. Jude Media, 1995.
    McInerny, Ralph M. The Red Hat. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998.
    O'Brien, Michael D. Eclipse of the Sun. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998.
    ________. Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996.
    ________. Strangers and Sojourners : A Novel. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.
    West, Morris. The Clowns of God. New York: William Morrow, 1981.

    To these I would add:

    Benson, Robert Hugh, "The Lord of the World," Long Prairie, Minn.: The Neumann Press, 1907

    Walker, Percy, "Thanatos Syndrome," New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987

    (15) "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), p. 78

    (16) The Left Behind Series is written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Wheaton, IL.: Tyndale House). The first book in the series, "Left Behind," appeared in 1996. As of this writing, six more have been published. Five further books are planned to April 15, 2003. (There is also a children's series, "Left Behind: The Kids.") For a review of the second book, "Tribulation Force," see Reilly, op. sit., p. 20; also available at

    (17) "The Lord of the Rings," John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954, 1965), p. 5: "I think that many confuse `applicability' with `allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."

    (18) "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," op. sit., p. 229

    (19) Cf. the description of Pius X given from "A History of Christianity," Paul Johnson (New York: Athenuem, 1983), p. 469 with that of Denethor in "The Lord of the Rings," op. sit., ("The Return of the King"), p. 31.

    (20) "Tracts for the Times," Vol. V, 1838-1840 (London: J.G.F. & J. Rivington, 1840), Advent Sermons on the Antichrist, pp. 1-54

    (21) "Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century," Norman F. Cantor (New York : W. Morrow, 1991), p. 207

    (22) "The End of History and the Last Man," Francis Fukuyama (New York: The Free Press, 1992)

    (23) "The Parousia," James Stuart Russell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,1878, 1999). The Oxford English Dictionary dates the word "preterist," though not the doctrine, to 1843.

    (24) The homepage for the International Preterist Association is The homepage for Living Presence Ministries, the exponent of Transmillennialism (TM), is

    (25) "The Cross and the Parousia of Christ: The Two Dimensions of One Age-Changing Eschaton," Max R. King (Warren, Ohio, The Parkham Road Church of Christ, 1987)

    (26) "The Late Great Planet Earth," Hal Lindsey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970, 1977)

    (27) "The World's Last Night, and Other Essays," C.S. Lewis (New York: Harcourt, Brace,1959), p. 98

    (28) "Redating the New Testament," J.A.T. Robinson (SCM, London, 1976)

    (29) "Beyond the End Times: The Rest of the Greatest Story Ever Told," John Noe (Bradford, Pa.: International Preterist Resources, 1999). For a review, go to

    (30) King, op. sit., p. 212

    (31) E.g., "Before Jerusalem Fell," Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. (Amer Vision Pub, 1999)

    (32) A response to hyperpreterism can be found on the International Preterist Association website at Hibbard Responds to Misunderstandings about the Preterist View.html

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    The Long View: The Last Pope

    This is the kind of thing that encourages my more excitable Catholic friends, but here it is anyway: the Prophecies of St. Malachi. These, along with the prophecies of Nostradamus and witch burning, are precisely what James Franklin means when he discusses the Renaissance Myth.  The Renaissance was an intellectual dead-end for Western Civilization. Many of the most popular ideas that even the best and brightest devoted their lives to were all for naught. We did get some great art from this period, but almost everything else was a wash.

    By the by, according to this popular legend, Pope Francis would be the last pope before the end times.

    The Last Pope: The Decline and Fall of the Church of Rome

    The Prophecies of St. Malachy for the New Millennium

    by John Hogue

    Element Books, 2000(First Published 1998)

    402 Pages, US$19.95 (Softcover)

    ISBN 1-86204-732-4

    Inferiae. (Latin.) Among the Greeks and Romans, sacrifices for propitiation of the “Dii Manes,” or souls of dead heroes; for the pious ancients could not invent enough gods to satisfy their spiritual needs, and had to have a number of makeshift deities, or as a sailor might say, jury-gods, which they made out of the most unpromising materials. It was while sacrificing a bullock to the spirit of Agamemnon that Laiaides, a priest of Aulis, was favored with an audience of that illustrious warrior’s shade, who prophetically recounted to him the birth of Christ and the triumph of Christianity, giving him also a rapid but tolerably complete review of events down to the reign of Saint Louis. The narrative ended abruptly at that point, owing to the inconsiderate crowing of a cock, which compelled the ghosted King of Men to scamper back to Hades. There is a fine medieval flavor to this story, and as it has not been traced back further than Père Brateille, a pious but obscure writer at the court of Saint Louis, we shall probably not err on the side of presumption in considering it apocryphal, though Monsignor Capel’s judgment of the matter might be different, and to that I bow—wow.”


    Ambrose Bierce

    The Devil’s Dictionary

    Introduction & Condemnation

    The Papal Prophecies of St. Malachy are worth examining in a little detail. For one thing, the prophecies have great historical interest. For another, it’s a good bet that they will get another public airing during the next papal conclave. We will get to the prophecies in a moment. First, though, I must make a general disendorsement of this book.

    A short passage of time can be cruel to prophecy in unexpected ways. It was only in early 1998 that John Hogue, best known for his interpretations of Nostradamus, completed this study of the famous papal prophecies attributed to St. Malachy. In “The Last Pope,” Hogue mines Nostradamus and Malachy for dramatic predictions of events occurring well into the 21st century, but makes rather pedestrian and conditional forecasts for the next few years. Still, by the summer of 2001, even his most plausible prophecies had failed. John Paul II did not die around the time of the great eclipse of the summer of 1999, for one thing. Yasser Arafat, another predicted goner for the year 2000, is also still with us at this writing. If you are looking for detailed information about the future, it’s pretty clear that this book is not a good place to start.

    The chief problem with “The Last Pope,” however, is that it is mostly tendentious filler. Hogue does give the prophecies, and maybe fifty pages of useful supplementary material. However, the book as a whole is relentlessly anti-Catholic. The bulk of the text consists of short outlines of the careers of the popes to whom the prophecies allegedly refer. Hogue goes to the trouble to actively despise even the most obscure of them. If he can’t find something bad to say about their policies or personal lives, he makes allusions to their body lice.

    The list of points on which Hogue is untrustworthy is catholic with a small “c.” No, the 18th century bull, “Unigenitus,” did not forbid Catholic laymen to read the Bible. No, the Third Secret of Fatima did not hint at Masons in high places. The text of that other famous prophecy appeared after “The Last Pope” was published, of course, but a discrete prophet would have known better than to endorse sensational rumors.

    More generally, the author seems singularly incurious about his favorite themes. The Inquisition was a class of ecclesiastical court, staffed by judges who used procedures unremarkable for the time. A lot of research has been done into what the various Inquisitions actually did. There were episodes when Inquisitions were used in campaigns of extraordinary repression, but the same can be said of all judicial systems. An Inquisition was, for instance, less likely to conduct witch-hunts than were civil courts. In Latin America, the Inquisition was often the preferred venue for some types of action, rather as federal courts are in the US. You’ll get none of that from Hogue. For him, any connection of a pope with a court called an “Inquisition” is an unanswerable condemnation.

    The same might be said of Hogue’s repeated allusions to the Jewish ghettos in the Papal States and elsewhere. Nowhere are we told that, to a large extent, they were segregated from the inside, as we see with some Hasidic communities today. When popes made regulations concerning the ghettos, they were usually regularizing a situation that would otherwise be left to the arbitrary oppression of local officials and the violence of the mob. The popes may not have had the ghetto dwellers best interest at heart, but they were often acting in the interests of civil peace. It was a complicated situation that lasted a very long time. “The Last Pope” does not burden us with real history, however. Hogue finds it much more telling to call the ghettos “concentration camps.”

    Hogue ends the book by suggesting that the Catholic Church will face a persecution in the 21st century that will destroy it, and that this will be a good thing. That part of the book at least holds some interest, in a horror-story kind of way. Almost all the rest is a bile-burger.


    History & Criticism

    Now for the fun part.

    St. Malachy (1094-1148), born Maelmhaedhoc O’Morgair, was a notable reformer of the church in Ireland during the generation before the Anglo-Norman invasion. He visited Rome, and became the friend of the famous St. Bernard, Abbott of Clairvaux, who wrote a biography of him. Among Malachy’s other virtues, both tradition and contemporary report attribute the gift of prophecy to him. However, the prophecies for which he is most famous are unlikely to be his.

    According to Bernard McGinn in his study of medieval apocalyptic, “Visions of the End,” a fashion arose in the fourteenth century for prophetic lists of future popes. The lists gave allegorical names or other designations that were supposed to hint at the nature of their reigns. The example seems to have been prophetic lists of future Byzantine emperors, who were expected to play a major role in the events of the Endtime. This genre was adapted for the uses of Latin Christendom by Fraticelli, radical Franciscans who were influenced by the eschatological model of history developed by Joachim of Fiore (1132-1202), a Cistercian monk and founder of a monastery in Calabria. Abbot Joachim is one of the most ambiguous figures in intellectual history, chiefly because over-eager interpreters have twisted his ideas out of shape for 800 years. Hogue continues the ancient tradition in this book.

    There was never any consensus scenario about the future role of the papacy, but there were common ideas. They were often mutually exclusive: an Antichrist pope, an Angelic Pope working alone against the Antichrist, an Angelic Pope working in conjunction with the Emperor of the Last Days. Sometimes Rome was destroyed. Gog and Magog might roar in from Nether Asia, if the writer was interested in things like that. None of this colorful stuff was ever actually part of Catholic theology. Catholic endtime dogma takes up all of five pages in the Catechism (sections 668-682), and remains pretty much were St. Augustine left it 1,500 years ago. Rather, these hypothetical popes were part of the bag of notions that the West had about the future, not just in the late Middle Ages, but also through the Reformation and into early modern times. That was when St. Malachy was probably put into the bag.

    As Hogue tells us, the prophecies were first published in 1595. They appeared in a long work, “Lignum Vitae,” by the Benedictine historian, Arnold Wion (or Arnold de Wyon). Dom Arnold claimed to have discovered them in archival research. No one else, contemporary with either him or St. Malachy, had ever seen fit to commit mention of the prophecies to paper, or at least to any paper that has survived. Apparently, however, rumors of the prophecies were current at the time of publication, and reasonable people might surmise that the prophecies had been created to influence either the conclave of 1592 (which elected Clement VIII) or in anticipation of the next one, which occurred 1605 (and which elected Leo XI).

    Hogue cites us some of the skeptical literature about the prophecies, which began to appear soon after their publication. We might simply leave the matter there, as an exercise in critical technique, were it not for three points. The first is that the prophecies have become part of Catholic legend. Like the prophecies of Nostradamus, which appeared about 40 years before Malachy’s and to which they bear a family resemblance, they just are not going to go away. The second is that some elements of the Malachy prophecies do present prima facie evidence of prescience, at least enough to require comment. The third is that, quite aside from whatever relationship the prophecies might have to the future, they still leave us with the question of what their author thought about the future.

    Malachy’s Mottos

    The nature of the prophecies is well known. They consist of  111 mottos in Latin, plus a concluding epigraph. These items pertain to each of the popes (and apparently some of the antipopes) in a sequence stretching from Malachy’s time until Judgment Day. The mottos might refer to a pope’s name, whether his personal name, his family name, or the name he takes as pope. The motto might hint at elements of his family crest. It might refer to his birthplace, his nationality, or to some other geographical location associated with him. On a higher level of abstraction, it might refer to his character, the events of his papacy, or to his chief nemesis or outside influence. This is an awfully wide field in which to look for a successful prophecy; in fact, it is hard to see how a prophecy could be conclusively judged wrong. The principle of falsification, we must remember, is a 20th century invention.

    Nonetheless, some of the mottos seem to be pointed and specific enough to give even Karl Popper pause. For instance, motto 46, “cubus de mixtione,” “the square of mixture,” pretty clearly refers to the family coat of arms of Boniface IX (1389-1404), which bears a diagonal checkerboard three columns in width. Motto 21, “Hierusalem Campaniae,” at least looks like “Jerusalem of Champagne,” and so is a plausible fit for Urban IV (1261-1264), who was born in the Champagne district of France and would later become Patriarch of Jerusalem. On the other hand, some are just obscure. Motto 49, “flagellum solis,” “scourge of the sun,” is in the right place to refer to Alexander V, an antipope during the great schism (though there is some argument about whether his pontificate may actually have been legitimate). Nothing in his history clearly merits the motto; his coat of arms features what might be a sun, though it looks more like a star.

    The chief argument that the prophecies were composed in the late 16th century is that the nature of the successes claimed for the mottos changes after their publication. We get far fewer obvious match ups with personal names and coats of arms. We get more claims of matches with the events of a papacy or of personal character. 

    Consider two relatively recent popes. Motto 96, “Peregrinus Apostolicus,” “an apostolic wanderer,” would correspond to the papacy of Pius VI (1775-1799). In a medallion struck in 1782, he uses the term himself, referring to a trip he made to Vienna to confer with the emperor. Later, of course, he would be taken from Rome by French troops in the wars following the French Revolution. He died in captivity. In this instance, the motto has an apparent application, though there is also some likelihood that Pius was familiar with the prophecy and sought to fulfill it in some fashion. In contrast, possibly the least helpful motto in the whole list is number 99, “vir religiosus,” “a religious man,” which is in the place that would correspond to the papacy of Pius VIII (1829-1830). Still, the mottos for the last two centuries do offer what seem to be a few tantalizing correspondences.

    There is an obvious reason for this. In the view of the author of the prophecies, the end of the age draws near with the end of the list. Therefore, the cast of characters from Catholic legend about the Endtime make their appearance. Meanwhile, in the real world, the papacies in question overlap with high modernity, which is an unusually dramatic period. Hogue notes the acceleration of history and its rough fit with the end of the prophecy list. His argument is not helped, however, by his invocation of the approach of the Age of Aquarius, if for no other reason than that the point at which that age begins seems infinitely flexible. (He begins to see its influence in the Renaissance.)

    The tale of mottos corresponding to papacies beginning in the 20th century runs like this:

    Number 103, “ignis ardens,” “burning fire,” corresponds to the papacy of St. Pius X (1903-1914), who himself had more than one well-reported apocalyptic vision. Paul Johnson, in his “History of Christianity,” characterized this Pius as both the last of the great reactionary popes and the first of the populist ones. Like his contemporary, US President Theodore Roosevelt, he turned what had long been a rather staid and formal office into a permanent spectacle. Pius X’s record runs from the suppression of theological modernism to the beginning of the long project of reforming the liturgy. For those in need of a surfeit of wonders, Halley’s Comet put on a spectacular show in 1912, thus providing all the burning fire a reasonable man could ask for.

    Number 104, “religio depopulata,” “religion depopulated,” is the motto Hogue ascribes to Benedict XV (1914-1922), who had the bad luck to be the pope during the First World War. For someone seeking to apply the motto to Benedict’s papacy, the key point might not be the considerable demographic effects of the war on Europe, or even the fact that a large slice of Christendom declared itself atheist on his watch. Rather, it might be that, for the first time since antiquity, the cultural life of educated Europeans was no longer predominately Christian. Although Pius tried to arrange a negotiated end to the war almost as soon as it started, Hogue spends several pages criticizing him for not seeking to end it in some dramatic fashion. He says the pope should have marched with his the college of cardinals into Flanders and come between the opposing armies. Some of the strange ideas in “The Last Pope” are beyond even the power of prophecy to explain.

    Number 105, “fides intrepida,” “intrepid faith,” belongs to Pius XI (1922-1939). This is the pope who finally came to terms with the Italian government (in the form of the Mussolini regime) about the status of Vatican City. He also signed a concordat with Hitler’s new government in 1933. Neither of these acts was extraordinary at the time: Mussolini was a respectable tyrant in those days, while the German concordat would have provided some space for civil society, had Hitler honored it. As it was, Pius did not give an inch: he is chiefly remembered for exciting the Nazi’s ire with his encyclical, “Mit brennender Sorge,” “With Burning Sorrow,” which criticized the regime.

    Number 106, “pastor angelicus,” “angelic shepherd,” may excite the ire of many people today, since it is applied to Pius XII (1939-1958). “Angelic” is an eschatological title, one that the High Middle Ages applied to the chief enemy of Antichrist. There is an enormous file from the period of the Second World War of this pope’s public statements condemning racial and religious persecution, atrocities against civilians and particular acts of the Axis governments. There is an even larger file of his private efforts to rescue the subjects of Nazi persecution, Jews in particular, which in Italy met with substantial success. Nonetheless, for reasons chiefly connected with the liberal campaign to discredit the papacy because of unhappiness with the policies of John Paul II, Pius XII has been accused of silence, indifference, antisemitism and pro-Nazi sympathies.

    Number 107, “pastor et nauta,” “shepherd and sailor” is a motto of which its bearer, John XXIII (1958-1963), was well aware. “Shepherd,” like “religious man,” is something that should be said of any pope. The “sailor” element was provided by John’s stint as Patriarch of Venice. John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, the dust from which has not settled to this day. John is almost the only pope that Hogue can stomach. Hogue accepts the liberal thesis that, had John lived longer, he would have reformed the Catholic Church out of existence.

    Number 108, “flos florum,” “flower of flowers,” is one of the relatively rare hits in the post-1600 Malachy list for a pope’s coat of arms: Paul VI (1963-1978) had three fleur-de-lys on his. The motto has no obvious bearing on his papacy. It might be said of Paul VI that he extended the hand of friendship to the modern world and had it bitten off.

    Number 109, “de medietate lunae,” “from the half-moon, from the middle of the moon,” is applied to the likable but short-lived John Paul I (1978). No one knows what this man would actually have done had he sat on St. Peter’s throne for more than a few weeks. Nonetheless, liberals have fantasized about glorious alternative histories, in which an amiable John Paul I would have spent many years defining dogmas out of existence and turning the actual operation of the church over to people like themselves. Conspiracy theorists have outdone them, saying that reactionary clericalists murdered him to prevent these good things from happening, or to cover up an investigation he was about to launch into Mafia penetration of the Vatican Bank, or something. One could relate the motto to his name by observing that he was born Albino Luciani (“white light,” more or less) and that he once was the priest of a town called “Belluno” (which looks like “good moon”). On the other hand, “half moon” might be a good title for a cryptic and crepuscular reign that never really was.

    Number 110, “de labore solis,” “from the labor of the sun,” is the title that the Malachy list assigns to John Paul II (1978 to at least 2001). Hogue spends a great deal of time condemning this most important of 20th century popes for his failure to reverse the Church’s stand on artificial contraception, the ordination of women, Vatican oversight of Catholic dogma, and other topics simple enough for newspaper columnists to understand. It is, perhaps, too much to expect any discussion of the topics on which the pope has spent most of his time, such as the phenomenology of ethics and ecclesiology. Hogue also speculates on how the motto applies to this pope; he suggests that JPII was born during an eclipse, and will also die during one.

    For myself, I would suggest that the motto is an oblique reference to the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20). Some of the workers are destined, fairly or not, to labor during the hottest part of the day, but receive no more reward than the rest. The point is not whether such an interpretation tells us anything about the actual papacy; it is that the prophecy’s author was signaling the continuation of an extended terminal crisis.

    The Future

    Number 111, “gloria olivae,” “the glory of the olive” brings us into the future, when neither the actual names of popes nor regnal dates are available. Hogue suggests “John Paul III,” which might be plausible from a man with a better record. Hogue begins to wax loquacious with dates of wars and rumors of wars, based chiefly on his reading of Nostradamus. He suggests that, in a last reactionary spasm, the next pope will declare the Virgin Mary “Co-Mediatrix” with Jesus. He suggests that the credibility of the papacy will be undermined by the revelation of a great scandal. You can take that or leave it, but the really interesting point is what the author of the list meant by the motto.

    Hogue directs our attention to several mentions of the olive tree in scripture. It can mean the body of believers, Jewish or Christian. It could be a reference to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus gave the extended statement on the Endtime called the Olivet Discourse. I would suggest, though, that the obvious reference is to Rev. 11:4, which speaks of the Two Witnesses who will preach and otherwise restrain evil in the latter days. They are “two olive trees and two lamp-stands.” In medieval speculation, the Witnesses were sometimes identified with the pope and a secular figure, usually the emperor.

    Number 112, the last pope of all, does not get a motto. Instead, he gets an unambiguous name and a bit of narrative. St. Malachy, or Dom Wion, or possibly some combination of the two, have this to say about “Petrus Romanus,” “Peter the Roman”:

    “In persecutione extrema Sacrae Romanae Ecclesiae sedebit Petrus Romanus qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus; quibus transactis, civitas septicollis dirvetur; et judex tremendus judicabit populum.”

    “During the last persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there shall sit Peter of Rome, who shall feed the sheep amidst many tribulations, and when these have passed, the City of the Seven Hills shall be utterly destroyed, and the awful Judge will judge the people.” 

    There is not really much to add to this, so Hogue adds quite a bit. He speculates that this Peter II will be trying, unsuccessfully, to provide relief from famine and ecological collapse caused in large part by the Church’s refusal to countenance artificial birth control. This attitude will so outrage a desperate world that the Church will be finally and irrevocably suppressed, for the good of the planet. As Hogue puts it, “What the Church sees as its final persecution could actually be the next quantum awakening of human intelligence.”

    One of the few insights to be gleaned from a reading of “The Last Pope” is a sense of the ossification of the mind of religious liberalism. Religious progressives adopted the Malthusian thesis on overpopulation in the middle of the 20th century and will not let go, no matter the state of the evidence.  Today Europe in general and Italy and particular have birth rates well below replacement level. A canny prophet would have bet on a pro-natalist backlash in Europe by the 2020s or 2040s, when all this is supposed to be happening. A wise historian would notice that the popes who were most insistent on maintaining dogma were also the most popular. If traditional and New Age religion are to be in a Darwinian struggle for survival in the 21st century, there cannot be much doubt about which will win.

    Finally, what are we to do with the notion of prescience in general? As a matter of physics, the arguments against foreseeing the future are the same as those against faster-than-light travel: both would allow for effects to precede their cause, and so create temporal paradoxes. However, it is not strictly true that faster-than-light travel is impossible, since some quantum effects move between two points instantaneously. Special Relativity is saved, however, by the fact that information cannot travel faster than light. Quantum effects are random. They can be used to encrypt information, but are not information themselves. This could be a useful property: quantum effects could instantaneously provide a completely secure key to a receiver, but the information to be decrypted could arrive no faster than light. In other words, you may be able to receive information that is real information, but that cannot mean anything until ordinary reality catches up with it.

    Prescience could work like this. There may be real perceptions of future events, but they cannot mean anything until the future becomes the present. Or, as Cardinal Newman dryly observed about biblical prophecy, “Events interpret the text.”


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