The Long View 2006-04-28: The Fermi Paradox; Atlas Shrugged; Oil Spike

Why are we alone?

Why are we alone?

Since John points to his 1996 essay on Noospheres here, I went and updated that essay with a table of contents and hyperlinks.

I've always found the Drake equation to be something of a category mistake, but I at least appreciate people attempting to think things through.


The Fermi Paradox; Atlas Shrugged; Oil Spike

 

The Fermi Paradox has become more paradoxical if this report is to be believed:

A new study finds that the chances of a gamma ray burst going off in our galaxy and destroying life on Earth are comfortingly close to zero.

Gamma ray bursts, or GRBs, are focused beams of gamma radiation emitted from the magnetic poles of black holes formed during the collapse of ancient, behemoth stars. They can also form when dead neutron stars merge with each other or with black holes.

It's been speculated that if a GRB went off near our solar system, and one of the beams hit Earth, it could set off a global mass extinction.

But in a new study to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers found that GRBs tend to occur in small, metal-poor galaxies and estimated that the likelihood of one occurring in our own metal-rich Milky Way is less than 0.15 percent....But in their study, Stanek and colleagues found that GRBs tend to occur in small, deformed galaxies that are poor in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium...Planets need metals to form, so a low-metal galaxy—while more likely to have GRBs—will have fewer planets and fewer chances for life.

Readers will recall that the gamma-ray hypothesis had become the leading explanation for why intelligent life did not long ago overrun the observable universe. (To paraphrase Enrico Fermi: "If extraterrestrials exist, then where are they?") The answer to the paradox was thought to be that Earth is the one-in-a-million biologically active world that escaped gamma-ray sterilization: Simon Conway Morris himself seemed satisfied with this logic. Now we are back to square one. I have my own explanation, of course.

* * *

Speaking of alien life forms, I note this news about Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged:

Lionsgate shrugging--'Atlas' pic mapped: As for stars, the book provides an ideal role for an actress in lead character Dagny Taggart, so it's not a stretch to assume Rand enthusiast Angelina Jolie. Jolie's name has been brought up. Brad Pitt, also a fan, is rumored to be among the names suggested for lead male character John Galt.

Though I was never a Randian, I always thought that The Fountainhead was charming. Atlas Shrugged is not charming, but it does have a certain appalling fascination. For the life of me, though, I cannot imagine the mainline film industry making a movie about the evils of high marginal tax rates and the intrinsic turpitude of affirmative-action programs. (Rand was prescient in foreseeing those, though in her book they are designed to mitigate disparities of wealth rather than the effects of race and gender discrimination.) In any case, the interesting thing will be how a film handles the religion question: John Galt's Speech, remember, is the most sustained attack on religious belief in 20th-century popular literature. A sufficiently malicious screenwriter could divert the film from economics to the menace of the Religious Right.

* * *

Ayn Rand would have loved the current run up in gas prices; which is to say, she would have been vastly amused by the futile pandering reflected in headlines like G.O.P. Senators Hurry to Quell Furor Over Gas:

Senate Republicans tried on Thursday to get the upper hand in the escalating political battle over high gasoline prices by proposing a $100 rebate for taxpayers and by suggesting that they might increase taxes on oil-industry profits.

Rand is no longer with us. We do have Ann Coulter, however. Though more conventionally partisan than Rand, she is also sometimes right:

When the free market does the exact thing liberals have been itching to do through taxation, they pretend to be appalled by high gas prices, hoping the public will forget that high gas prices are part of their agenda.

There are proximate causes for the current price spikes. One is a regulation (just relaxed) that required refineries to use a new gasoline additive; the refiners handled the transition badly. Another is the increase in petroleum price futures occasioned by geopolitical fears. The remote causes, however, are that demand for oil is up worldwide and there are no cheap ways to increase supply. No doubt the current spike will decline again, but we will get more of these events, some of them much more serious, which will move us away from a petroleum economy. This is the reality of which "Peak Oil" is a parody.

* * *

Many of you have asked yourselves, whatever happened to Bertie Wooster, the slow-normal young gentleman whose life was made possible only by the perpetual intervention of the omnicompetent Jeeves? Well, he went to medical school, moved to Princeton, acquired some post-vocalic "R"s, and now he's Dr. House

The penny dropped about this just yesterday and I still find it hard to believe.

* * *

Meanwhile, in the May issue of First Things, Fr. Neuhaus has this ominous reflection:

I've never seen anybody remark on this American habit of calling the children of the baby boomers Generation X, while those who are now under age 25 or so are called Generation Y. There is only one letter left. The assumption is that the next generation will be the last? Just asking.

Of course, we are still not quite sure about those gamma rays.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: An Angel Directs the Storm

Calm  and  serene  he drives the furious blast; And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform, Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm. ~  Joseph Addison   By Gustave Doré and me, Angel 007 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5885087

Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;
And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm. ~ Joseph Addison

By Gustave Doré and me, Angel 007 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5885087

This is a fine example of John's best work. In retrospect, President George W. Bush did some crazy things, but his critics were often even crazier.


An Angel Directs the Storm:
Apocalyptic Religion & American Empire
By Michael Northcott
I.B. Tauris Co Ltd., 2004
200 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 1-85043-478-6

 

The title of this book comes from a famous question that John Page asked his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, about the American Revolution: “Do you not think that an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm?” The book’s author, a Reader in Christian Ethics at the University of Edinburgh, takes this apparently innocent question about the role of Providence in history and uses it as an emblem for this thesis:

“It is a tragic deformation of Biblical apocalyptic that in America for more than two centuries millennialism, far from unveiling [in the sense of unmasking] empire, has served as a sacred ideology that has cloaked the expansionary tendencies of America’s ruling elites.”

Northcott’s argument is compounded, in large part, of the ecclesiology of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, the eschatology of Rene Girard, the geopolitics of Andrew Bacevich, and the postmodern political prose poetry of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Unfortunately, these people are not obviously in agreement about fundamental issues, and the author makes little effort to reconcile them. What holds the book together is a rambling, Soviet-surplus critique of the United States, updated by the propaganda of the antiglobalization movement.

Some of this filler material is amazing. We learn, for instance, that 67% of the children of US veterans of the first Gulf War have some serious birth defect. We further learn that Islamism is, simultaneously, an artifact of American funding; an indigenous reaction to American-imposed post-colonial underdevelopment; and a modern, pseudo-Islamic ideology that mirrors America’s neoliberal globalism in being totalitarian and universalistic. The author even moves the great die-off of elderly people during the European heat wave of 2003 from France to Chicago. By the end of this book, American malefaction has become so ubiquitous as to be virtually unfalsifiable.

This is a shame, since there are real issues here about the nature of American political culture and the interrelationship of eschatology, soteriology, and macrohistory. The author makes a remarkable hash of all of them.

It is true, as Northcott points out, that the principle of “the priesthood of all believers” gave American political culture a bias toward voluntarism and the market. More important, it is also true that the Puritans in America saw their story as a reprise of the Book of Exodus, but on a larger scale, and with world-historical significance. There really is a strong millennialist streak that runs right through American history (the best-known discussion of which remains Tuveson’s “Redeemer Nation”). From the colonial era, and into the 20th century, the dominant model of history was “postmillennialism,” which holds that society would be perfected within history, during the millennium, only after which would the Second Coming occur. After the Revolution, a synthesis of ideological republicanism and Puritanism arose. It assigned an important but subordinate place for the Church, as the institution that would educate citizens in virtues needed to make the polity function. Northcott is not pleased:

“American postmillennial apocalyptic involves the claim that the American Republic, and in particular the free market combined with a sort of marketised democracy, is the first appearance in history of a redeemed human society, a true godly Kingdom. But true Christian apocalyptic, the Christian belief that Christ has come, that the spirit of Christ is present in the Church, and that Christ will come again, points Christians precisely to the temporary and imperfect nature of all efforts to establish the reign of God on earth.”

There are tensions in Northcott’s critique, to put it mildly. He posits, reasonably enough, that the philosophy of John Locke has strongly affected American political culture. The author then asserts that the Lockean understanding of government as essentially a device for protecting property is not orthodox theology, and is indeed postchristian, whatever the denominational affiliation of actual Lockeans may be. Well, maybe, but readers may find it hard to reconcile Northcott’s indictment of the sacralization of government with his antipathy to Locke’s political theory, which was designed precisely to keep government modest, both in its powers and in its ontological status.

Be this as it may, the most important development in the history of American eschatology was the transition to premillennialism, which began about the middle of the 19th century. Premillennialism, sometimes called dispensationalism, holds that the Second Coming will occur before the millennium, preceded by disaster and apostasy. It does not see secular progress as a good thing, if progress is acknowledged at all. Its influence has spread steadily; today, it is perhaps the most widespread historical model among evangelical Christians in the United States (and elsewhere, one might add). It is associated, often if not invariably, with Biblical literalism, and with support for Zionism, which is held to be a fulfillment of prophecies of the Endtime.

We are told that there is a synergy between dispensationalist fatalism and the ideology of the market, since both denigrate the possibility of collective action. This would be interesting, were it not for the fact that freemarketeers are optimists of the most annoying sort. Still, it is certainly easier to make that argument than to suggest, as Northcott also seems to do, that premillennialism is a religion of immiseration. In the US, the key figures associated with the revival of premillennialism were high-status churchmen and laity based in Manhattan. In the 19th century, this eschatology was not particularly popular in those regions that suffered social disruption in the course of industrialization. By the later 20th century, some form of premillennialism was becoming the mark of the rising classes of the Next Christendom outside the West. This only repeated its history in America, where evangelicals of all descriptions tend to be richer and better educated than the population as a whole.

Neither will it do to make premillennialism a religion of capitalism, either international or domestic. Contrary to what Northcott believes, Americans by the later 19th century were not satisfied with their “national Bank” and its capitalist ways. America did not have a central bank from 1836 to 1913 because the people in the states that later became highly evangelical were suspicious of large institutions. In fact, they also made sure that private banks could not operate nationally until relatively recently. High tariffs, restricted immigration, and suspicion of finance are the evangelical political tradition. The current association of evangelicalism with big business in the Republican Party is a historical accident, occasioned chiefly by the decision of the Democratic Party to walk the plank on the abortion issue.

It would be hard to quarrel with the assessment that Woodrow Wilson’s domestic Progressivism and his plan to make the world safe for democracy are manifestations of America’s traditional postmillennialism. That view of the world long lingered in elite circles. In fact, the sentiment never entirely dissipated, even if the theology did. There is a good argument to be made the Bush Administration’s War on Terror is just a revival of Wilsonianism with a Kantian twist supplied by the neoconservatives. However, Northcott’s analysis forces him to make a bad argument:

“[T]he mutation of the American dream into a global war with those who are said to oppose America’s interests and its values is a consequence of Enlightenment rationalism. The universal story of an enlightened humanity progressing toward peace legitimizes a perpetual war to bring it about…However it is not in the name of reason, but of an apocalyptic faith that Bush and bin Laden seek to take charge of the destiny of the world.”

Northcott asserts that Bush’s policy “is consistent” with the abandonment of the attempt to build the postmillennial Zion in America (of which the Puritan Fathers dreamed, however mistakenly), in favor of a premillennial project to aid the construction of a Jewish Zion in Israel. This is an interpretation against the text, since the fact is that the Bush Administration does claim to be acting in the name of reason. Certainly that is how the Administration talks about geopolitics. That is even how the Administration talks about Israel. Only when we dismiss the canard that George Bush is trying to trigger the Battle of Armageddon do we come to the really interesting point: under Northcott’s analysis, Christians would have to oppose any forcible attempt to maintain world order, or indeed national order.

This form of pacifism is based on a reading of the New Testament that retrojects 20th-century underdevelopment theory onto first-century Palestine, thereby turning Jesus into an ardent if peaceful anti-imperialist. To this end, Northcott adopts strange readings of such texts as Mark 12: 13-17. That is the passage in which Jesus, in response to a question about the licitness of paying taxes to the Romans, says to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. As Northcott would have it, that Jesus did not legitimize the payment of the tax:

“… Jesus already steals a march on his opponents because he demands that they show him the imperial coin – the Denarius – in which the tax was paid [since] neither he nor his disciples carried the coinage of empire… The question already names Jesus’ opponents as idolaters since they possess the coin and he does not.”

What we have here is a studied refusal to hear anything from scripture that the exegete does not want it to say (from my limited experience this is characteristic of Girardian exegesis). Northcott does not confine this practice to small points. Here is a broader misreading for you:

“The real meaning of Revelation is that the Roman Empire – variously the ‘beast,’ the ‘dragon’, the ‘whore of Babylon’ – and the Roman emperor – the Antichrist – are already defeated.”

To this, one may say that anyone who thinks that the word “Antichrist” appears in the Book of Revelation could have his license to practice eschatology revoked. In any case, we need to remember that if Revelation really were just an anti-Roman tract, it would not be very interesting, and we would not be reading it today. Anti-Roman sentiment is, of course, present in that book: the Whore of Babylon is Rome. However, she is killed at the behest of the Beast. The message is that, bad as Rome is, it’s really just a front for something much worse: of the archons, of whom St. Paul wrote, who really rule the world, and against whom it is the real business of Christians to struggle.

To be fair, we should note that the author acknowledges that Jesus did not preach political resistance, even of the passive Gandhian variety. We are also told, eventually, that Paul commanded obedience to the state, but then we are also told that Paul meant that the powers of the state were legitimate only when they were used for right purposes. At the risk of getting into a proof-texting contest, I find this hard to square with the remark of Jesus to Pilate that Pilate’s power was “from above,” even when Pilate was about to have Jesus executed. Theocracy is a poor notion, but it should not be confused with the immemorial Christian principle that the state is a part of a providential order, and not simply a feature of a fallen world.

The preferred eschatology of “An Angel Directs the Storm” is an almost complete preterism. Though allowing that the Lord will come again at some indefinite point in the future, under circumstances we cannot now imagine, Northcott repeatedly reminds us that all prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. Indeed, history ended then, with the resurrection. This is why, for instance, the doctrine of Just War is invalid (though Northcott says that George Bush managed to violate it anyway). The New Testament shows:

“[T]here is no more need for war; in the language of the Book of Revelation the war in heaven has already ended, Michael and his angels have already put down the elemental powers and the fallen angels…Christians are called not to fight against them, rather to enact their defeat in the communities of worship and reconciliation.”

Northcott’s pacifism rejects pietism. Pietism, he says, comes from the error of putting the soul in the care of religion, while leaving the body to the control of the state. That error, in turn, comes from viewing the Church as one association among many, rather than as a comprehensive community. The politics of the Christian community is “the non-coercive quest for peace and justice in a sinful world.” Christian community does not require self-segregation: far from it. Christians should pray for the welfare of the city into which they have been sent, and work for its welfare, as Jeremiah advised the exiles from Judea. They must never take charge, but hold those to account who try to take charge, particularly if they try to take charge in God’s name. On the global level, Christians are to reject the temptation to control history’s outcome, which was among the things that the devil unsuccessfully tempted Jesus to do.

The confusion here is obvious enough: Northcott has a divinized concept of history. Hegel did too, of course, but Hegel was trying to replace theology rather than practice it. Perhaps this will clarify the question:

The fate of the modern international system is important, because the international system is a very big thing. The atmosphere is a very big thing, too, but we usually don’t accuse people who study or to try to influence it (by controlling industrial emissions, say) of usurping a divine prerogative. The historical world is different from the atmosphere, of course, particularly in that the historical world consists of human groups in conflict. Northcott says that God does not choose sides between these groups. To that, the short answer may be to stop telling God what to do.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: The Gray Havens

The Gray Havens

John Reilly's 1969 paperback edition of   The Fellowship of the Ring

John Reilly's 1969 paperback
edition of
The Fellowship of the Ring

An Explanation

The Lord of the Rings is not history, and as readers of that great work are aware, the title of its last chapter is "The Grey Havens," not the "Gray Havens." Nonetheless, the world of Middle Earth that J.R.R. Tolkien imagined for us is so detailed that it is difficult to think of it as pure fiction. Because the events of the War of the Ring have something of the density of factual history, they invite the sort of stretching and speculation that factual history invites. A major genre has grown up in fiction that treats historical scenarios that did not happen. That is what I have done in this novella with the climax of The Lord of the Rings.

John J. Reilly
March 15, 2006


A Disclaimer

The work to which this page links, The Gray Havens, as contained on the pages with URLs tg1.html through tgh10.html, is not a part of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; neither does it purport to be a part of that work or a sequel to it. The Gray Havens does not include copyrighted or trademarked material from The Lord of the Rings or from any other work. The Gray Havens is a new work that alludes to a small set of the ideas and characters that the genius of Professor Tolkien has made the common possession of mankind in a very real and legally binding sense.

(1) The Downfall of Rivendell

“The end of the world is one thing, but missing lunch is serious.”

It was March 25, in the 3019th year of the Third Age, and Arwen was not taking the lack of news from the South well. She needed to get out of her rooms. As for me, being a Hobbit, I would have gone to lunch even if I were on fire.

“Bilbo, you are incorrigible,” she sighed, perhaps genuinely glad of the interruption. “Let us go down to the Lesser Refectory, then.”

She stood up, and I took my accustomed distance. I had long since stopped being uncomfortable around Big People, but a conversation at close quarters was a strain on the necks of both parties.

We passed through the double oak-doors of her suite and headed towards the first stairway, walking down a corridor whose waxed floor gleamed under the long skylight. Like most of the younger members of Elrond’s household, it was in one of the new wings of the Great House of Rivendell, built of wood rather than the immemorial stone of the central villa. We went quite a distance before we met anyone else. Arwen was not the only person in Rivendell who had things on her mind at the moment other than the next meal.

“Lady Arwen,” said Gelmir as we entered the Refectory. He came forward when he spied us at the doorway. He was one of Elrond’s senior advisors; the oily one, I had always thought. Now he was the one who said “I told you so.” The Lesser Refectory was a fine room, used much more these days then the vast and gloomy Great Hall. Today, though, the thin sunlight that shone through the tall, narrow windows cast no shadows; it was the kind of light that seemed to cool rather than warm. The scattered diners were more interested in whispered conversation than in eating. “It is good to see you about again,” Gelmir said. Turning lightly to me, he offered: “And you too, Master Baggins. I hope that even in these stressful times that you find nothing lacking in the table of this House?”

“Even in the best of times, Councilor,” I said bowing low, “the splendid hospitality of Rivendell can be eclipsed by the quality of the company.” I carefully did not look in his eye, but I was fairly sure I heard Arwen choke back a snort. She tactfully took up the conversation.

“I saw a rider enter the eastern courtyard an hour ago, Councilor. Am I correct in thinking that was a messenger from Lorien?”

“Indeed, Lady,” he replied as we took our seats. “As you have no doubt surmised, we have no new intelligence, or we have sent to you immediately. The Ring has passed beyond our knowledge into the Shadow. So have Elessar, and the hosts of Gondor and Rohan. And the Rangers. And the sons of Elrond. It would be comical if it were no so tragic. The flower of the West has offered battle to Mordor. It will be cut down unless the One intervenes.”

“And what would you have done differently, Councilor?” I asked as the servants placed dishes of bread and melted cheese before us. As a matter of fact, the quality of the food on Elrond’s table had declined in these distressful times; the villages of the network that traded with Rivendell were being attacked, or abandoned, or just had no spare produce to sell. I had alluded once to Elrond himself about the decline in quality. He was having a bad day and took the remark with less than his accustomed good humor. Gelmir seemed determined to never let me forget it.

“Perhaps I would have done nothing differently, Master Baggins,” he said as he munched his cheese sandwich philosophically. “We all had a hand in what has been decided, after all. Perhaps all will be well. Perhaps the Enemy will flee from the host of the West, and the Lord Elessar will be greatest King of Men since Ar-Pharazon the Golden. Perhaps, contrary to all appearances, the advent of the Hobbits into the affairs of the world has not been a sign of its downfall.”

Arwen put her hand on my arm. I thought she was cautioning me against making a sharp retort; then I realized she was listening. I heard it too. Far away, someone was screaming.

“It’s coming from the Keep,” she said. That was where her father’s private quarters were.

Without a glance at her companions, she rose from table and walked, and then ran, to the doorway that led to the Keep. Hobbits have long ears, and the elvish aristocracy were, well, sensitive to their blood relatives. Gelmir, who was neither, could not hear the cry. “What is happening, Master Baggins?” he asked.

“Trouble in the Keep, looks like. Perhaps I should see whether I can assist the Lady Arwen,” I said as I rose to follow.

“Yes, that would kind of you.” He said politely. He himself did not move. Several centuries as a courtier had taught Gelmir that it was often better to be available to discuss a mishap later than to be there to stop it from happening.

By the time I had caught up with Arwen, it was becoming clear that something was very wrong. People were not running to the cries for help, which were now audible to even ordinary elvish ears; they were standing stock still. I was not quite sure that I felt a tremor through the stones of the floor.

The noise became louder and louder as we approached Elrond’s private study. We burst open the door. There was Elrond, mighty among elves and men, writhing on the floor. His right hand was bloodied and mangled. It was smoking.

Some of Elrond’s household shook themselves from their bewilderment and ran into the study; doubtless the smell of burning flesh got their attention. On the ring finger of Elrond’s right hand, or what was left of it, there was a ring that glowed white hot. I knew about what it was, though few others did: it was Vilya, the Ring of Air.

Elrond had seemed to be trying to say something like, “Get it off me!” Then, however, he opened his eyes and looked at his would-be rescuers.

It was like being hit with a blast of air from a furnace. Several of us fell. I stood, but for a moment I did not see Elrond, or the room in Rivendell. I saw a space of infinite darkness, and in it I a burning eye, an eye with a slit pupil. I head a voice like thunder say:

“Air is mine; Adamant is Mine; Fire is mine. The One is mine. You are mine.”

The vision passed, and once again Elrond was just screaming and mouthing words. I heard a rabble of advisors, knights, and servants behind me, trying to decide what to do and who should do it. At my side Arwen wept and cried, “Father what is happening!”

Suddenly, none of this was important to me. Without anyone noticing, I slipped to the window that looked to the southeast. The view was the same as it had always been, of rocky pineland that fell away to the hazy feet of the Misty Mountains. Nothing seemed to have changed, but I knew that the view was a fraud. I felt, with a certainty that I could never have achieved with mere vision, that everything had changed. And what I felt was envy and fury. He had it. It was mine, my Precious, but He had it now. I would never get it back.

* * *

The Council was held a week later, in a pavilion in the north of Rivendell. It might have been held earlier, but the Keep and the oldest parts of the complex began to shift off their foundations on the day of Doom. Everyone was evacuated from the oldest structures before they collapsed, but getting everyone billeted and accounted for was challenge enough for the government of the High Elves. Besides, Elrond was not recovering quickly from the amputation.

“My Lords, Lady Arwen, distinguished guests, this is a day that we have long dreaded,” said Erestor, another of Elrond’s advisors. He was a windbag of the first water but not a bad fellow; what he had to say was usually worth hearing, once he got around to saying it. “We have dreaded this chance so much that we could never bring ourselves to plan for it. Now there is no time to plan. The Enemy has triumphed in the field and in the Other World. Our own resources have fallen to nothing more than our lives. As I have said, there is no time to plan. We have only…”

“Yes, yes, you have only to flee to the Gray Havens, if you can reach so far, and if any ships remain to carry you.” So said Gloin the Dwarf, the father of one of the members of the ill-starred Fellowship of the Ring. He had returned to Rivendell as an ambassador from the Lonely Mountain to bring news of the defense there and seek Elrond’s advice about securing increasingly dangerous Forest Road through Mirkwood. Now it seemed he would not be going home anytime soon. Now it seemed there might be no home to return to.

“The Elves have always had the option to flee, and Men, Men seem as happy in the service of the Dark Lord as out of it. But what of the Dwarves, I ask the Council? We have nothing but this Middle Earth. Now it is lost, lost, and where shall we go? Do the Elves know any refuge for my people, for any remnant of the people, before the Shadow covers the whole world?”

“Peace, Gloin,” said Elrond with difficulty. The remains of the right arm were well-bandaged but swollen. The evil was beginning to affect his chest. “The elves do not know just what form the sorrows of these days will take. Also, the elves of my kindred have not yet determined whether to stay or to flee. That is among the things we must decide.”

“But surely there can be no doubt?” said Hador, the Councilor who performed the necessary function of stating the obvious at every meeting. “We have few men at arms, and our powers have waned almost to nothing, or passed to the Dark Lord’s control. We saw this just a week ago when the Keep collapsed. It had been built with the aid of the Ring of Air. When the Great Rings passed to his control, everything ever done with them crumbled. We cannot resist the Dark Lord, even in the near term. We have no choice but to go west. The only question is whether we can still reach the Havens.”

“And whether the Havens still stand,” Gelmir interjected mildly. “Cirdan also wielded a Great Ring, remember. And we see that Lorien is burning, where Galadriel had worn the Ring of Water.”

Actually, all we could see was a darkening of the sky on the southern horizon. When we first saw that darkness, we feared the Shadow of Mordor was spreading over the whole world. Within a few days, though, the last of our scouts reported. They were no longer able to cross the mountains, but they said that the darkness was an immense billow of smoke, almost too big to see, that an east wind blew over the mountains. There was only one explanation. Lorien was burning.

“My Lords, these are craven counsels,” said Glorfindel, the chief of Elrond’s warriors in the absence of the Elrond’s sons. He was a fine Elf, but he was also evidence for the proposition that immortality need not sharpen the wits. “We do not yet know what is happening in the wide world. Are we to flee on the mere rumor of defeat? May we altogether abandon our allies, as the worthy Gloin has hinted that we might? And if the worst has happened, a flight to the Havens would have as little chance of success as a last defense of Rivendell, and far less honor.”

“Master Elrond, may I make suggestion?” I asked.

“I think perhaps that we have heard enough suggestions from Hobbits for many an age,” Gelmir said.

“Gelmir, this is my Council,” said Elrond as sharply as he could. “What is it, Bilbo?”

“Might I suggest that an age has ended, and not the world? We cannot live as we have lived, but we need not assume that no life is possible. We do not know enough to despair, and that means we should avoid a final stand, if we can do so with honor,” I said, nodding to Glorfindel. He might be wrong, but no one had ever called him malicious. Unfortunately, was not true of Gelmir, who interjected again.

“The aged Halfling speaks unexpected good sense,” he said. “Indeed, I think that we have underestimated our remaining resources. The name of Elrond carries great weight in the North and West of Middle Earth. In this time of fear, it might be possible to turn that reputation into power. Also, the power of the Dark Lord remains limited, even now. Only in Gondor and the borderlands of Mordor can he rule like a king. His power in these parts is terror and treason. And he knows this well. He also knows that we have things to trade. We might yet secure from him leave to rule ourselves.”

“What sort of things, Councilor?” asked Arwen in a carefully noncommittal tone.

“Vilya, the Ring of Air, for one. Yes, he now controls it, but he does not have it. He might be persuaded to forgo a raid in force on these lands if he could receive it as tribute.”

“And what other things?” she asked again.

“Rivendell has ever been a center of opposition to his ambitions, and rightly so, for many lives of Men. However, we must now consider whether we can continue to support all the enemies of the Dark Lord, or any of them. The families of the Rangers who disappeared into the Shadow have some call on our charity, perhaps, but we must acknowledge that the people of Isildur have failed. We can no longer aid them in war, even if we would. There may even be some individuals who have the misfortune to be the special enemies of the Dark Lord. We may pity them, but we can no longer shelter them.” He carefully did not look at me.

“Councilor Gelmir has persuaded me to seek the Havens at all hazards,” Arwen said, “if Middle Earth is to be ruled in the way he proposes.”

“Erestor,” said Elrond, “you were about to propose a course when you were interrupted. May we hear it?”

“Lord Elrond, my first advice is that we do not deceive ourselves. We have no power in this world any longer. Our old policies have wholly failed. We have nothing with which to make new ones. The Dark Lord has no need of our bargains. Perhaps he would not trouble to send an army from Mordor to this thinly peopled country, or maybe he would. In any case, he has creatures nearer to hand. And I can only repeat that we have nothing: neither provision, nor magic, or even a decent fort. We can only run. The Gray Havens is the obvious destination, but we should not count on the ability to leave Middle Earth. As we travel, must be alert along the way to the possibility of refuge. And we must leave now. The longer we stay, the worse our case will be.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. Finally, Elrond spoke.

“I have no ambition to be the viceroy of Mordor. Neither do I wish to leave Rivendell. For the moment, in fact, I cannot. We are not strong enough to fight. We do not know enough to flee. We will remain where we are, and gather news. That is all for now.”

* * *

And so we did nothing for two months. Actually, we did even less than Elrond had proposed, since news got scarcer and scarcer. We learned that Orthanc had been briefly abandoned and then occupied by a lieutenant of the Dark Tower; then all news from that quarter ceased. The wizard Rhadagast joined us from southern Mirkwood, which was becoming a lawless jungle. He came through a northern pass that, remarkably, the Beornings had managed to keep open. He said that Lake Town had been sacked. However, the Lonely Mountain had come through relatively unscathed. The siege was lifted after King Dain paid a heavy tribute to the Dark Tower and pledged fealty to Sauron. Gloin did not like this news any better than Elrond did, but on the strength of it he risked the journey home. Rhadagast himself, seeing Rivendell had slender hospitality to offer, continued West. From that direction scouts brought sporadic reports of Trolls, Wargs, and even the occasional Orc raid, but worst of all were the Men. Most of the recent immigrants from the South had been simply displaced persons looking for a home. Rumors of the great change in the world, and the influence of the Enemy’s agents, had here and there turned the newcomers into marauding hordes.

Our own situation deteriorated, first slowly and then quickly. Ordinary supplies that had been hard to import in January were unobtainable by the middle of April. Rivendell was self-sufficient in some commodities, notably dairy products, but there was not nearly enough to feed a population of 500. Hunting and fishing supplemented the dwindling stores, but hunting became harder and more dangerous, and fishing at Rivendell could never be more than a sport. Soon we were eating the cattle, and then the horses. Just as bad, the place was literally falling apart. The pavilions and outbuildings had never been meant to be lived in, as a late snowfall proved. There were no materials or enthusiasm for repairs. The softwood ornament beloved by the Elves was designed to be ephemeral; it almost melted in the wet, cold spring. Meanwhile, the new wings of the Great House that had connected to the Keep suffered several major fires, and another major collapse. By May, Rivendell had decayed to a network of encampments, cut off from the outside world and bickering with each other. I myself wound up in a tunnel with straw for a floor, like my remotest hobbit ancestors. I was better off than many.

The end came on half-a-day’s notice. A scouting and hunting party that had ventured as far south as the border of Hollin returned in a panic. “A host is coming this way! Hundreds of them, thousands of them! They are attended by Wargs and evil birds!”

“Hundreds or thousand of what?” asked Arwen. She and Elrond had taken up residence at one of the few decent lodges remaining in Rivendell. I happened to be present when the scouts made their report. Arwen said I cheered up her failing father, and maybe she was right. “We are not sure what kind they are, Lady,” continued the scouts, “but we saw from afar, in the dusk of the morning. We think they were Orcs at the end of a night’s march.”

“Or maybe they Men at the beginning of a day’s march,” I suggested, to no one’s satisfaction, including my own.

“Men or Orcs or wraiths, they are coming this way, and they can be here in a day’s march. They could even arrive tonight!”

“Or they could miss us,” I observed. “You know hard the entrance to this valley is to find, Master Elrond.”

“That obscurity was partly a glamour created by my will, Master Baggins, with the aid of my Ring. We no longer enjoy that protection. If anything, we must reckon that the Ring draws our enemies and guides them. No doubt the Dark Tower has dispatched this force to collect it. And me, I suppose. The simplest course might be to give them both. Then, perhaps, they would overlook the lives of my people.”

“Father, you are talking nonsense,” Arwen said. “The Enemy would not forbear to destroy Imladris and everyone in it once he has it in his power. And if you think to make a quick end, consider that Gelmir was right in this: your name really is known through all these northern lands. If we are to find a new refuge, or fight our way to the Havens, we will need the authority of your House.”

A hurried meeting of the Council was called. No one even suggested that we not flee. Glorfindel might have done had he been present, but he was away south toward Tharbad. We trusted that he would notice our absence when he returned. Nonetheless, the Council still managed to argue for several hours about what to do. Elrond was almost unconscious, and Arwen lost control of the meeting. In the end, with the sun already about to set behind the mountains, the order went out: “Take everything. Go West. Now.”

* * *

There was never a moment when the flight from Rivendell was not a catastrophe. The lack of clear instructions began the evil. “Everything” was interpreted to mean the books and chief treasures that had escaped the destruction of the libraries. The valuables were taken from storage places, where they had been safe from the weather and well hidden against theft, to assembly areas, where they were supposed to be loaded on carts. Arguments and then fights broke out between people trying to load the valuables and those trying to load the foodstuffs. Nothing was properly packed. It started to rain. Books and much grain were spoiled. Maybe it was just as well. There were not enough carts for either, much less for both.

Since there were only a few draught animals, most of the carts were pulled by soggy Elves and the few adult Dunedain whom Elrond still had under his protection (most of the Rangers’ families had drifted off into the wilderness since March 25). We reached the Ford of Bruinen with difficulty, and some injuries. Elrond was one of the few to be riding in a cart; certainly he was too weak stay astride one of the few remaining horses. (I rode in a cart, too: not because I was held in such high honor, but because no one noticed me among the barrels. It was like old times.) Elrond tried to exert his power over the ford, which was submerged in swift-flowing water because of the recent rains. The other Elves of power tried also. It started to rain harder. Arwen, finally, signaled that the train would have to make what headway it could against the flood.

It was not our good luck that the first carts had almost reached the other side before the lead cart overturned, spilling its contents into the water and sending its handlers downstream. Nearly the whole train was stranded in the current. The carts were not linked together (maybe they should have been) but the stream did not seem to grow especially stronger. For whatever reason, three quarters of the carts overturned within a few moments. Mine was among them, but as I said, it was like old times: I latched onto a barrel (of glue, as I later discovered) and quickly washed up on the nether shore. Many of us were not so lucky. An unknown number disappeared into the darkness then. So did most of our goods.

The survivors assembled at the western side of the ford. In the nearly total darkness, there was no way to count noses, but I was sure that Elrond was there, soaking wet and carried on a litter. Arwen was nearby, just as wet. We abandoned the few carts that had reached this side of the ford, and made up backpacks of the remaining goods (we later found out we had left quite a lot of preserved meat and accidentally took several packages of bunting and other festive decorations).

We were on the Great East Road, and many of us knew the lands about it well. This land was almost empty, but to the south of the Road were a few villages that helped provision Rivendell. One of Elrond’s stewards led us west into the dark to what he assured us was a secure refuge perhaps 10 miles distant. Then the really bad part began.

There was movement in the night that was not our own. The enemy did not come from behind: if that army ever reached Rivendell, assuming that’s what it was, it would not have followed us over the ford in this weather. Rather, it was clear that things were moving in the dark to either side of us, both in the forest on the north and the high grass to the south. Some of those things sounded as if they were quite large.

Elves had always had sharp eyes, and did so still in this dark new Fourth Age. Archers and spearmen moved off from the main body of our group, and sometimes found a mark, as some of the gurgling death cries attested every few minutes. What the Elves no longer had was luck; some of those cries had elvish words in them. Our stragglers soon began to be snatched. Later, an intrusion of shadowy shapes from the trees cut our column in half. Elrond was in the rear section, so that was where his guard rallied. Possibly all the Household of Elrond, along with its guests and dependents, would have disappeared into the shadows that night, if Glorfindel had not come up from behind just then.

He was mounted on that magnificent white horse he had refused to let us eat. Accompany him was a small squadron of guards on foot. It was like the old days; like this time last year, in fact. The intruders were beaten off or killed, but the forward group of our column was much smaller when the rear made contact again. I knew this because I was in the forward group. I actually was picked up by something that was very strong and very foul smelling, but it had caught hold of my backpack. The pack came loose and the thing slouched off with it, apparently not noticing I was missing. Or maybe it really was interested only in the backpack.

The march went on so long, or so it seemed, that I had actually forgotten about the refuge; I had been accustoming myself to the assumption that we would always be walking. I felt as if I could have done so. Since the day of the great disaster, I had seen no further visions of the Lidless Eye. The Ring was affecting me, though. I felt, if not younger, then at least of no definite age. I felt quite up to walking forever in the dark, but I did not have to.

We were led down a trail to the south of the road to a sturdy stone doorway. It was set into the end of a low ridge that made two levels of the forest floor. The heavy wooden door itself had been split in half. The doorway led to a burrow that served as a warehouse and a refuge for a nearby village that had sold produce to Rivendell for time out of mind. The burrow had been dug, however, as a shelter for the Rangers and others of Elrond’s household who had need of it. When we lit some torches, we found that the villagers were here, too, along with their butchery tools. The bones had been stripped and cleaned and some had been broken open for that marrow. Any food that had been stored there had been looted. We set a guard outside in the dark. At least the bunting we draped across the entrance allowed us to make a fire without being seen.

Just 200 of us remained. Erestor was with us; and so, for better or worse, was Gelmir. Arwen was with her father. Glorfindel was there, with all his personal guard. It was apparently safer to hunt the nightwalkers than to be hunted by them. Hador was never seen again.

(2) Weathertop

Even Elves needed some sleep after a night like that. In the morning, Glorfindel remonstrated with the remnants of Elrond’s Council. The exchange was actually part of a general meeting, however; elvish culture at its dissolution was retuning to democratic forms of its origins. Glorfindel spoke for almost an hour about the folly of taking off in the night like that, and especially about not taking him. When he had run out of expletives, he answered some questions.

No, he did not know whether Rivendell had been occupied. He had come north on the western side of the Loudwater and found at the ford the wreckage from our passage. He guessed what must have happened. No, very few people were passing through Tharbad now, or heading northwest on the Greenway. He did meet bands of folk fleeing across the countryside, many of them people of Gondor and Rohan, and even Belfalas. Tharbad, the long-ruined city, had briefly been choked with refugees, but they were massacred a month ago by an army of the Great Eye. The army came through the Gap of Rohan, most of the refugees thought.

Yes, they told many tales. Some said that Sauron had moved his capital to Minas Tirith. Some said the city had been besieged twice but still stood. Others still said it had been abandoned without a fight. No one he spoke to, he was sure, had been in a position to know. It was certain, though, that the Host of the West that had gone eastward had disappeared. The only survivors were a small group that had been assigned to guard some islands in the Anduin. They fled after March 25. Many people throughout the South fled then, long before the Enemy appeared.

Elrond could barely speak, but he whispered to Arwen, who finally asked something relevant:

“Glorfindel, is it safe for us to travel on the Road?”

He considered the question with evident care. “No,” he answered. “Of course not: but at least we can know a little about what is happening on the Road. That is not true a hundred yards to either side. If we send scouts before us and behind us, and we don’t do anything suicidally foolish, such as traveling at night, we may hope to arrive at our destination.”

“And what might that be?” asked Gelmir.

The members of the Council groaned. Some of the ordinary Elves gasped: this was the first they learned their leaders still had not decided what to do. Erestor responded almost through clenched teeth.

“Councilor Gelmir, I thought we had decided to head toward the Gray Havens, but also to look for alternatives along the way.”

“That is certainly what we discussed,” Gelmir replied. “I do not recall that we ever decided. We followed that course in any case, and lost more than half our number in less than a day’s march. Perhaps at this point we should reconsider.”

“Do you propose to return to Rivendell, Councilor?”

“I think that we should at least determine the state of things there before we proceed. If the valley of Imladris has not been taken, we should consider reestablishing our position there and maintaining our contacts with the outside world.”

“We were slowly starving in the cold at Rivendell,” Arwen noted. “No one was offering us aid, or asking for it. The only people who were coming to visit were probably Orcs. We might as well ‘reestablish our position’ in any hollow to the side of the Road, if it comes to that.”

“The point, Lady, is not so much where we are, as what we are doing there. We should be seeking an accommodation with the powers of the age. As I noted, we do have things the Dark Tower greatly desires. In any case, I insist that we ascertain the state of our ancient home before we go much farther west.”

“My Lord Gelmir may do so if he insists,” said Erestor dryly, “but I fear he may have to go on foot. I doubt that Lord Glorfindel would consent to lend him his horse.”

The strange thing was Glorfindel almost did lend Gelmir his horse, or ride off himself on the same errand. Glorfindel had not wanted to leave Rivendell, either. In part, that was because he really was willing to make a brave stand, but also because, after living there for so many centuries, he could not easily imagine being anywhere else. Elves often got like that. It was a wonder that so many ever managed to reach the Gray Havens.

In the end, we decided to split the difference. We would go west to Weathertop, Gelmir included, and there set up a camp where we could gather information. Meanwhile, we sent a small party back to Rivendell to see how matters stood there. Glorfindel finally decided not to risk his horse on that trip after all.

That was good, because the Last Bridge, which crosses the Hoarwell, was held by the Enemy. There they were, three Men on the bridge in some dark livery. They had two horses between them. They were not really a guard on the bridge, perhaps, but relay riders. Certainly they fled when they saw us. The much diminished Host of Elrond would have been adequate to deal with this unit even without Glorfindel, but he was able to make sure that none of the Men escaped alive.

We crossed the Hoarwell without further incident. After walking for a few more hours, we camped a short distance to the north of the Road. The land on that side was rising and not heavily wooded. We did not dare risk a fire. In the morning, we continued west, and by noon we were approaching Weathertop. Glorfindel went scouting a mile ahead of the column. The bulk of our party had just left the Road for the trail that led to the peak; then we heard a single horse behind us.

Through the bushes I saw a large black figure on a large black horse. He face was covered, and he was riding the horse hard. One of the elvish archers saw him, too. He launched a single arrow that felled the horse. The rider, who was limping after his fall, tried to run back east, but two spearmen quickly broke from the foliage and killed him. Erestor came out to examine the body. I came with him.

“A messenger, clearly,” Erestor concluded, “and from some force in Mordor, but not from the Dark Tower. Look,” he said, indicating a badge on the man’s shoulder strap that showed the Eye and some elvish characters rendered in an unlovely script. “The Morannon,” I said. Erestor continued searching until he found a round leather case. “The message. We will look at it when we reach safety.” Erestor gave orders to hide the corpse and to butcher the horse.

Horsemeat would not have rendered the evening merry, even if there had been more it, but at least we had some fires. I suspect we were in the same dell where Frodo and friends had been attacked a few months ago. The Elves had rediscovered their skill at scavenging. Arwen and, surprisingly, Gelmir proved particularly adept at finding folk-salad. The result tasted like the hash of weeds it was, but at least it was not poisonous. After supper, a small group gathered around Erestor to examine the message borne by the dark rider. Erestor opened the leather carrying case and extracted a sealed scroll.

The seal, predictably, was impressed with image of an eye. When Erestor broke it, the paper around it began to ignite. He was not the person to whom the message was addressed, evidently. We did manage to put the fire out without losing any text, but the paper was smoking and quickly decaying. “The script is elvish,” Gilmer observed, “but the language is not Elvish or Westron.”

“It’s the Black Speech,” Arwen. “My father can read that tongue, but not now.” We glanced at Elrond, who was flat on his litter a few yards away. His eyes were half open. He was breathing with evident difficulty. He was shivering. “What do you make of this, Bilbo?”

“Here, move aside; let me see,” I said as I bowed over the document.

“You know the Black Speech, Master Baggins?” asked Erestor with evident surprise.

“Some. I made quite a study of it when I first arrived at Rivendell.”

“May I ask why?

“Because it is the language of the One Ring, Councilor. Now give me a moment.”

In Elrond’s libraries, there had been only two kinds of texts in the Black Speech. One consisted of spells and curses, often inscribed in stone to protect hiding places. The document before me fell into the other category: a message of administration. The latter were rare, outside the Black Tower and Dol Guldur, since only the elite of Sauron’s government used the language regularly. The mere presence in the West of the intended reader of such a document was a very bad sign.

“As nearly as I can make out, it says:

“To the Prefect of Ecstasy, now succoring the Ratland, the Second Secretary of the Office of Persuasion of the Ministry of Peace reflects a glint of the Great Eye, and sends this instruction:

“The Prefect is to double and redouble his efforts to find the principal traitor. The Rat People whom the Prefect has dispatched to our Office have proved unsatisfactory patients. They know nothing. Our Office is surprised and displeased that the Prefect supposed they would know anything. Our Office judges that the Prefect has sufficient means at his disposal to induce ecstasy without further taxing the resources of the Ministry.

“The Prefect’s request to remove his seat of operations to Tharbad is denied. The Prefect is to persevere.”

“That sounds as if they are in the Shire,” said Arwen. “Sorry, Bilbo.”

“It also sounds as if there is someone in this land with the authority to treat with us,” said Gelmir.

“Treat with us about what, Counselor?” asked Erestor. “We have nothing they want but our lives.”

“As I have had occasion to remark before,” Gelmir replied, “we have two things they want: a traitor and one of the Three Great Rings.” This time he did not trouble to avoid indicating me.

“Do you have a Great Ring, Counselor?” Arwen asked innocently. “You really should have told us.”

“But your father’s Ring…!” he spluttered.

“…Is still in the lodge at Rivendell. It’s well hidden. I put it under the rug in the study.”

I don’t think I had ever seen Man, Elf, Orc, Hobbit, or Troll so surprised. Gelmir’s mouth made a perfect circle.

“Are you mad!?!?” Gelmir shouted.

“No, and I am the daughter of Elrond, which you should keep in mind when you address me, Gelmir. Look, we could no longer use the Ring. We cannot even pick it up without being burned. We suspect it may draw the Enemy. Also, I suspected that its presence might have been what was keeping my father sick.”

“The ring must be recovered.” he said, a bit more politely.

“You are welcome to try, Councilor, provided you don’t return to us with it. As for Bilbo, he is a thief; no, excuse me: a burglar, not a traitor. The Dark Tower seems uninterested in Hobbits at this time.” And so we went to a night’s uncomfortable sleep. Well, sleep for some of them: I was having increasing trouble telling day from night.

* * *

The next morning, we found that Elrond was dead. There were plenty of shaped stones on Weathertop, so we were able to make a decent burial chamber. We used the last of the bunting as a winding sheet. Still, it was a barbaric end for such a cultured being.

When we returned to the Road, we met the scouts who had gone to Rivendell. No, they said, Rivendell was not occupied. It had been disturbed, probably by no more than a band of robbers, or maybe just refugees foraging for food. Some of the remaining structures had been damaged, though.

“Was Master Elrond’s lodge destroyed?” Gelmir asked.

“There had been a small fire, and part of the roof collapsed, Councilor,” one of the scouts replied. “Most of the house still stood when we left.”

“Lady Arwen, I will take you at your word,” Gelmir said. “I am returning to Rivendell for the Ring.”

“Councilor, why?” she asked.

“Because anyone who follows the road you are on will die in the woods like a sick dog. The Three Rings set us apart from all the other Speaking Peoples. The Ring of Air may have passed out of our power, but only a fool would let it out of our possession without getting something of value in return. The Enemy knows he has defeated us. That means he has nothing to fear from a bargain. I at least propose to try to make one. Will any come with me?”

Ten people did; that was ten more than would have gone if Elrond had still been alive. The small party left the main group after dispirited farewells. We continued westward.

(3) Bree

As we marched, we came upon more signs of habitation, and of former habitation. Columns of smoke rose above the trees to the north, presumably from burning homesteads. On the other hand, sometimes we found farms immediately to the south of the road that had not been touched. Occasionally we found bodies of men and animals. We even saw a few living farmers, but they ran off as soon as they saw us. Obviously, someone had been pillaging the country, but not very systematically.

We met no sign of the Enemy until that evening, when we were bivouacked to the north of the road. It was fortunate that we had put our fire out. Suddenly in the dark, we could hear the clanging tread of iron-soled Orc shoes on the road, and see the glitter of torches through the trees. They were heading east, apparently in a hurry, and did not seem to be looking for victims. Could it be that the Enemy had finally found the leisure to dispatch a force to Rivendell?

The next morning, we arrived at the gates of Bree, or rather the place where the East Gate used to be. Today it was gone, and the hedge that had surrounded the town was smoldering. The fires have gone out in most of the buildings of the town itself. We passed gingerly through the main street, since that was the fastest way to pass from east to west. Then, to our surprise, a hail of arrows came from ruins to either side of the road and struck three of our number dead.

“Take cover!” shouted Glorfindel in Sindarin, so we did. The arrows stopped. Before we could get off any of our own, a voice speaking the same language came from the north of the Road:

“Ahoy! Who are you? What sort of folk are you?”

“Who are you, who murder strangers unawares?” asked Glorfindel.

The rhetoric became heated, but it was immediately clear that neither side was Orcs or allied to the Enemy. By and by, the chief Elves, plus me, were standing in a town square and talking to a young Man and a few companions. They were dressed in the ragged remnants of what must originally have been some fine uniforms.

“I am Faramir, the Steward of Gondor,” the young Man explained after our party had introduced themselves. “I ask what pardon you can give for our ambush. In the past fortnight, an army has passed twice through this town. However, it is the smaller units of the Enemy, no bigger than yours, that do us most damage now. They raid the hamlets and the homesteads to which the people of this land have retreated. I have, of course, heard of all of you, particularly of Lady Arwen and the Halfling.” He bowed to Arwen. He looked as if he were about to pat me on the head, but thought better of it.

“And I have heard of Gondor, Master Faramir, and that its Stewart is named Denethor,” said Arwen. “If you are the Steward, you are far from office. Tells us, does that city still stand?”

“The buildings may still stand, but only as a mirror to Minas Morgul. The people are scattered.”

Then he told a remarkable story: a siege of the city, the lifting of the siege, and the coming of a pretender to the long-vacant throne.

“I might have followed such a one, had he achieved victory over the Enemy, or even restored our defenses, no matter the strength of his claim. Now whether his claim be true or false is no matter. He and the principal lords of Gondor went into the Shadow, and were swallowed up on the Day of Doom.”

“The ‘pretender’ of whom you speak was Aragorn son of Arathorn, Man of Gondor, and his title was more firmly established than yours!” Arwen said with unaccustomed ferocity. “Also he was my betrothed, and I will not hear his memory dishonored!”

“Lady, I meant no disrespect,” he said in the polite tone used by one who plainly believes he has been given every reason for discourtesy. “He fought well and he meant well, but he played a central part in the downfall of my country.”

“The downfall of your county?!” she nearly shouted. “The downfall of your country, Man of Gondor, was the fault of….”

“Arwen,” I suggested, “maybe we should hear the story before we cast the blame.”

Faramir told the story. On That Day, despair flowed from Mordor like a wave. The darkness did not return, but spirits fell lower than they had been during even the worst of the siege. There had been plans to evacuate the Minas Tirith again if the Enemy again crossed the Anduin. Faramir never received a report of such a crossing, but rumors of one spread as quickly as the despair. A trickle of citizens had begun to leave the city by sundown on the day the pretender fell. By morning, there was panic flight, and no order from Faramir could control it.

Perhaps 400 men at arms could be persuaded to remain in the city. Chiefly they were men of Gondor, but also some of the people of Rohan, commanded by Queen Eowyn. She had ascended to that unlucky dignity on the death of her uncle, who had been king for many years, and of her brother, whose kingship ended with the pretensions of the pretender. There was also an intrepid Halfling who had helped to slay the Enemy’s most fearsome commander and lived to tell about it, but not, alas, for long.

The guard and the Rohirrim could not give their whole attention to the defense. A degraded rabble had remained in the city to loot and dishonor it. By the time the Enemy did come, the lowest three levels were already burning. Some of the guard remained occupied, even at the end, with preventing the rabble from pillaging the treasures of the citadel.

The force that Mordor sent was an insult, but more than sufficient. A few thousand Orcs, and some Easterlings who could bear the daylight, entrenched only about the gate. The assault was made with a single siege engine of no great size. The Great Gate fell in a day. Thereafter, the defenders removed to the higher levels as the Enemy took over the city ring by ring. The Halfling fell in the brief defense of the Second Gate; he had never really recovered the wound he took when he attacked the commander of the Dark Tower.

Sometimes the Orcs and Easterlings captured and slew the rabble; sometimes they recruited it. They had no great need of recruits, however, since a leisurely column of the Enemy poured into the city night after night. Finally, the guard realized that the host of Mordor did not distinguish between them and the looters. The city was considered abandoned; it was being repopulated, not conquered. A remnant of the guard and the Rohirrim, no more that 100 fighters in all, quietly abandoned the city by taking secret paths that led into the White Mountains.

“Useless human weasels…” muttered Arwen with no attempt at inaudibility. The tactful Erestor cleared his throat. Faramir continued:

Descending again to the plain of Anorien, Faramir and Queen Eowyn headed northwest. As they moved, they acquired horses at the widely scattered homesteads. Often they found horses riderless in the fields, still saddled with the gear of their luckless owners. In four days they reached Edoras.

In Edoras there ruled Grima, who had taken the title of Protector. He had escaped from his detention at Isengard and returned to Rohan to rally those of the folk who believed that the alliance with Gondor had been folly. That number had never been small, and the return of deserters and survivors from Gondor and Anorien had only swelled their number. Grima, in fact, commanded no fewer than 1000 lances. He immediately took Faramir’s little band prisoner when they arrived at his door, though their capture and imprisonment were framed in the most polite terms. The very next day, he acknowledged Eowyn’s title. He also announced that he would rule with her as her advisor and wedded consort. Grima then sent heralds to the Orkish army in Anorien to seek terms from Mordor, and to offer them Faramir as a token of good faith.

The queen did not survive her murder of Grima on their wedding night, but Faramir and 15 of his men did contrive to escape in the confusion that followed. They stole horses, but no one pursued them. The next noon, when they were well away from Edoras and nearing the gap of Rohan, they looked back and saw smoke rising from the direction from where the town lay. Grima’s heralds, Faramir surmised, had found that the Dark Tower no longer needed to parlay.

The rest of Faramir’s tale was soon told. He and his little band continued to the northwest toward Tharbad. Their first thought was to seek refuge in Imladris, but when they realized that none could tell them where it lay, they continued up the Greenway with the other refugees. Some of these were men of Gondor who held Faramir for their lord; others were simply folk of goodwill who sought any legitimate authority in the chaos. Soon Faramir and his caravan of a few dozen followers reached Bree, which had not yet been sacked and whose townsmen refused to admit any strangers. However, Faramir drove off the outliers of an army of the Enemy, maybe part of the host that had burned Edoras that was coming up the Greenway a few days behind him. Some of the cannier folk of Bree Village surmised that the main force could be not be far behind, so they left with Faramir for the remote and more easily defended village of Archet. Faramir informally assumed command of the defense of Breeland after Bree Village, Combe, and Staddle were destroyed.

When Arwen and her people arrived, he and a few scouts had been in the ruins of the village to reconnoiter the movements of the enemy. When it came to the point, Faramir was not much happier than the Breelanders had been about taking in our contingent of strangers, particularly that aggravating Elf woman. Nonetheless, he agreed to admit us to Archet for a few days. He sent a few of his men with us to show the way.

We did not take the old track to the village. When the army of the Eye left for the West, the Breelanders set about erasing the track as much as possible, so that no one without local knowledge could find Archet by accident. What should have two hours’ walk became an afternoon’s scramble along twisted paths among bushes and ravines. The village turned out to be both heavily fortified and very well camouflaged. We entered through a nearly invisible gate hidden among fir trees. The center of the village was dense with temporary structures to house the new refugees. We were escorted to a long, low shed, evidently used as a sort of barracks. There we were given water and promised food.

Breeland had traditionally been governed by an annual meeting of the householders of all four villages, but now it was ruled by an Extraordinary Council of Both Sizes, with six Men and six Hobbits. The Senior Councilor was a Man named Barliman, who had once owned an inn in Bree Village. He owed his position in part to his ability to organize relief for the many displaced Breelanders. Besides, as the keeper of the largest public house in Breeland, he knew everybody.

“Baggins: now there’s a name I remember. Didn’t your nephew stay in my house one night last year, Master Bilbo? He caused quite stir, I can tell you, or at least what we used to call a stir in those days. No time to worry about that sort of thing anymore, of course.”

I was wondering whether to try to explain what Frodo’s visit had meant, but Arwen interrupted me.

“Master Barliman, my people and I are trying to go west, to the Gray Havens, or possibly north, if the Havens no longer exist. Do you get news here from those quarters?”

“Aye, Lady, lots of news; none of it good, but maybe none of it true, either. Many of the Fair Folk have passed through Breeland since the Bad Day, and most don’t come back. A few do, though. They say the Shire is too dangerous to pass through. It’s not just the Enemy, though there’s a proper army of Orcs and Men there, by all accounts, burning or killing whatever they see. The greater danger is the Shirefolk. They now shoot at everyone they see who isn’t a Hobbit, no questions asked. Anyway, the ones who come back say they will head back East over the Mountains until things calm down, or they try to go around north to Fornost and Lake Evendim.”

“Isn’t that the way to the Blue Mountains?” I asked. “Do the Dwarves still have works in the Blue Mountains?”

“Seemingly, Master,” he answered, “some of their traffic even finds its way through Archet these days; but not much, as you can imagine. Some Men and even a few Elves are seeking the Blue Mountains, too. That looks as if it might become the safest place in this part of the world. I’ve been thinking of heading there myself. It’s a dangerous way, though, and a slow one.”

Erestor addressed our party:

“It is not far from the Blue Mountains to the Gray Havens. The wiser course may be to seek shelter there, until we find how things stand at the Havens. We might, perhaps, even make a haven for ourselves there. That part of the world is too remote to be of much interest to the Enemy.”

Arwen thought otherwise. “Councilor, I suspect that time may be of the essence with regard to the Havens. They can be defended longer than almost anyplace in Middle Earth: certainly longer than Imladris could have been, even had we had the fighters to make the attempt. However, if there is an army of the Enemy in the Shire, then can we doubt that the Dark Tower will move against the Havens before the summer is out? We must go now. The Havens may be besieged in a few weeks, if they are not already.”

“And if they are already closed to us?” he asked.

“Then we will know; and as you say, the Blue Mountains are only a few days further north.”

Barliman watched the argument with placid interest. Finally he interrupted to suggest that we need not settle the matter now. We were welcome to stay until tomorrow, and then our further journey would be provisioned through the generosity of the People and the Extraordinary Council of Both Sizes, though of course neither the People nor the Council would take it amiss if we cared to contribute trinkets or other valuables to the general fund. Additionally, our leaders were invited to dine with him and the rest of the Council that evening at the inn of Archet, which these days served the small republic as a sort of capitol. The Steward Faramir would also be there, and could advise us further. Arwen did not actually spit.

“Yes, there is room for you in Breeland,” Barliman answered Erestor after a surprisingly sumptuous dinner. One of the few advantages to rapid depopulation is that, briefly, there is more than enough for all the survivors. “There are only about a thousand of us here now. But think: if you stay, you would have to become farmers or gardeners, or maybe hunters. And we might not stay. We are hidden here, but Breeland is right on the Road, and the Road is where the Enemy moves. My thinking is that we will all have to move north. If the Dwarves won’t have us, then maybe we would be left alone at Fornost, or the Hills of Evendim.”

These possibilities interested Erestor, but not me. Pioneering did not appeal to me at my age. I had my reasons seeking the Gray Havens, but it seemed less and less likely that I would ever get there. Still, I had hopes of seeing the Shire before I died. I did not care if I were shot for a Mordor Orc as soon as I crossed the Brandywine; which is what might happen, seemingly.

These possibilities did not much interest Arwen at the moment, either, not when she had Faramir to hand to berate for the fall of Gondor.

“And you say these Nazgul never appeared again after the siege of Minas Tirith was lifted?” she asked him. “I could understand your terror of them, you being a mortal, but it seems to me that your people fled at the mere rumor of the Enemy.”

“Lady Arwen, by your grace, the people had had enough. And speaking of having had enough…”

“I think the Lady has made an important point,” Glorfindel broke in. “If these winged nightmares can fly like the wind and cannot be resisted, then why have they not come here?”

“Perhaps we are not important enough for them,” Barliman suggested.

“The Enemy thought these parts were important enough to send an army here, to look for ‘traitors,’” I interjected. “Why not send a Nazgul? And besides, Gelmir was surely right that the Enemy desires to collect the Three Rings. Perhaps he does not want them urgently, but is it not strange that many weeks passed after the Enemy’s victory before he reached out his hand to Imladris?”

“Would that Aragorn and his kinsmen had escaped,” Arwen said. “The true Men of the West would have found a way even in this dark time.”

Faramir actually slammed the table. “Lady, I am the rightful Steward of Gondor. I am as much of the race of Numenor as the pretender; no, I withdraw that; as the late King Elessar ever was!”

Something clicked in my mind them. I had been trying to place who Faramir reminded me of. It was Strider, obviously. Arwen had made the same connection; her problem was that she didn’t realize it.

Erestor re-imposed decorum in a very loud voice. “Lady, my Lords, Extraordinary Councilors, there is only thing we must decide this evening, and that is what we are to do in the morning. For my part, I think the wisest course would be to follow Councilor Barliman’s wisdom and go north. In that way, we could remove ourselves from the greatest danger, ascertain the possibility of making a new settlement and, with due prudence, determine whether the Havens…”

“Summer would be fading by the time we reached the Havens, if we took such a course,” Glorfindel said.

“Yet if we go directly West, we will lose much or all of our party,” Erestor countered. “So large a company could not hope to pass through the western end of Eriador in these days without serious fighting.”

Arwen said quietly, “If the remnants of the House of Elrond are as cowardly as the Men of Gondor, then I will seek the Havens alone.”

“Look,” I said, “let’s do both. A small party can go through the Shire, avoiding trouble, and determine the lay of the land at the Havens. The larger group should take the northern route. The small party can send word about what they find, either through Bree or the Blue Mountains.”

“As I said, Master Bilbo, the Shire has become dangerous, even for Hobbits,” Barliman warned. “Who would you send on such a mission?”

“Myself, for one, obviously,” I answered. “Like Arwen, in fact, I will say that if no one goes with me, then I will go alone.”

“I will go with the Lady Arwen and the Halfling,” Glorfindel said. “Perhaps no one else should come.”

Arwen decided to make the parting easy:

“Erestor, as the heir of Elrond, I charge you to take lead the remnant of his people north. Seek the possibility of refuge wherever you can, but look for word from me to come from the West. Indeed, if I find the path over the ocean is closed, I will come to you.”

Erestor nodded. “I think this is the best we can do, Lady.”

“I need to scout the region to which Elrond’s people are going in any case,” said Faramir. “With Erestor’s permission, I will accompany them.”

As the meeting broke up, Arwen remained seated with Faramir.

“Lord Steward, please forgive me for what I said in the heat of the moment. In these terrible days…”

“My Lady, you said nothing to me that I have not said to myself. You must see…”

No one saw either of them again until the morning, so apparently they did get a room.

(4) The Old Forest

The Breelanders were actually better than their word. The next morning, they gave backpacks with clothes and food for the westward-bound trio, and the loan of a small pony for as long as we remained on the Road. That would not be long; the Road was not safe, and in any case, to attempt to enter the Shire through the Brandywine Gate would evidently be suicidal. We hoped to travel in reverse more or less the course that Frodo had taken: across the Downs, through as little of the Old Forest as possible, and then into Buckland through the Brandybuck Gate. I knew the Gate, and poor Meriodoc Brandybuck had left some of his small effects with me, for safekeeping, so I also had the key. Faramir would accompany us to retrieve the pony.

As for the rest of our party, they would remain several days in Archet. The Breelanders were outfitting them as pioneers for their own move north. If the members of Elrond’s Household were not torn apart by unnamed horrors in the dark of night, then the Breelanders would follow them. Fair enough.

We four, plus the pony, returned to the Road after taking an even more circuitous route that bypassed Bree Village entirely. There was no one on it, neither armies nor travelers. On the other hand, there was a trail of discarded wrappings, some bones, occasional bits of papers, lots of spit, and fecal matter of various origins. The hardened earth of the Road had been turned to powder by marching feet. Many were prints of iron shoes, but there were as many tracks were of ordinary boots. We noted that more of the Orc tracks were headed east than west.

It was fine morning in late spring, and we made good time. I walked with Glorfindel, who explained that he was still of two minds about making a stand somewhere in Middle Earth or taking ship. He thought those Elves who had turned back east over the Misty Mountains might have made the best choice. The Sylvan Elves of Mirkwood had been as much masters of their domain as any Elves on Middle Earth, including the Elves of Lorien. Now their position was unique, since their magic was close to the ground and little affected by the changes in the great world, unlike the high magic of Galadriel and Celeborn.

“And what do you think happened in Lorien, Glorfindel?” I had never been there, but I had met Elves from there, and I had long been curious about that land.

“I think the Dream Flower burst into flame like a dry leaf. It is a loss beyond tears, Bilbo. Rivendell was a sapling compared to the Golden Wood.”

As we talked in this vein, Arwen and Faramir, and the pony, were walking a little ahead of us. They were taking great care not to look at each other. The lack of shouting between them was deafening.

By midmorning, we came to a place where the plain to the south seemed to flow toward the forest and yet offered us a little cover from enemy eyes on the Road. The pony’s burden was unpacked and divided into bundles according to our capacities. I protested that mine was enormous in comparison to my size. Yes, said Glorfindel and Arwen, but you are also by far the youngest of us three. There’s Elf humor for you.

We said rapid but not wholly despairing goodbyes. I wondered what I would do if Arwen gave Faramir another one of those elf-broaches that seemed to have jinxed so many fine people, but the occasion did not arise. They clasped hands and he bowed lightly. Then he turned east, taking the much-relieved pony with him.

The walk south was a golden reminiscence of my own youth; which, despite the mockery of the Elves, really had been a very long time ago. The land sloped at just the correct angle to help us move swiftly over the short turf. The sunlight seemed to fill me, a feeling that received appalling confirmation when I trotted a little ahead to hop on ruined wall to see the lay of the land.

“Bilbo,” Arwen said tactfully, “you are not casting a shadow.”

This was an exaggeration. A definite darkening of the grass could plainly be seen to the north of me. When I stood in front of a white standing stone, I thought I cast a fairly clear outline, all things considered.

“Bilbo, you’re fading,” Glorfindel said.

A stout fellow, I thought: always so quick on the uptake.

I explained as we continued south.

I was not sure it had not begun to happen even before the Day of Doom. I had given up the Ring, which seemed to slow whatever had been happening to be, but still I was not ageing quite normally. No one ever noticed me fading. I saw no signs of it myself. What I did see, sometimes, was that other people faded for a while. I also needed less and less sleep. After the Day of Doom, the symptoms accelerated. The bad days still came and went, but I was surprised it took so long for someone else to notice. Elves might not be impressed by mortal longevity, but I was the oldest Hobbit alive; soon I will be the oldest Hobbit who ever lived. Did anyone think I could have gone on this journey if my condition had been altogether natural?

I was trying to explain my puzzlement about the indifference of the Eye when we came in sight of a house and garden, with a small stable attached. There was nothing alive or dead in the stable. The straw was clean but old. We knocked politely on the door of the house several times. When there was no answer, we less politely pushed it open. The house was a neat as a pin, but dusty; clearly no one had been here for several weeks. There was a bag of beans in the kitchen, along with some other non-perishable items, but otherwise nothing to eat.

We were farther west than we wanted to be, but the Elves assured me that the land was not trying to mislead us. It did not occur to them not to follow the path down the banks of the Withywindle. It was summer here already, to judge by the warmth, but there was almost no foliage. There was plenty of grass and the bushes were flourishing, but the only leaves to be seen were on this season’s saplings. It was a scene from the dead of winter on a day more than warm enough to take your coat off.

With every step we took, a sense of chill deepened that had nothing to do with the temperature. I began to be surprised that I could not see my breath smoke. Glorfindel and Arwen felt it too, I suppose, but they seemed more puzzled than uncomfortable. As the afternoon began to decline, we came to a wide place in the river where a huge oak stood on the bank. It had not been damaged; its wood seemed to be perfectly sound. However, there was not so much as a green twig in all its canopy of branches.

“Could it all have been poisoned somehow?” I asked as I put a hand gingerly on a root. I drew it back immediately.

Arwen nodded. “See, it is not dead; it is terrified.”

The root had been trembling.

“Are you saying the forest is too frightened to grow?”

“Too frightened to grow; too frighten to move; too frightened even to face the sun with a leaf.”

“Can it stay like this?”

“No,” Arwen answered again, “not for very long; no more than a Man could live if he could never wake up. This is not an enchantment. The forest is insane.”

What insane thing could a vegetable do? I thought. It could deliberately ignore the spring. Of course, considering the sort of things that one might encounter this spring, I was not sure the forest did not have the right idea.

“What about that wood sprite Frodo was talking about? Tom, Tom Bombadil was his name. He had a consort, too.”

“Wood sprites are imaginary, Bilbo. Anyway, Tom is probably hiding in a cave, as terrified as the trees. He and the forest have grown together. When the forest dies, he will die. No doubt his consort has left him.”

We saw a trail that headed west; we began walking again under the blind and barren trees. The path led us to a ridge, which we followed until we could find a way down into a ravine, which brought us a little south. We repeated the process many times in the course of the waning afternoon. I could see how Hobbits alone might have been trapped in this sort of landscape. As it was, Glorfindel set me on his shoulders during the rough parts. We made good time.

The sun was almost setting when we reached the bare top of a tall hill. We could look around us at the forest, from the coldly glinting water of the Withywindle, clearly visible in the crystal-clear air, to the ranks of bare branches that bordered the green downs. I had been in the Old Forest twice before during visits to Buckland, one time at night. I was disturbed by the new silence and light far more than I had been by the groaning of trees invisible in the dark.

“I had thought that the spirit of the Old Forest was akin to the spirit of Mordor,” I said. “Before today, I would have said that the trees would delight in the victory of the Shadow. Now I see otherwise.”

Arwen replied, “So it is. The ancient dark before the Sun rose was innocent; the dark of Mordor is mere nothing. The victory of the Dark Tower was a disaster for everything that lives, but most of all for the dumb things close to the earth. With the return of the Ring, the Great Eye had only to blink to wither the forests”.

The sun just touched the horizon as we completed this sad exchange.

“You know, “I said, “if we don’t start to run right now, I am quite sure I am going to go insane myself.”

So run we did, faster and faster, as the light of the setting sun made the trunks of each of the mad trees into a harlequin pillar of gold and velvet. Overhead, nothing shielded us from the reddening twilight sky that cruelly refused to become dark. I would have given anything for a bit of cover.

We had a bad moment when we reached the hedge. As I said, I had been there twice before, but never alone, and never at this time of day. We almost became lost as we searched for the entrance to the tunnel that led to the gate. The Elves were beginning to panic, something I had never seen an Elf do in the face of the supernatural.

Finally, we did find the gate, and we descended into the blessed dark. I had the key to hand. We passed through the gate without difficulty and closed it carefully. I walked a little ahead of Arwen and Glorfindel to the western end of the tunnel and turned to address them.

“Now you two better wait here for a few hours until I can spy out the lay of the land. Hobbits have always been leery of Big People in the Shire, even Elves, I am afraid, so let….”

An arrow thwanged firmly into the rear of my backpack. I reflected that I had not even reached the Brandywine yet.

(5) Buckland

“I can see plainly enough who you are, Master Baggins,” said Rorimac Brandybuck, the Master of Buckland, “but that does not mean I like what I see.”

The interview was held in what had been the largest parlor in Brandybuck Hall. Now, aside from the Master’s chair at one end of the room, it held racks on which weapons were stored. Maps covered much of the walls. There were also 20 Hobbits in arms. My friends were being held in the Hall’s newly improvised dungeon.

“But Rory, I am so glad to see you after all these years! And I had so many fine times here in Brandybuck Hall!”

Both those statements were true, more or less, but I did not mention how shocked I was when I saw that the Hall had been turned into a network of trenches and gated tunnels. Moreover, those defenses had obviously been tried in the recent past. By and by, I was sure, Rory would tell me what had happened, assuming he did not hang me and my friends first.

“If you liked it the Shire so much, Bilbo, then why did you run off into the blue like that? And now you come back, not much the worse for wear, and at an age when decent folk are long dead.” I was stunned to see how much Rory had aged since he attended my last birthday party in the Shire; evidently he was stunned to see how much I hadn’t. “But that’s not the worst of it: you took poor Frodo to Bag End and made him as cracked as yourself. He ran off too, you know. Now he’s the one I’d like to get news of. Strange folk were asking about him before those devils came from the South, and I’d like to know why.”

I was reasonably sure that Frodo had died horribly, and I knew for a fact why strange folk had been asking about him. Explaining all that would require explaining about the Ring. The Ring was no longer a secret, but I was disinclined to tell the Master of Buckland about it. The tale might raise the suspicion in his mind that the invasion of the Shire had been ultimately my fault; because, after all, it had been.

“What’s done is done, Rory, and I don’t know the half of it, not even about Frodo. Look, I am not even asking for hospitality. All I ask is that I and my two friends be allowed to make our way west. They are Elves on their way to the Gray Havens, Rory. No master of this Hall since the founding of Buckland would have interfered with such a journey.”

“In my time, Bilbo, in these past few years, I have had to things that no earlier Master of Buckland had ever had to do; or I hope will ever have to do in the days to come, if there are any more Masters after me. The Elves have failed, Bilbo, and we no longer think of them as friends. A great crowd of them came up the Greenway just a few days before that army of monsters. They came through Sarn Ford, broad as daylight, and hadn’t a word for anyone. They sure enough did not warn us of what was right behind them.”

“It’s possible they did not know,” I said. “Elves don’t really know everything. You can trust me on this.”

“They also don’t pay for everything they take,” Rory countered, “not anymore, if they ever did. Some of our folk west of the Brandywine have been robbed blind at night. In a few cases, not just the food and gear are gone: the Hobbits are, too. Anyway, we don’t want any more strangers of any sort in the Shire. If you don’t know why yet, you will soon enough.”

That was encouraging. He meant to keep me alive long enough to tell me all the bad news. These days, that could take a month. He considered a moment and then spoke again.

“For old times’ sake, Bilbo, I will make an exception for, and your friends. I would think better of you if you gave a better account of your movement, though, because I can see there are things you are hiding. Anyway, maybe you know that your nephew Frodo bought a house at Crickhollow before he left? Well, that neighborhood is safe again, or as safe as anyplace in the Shire is these day. You and your two Elves can stay there for a few days. And then you can go.”

I thanked him effusively. The guards showed me to the door.

The stay at Crickhollow was the most painful time for me since March 25. It was not just the Shire; it was Bag End, or close enough. It was still filled with the things that Frodo had brought from home. I wanted to stay forever, and I wanted to leave immediately. Glorfindel and Arwen favored the latter option, since grown Elves don’t really fit into a Hobbit house. They spent most of the time in a tent outside that the guard Rory set on us helped to improvise.

At Rivendell, I had heard fragmentary reports from the Rangers about what had been happening in the Shire, but the rumors had had not prepared me for the full story. Apparently, that nitwit Lotho Sackville-Baggins had made himself Tyrant of the Shire, or some such nonsense. At any rate, he tried to: his petty empire did not extend to Buckland, or away in the Tookland around Great Smials. In a way, Lotho’s presumptions had been a blessing in disguise, at least for Buckland. Rory had armed and fortified the country to keep out Lotho’s thieving men and weasely sheriffs. So, when the army of the Eye arrived, not all the Shire was unprepared. Great Smials had been sacked and burned, but it held out for several days. Thereafter the army razed the center of the Shire, and particularly the neighborhood of Hobbiton. No Hobbits had escaped from that farthing, as far as anyone knew. In contrast, the Enemy was not much interested in Buckland. They raided once east across the Brandywine and once south from Bridge, but soon turned back. Lately, most of the Enemy force had dispersed east and west. There was still an Enemy fort of some kind near the center of the Shire, though. There was no peace in the Shire; it was no longer the Hobbits’ country.

After several days, Arwen, Glorfindel, and I consulted at a picnic in the garden of the house. There was actually room for them in the parlor of the house, but it seemed polite to invite Rory’s guards, too.

“We know that some of the army of the Eye went west,” Glorfindel said as we started on the last of the tarts. “That can mean only that they were headed for the Havens. I want to see the Havens as much as the next Elf, but there would be little purpose in pursuing our journey if at the end we find Orcs sitting on the wharf.”

“I don’t think you would find Orcs there, Master,” said one of the guards. “There are still some Orcs at Michel Delving and Bag End, not that we see much of them anymore, even at night. Most went east, though, just a few days before you arrived. There would be Men at the Elf harbor. They are just as bad Orcs, if you ask me.”

“It is not news that the Enemy uses Orcs and Men for different things,” Arwen observed. “But just because the Men went west does not mean that they took the Havens. There has been word of the return of that part of the army of the Eye, has there?”

The guards shook their heads no. The Hobbits might not control what happened in the Shire any longer, but they still knew exactly what was happening in it.

Arwen continued, “That could mean that the Havens are besieged, or even that the Enemy was destroyed. The Havens are far easier to defend than Imladris, remember.”

“It could also mean that the Enemy is simply holding the Havens until they can be relieved,” Glorfindel countered. “And the Havens may have been strong, but they were built and preserved with the aid of Narya, the Ring of Fire. How do we know that what happened to Imladris did not also happen to the Havens?”

“Maybe because Narya has not been at the Havens for centuries,” I interjected. “Poor Gandalf has been wearing it all these years, you know. He did not seem to know that I knew, but of course I had worn the Great Ring, so I could see all the others.”

My skin crawled with rage as I again thought I would never see my precious again: never, never.

Arwen said, “We must find out what happened at the Havens, and the sooner we do the better. The Enemy might not have taken the Havens yet, but he will surely do so soon. We must find out now whether the Elves can still escape.”

None of us had really thought otherwise. The problem now was how to cross the Enemy’s Shire.

(6) The Conquered Shire

Two days later, we stood on the west bank of the Brandywine with new provisions and a plan, if not quite a solution. The provisions came from the Master of Buckland, who did not like his new role as warlord; he had actually offered us as much Hobbit hospitality as he judged the safety of his people would allow. The plan was mostly of our own devising, but with lots of advice from the Master’s scouts and spies about the lay of the land. The fastest way to the Havens was, of course, the Great Road, but to take the Road was out of the question when the Men of the Eye used it every day. Instead, we would take the country road that led through the Woody End to Tuckborough. We would not rejoin the Road until we were well into the West March. The Shire was not such a wilderness that we could not make good time away from the major thoroughfares.

The Buckleberry Ferry was no longer in service, obviously, but we had gotten a lift across the river in the small, swift boats that the Bucklanders still used for trade with the Marish. We waved goodbye to boatman and took a route that would take us around the town of Stock, which had been damaged by the same force that entered Buckland from east. Even more than the Bucklanders, the people of Stock would be inclined to shoot on sight anyone who was not a Hobbit. We set off west.

The walk through the Marish was unreal to me because it was ordinary. Many homesteads along the road had been pillaged, but the neighborhood was still intact, with its tidy Hobbit farm buildings and small fields like the squares of a quilt. (Why was it that people who positively disliked organization would marshal every landscape they farmed like an army camp of the Big People?) I very much wanted to walk up one of the paths to the door of a farmhouse and introduce myself. I knew some of these Hobbits, or at least I had known their fathers and mothers. I was sure they would offer me lunch. As it was, though, my friends and I had to skulk along behind hedges and across the edges of fields, as if we were Gollums of various sizes.

Eventually, we did stop for lunch at a farm house, though it had no roof. It had been overgrown by the neighboring wood, except for a stone path to the door, and seemed to have been abandoned for years. A fire was out of the question, but we were quite secure from prying eyes.

“Bilbo, you’re casting a good, solid shadow today,” Arwen complimented me.

“Fank umb bury mulk,” I say around a bite of one of Rory’s sandwiches. “As I said, it comes and goes. My spirits affect the fading; so do my surroundings. Few surrounding are as solid as the Shire. Please forgive me if I say now that Rivendell may have been a bit too ethereal for my good.”

“Or maybe for its own good, too,” she allowed.

The Shire seemed only to sadden Glorfindel. “The little people do not know what the age has in store for them. They think a storm or a plague has passed over them, but that they will be able to rebuild the lives they knew. They will be hunted like prey at the Enemy’s whim, so that first one and them another polite custom will fall from them. If they survive at all, they will be like badgers in their burrows. Alas.”

I was about to suggest to Glorfindel that it might be better to live like a badger in a burrow than to disappear in a puff of smoke, which seemed to have happened lately to some Elves I could mention, but instead we just finished lunch. When it was time to go, I said:

“Again, I better do any talking that needs to be done. I will walk a little ahead. If you two hear anything on the road, get undercover until I can sort things out. I won’t reveal your presence unless I absolutely have to.”

So we left the ruin, and walked up the short path that led to the road. It was exactly the way we had come a half-hour ago. I was gingerly looking up and down the road from the head of the path when I heard something large behind me fall.

Glorfindel and Arwen were struggling in a net that looked very much like the natural foliage. They were being held down by a dozen Hobbits in hunting clothes with quivers of arrows on their backs. Everyone knew that Hobbits were better in a wood than an Elf. Since these Hobbits had managed to approach the ruined farmhouse and set a trap without being noticed, they must have been very good indeed. Even I was impressed.

“Did these sneaking Elves hurt you, master?” asked a Hobbit. He was betrayed by a feather in his cap as the leader. “We could have just shot them, but we need something to trade to the Prefect. They’ve got another six of our folk at Bag End. The devils are particularly in the market Elves, I hear.”

“Well done, captain,” I said. “May I go along for the exchange? I think that one of those six could be one of my cousins.”

* * *

I was 129 years old, and I had once outsmarted a dragon, but I never lied so frequently, or so well, as I did over the next day and a half. I explained that I was a refugee from the West Farthing (which was true, after a fashion) and that these Elves had kidnapped me and forced me to show them the way across the Shire. I said they were particularly interested in knowing which farmsteads would be worth robbing. Indeed, I painted such a picture of Elvish turpitude that Glorfindel and Arwen would have been hanged if they were not about to be turned over to the Enemy to be tortured to death. The only plan I could make was to stay with the prisoners as they were moved from camp to camp of Hobbit irregulars. Twice I was left alone with them and almost succeeded in cutting their bonds; both times I was discovered. After the second time, the Hobbits would not let me alone with the prisoners again. The Hobbits thought I had been poking them with my penknife (which was also true, but it was an accident).

The upshot was, early one bright and warm day, I found myself peering from the cover of hedges at a flat stone in the midst of a field near Bag End. Arwen and Glorfindel were tied up on the stone. This was one of the locations where the Hobbits sometimes traded with the Enemy’s Men. The commanders of the army of the Eye had not condescended to treat with any of the Hobbits. Once the Enemy was established, however, his forces became notably less aggressive. Here and there, the Men began trading with the natives. They found they could also make a nice little pile for themselves for themselves by collecting ransom for Hobbits who had been enslaved, or sometimes simply taken hostage so they could be ransomed. The kidnappers were paid in food and trinkets. Enough Hobbits were saved this way that it was in no one’s interest to break off the contacts. Very recently, however, the Prefect had discovered the arrangement, and had begun to use it himself to police the Shire for travelers. At any rate, that seemed to be what was happening.

“Here they come,” said the local Hobbit captain, feather and all.

They were six Men, each dressed in a badly maintained version of the livery that had been worn by the Men whom Glorfindel had killed on the Last Bridge. Each led a Hobbit. The Hobbits were in even worse condition than the Men. One, whose head was bandaged to cover the eyes, was barely able to stand. The Men determined that the prisoners on the rock were alive, and apparently were Elves. Then some of our party, including me, stepped out into the clearing.

“This is a fine catch, little folk,” said one of the men, kicking Glorfindel lightly with his boot, “thank you kindly. And here are your kittens in return.” He signaled to the Men to release their prisoners.

The freed Hobbits stumbled into the arms of the Hobbits from the bush, some of whom were obviously kinsmen. “Griffo, Pearl, Saradoc, you’re alive, you’re alive!” they said amidst many hugs. I was glad to see the Hobbits released, too, but I was no closer to saving the Elves. It looked as if I would have to sneak into Enemy headquarters somehow: hard to do, without a magic ring. In the meanwhile, I had picked out one of the released Hobbits whom I could comfort without saying anything too specific about our relationship. Then one of the other prisoners said, “Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins: how dare you show your face here!” I could barely recognize the Hobbit, who of course was much older than the last time I saw him. Finally I placed him. It was Olo, Olo Proudfoot: my cousin.

The Hobbits all looked at me. So did several of the Men. “Why, Olo,” I began, “how delighted…”

“It’s Mad Baggins!” cried one of the Hobbits I had come with.

“Yes,” said Olo, “the one with all the stolen treasure! The one who started the trouble all those years ago. And the one…”

“Baggins!?! Stolen treasure!?!” aid the leader of the Men. My fame had preceded me, evidently. “Take this one, too, boys, and don’t take an argument from the rest!”

It was not actually much of a fight. Some of the Hobbits drew their knives, but only to make sure that the released prisoners got away. All the Hobbits soon scurried into the bushes. They did not stage an ambush on my behalf. Perhaps they thought I could disappear if I needed to.

(7) The Prefect of Bag End

Bag End looked much less like Bag End than the house at Crick Hollow had looked like Bag End. The diggings had been extended and the roof raised to allow for larger occupants. The old hole had become Mordor’s capital in the Shire because Lotho had used it for that purpose, and Lotho had been the first thing in the Shire that the Enemy sought. I never found out exactly what had happened to Lotho, but his family and most of his hired Men had met grisly ends, some of them in public, usually while protesting that they did not have information that the Great Eye urgently wished to have.

In any case, Bag End had become a clerical office, and a prison, and a torture chamber, but most of all it was now a hospital. The new tunnels were occupied by moaning Orcs who looked as if they had been burned. This puzzled me mightily. I had had more to do with Orcs in my time than I care to say, and I knew they did not like the sunlight, but I had never seen anything like this.

The guards and the workers were Men. There were surprisingly few. Four of then led us, with our hands tied, to the Audience Chamber of the Prefect of Ecstasy.

The Audience Chamber was in fact my three best bedrooms, with the walls knocked down and the walls painted sable. Skillfully wrought scenes of mayhem and misery were worked into the darkly stained glass of the windows. The culture of Mordor was irredeemably depraved, but it was also helplessly exquisite; that was one of its insistences, like the tidiness of the Shire.

At Man height, at the narrow north end of the room, a strangely glinting mural of the Great Eye floated in the blackness of the wall. Large iron stands stood at intervals about the room, burning huge candles that had been made from the fat of some fell beast. They produced considerably more smoke than light. It took my eyes a moment to take in the room.

The Prefect himself was unmistakable. All in black, with a high black headdress, he had the look of perpetual, dismayed surprise that characterized all the Men who had knowingly submitted to Sauron. He sat on a low-backed chair (not one of mine, I could see) on a circular dais under the Eye. Before his feet, there seemed to be a little cup in which an ember glowed redly. To his left another figure, dressed in dark brown, sat on the edge of the dais.

The figure in brown was Gelmir.

“Where is he?” the Prefect demanded. He had a surprisingly fine tenor voice, but it rasped with impatience. In fact, he sounded very close to desperate.

“This is the traitor of whom I spoke, Prefect, the Hobbit who stole the Great Ring of the Eye many years ago.”

The Prefect scarcely glanced at me; he glared at Gelmir.

“You know perfectly well, elven fool, that the Eye seeks just one thing in this land of imps. I don’t need another imp, no matter what he has done. I don’t need any more Elves, either, or to hear what they say, unless they know where the traitor is. Do you, Elf Bitch?”

I was shocked to hear Arwen Elvenstar addressed in this fashion. Glorfindel was struck dumb, or perhaps dumber. Arwen herself, however, had not lived to be upwards of 3000 years old without learning a measure of composure.

“I see that victory has not made Mordor forget its accustomed courtesy,” she said. “I normally do not address persons who have not introduced themselves to me, but in this case I will say that I do not know what the Servant of the Eye is talking about. I will further suggest that the Servant does not know, either.”

The Prefect took no further notice of them and turned his attention back to Gelmir:

“We need to find him now, today. I have already had to send most of our Orcs to the Misty Mountains to preserve them from sun poisoning. My Men I have sent west. Then, at your counsel, I sent more west to find what became of the army. The imps will realize our position any day now. Do you not know how cruel they are? But I hear nothing from the Ministry of Peace about relief. The Dark Throne is silent, or its messengers are waylaid by bandits.”

Gelmir said in a reasonable tone, “Perhaps, Prefect, it was a mistake to advise the Throne to send its messages through the eastern route rather than the southern. The imps were not that great a peril to communication.”

“Do not forget, Gelmir, that the span of you life is no longer than the span of your usefulness. If we cannot complete our mission here…”

“But Prefect, have I not brought a great gift?” Gelmir indicated the ember in the cup.

“Gelmir, you flatter yourself, and most of all you flatter your wit. You have brought a useless bauble that the Eye could have whenever it desired.” The Prefect kicked the cup away. “The Eye is sick of rings.”

The cup clattered off the dais, sending the ember skittering across the slate floor. It did not actually come to a stop very close to my feet, but no one was paying much attention to me as the exchange between Gelmir and the Prefect continued. I bent down and picked it up. It was very hot, I knew. I could even feel some of the heat. However, in the unreal darkness of this outpost of the kingdom of nothingness, I was as faded as I had ever been. One of the advantages to that was a degree of immunity to physical forces: such as heat, for instance. I picked up Vilya (Gelmir really had retrieved it; had he been fool enough to bring it here voluntarily, or had he been picked up by one of the Prefect’s sunburned Orcs?) and applied it to the cords on my wrists. No one noticed the small amount of smoke. Then no one noticed that I was free.

Well, my hands were no longer tied: I was still being kept under guard by four large men while the slithery Gelmir seemed to be losing an argument with the viceroy of darkness about whether to just kill the lot of us.

“First, Gelmir,” the Prefect was saying, “I will personally induce the ecstasy of the Eye in all three of them, to see whether they do know anything. And then, Gelmir, before we leave this place, the time will come for you; so much for your ‘offer of negotiation.’”

I took a certain degree of satisfaction in that last bit, but not so much that I did not run from the Chamber.

One of the guards did follow, but no one seemed terribly put out about my escape attempt. After all, where could I go?

Where I did go was into the largest Orc ward (made from my kitchen and my principal larder, the devils!) and tore down the curtains over the south-facing windows. Beautiful bright sunlight streamed into the room, a fair amount of it straight through me. No matter. The Orcs erupted like disturbed bees and ran screaming into the hall. Then I exited a window and walked on my lawn for the first time since my eleventy-first birthday party. When I came to the deliciously horrible stained glass of the Chamber of Audience, I used a rock to clear away the glass before jumping through. I was never a hero.

Inside, I found the situation better than I had hoped. The guards had gone to attend to the riot in the hall, and Gelmir was wrestling with the Prefect. I did to Arwen and Glorfindel’s bonds much what I had done with mine, which hurt the prisoners but not as much as the Ecstasy of Mordor would have. We were hopping through the window when Gelmir yelled, “Wait, take me!” This gave the Elves pause, but I responded immediately with the only weapon we had. The Prefect, whom Gelmir did not quite have in neck hold, could scarcely see me, what with the sudden access of sunlight and the fact I was half invisible anyway. So, he was not prepared to stop me from popping the Ring into his mouth and making him swallow it. Then he ran into the hall, too, but not to call the guards after us.

(8) North & West

Outside on the lawn of Bag End, there was nothing to do but run. There were some Men about, but none had horses, and the Men seemed disinclined to challenge us on foot: three High Elves, even unarmed, are pretty formidable. In any case, the guard concentrated on the chaos in Bag End, which seemed to taking on the aspect of an Orkish uprising. When it was just a matter of speed, Glorfindel carried me. The landscape was one of gently rolling hills, with occasional patches of trees: it lent itself to flight. Long before sunset, we were many miles away.

We had run all the way to the North Farthing. Indeed, we were not far from Bindbale Wood. I had visited here in my younger days, and I knew the people for hospitable folk. Still, the whole Shire had been brutalized, so I did not know how much the rules of hospitality still applied. In any case, I suspected that a little harmless dissimulation about my identity would be prudent.

“We might just spend the evening in the woods,” Arwen suggested.

“And we might miss lunch and dinner and breakfast and cast ourselves into the Encircling Ocean,” I said crossly. “Whatever may suit the Elves, however, I am a Hobbit. I will knock on the first door we see.”

The first door actually took a little finding, but finally we came across a farm just outside the border of the wood, a farm that looked as prosperous as any Hobbit farm ever had. Leaving the Elves at a discreet distance, I knocked on the door just as the sun was about to set.

“Good evening, madam,” I said to the farmer’s wife who answered the door. “My name is Boffo Feathertoes. Would it be possible for you to put up my friends and me for the night?”

“You’re not Boffo Feathertoes.” She answered evenly. “You’re Mad Baggins.”

“Why do you say that, madam?”

“I can see the sun setting through your stomach.”

They put us up anyway, but we had to stay in the barn. Gelmir, who had picked up a few other things besides the Ring Vilya during his expedition to Rivendell, paid quite a lot of coin for our lodging. The story that circulated afterward was that I had appeared at the door with a bang and a sack of gold. I had joined the immortals.

Gelmir was penitent. He had lost his little band of followers to Orkish stragglers or to desertion. Possibly that was just as well: if a band of Elves had approached the garrison of Men at the Brandywine Bridge, they would probably have just been shot with arrows from a distance. As it was, he had no trouble gaining an audience with the Prefect. The Prefect had no interest in Gelmir’s offer of surrender on terms, but he did seem really desperate for information about the outside world.

Mordor was not paying attention to his mission. In fact, Mordor did not seem to be paying attention to anything. The Eye had not been surprised by victory. Mordor had been planning for centuries about the course it would take when Gondor fell. Those plans had not included the recovery of the Ring; that had been pure luck. Something about the recovery of the Ring, however, had deranged even the most straightforward schemes over which the Eye had gloated for so long. Mordor could and did still overawe its near neighbors, but more and more, when the claw of Mordor reached out afar, it closed on nothing. No one at the Ministry of Peace was sure what was happening, except that anything that miscarried in Eriador was certainly the Prefect’s fault. At any rate, that was their attitude the last time he had heard from them.

Gelmir also learned what had happened at Mount Doom on March 25. Two palantiri were found at Minas Tirith, and one came into the possession of the Prefect’s Ministry. They can see through time as well as space, and stories about what they revealed spread like lightening among the Dark Lord’s principal servants.

The Ring-bearer had almost fallen to the temptation of the Ring, but in the end he rallied. He had been about to destroy the Ring when he heard a struggle behind him between his servant and the Gollum-creature. He left the Sammath Naur to help his friend, who was rolling down the path with Gollum at his throat. As the Ring-bearer stood at the entrance to the cave, however, he became aware of the approach of the Nazgul. He raised to rebuke them the hand that wore the Ring; they fell from the sky like sparks from a fire. He followed the wrestling figures down the path. When he reached them, before he speak a word of command, Gollum sprang up and ripped his throat out. The Ring-bearer’s servant eventually slew Gollum, but not before he had himself been mortally wounded. He died clutching the Ring a few yards from the entrance to the Sammath Naur. The Ring was on the Dark Lord’s hand within a few hours.

“Perhaps if he had claimed the Ring for his own, matters would have turned out differently,” Gelmir concluded.

“That is exactly the kind of thing I would expect someone like you to say,” Glorfindel sneered.

I said nothing, but I was not sure I disagreed with Gelmir. Poor, honest, doomed Frodo: if he had understood that he could not possibly achieve the Quest by his own virtue, then maybe, just maybe, a way would have been found that no one could have predicted.

* * *

The last stage of our journey to the West was not without incident. We went northwest to Needlehole, thinking to travel through Little Delving rather than through Michel Delving, which for all we knew was still in the hands of the Prefect’s Men. We discovered, though, that the Hobbits of the northern border of the Shire were no happier to see strangers than the Bucklanders had been. The northerners had not been troubled by Men or Orcs, however: their problem was the Things that Live in the Woods. Wags and trolls and nightwalkers had long haunted Hobbit mythology, for the excellent reason that they also haunted the wastelands to the north of the Shire. All that had kept them from haunting the Shire, too, were the Rangers, and to a lesser extent the sheriffs. Now both were gone. We heard a lot of sentiment that things were better when Lotho was in charge: he at least had kept up the border patrol.

We met some of the Things, on the one night when we unwisely attempted to make camp. After that, we took lodging where we could get it, sometimes without informing the owners of the barns and sheds where we took refuge. Quite often, we also made off with their goods and smaller livestock. (Yes, Elves do steal: I know this because I helped them do it. They don’t kidnap Hobbits, though: Rory had been listening to rumors.) We barely escaped from the neighborhood of Little Delving with our lives. In contrast, we were well enough received in Michel Delving to use the inn. Yes, the Prefect’s Men had been there, but had done no damage beyond some ordinary thievery. Nothing more was heard from them; no one and nothing had come from the West.

While we were at Michel Delving, however, we did hear that the remnants of the army of the Eye had left the Shire through the southward roads. It had not been defeated. When Hobbits cautiously entered Bag End and the other headquarters, they found that most of the army had died.

We stayed on the Road thereafter. We passed through the lightly people White Downs, and the Far Downs, of which I had so often heard but which I had never visited. The Elves told me that the tang in the air and the high haze in the sky were signs of the proximity of the sea. I could just detect these things, but in truth my senses were failing me, or at least my senses for natural things. It was getting so that I had to concentrate to see the ordinary world. I was beginning to be able to see another world all about me, even in the daytime. Some of it was quite alarming. I mentioned it to the Elves. They said yes, they could see that world, if they needed to do so. Usually they preferred to ignore it. I could understand why, but I was having less and less choice about seeing it.

(9) The Tower Hills

I had seen a fair amount of Middle Earth, but the White Tower was by far the most striking building I have ever seen. It rose up like a chalk continuation of the highest of the rolling green hills. It almost glowed against the sky behind it, a sky so blue it was almost black. And the Tower was perfect; no harm had come to this place.

Arwen said, “Bilbo, as you know, we three Elves have been here before. Now come up with us, and you will what you have never seen before.”

The great oaken doors of the Tower were open. No one was inside at ground level. Around the walls of the great tower was a wide stairway, punctuated by small glassed windows. The stairs wound to an aperture in the roof far above us. We climbed.

We were able to see the sea long before we reached the top. It was not the sea’s apparent infinity that astonished me. I was astonished because the sea was the one thing that looked the same in both worlds.

The top of the tower was large. A central chamber took up most of it; doors led off that circular space to other rooms. In the middle of the chamber there was stone pedestal. On the pedestal was a softly glowing white sphere.

“Look, Bilbo,” said Arwen, “here is the great palantir that looks to the uttermost West. The Elves come here in pilgrimage, so that we do not forget our true home. You are worthy to see this vision, too. Come.”

I stood up on the shallow step on which the pedestal stood and gazed into the sphere. The milky glow became clouds. The clouds thinned. And then opaque glow returned.

“I am sorry,” I said, “perhaps I am not worthy enough.”

“I see nothing but clouds and light,” said Gelmir.

“That, too, is all I see,” Glorfindel said.

We were silent for several confused moments. Then we heard a door opening behind us.

The Elves stepped back and drew their knives, but there was no need. Two young Men in gray uniforms stood politely by the head of the stairs. On their right breasts they bore a white emblem with which I was not familiar.

“Lady Arwen, my Elf Lords, Master Halfling, we greet you in the name of Warden Cirdan and his allies. With your permission, we have been sent to escort you to the Gray Havens.”

“Well met, fair-spoken strangers, for the havens are indeed our destination,” said Gelmir. “But can you tell us why the stone no longer looks beyond the sea?”

“I can merely confirm that the stone is as you say for all who try to use it. Why this should be I do not know. However, my master may know. In any case, he desires urgently to speak to you. Will you come down and take some refreshment? We have mounts for you all. We can be at the Havens by sundown tomorrow.”

We looked at each other. There nothing else we could have asked for. The two Men in gray preceded us down the stairs. I kept hopping up to the westward-facing windows to get one more look at the reassuringly solid sea.

(10) The End of the World

In the fine weather, we made better time even than we had hoped. On the journey, our hosts answered direct questions but volunteered no information. We arrived at the Havens by mid-afternoon. The Havens were a small and ancient town of square towers and substantial houses, all built entirely of basalt. The town was almost an island. It was located at the end of a long, narrow peninsula that defined the inner harbor. The Havens were easily defended and impossible to truly besiege without a formidable armada to flank its seaward side. No ships but the town’s own were in evidence when we arrived, however. The town was a perfect as the White Tower had been. Its folk were busy and undisturbed.

In former days, I would have complained that I was not offered a meal after such a long journey, but food was becoming one of those earthly things that meant less and less to me. My horror at this development grew daily, but it did allow me to be as eager as the rest to be led to the quarters of Cirdan the Shipwright, the Warden of the Havens. We came to a long room with windows of leaded glass that overlooked both the inner and the seaward harbors. Long tables along the sides of the room held maps, scrolls, and instrument of observation, as well some products of elvish ingenuity whose function eluded me.

“Arwen, Glorfindel, welcome, welcome!” he said. He gave me a wry look and said, “And welcome to you, Master Baggins, the little fellow who started this big war.” I made a similarly ambiguous expression and bowed low, wishing that I were not just faded but completely invisible already. Then Cirdan addressed the last member of our party.

“Oh, Gelmir, it’s you. You survived, I see.”

Gelmir made much the same sort of bow I had.

Arwen said, “It is good to see again, Cirdan, my friend, and good beyond hope to see your city safe and whole. Many terrible things have happened, and we must discuss them soon enough. But tell me first, if you will, why the palantir of the Hills no longer has the Straight Sight.”

“All in good time, Arwen. Indeed, may mysteries will be made clear before the sun sets. I had asked several other persons with an interest in these matters to be here, but you are a little earlier than we planned, so it will take a few moments to alert them. Ah, here are two now!”

Erestor and Faramir had entered the room. Warm greetings were exchanged. Faramir and Arwen actually embraced; they did not entirely disentangle from each other when they were finished. Erestor seemed a little concerned that there was less to me than when we last met. Gelmir smiled and nodded and overlooked the fact nobody met his eye.

“There were monsters to fight in the Hills of Evendim,” Faramir was explaining, “but no Men, fortunately. The Breelanders think they can make a go of it there. Some of us then continued west and met the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. They are eager to help us. They were beginning to wonder how they would support themselves in a world without farmers to trade with.

“After that, I came south with Erestor and most of the other Elves. When I arrived here and learned the state of things in the Eriador, I was about to head east into the Shire to search for you. Then we heard you were on your way.”

“Yes, better monsters than Men. Would that I had taken that advice earlier.”

Someone unknown to me had joined us, a tall bearded figure in a gray uniform. Like the uniform of the men who had brought us, his bore the symbol of a white hand.

“Saruman!” said Arwen and Glorfindel in dismay. Gelmir said nothing. Perhaps he was struck dumb with happiness at there being someone in the room who was even less popular than he was.

“At your service,” he said with a small bow. “And yours, Master Halfling,” he said, turning to me. “The famous Bilbo Baggins, Esquire, if I am not mistaken?”

I bowed back. “The very same; and my service to you.” I knew enough about Saruman not to like him one bit, but I also knew enough about villains to be polite to them until the last possible moment.

“Cirdan, you know well that Saruman was cast from the White Council,” said Arwen, “and that he was long in secret league with the Enemy. How comes he here, your ally and apparent friend?”

“Lady Arwen, I have done many foolish and wicked things,” Saruman said to Arwen before Cirdan could reply, “yet now I have learned a little wisdom, at an immense price. Cirdan has heard my tale, and has become reconciled with me. I ask that you, too, hear me out.”

It was quite a story. We had heard that Gandalf had imprisoned Saruman with Grima at Orthanc, and set the Ents to guard them. On the Day of Doom, however, the Ents were terrified quite as much as the trees of the Old Forest had been. Unlike those trees, the Ents were mobile. They ran away. Saruman and Grima simply walked out of Orthanc and parted company, with slight expressions of mutual esteem.

I had not heard that Saruman had had dealings with the Shire. Now that he mentioned the matter, I began to understand how someone as clueless as Lotho Sackville-Baggins could cow the country into submission. In any case, Saruman fled to the Shire. He believed he had done so in secret, but the secret was apparently not as tightly kept as he had hoped.

Then something clicked in my head.

“The traitor: you are the traitor that Sauron was seeking in the Shire!” I said. “You were the reason for the invasion!”

“Yes Master Baggins, I was the proximate cause, and I deeply regret the great harm that was done to your beautiful country in the search for me. May I remind you, however, that the Dark Tower had business with the Shire that had nothing to do with me? There were more remote causes for the invasion. How regrettable that your own noble self was among them.”

He was better at innuendo than Gelmir was, I thought. Much better.

In any case, Saruman did not remain long in the Shire, but fled westward when he realized that the hand of Mordor was reaching out for him. Before many days had passed, he was at the Gray Havens. He had an awkward interview with Cirdan, who detained him at first. However, Cirdan was growing desperate. He knew that an army of Mordor was on its way to Havens. He could not defend the Havens indefinitely. He did not have the ships to evacuate its people, either to the West or to some remote place on the shores of Middle Earth. Saruman reminded him of his power of the Voice, and asked Cirdan to let him meet the army marching from the Shire.

“It was the best display of the great Art in my very long career,” Saruman said in a voice that failed to convey modesty. “With an hour’s talk, I stopped their advance. Within a day, I had turned their allegiance. In a week, most of them were reformed characters. Many now choose to continue to serve with me here, though of course now I have little extraordinary power of persuasion: other than reason, of course.”

“And how can that be,” asked Gelmir, “if that is a power that is native to you?”

“This can be, Councilor Gelmir, because what mortals call ‘magic’ is ending.”

This was food for thought for everyone. I thought of an objection.

I stood up on a chair in front of a window that looked out on golden afternoon light falling on the inner harbor. “If that is the case, wizard, than how is it you can see the white sails through my body, and in a week you will be able to see the masts?”

“Bilbo, let us consider your strange case. May we take it as proved that you are indeed fading, as the Nazgul did of old?”

“Just follow my voice if you can’t see me when I climb off the chair. Yes, Saruman, I am fading.”

“But when the Nazgul faded, the disappearance of their bodies was the least grievous matter. Their wills faded, too, Bilbo, until their minds became only puppets of the mind of Sauron. Has anything like that happened to you?”

I considered a moment, but I had already given the matter much thought. “I saw the Eye just once, on the Day of Doom. I am aware of it, like a stove across a room, but no, it does oppress me. The Eye is silent. I had, frankly, been hoping to leave Middle Earth before it began to speak.”

“It will not speak to you, Bilbo. Indeed, even in his bodily form the Dark Lord no longer speaks to his own servants. You may have noticed some of the effects of this silence on the government of his kingdom.”

“Is he then dead?” asked Gelmir.

“By no means. Sauron cannot die. He observes all that passes in Middle Earth. No doubt he sees us here now. He shouts and struggles and tries to affect the course of events, but he is like a man at the bottom of a waterfall who cannot make himself heard. The power of Sauron was Nothing, or rather the control of the flow of power and substance from this world to the absolute void that is not Arda. That is why every exercise of Sauron’s will was always a loss of some kind. His towers rose to the sky, but at the cost of realms that had held much greater substance. The Rings were only valves to give Sauron greater access to the void. When he acquired the Great Ring, the hole he had drilled through the world of substance became too great, a chasm not even he could control. All the magic in the world is flowing through it, and at an ever faster pace.

“I tried once to warn him that this could happen. He would not listen.”

Glorfindel became alarmed. “But what about the Elves?” he asked. “Is even the West safe, and can we still go there? Was the palantir clouded because the West is no more?”

Cirdan reassured him. “The palantir is clouded because Those Beyond the Sea obscured it when they realized the magnitude of Sauron’s victory. They do not wish their secrets spied out, and they know Sauron might well acquire the stone. Perhaps they did wisely, though now they have no way to see what is happening here. In any case, the very fact the palantir is still obscure is proof that the West still exists. The magic will not flow out of all creation, Glorfindel: only Middle Earth.”

“The Elves can still leave Middle Earth,” Erestor said, “but the time is short. The Straight Road to the West is a special grace between two worlds, but it cannot long endure now. As Cirdan can tell you, his ships have ever more trouble traversing the Gulf. I judge that no ship will be able to reach the West after the end of this year.”

“But what will happen to Middle Earth? What will happen to the race of Men?” asked Faramir.

“Some part of the effect you have already seen, Steward of Gondor,” answered Saruman gravely. “The creatures of this Middle Earth that belonged to the elder days are passing away. That would have happened anyway, but what would otherwise have taken centuries will now require only a few months. All of them: Trolls, Orcs, Ents, the good creatures and the bad, all will simply fall apart under the inflexible laws that will order nature in this Fourth Age.”

“So you are saying that Men will have the world to themselves?”

“For the most part. I tried very hard to tell Gandalf this. I tried too hard, and in the wrong way, and maybe I did not deserve to be listened to. In any case, I thought to use my knowledge of the new age for my own benefit. I started as a fool, and I became a tyrant.”

“Yes, you did,” said Arwen.

“O wise persons,” I broke in, “a mere Hobbit is unworthy to learn such great secrets as I have heard in this room. But may I point out that I am still disappearing?”

“You are no longer disappearing for quite for the reasons the Nazgul did, Bilbo,” Saruman said. Gently. “You are disappearing because, in your long and remarkable life, you have become magical. You are one of the immortals, my friend.”

“In that case,” I said, “this is no longer the world for me.”

* * *

Arwen chose to remain with Faramir: no surprise there. He was still calling himself the Steward of Gondor when our ship left, and talking about reconstituting the kingdom. I suspect that is wishful thinking. By and by, Arwen will persuade him to declare himself king of someplace new. Is he is as good a Man as Strider was? Maybe not, but he is willing to try.

Saruman had the option to stay, but chose to submit himself to the judgment that awaited him in the West. Perhaps, in light of what happened to Sauron, he considers that the worst the Valar would do to him is better than the best he would have devised for himself. I still don’t trust him, but he is quite a conversationalist.

Erestor will be coming in one of the last ships, if he comes at all. He was taking about staying in Middle Earth. He would be satisfied with mortality, he says. The fact is that none of the Wise know whether the Elves can long endure in the Fourth Age. The Wisest Wise are not taking any chances.

Gelmir was supposed to come on this ship. I got Cirdan to change the passenger list.

The sea journey itself has been one continuous storm. I really thought we would capsize in the first few days. The winds have quieted a little, but since then there has been rain and more rain.

And as for me, I keep to my small cabin and do what I have done for many years: write an account of my adventures. My first diary is still at Rivendell, probably, unless someone has used it to start a fire already. So much happened between the end of that book and the beginning of this one. Whole lifetimes passed: Merry, Pippin, Sam, Strider, and of course Frodo. They are all gone now, fallen in a crack that opened between one world and the next.

Only I am left to tell the tale, but who will care to hear it? Do they even have memoirs in the uttermost West? We’ll find out. At least, as I write this, I have the satisfaction of seeing that my fist once again casts a shadow.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Augustine: A Biography

St. Augustine  By Unknown - http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=3553, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6029808

St. Augustine

By Unknown - http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=3553, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6029808

I don't have much to add to this fine book review of a biography of St. Augustine, other than to highlight this:

At the end of his life, with the Vandals already approaching Hippo, Augustine was carrying on a long polemic, all for publication, with John of Eclanum. (It is amazing how much the theological discourse of the early Church resembles Internet flame wars.) Brown suggests that Augustine might have done better to read Julian more carefully, since Julian was close to the sort of workable synthesis of theology and Aristotle that Thomas Aquinas was to achieve many centuries later.

Augustine:
A Biography
By Peter Brown
University of California Press, 2000
Originally Published 1967
548 Pages, Various Prices
ISBN 0-520-22757-3

A Review By John J. Reilly

 

Aurelius Augustinus, known to history as Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, lived from 354 to 430. When he was born in Thagaste (a town in the Province of Numidia: perhaps the Roman equivalent of the American Midwest), a provincial like himself might hope to pursue a career as a public intellectual in Italy and the great cities of the east. At the time of his death, Rome had already been sacked 20 years before. Roman Africa, long the most secure region of the empire, had collapsed in the space of two years. The Vandals were besieging Hippo Regius, the port city where he had been bishop for 35 years. There are many reasons for studying the life of Augustine, but among them is surely the fact that he was a highly articulate man who lived at the end of the world.

This biography by Peter Brown is now almost 40 years old. Since he finished it, Brown became one of the leading authorities on late antiquity. This edition includes an epilogue with some second thoughts and a survey of writings by Augustine that came to light in the last quarter of the 20th century. It is hard to imagine what more one could want in a book this size, but as Brown himself points out, it has certain blind spots. He follows Augustine's theology only to the extent it seems to have some psychological significance for Augustine or the culture of his period. Brown also notes that, while our growing understanding of Augustine's society makes him appear no less original, it also highlights the fact that the Bishop of Hippo did not loom as large as earlier historians had assumed. I have often felt there to be a problem with Shakespeare studies: they forget that, when Shakespeare was alive, being Shakespeare was not such a big deal. Something similar may also have been true of Augustine.

The future saint was born about 400 miles west of Carthage, a Roman city on the site of the Roman Republic's ancient enemy, and about 150 miles southeast of Hippo. The region was traditionally a granary of the Roman Empire. Augustine's hometown, Thagaste (Souk Ahras in modern Algeria) was a conventional Roman grid-city, but going to seed. Major building had stopped for almost a century, and the neat layout of streets was supplemented by warrens of shantytowns.

There are continuing questions about Augustine's ethnicity and knowledge of languages that this book does nothing to clear up. Some secondary sources say baldly that “Augustine spoke Punic,” which they identify with the Semitic language of ancient Carthage. Brown says no; he even says that the “Punic” to which Augustine and his contemporaries referred was actually a form of Berber. In any case, Augustine in later life did seem to need an interpreter to deal with the country people from the non-Latin-speaking parts of his diocese.

Augustine's education, in Thagaste and Carthage, was based on scraps and tatters of Roman authors. It involved the minute analysis of great chunks of Cicero, but as Brown points out, Augustine as a student seems not to have encountered any philosophy as a coherent system, not even in translation. He studied Greek, and he could make translations at need, but he could not write or speak it. His family was Christian, or at least Monica his mother was (his father would be baptized on his deathbed). However, part of his difficulty as a young man with Christianity was that the Latin translations of the Bible then in use were subliterary. Only much later would Augustine's friend, Saint Jerome, produce the Latin Vulgate version that would remain standard throughout the West even after Latin ceased to be spoken. Like the King James Version, Jerome's Vulgate may have been too pretty for its own good.

Augustine's first conversion, if we may use that term, was to Manicheanism, a form of gnosticism created in the 3rd century by Mani, a prophet from Mesopotamia. This doctrine held that the evil in the world was the result of there being two principles, dark and light, evil and good. The disgust with the mere physicality of human beings that people of all religious persuasions felt in late antiquity made this doctrine intuitively attractive. The late empire was nominally Christian and Manicheanism was proscribed, but it created little cells everywhere, in a manner reminiscent of Masonry, or for that matter, of 20th-century Communism. Augustine was a fellow traveler.

He quickly found problems with it, however. The sacred texts of Manicheanism were not subject to philosophical inquiry. Doctrines about the movement of the moon were central to the system, but Augustine knew enough astronomy to know that they were nonsense. There was also the deeper problem that the Manichean Light was helpless. The Elect might hope to purify themselves of darkness, but there was nothing to be done about the state of things in this life. If the Light could do nothing, then why bother about it?

According to some historians, notably Toynbee, the real date for the fall of the Roman Empire is 378, when the Visigoths killed the emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople and the empire lost control of the frontier in the Balkans. Contemporaries recognized the gravity of that event. Still, it was not so serious that Augustine could not sail for Rome in 383 to teach rhetoric at an advanced level. As a teacher in Rome, he famously discovered that Roman students were deadbeats about paying their school fees. A little later, influential contacts and natural ability secured him an appointment as a professor of rhetoric in Milan in northern Italy. In effect, he was an imperial flack, work that he did not appear to find satisfying.

We should remember that Milan was then the capital of the empire in the West. In the empire's last two centuries there were normally two emperors, nominally colleagues, with the senior emperor resident in Constantinople and the junior somewhere in Italy. The effective seat of government had actually shifted to Milan as early as the 2nd century: under the empire at its height, its rulers discovered that, strategically, Rome was in the middle of nowhere. Later in Augustine's life, the government would move permanently to Ravenna. There it was no more effective, but it was at least protected by marshes.

In Milan, Augustine completed the transition to Platonism that he had begun long before. By “Platonism,” he meant what is now called “neoplatonism,” the mystical, even ecstatic doctrine of Plotinus and Porphyry, but which people of Augustine's day saw as perfectly continuous with the school of Plato. In any case, the doctrine was a revelation to him on several levels.

To begin with, this was his first acquaintance with the idea that there could be real entities that are not material. The Light and Dark of the Manicheans were thought to be different kinds of stuff. Even the grossest superstitions of late antiquity were “materialist” in this sense, as indeed were most forms of late Classical philosophy. Augustine saw that the notion of the non-material Idea was far more useful.

More important, Augustine saw that the Good need not be helpless. Quite the opposite: it was overwhelming. In the neoplatonic view, the world we see is simply a pale image of the Good, which exists at the summit of the chain of Being, each link of which is more perfect than the one below. Neoplatonism promised direct experience of the Good, which was also the Beautiful and the True, through contemplation and asceticism. This was a rather more satisfactory goal than the ritual purity of the Manichean Elect.

Many sophisticated pagans made their peace with Christianity through Platonism, which they believed allowed the common people an image of the Good. Platonists of this sort might attend church in good conscience, without being baptized, as a social convention. Augustine was a member of this class for a time, perhaps. However, in Milan he met not just sophisticated Platonists, but also sophisticated Christians, the most important of whom was the city's famous bishop, Ambrose, later to be acclaimed a saint.

Ambrose successfully faced down emperors when the need arose. He also succeeded in overcoming Augustine's largely literary prejudice against the Christian scriptures. In any case, Augustine's experiences in Milan led up to the day in 386 when, in an Italian garden, he heard a child's voice say, “take up; read.” His encounter with scripture in response to this injunction completed his conversion to Christianity. His baptism soon followed. He then set about reforming his own life; a little later, he turned his attention to reforming other people's lives. We remember Saint Augustine because of the record he left us of his discovery of the extent to which these things were and were not possible.

During the next two years, Augustine briefly lived in a group home, a sort of proto-monastery, with similarly minded philosophical Christians. Like most people of his day, he assumed that deep conversion would require a renunciation of married life, if not quite of family life: Monica, his mother, had followed him to Italy and apparently managed his household. In any case, he canceled plans for marriage to an heiress. He also sent away his concubine, by whom he had had a son, who died as a young man. (“Concubine” sounds rather racy in modern English. In the Greco-Roman world it was a prosaic arrangement in the nature of a “civil union,” though not generally a union of equals.) Monica's Catholic orthodoxy was not the least of the influences in her son's conversion. She died just before they were all about to return home to Thagaste. She became a saint, too.

Brown notes that Augustine left Italy at just the time when it began to cease to be true that all roads led to Rome. He would do business all the remainder of his life with the government in northern Italy and with the pope in Rome, but he belonged to the last generation of provincials who went to Rome to make their reputations. Through invasion, and even more through irresponsible uprisings by local commanders, the wheels were starting to fall off the political system. Increasingly, the empire was unable to guarantee the security of its citizens, even at the cost of oppression.

Back in sheltered Africa, though, Augustine now had a reputation as a man of learning and good character, so much so that he was essentially drafted as a priest by the congregation of the basilica of Hippo in 391. Four or five years later, he became bishop. His transformation began into Saint Augustine, the great Doctor of the Latin West.

Augustine wrote quite literally a library of books. When he spoke of his library at Hippo, in fact, he seems to have been referring to a small research and publishing enterprise, dedicated in no small part to disseminating the wide range of texts he produced. Still, when people talk about Augustine, they are normally talking about two books: the Confessions, which began to appear about 400 and which deals with his conversion; and The City of God, parts of which began to circulate in 413, and which tried to make sense of the sack of Rome three years before.

Two points are particularly interesting about the Confessions, in light of what we know about Augustine's background. The first is that, despite Augustine's Platonic readiness to conceive of God as an intellectual object, Augustine seems him as the prime mover in his conversion. The book, in fact, is largely a second-person address to God, to Whom Augustine recounts how God led him through reason, through joy, and through happy accident to that garden where Augustine heard the child's voice. For someone who had recently been a Manichean, this was a very favorable assessment of world of the senses. Human nature itself was full of handles for God to grab onto.

The other point is that the story does not end with Augustine's conversion. That was unusual: conversion narratives, then and since, often assumed that the protagonist would be effortlessly holy ever after. Neither was it usual for high paganism: neoplatonic philosophers and Stoic sages were supposed to “get it,” to achieve enlightenment, and then to live an untroubled life in semi-retirement, where they would try to explain the ineffable to eager students. As we have seen, Augustine actually tried to do something like that, but discovered he was not good enough. Even after his conversion, he was still Augustine. He needed God's help at least as much after his baptism as he needed it before. Perfection in this life was not an option.

This was, perhaps, why Augustine had little patience with sects and theological opinions that promised perfection, or that even said it was possible.

One such sect was the Donatist Church, a schismatic group that was actually the dominant church in Africa when Augustine returned from Italy. It grew out of the last pagan persecutions. In those days, many Christians, clergy included, apostatized to save their lives, but later repented and were received back into the church. The Donatists were the institutional descendants of some of those who had not apostatized, and who refused to recognize the repentance of those who had. They also did not recognize the power of former apostates to baptize, or ordain their successors.

The Catholic Church did exist in Africa, in the sense of bishops who were in communion with the bishops of the patriarchal sees, and especially with Rome, whose bishop enjoyed a unique primacy even then. It was the Catholic bishops that were recognized by the imperial government. The Donatist Church differed from this universal establishment in no point of doctrine or liturgy. The Donatists differed only in claiming that they were a church of saints: they were the true Church in Africa, and maybe the only true church in the world.

Augustine attempted to heal this schism through persuasion and polemics, not wholly without success. In the final analysis, though, it was the willingness of the imperial government to seize Donatist property and place the Donatist faithful under civil disabilities that destroyed Donatism, or at least drove it out of the cities. Augustine justified persecution, at least at this relatively moderate level, for much the same reason that he had recognized the necessity of the world for his own conversion. The social environment can lead us to God, but this implies that the environment must be cleared of delusions and distractions. Augustine was prepared to use the state toward that end.

This is not to imply that when Augustine said “jump!” the Proconsul in Carthage asked “how high?” Particularly in the letters that came to light in the late 20th century, we see Augustine working as an ombudsman between his flock and a government that was becoming simultaneously less competent and more brutal. He tried to get pardons for tax protesters. He tried to get death sentences commuted. He tried to stop a new and appalling recrudescence of the slave trade. Taking advantage of the eclipse of imperial order, private entrepreneurs had taken to capturing free peasants in Africa and selling them to buyers in Gaul and Italy. They embarked their captives through Hippo, under the nose of the port authorities, who had been bribed. When members of Augustine's cathedral chapter sought legal redress for some of the captives, the slavers sued for interference with their business.

Augustine was not an uncritical admirer of the Roman Empire, which, again, was somewhat unusual for a man in his position. The tendency of his time was to increasingly regard the empire as a providential historical development, created by God to foster and protect the Church. The ideology of the medieval Holy Roman Empire was not so different; Dante's theory of universal monarchy made the Church and the Empire equivalent divine institutions.

Brown emphasizes that Augustine was skeptical of these ideas long before the sack of Rome in 410. After that event, he canonized his measured dismay of those years in his greatest work, The City of God. Brown notes that the immediate audience for the book consisted in significant part of literary refugees from Italy. In fact, the book started life in part as a series of sermons.

Augustine explains that the Church, City of God, was a pilgrim in this world. (“Pilgrim” did not suggest to Augustine that to travel hopefully was better than to arrive; he always hated traveling.) It could cooperate with the City of Man, with which it was inextricably connected. Indeed, as citizens, Christians had some duty to work for that City's good. However, the City of Man was ultimately transitory. It could not command our final loyalty.

Augustine was a patriot. He knew the empire was in trouble, but he said it might recover, as it had done so many times before. And in fact it did recover for a few years; Alaric the Visigoth turned out to be more an unsuccessful extortioner than a world conqueror. Augustine, clearly, was wise not to link the troubles of his contemporary world with the prophecies of revelation (one of the great faults of Brown's book is that we get almost no discussion of Augustine's views on eschatology). What Augustine did do was create the historical framework for a livable world. Augustine has even been called “the father of progress,” since he held open the prospect that the betterment of the secular world was at least possible.

Interesting as all this is, the issue that made Augustine's reputation was the controversy with Pelagius about free will, predestination, and original sin. Pelagius, a man of British extraction, argued against the doctrine that we are born tainted by original sin. He also argued that the human will, informed by teaching, was capable of rejecting sin and choosing the good. In many accounts of this debate, Pelagius is portrayed as the champion of reason and human autonomy, while Augustine is seen as the proponent of infant damnation and of a God who arbitrarily predestines some fraction of the human race to Hell.

Brown's thesis is that, at every point, Augustine's concern was actually to make the Christian life livable. Pelagius's account of the autonomy of the will meant that people bore a terrible burden for their own choices. In Pelagius's system, the least infraction of divine law merited damnation. Pelagians laid great stress on the value of threats of hellfire to encourage the faithful to greater efforts. To that Augustine responded, oddly like a philosopher of the Enlightenment 1,300 years later, that a man who fears hell does not fear sinning, but burning.

And in fact, the Pelagian party was not a would-be Broad Church of moral uplift, but yet another example of Late Antique spiritual athletes trying to form a tiny minority of the elect. When Augustine defended original sin, he was defending the power of the rite of baptism to offer some surety of salvation, even to infants. Augustine's version of predestination rejected the notion that one could say that conversion and continuance in grace were either personal choices or divine intervention; he did insist that the unaided human will was insufficient. He cited scripture, but this insight is really what the Confessions had been all about.

In his debates with Pelagius, Augustine articulated a concept of freedom that has fascinated and repelled the West ever since. In this view, the mere perception of a choice is evidence of the corruption of the will. True freedom, in contrast, means transcending choice. A truly free man is one whose will has been so cleared of error and bias, particularly the biases created by desire, that he can see there is only one real possibility.

This has a fine Hegelian ring to it: freedom is the conformance of the will to necessity. And like the politics that descends from Hegel, it can be breathtakingly oppressive. At its worst, it means than a government can ignore popular opposition to its policies as the product of false consciousness, or that an established church could assume that there is no such thing as an honest heretic. On the other hand, the procedural notion of freedom, as a choice that is externally unrestricted, is subtly self-contradictory. The existence of objective value in the things we are choosing among, that is, the possibility that a choice might be right or wrong, is the kind of external constraint that a procedural system has to ignore or suppress. Freedom then means the right to choose between things that there is nothing to choose between.

The philosophical question remains with us, but Augustine did succeed in settling the matter for a long time as far as dogma went. A council of eastern bishops found nothing wrong with Pelagianism (the Greek church has never very interested in psychological questions), but Augustine had enough influence to light a fire under several popes to get Pelagianism condemned. Even then it did not lack for brilliant defenders. At the end of his life, with the Vandals already approaching Hippo, Augustine was carrying on a long polemic, all for publication, with John of Eclanum. (It is amazing how much the theological discourse of the early Church resembles Internet flame wars.) Brown suggests that Augustine might have done better to read Julian more carefully, since Julian was close to the sort of workable synthesis of theology and Aristotle that Thomas Aquinas was to achieve many centuries later.

There are ironies in the aftermath to Augustine's life. The world that he was trying to make tolerable for Christians did not survive him. The Catholic Church in Africa was soon being oppressed by the Arian Church of the new Vandal kingdom. A little later, and the Vandal kingdom was conquered by the Byzantine Empire, whose Greek orthodoxy Augustine would have recognized as Catholic, but which was imposed by force over sullen populations with their own ideas. Three centuries later the Arabs came, and Latin-speaking, Christian North Africa evaporated as quickly and thoroughly as had Roman Britain.

Almost all that is left of that world is the writings of Saint Augustine. As it happened, his was the last voice from the Latin West of antiquity.


These books scarcely mention Augustine, but they essentially restate in modern terms the story of Augustine's conversion:

The Long View 2005-03-21: Eschatology: Personal, Universal, and Musical

In a remarkable coincidence, I happen to be fairly close to Point Pleasant, NJ today. I have noticed a lack of apocalyptic activity.

I also note that anagnorisis, or recognition of a newborn society rising in triumph around a still somewhat mysterious hero and his bride, can be used to describe the plot of Last Call.


Eschatology: Personal, Universal, and Musical

 

In the Star Trek movies, there are references to occasions (never shown on screen) in which people who were beamed up by the transporter were seriously garbled in transmission. Something like that could be what will happen in the Terry Schiavo case. If this matter is subsumed into the federal system, there is no way to predict what it will look like when it appears at the district-court level, and on the various levels of appeal. This is not a good test case, if for no other reason than that the facts, even the biology, are unclear. It is particularly not a good case for the right-to-life position: we know from experience that the federal courts do not adopt a position of "first, do no harm" in the face of uncertainty.

I have not yet seen the phrase, "bill of attainder," appear in this debate, but I await it hourly.

* * *

Something else I note with dread is the possibility of a fashion for television series with a biblical-doomsday premise. Doomsday in one form or another is always with us, but the public's long love affair with asteroids and viruses has faded. In these latter days, the strong delusion has gripped the nation's network television executives that there is a huge religion-market that they have been missing, and that they can access it by adapting the Book of Revelation. Yesterday, the New York Times reported on one of these efforts: Apocalypse Now, and for the Next Five Weeks:

With a premiere set for April 13, NBC's "Revelations" follows the efforts of Sister Josepha Montifiore, a globe-trotting nun played by Natascha McElhone, and Dr. Richard Massey, a Harvard astrophysicist (and religious skeptic, of course) played by Bill Pullman, to determine whether the end of the world is indeed near...Most notably, the entire series rests on the premise that the two lead characters can somehow forestall the final clash between God and Satan - an interpretation anathema to most end-times literalists.

Though of course the series has not yet premiered, and NBC has not offered me review disks, it is hard to avoid the prediction that this series will have about as much to do with any recognizable form of Christian eschatology as orange-flavor drink does with orange juice. Even the characters are wrongly constructed. Astrophysicists are often quite metaphysically minded: if the screenwriters wanted a skeptic, they should have used a psychologist, or perhaps an evolutionary biologist.

The really interesting point about the the NBC series is that it is already derivative, of the appalling FOX series, Point Pleasant. This is yet another series with 30-year-old high school students, with the twist that one of them is a potential teenage Antichrist. A bare-midriffed girl Antichrist. Some of the creators of the old Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise were involved in this fiasco, thus providing yet more evidence for the proposition that the worst mistakes can be made only by the smartest people.

Aside from the general cluelessness of the premise, I noted the series chiefly because the title blackens the name of an unoffending town on the Jersey Shore. Just the other day, I heard someone refer to New Jersey as "the Hell State." I thought that excessive, but maybe I have not been paying attention.

* * *

One can only repeat that every film with an apocalyptic premise need not be a horror movie. To appreciate the artistic potential of the apocalyptic texts, however, one must first understand what sort of thing they are. Stephen O'Leary addressed the question at length in his book, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric. I summarized his observations in a review:

Arguing the Apocalypse amplifies the long-standing thesis that apocalyptic is essentially a form of drama. (This is particularly the case with the Book of Revelation, which looks for all the world like a classical Greek play; it even has a chorus.) Now drama, according to Aristotle, comes in two flavors. There is tragedy, which features good and evil characters who proceed to an inevitable catastrophe. Dramatic plots tend to be about how sin is met with revenge. Comedy, on the other hand, is about foolish or mistaken characters who stumble into a happy ending. Error is cured by enlightenment, eventuating in reconciliation.

There are, of course, both tragic and comedic elements in Biblical eschatology. The wicked are really and irredeemably wicked. On the other hand, even the best of the good are more than a little confused, so much so that they are not saved by their own efforts. Thus, in Anatomy of Criticism, the great Northrop Frye could go so far as to characterize the literary form of the Bible as comedy. As he explained:

The four mythoi that we are dealing with, comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony, may now be seen as four aspects of a central unifying myth. Agon or conflict is the basis or archetypical theme of romance, the radical of romance being a sequence of marvelous adventures. Pathos or catastrophe, whether in triumph or in defeat, is the archetypal theme of tragedy. Sparagmos, or the sense that heroism and effective action are absent, disorganized or foredoomed to defeat, and that confusion and anarchy reign over the world, is the archetypal theme of irony and satire. Anagnorisis, or recognition of a newborn society rising in triumph around a still somewhat mysterious hero and his bride, is the archetypal theme of comedy.

The matrimonial metaphors of comedy, of course, are among those that characterize the parousia in Revelation.

As I have noted before, and probably will note again whenever the subject comes up, the progressive-rock group Genesis made good use of these insights many years ago in the song-cycle Supper's Ready, which appeared in the album Foxtrot.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: On Tyranny

Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss

Alexandre Kojève

Alexandre Kojève

Political philosophy is my favorite after natural philosophy. The question of how we are to order our lives together is perennially interesting, although most people probably prefer a less theoretical approach

Leo Strauss is also fascinating because of his association with the idea of esoteric writing. John pooh-poohs the idea here, but I'm coming around to it.


On Tyranny
By Leo Strauss (with Alexandre Kojève)
Edited by Victor Gourevitch & Michael S. Roth
University of Chicago Press, 2000
335 Pages, US$18.00
ISBN 0-226-77687-5

 

If Leo Strauss were the Great Cthulhu, this book might be The Necronomicon. In reality, of course, Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago for many years, and this book is an anthology. Strauss is considered the font, if not quite the founder, of modern Neoconservatism, which is widely believed to be the secret doctrine that actuates the foreign policy of President George W. Bush. The book does not really support that thesis. Here we see Strauss advising the wise to avoid instigating revolutions, much less the democratic world-revolution that the Bush Administration is keen on. Also, while Strauss concedes that world empire might be inevitable, he also says it would be an unfortunate institution, and not one likely to last. The book is really about the relationship of philosophers to politics, and whether the philosophy of the Greek classics has the resources to define it properly. The treatment of the nature of history is extensive, but incidental.

The centerpiece of the book is a study that Strauss first published in 1948, On Tyranny. It closely analyzes the dialogue Hiero, by Xenophon (430-355 BC), a student of Socrates. (The volume also contains a translation of the dialogue, which is just 18 pages long.) Strauss is answered by a long review from Alexandre Kojève, entitled “Tyranny and Wisdom.” (Kojève, a Russian émigré born Alexander Vladimirovitch Kojevnikoff, knew Strauss in Strauss's native Germany. Later, in Paris, they were both starveling immigrant scholars. Kojève became a French civil servant and played a prominent role in organizing the first GATT treaty (precursor to the World Trade Organization) and the European Community (precursor to the European Union); he also seems to have been a Soviet spy.) Strauss answers Kojève in “Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero.” The rest of the book, about 90 pages, is taken up with the correspondence between Strauss and Kojève from 1932 to 1965.

Xenophon is one of those ancient authors better known for clarity than for depth; his dialogue Hiero would seem to support this characterization. It sets out a supposed discussion between the poet, Simonides of Ceos (circa 556-468 BC), and Hiero I (died 466 BC), tyrant of Syracuse and master of Sicily, on the advantages and drawbacks of being a tyrant. We should remember that “tyranny” is a term of art in classical philosophy. It refers to “monarchy without law,” a situation that often arose when a democracy went sour. Tyranny was generally considered the most defective class of regime. However, it was also recognized that there were good and bad tyrannies. Simonides makes it his business to improve Hiero's.

Simonides asks apparently ingenuous questions, such as whether tyrants ate better than private persons, or had better sex lives. Hiero answers by detailing the miseries of the tyrannical condition, in which wretched excess cohabits with personal insecurity. When they get to the question of public honor, which is basically about Hiero's desire to be loved, Simonides can suggest ways in which tyranny can be modified to Hiero's advantage. Though of course Hiero cannot dispense with the mercenaries on which his government depends, Simonides advises Hiero to use those mercenaries to ensure public safety. As a general matter, he should be seen to spend his own fortune on public amenities, rather than use public money. The public should not seem him inflicting punishments. Rather, he should distribute prizes in competitions designed to promote patriotism. Thus could Hiero's life become happier, and the life of Syracuse greatly improved.

From this tiny acorn of a dialogue Strauss cultivates a mighty oak of interpretation. Starting from the plausible inference that Hiero is afraid of Simonides because the tyrant does not understand the perspective or motivation of the wise, Strauss draws general lessons about how philosophers in general should deal with politics in general. Simonides, in his capacity as a wise man, contemplates eternal things. To the extent that he seeks human approval at all, he seeks it from competent judges, which is to say, from other members of the wise. Hiero, in contrast, seems most worried about whether his catamite really loves him. In order for these mentalities to communicate, the philosopher must sometimes couch principled advice in terms of self-interest. As in this case, it is sometimes possible to advocate reforms as a way to realize a relatively noble desire, that is, Hiero's desire to be loved by his subjects. However, the gap between the philosophical and the political remains.

Kojève, in contrast, says that the gap will close at the eschaton, that is, at the end of history. This final term does not refer to clock time, but to philosophical history. Kojève elsewhere argued that “history properly speaking” ended in 1806, when Napoleon's victory at Jena ensured that the French Revolution would, in some form, spread universally. Since then, it has been all over, bar the shouting.

We may note that, adapting Kojève's thesis, Francis Fukuyama used the opportunity of the collapse of Communism in 1989 to argue in The End of History and the Last Man that even the shouting had ended, and that liberal democracy was the form of the “universal and homogeneous state” in which Kojève said history would eventuate. Kojève himself had been ambiguous. He sometimes suggested that it made no difference which side won the Cold War, since the same sort of final society would result in either case.

For Kojève, the motor of history is Hegel's famous Master-Slave dialectic. Slaves want their basic human dignity recognized. Masters want to be recognized by their peers. Thus, the Masters of the world have an interest in manufacturing peers. They extend the size of states they control to include neighboring states, so that the citizens of those states may also acknowledge them. Within the state, they gradually emancipate slaves, then women, then even children. The logical end of this process is, as we have seen, a state that includes the whole of mankind, and that makes no distinctions of any kind among its citizens. Thus, everyone may not be happy, but they will be “satisfied.”

Philosophy is a work-in-progress until history ends, according to Kojève, when we will understand everything we can understand. Because philosophy is essentially historicist, it is essentially atheist: there is no transcendent repository of final answers to which self-sufficient philosophers can look. Even if there were, it would still be necessary for philosophers to engage the larger society, since to do otherwise is to run the risk of solipsism and madness. The function of philosophers is to create models of ideal societies, and to propose from time to time how they might be implemented. Only in this way can the philosophers hope to emerge as the wise in the post-historical situation:

“One may therefore conclude that while the emergence of a reforming tyrant is not conceivable without the prior existence of a reforming philosopher, the coming of the wise man must necessarily be preceded by the revolutionary action of the tyrant (who will realize the universal and homogeneous state).”

Kojève also notes that there is a special affinity between the philosopher and tyranny. Philosophers can devote only so much of their time to practical matters, so they are necessarily people in a hurry. The same is true of tyrants who, being lawless, are also open to new ideas. Philosophers, however, simply are not competent to judge the method or the pace with which the tyrant implements their ideas. If philosophers could make that kind of practical judgment, they would be politicians rather than philosophers.

Strauss is horrified by this encomium of tyranny and atheism. To begin with, he insists that one sort of regime really can be preferred to another, and that in the circumstances of the modern world, there is no better option than liberal democracy. He also insists that philosophers do not seek this “recognition” of which Kojève speaks, but rather delight to contemplate the well-ordered souls of the wise (who can exist at any point in history), and to educate such souls among the young.

Thus, there is a community of the wise. They preserve themselves by convincing society that, however esoteric their discussions may be, they are not “atheists,” they do not despise what other men revere. The wise are not subversive or revolutionary, but helpful. The modest measures of reform that they may propose do the only sort of good that is possible in a world that will never be perfect.

However pure Strauss may insist the motives of philosophers to be, he seems to concede that something like the hunger for recognition may really govern history for other people. The result might even be the outcome that Kojève anticipates. Strauss, in fact, offers a sketch of the “Universal and Final Tyrant” that might serve as a gloss on the figure of Antichrist (or as a description of that recurring nightmare of Chinese history, the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi). On the other hand, he also says that this “end of history” is not really final. The homogeneity of the “universal and homogeneous state” will be a fraud, since it assumes a sophisticated philosophical understanding of the post-historical world on the part of everybody, everywhere. Moreover, such a world will simply not be satisfying, in Hegel's sense or anybody else's, because it will be purposeless. The empire of the Final Tyrant will be overthrown, perhaps in a nihilistic revolution that will be the only expression of humanism possible in that dark era.

In some ways, the most interesting thing about Strauss is his exegetical method, particularly the detection of the “secret writing” that he made famous. This requires placing quite a lot of emphasis on silence, on what a text does not say.

For instance: in addition to his reply to Kojève, Strauss also replies to a review of On Tyranny by Eric Voegelin. Voegelin argues that classical political philosophy is incomplete, because it lacked, among other things, an account of Caesarism. Voegelin defines that as a post-constitutional situation in which a return to republican government is no longer possible. That makes it unlike tyranny, which could and did alternate with various forms of constitutional government. In reply, Strauss says that Caesarism is a kind of legitimate monarchy. It may sometimes be the best that a society can do. Here is Strauss's explanation for why classical philosophy did not address the issue:

“The true distinction between Caesarism and tyranny is too subtle for ordinary practical use. It is better for the people to remain ignorant of that distinction and to regard the potential Caesar as a potential tyrant. No harm can come from this theoretical error, which becomes a practical truth if the people have the mettle to act upon it. No harm can come from the political identification of Caesarism and tyranny: Caesars can take care of themselves.”

To another philosopher, the obvious answer would have been that classical philosophy did not address Caesarism because Caesar lived after the “classic” era of classical culture was past. To Strauss, the answer was that the ancients were omniscient, but tactful.

And then there's Kojève. As he got older, his interpretation of ancient texts became more and more whimsical. To be fair, he was no longer a professional academic after the late 1940s, but he began discovering secret writing in places where Strauss evidently feared to tread. In his letters to Strauss, he characterizes some sixth-century writings, including some by Julian the Apostate, as “Voltaire-like” exercises in disguised skepticism. From this he surmises that the classical philosophical tradition actually survived very late in an underground tradition.

That is a little like saying that the Middle Kingdom Egyptians were familiar with Faraday's equations, but just made sure never to write them down. The Socratics and the other schools of the golden age of Greek philosophy may have had all the esoteric doctrines you please: underground traditions would be plausible, because the aboveground effect of philosophy on Greek life was obviously so great. There was nothing like that effect in the sixth century, and no amount of secret writing will substitute for the lack of the schools and sages and controversies that we know existed 900 years earlier.

Though Strauss never says anything as foolish as Kojève, the chief impression I took from this book was the capacity for both of them to miss the real forest in their hunt for the secret trees. The key to the problem of modern tyranny is really another point that Voegelin raised in his review: ancient tyranny, at least in the West, lacked the millenarian component that we see in modern, ideology-driven tyranny. Voegelin had muddied his case by arguing that Machiavelli was significantly influenced by Joachim of Floris, a thesis that Strauss correctly rejects, but which does not diminish the fact that modern revolutionary tyrants do in fact have a strong apocalyptic streak. Kojève is left similarly clueless by his Hegelian psychobabble about “recognition,” despite the fact his theory is an eschatology.

On Tyranny is well worth reading for several reasons. However, there are far less constricted ways to approach the issues it addresses.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Beyond the End Times: The Rest of the Greatest Story Ever Told

The minutiae of eschatology matter quite a bit to many people. This book review was my introduction to preterism, the claim that all of the events prophesied in the New Testament have already happened. Like John, I don't think this really fits into a systematic Christian theology, but systematic theology has never really been a popular endeavor.


Beyond the End Times: The Rest of the Greatest Story Ever Told
by John Noe
Preterist Resources, 1999
300 Pages, US$ 17.95
ISBN 0-9621311-4-8

 

The idea that the eschatological prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life and mission of Jesus is scarcely new. That is why the Old Testament is part of the Christian canon. However, most forms of Christianity have usually held that prophecy also points to events in the indefinite future, when the work of salvation will be completed along with history itself. The proposition that all the prophecies of the "end times" were fulfilled in their entirety in the first century is known as "preterism." In "Beyond the End Times," John Noe, a writer on business topics and president of the Prophecy Reformation Institute, makes a vigorous case for preterism. His intended audience are the theologically conservative evangelicals who, he feels with some reason, have been ill-served by the premillennialism that has dominated American evangelicalism for the last century and a half.

Quite a few members of the evangelical audience are likely to find this book more than a little disconcerting. All the familiar landmarks by which many believers have oriented themselves in contemporary history are systematically leveled. The founding of modern Israel becomes a political accident, with no significance for salvation history. There will be no Third Temple, no Antichrist and no Battle of Armageddon. There will be no Rapture of the Saints before the Tribulation, and no Tribulation. Indeed, there will be no Second Coming.

And, since the millenarian streak in evangelicalism is only a special case of the millenarianism that runs through American culture generally, evangelicals are not the only ones whose most cherished images of future horror are dismissed. Preterism, in Noe's understanding, requires the doctrine that the world will have no end. This means that neither the human race, nor the planet Earth, nor the universe itself will ever cease to exist. Noe makes a moderate critique of the more hysterical kinds of environmentalism. He also points out that, while a general nuclear war would be very terrible, it would not exterminate the human race. Perhaps most remarkably, this is the only book I have ever encountered which suggests that the second law of thermodynamics, at least as applied to cosmology, may be contrary to scripture.

Noe does not argue, as might a typical theological liberal, that the prophecies of the Old Testament were simply mythology or metaphor. Wherever possible (which is not everywhere), he prefers a literal interpretation of prophecy. Rather, he argues that the prophecies referred to concrete historical events that have already occurred. His particular care is to show the compatibility of Matthew 24:34 with history. That verse comes at the end of the so-called "Olivet Discourse," in which Jesus predicts great tribulation and the coming of the Son of Man. Then he says, "I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened." Noe argues that this need not be, as C.S. Lewis called it, "the most embarrassing verse in the Bible."

The basis for Noe's argument is the Book of Daniel and its prophecy in chapter 9 of "70 weeks of years." This prophecy was supposed to predict the history of the Jews after their return from the Babylonian Exile. Daniel is set in the sixth century BC, though most scholars prefer a date for its composition in the second century BC. Noe is willing to live with either date of composition. If the second-century date is accepted, then the book's "prediction" of the desecration of the Temple by a wicked tyrant was actually a contemporary account of the successful Maccabean revolt in 168 BC against the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes, who had in fact defiled the Temple. In contrast, the book's prediction of the coming of "Michael" to save the people really was a prediction, and did not occur. At any rate, it did not occur in the second century BC. Christian apologists, however, have long noted that, if you start the 70 "weeks" running from any of several plausible dates for the end of the Exile in the fifth century BC, then "Michael" is predicted to appear during what turned out to be the life of Jesus. Noe explicates the arithmetic in detail, capping it with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That event, he holds, was the finale, foretold in both the Old and New Testaments, of the "end times" that began with the career of Jesus.

Noe's system has unusual implications for scripture. To begin with, if this version of preterism is to work, then the books of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation most especially included, must all have been written before AD 70. The proposal of such an early date for Revelation is new to me, as it is to both traditional and modern biblical criticism, both of which were quite happy with a late first-century date. Furthermore, the "Babylon" which is destroyed in Revelation turns out to be Jerusalem itself, which is here characterized as apostate for its refusal to accept Jesus as the messiah in the generation after his life on earth. References traditionally thought to have been prophetic of the Antichrist, such as the ruler mentioned by Daniel who would end the sacrifice in the Temple after three-and-a-half years, turn out to refer to Jesus himself, whose crucifixion made the Temple and its liturgy obsolete.

Noe attempts to be faithful to the principles of both the "plain meaning" of the text and of "sola scriptura." The result is often a cautionary example of the degree to which these principles are incompatible. There are numerous passages in both Testaments to the effect that "the earth endures forever," and Noe insists on their literal truth. On the other hand, he says that passages which speak of a "new Heaven and a new Earth" after the "time of the end" actually refer to the New Covenant, which will follow the end of the Mosaic Covenant. The images of cosmic catastrophe in the apocalyptic texts of the New Testament, from the earth being shaken to the stars falling from the sky, are just that: images. He notes that they also occur in prophecies in the Old Testament that predicted punishments against specific peoples and cities. These prophecies actually came to pass, quite without a universal conflagration.

The same method is applied to predictions of the Second Coming. When Jesus spoke of the Son of Man "coming on the clouds" in a way that would be visible "to all the nations of the Earth," he was in fact predicting his return to exact a judgment that would be famous throughout all later time, but in a mode familiar from other chastisements that God had exacted in the Old Testament. This mode was the "sign" of his coming spoken of in Matthew 24:30.

Actually, the principle of sola scriptura notwithstanding, Noe seems to come close at times to opening up the biblical canon to include the "History of the Jewish War" by Flavius Josephus, the famous turncoat of the anti-Roman revolt of AD 66-70. At any rate, it is only through reference to such nonscriptural sources that we can clearly see how the fall of Jerusalem might be interpreted as the culmination of the time of the end, since nowhere in the Bible is that event referred to directly as an accomplished fact.

Noe's use of Josephus is frequently ingenious. For instance, he uses him to identify "the Antichrist," or at any rate, the worst of the class of persons to whom that title might be given. One of the passages frequently cited as referring to a future Antichrist is II Thessalonians 2, where St. Paul says that the Lord cannot come until the "Man of Sin" sets himself up in the Temple as God. Jesus refers to an "Abomination" in the Temple in Matthew 24:15, and both passages can reasonably be taken to echo Daniel 9:27. Consulting Josephus for the events of the Roman-Jewish War, Noe identifies the Abomination as the slaughter of the Temple priesthood by the insurgent John of Gischala, the son of Levi, whose intransigence and viciousness made impossible both negotiations with the Romans and the coordinated defense of the city. This person, Noe concludes, must have been the Man of Sin Paul was predicting 20 years earlier. Well, that's settled.

People who are at all familiar with biblical prophecy can easily think of many verses that would seem to tell against this outline of Noe's version of preterism. All I can suggest is that they read the book. Noe does get around to attempting an answer to most of the familiar proof texts, though not always in the principal discussion of the doctrines to which they are supposed to relate. (Something this book needs is an index, and particularly an index of scriptural citations.) Let me put aside the labor of a close analysis of scripture, however, to ask a larger question: Does this really work? Can Christian theology, even within its own frame of reference, really claim that biblical eschatology was completely fulfilled in the first century? Most important, would such a theology be of more than academic interest?

Again, all I can suggest is that Christian eschatology has always had a large element of immanence, an element that is present in greater or lesser degree throughout the New Testament. Even within the lifetime of Jesus, even in what he says of himself, it is clear that the Kingdom of God already exists. It is accessible through prayer and sacrament, a matter of personal experience that may affect history but that transcends it. The remarks of Jesus about the Son of Man coming in glory in that generation have traditionally been linked with the account of his Transfiguration before Peter, James and John (Matthew 17) and his mock-triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The higher criticism implicitly endorses a "partial-preterist" point of view in the early church, by insisting that the synoptic gospels could not have been written before AD 70. The argument is that the fall of Jerusalem was experienced by contemporaries as an apocalyptic event, the foretelling of which was later put into the mouth of Jesus by the evangelists. As for the Gospel of John, normally considered the latest of the gospels, it deals with little except eschatology, yet is quite devoid of "apocalyptic" elements in the conventional sense: God is fully revealed in the life of Jesus, and salvation is complete.

There are problems with the modern dating of the synoptics: Luke may well be post-AD 70, but I have doubts about Mark and even Matthew. Still, there is little doubt that the first century church thought of the fall of Jerusalem as a confirmation of eschatological expectations that were already well established when it happened. But did they think of the catastrophe as a complete fulfillment of prophecy? There is a dearth of evidence that they did, plus a lot of evidence that they did not, including just about all the earliest post-biblical writers on the subject.

The fact is that the sack of Jerusalem by the Romans just was not big enough to be the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, or even of the Olivet Discourse. To try to limit the "end times" to that single event smacks of the complacent surmise by Tacitus that the whole of Jewish messianic prophecy was fulfilled by the ascension of Vespasian to the imperial title in Rome. Christians living through AD 70 may well have expected a quick, universal end to the order of things when Titus, the son of Vespasian, took Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. As things happened, they did not get to witness the fall of Babylon the Great (which I think it is a bit perverse to associate with Jerusalem in any case), but they did understand that they were living through a "type" of the tribulation of which Jesus spoke. Four hundred years later, Christians did get to see Babylon the Great fall. Maybe they got to see it fall again in 1989. As John Newman remarked, Revelation is a drama that is produced on an ever increasing scale.

Aside from the theological issues, is there any hope that a system like preterism could ever become the basis of a living religion? Preterism presents many of the problems that Francis Fukuyama's famous "End of History" thesis presented at the end of the Cold War, when he proclaimed that the history of political theory had terminated with the triumph of liberal democracy. I share this thesis, with certain reservations, but it leaves you with the problem of what to do next. In preterism's case, we are left with the problem of what the 1,900+ years of Christian history were all about. Biblical prophecy provided a sort of plot for the story of history to follow, but preterism claims that the story ended in AD 70. Is God now to be found only in the text of the Bible and in religious practice, and not at all in history?

Noe clearly does not think so. In fact, he does not even think that revelation, broadly defined, is yet at an end. He has written on the many "theophanies" of Jesus in the Old Testament, and says he sees no reason why these cannot happen at any time. He even looks forward to the 21st century as the occasion for a new Reformation, this one concerned especially with the church's understanding of prophecy. While not precisely a Social Gospeler, he does deplore the deadening effect that millenarianism has on the participation of Christians in constructive politics and other social activities. That is something which he hopes the coming Prophecy Reformation will remedy, after people see that conventional evangelical premillennialism is a false idol.

I would not dismiss these expectations out of hand, but I suspect that preterism would have to grow in certain ways to realize them. Frankly, the model needs a future. If it cannot provide a universal eschaton, it must at least define some goals for the world short of eternity. The slightly unsettling thing about preterism is that it seems to leave itself almost absolute freedom in that regard. The Bible is capped by AD 70, and has nothing more to say about history. One cannot help but wonder whether something like preterism might be the necessary predicate for a "Third Testament."

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: A Doomsday Reader: Prophets, Predictors, and Hucksters of Salvation

Order of the Solar Temple imitating Catholic ritual

Order of the Solar Temple imitating Catholic ritual

I've said before that Freud was a Fraud. One concept of Freud's that may have predictive validity, projection, is featured in this book review.


A Doomsday Reader: 
Prophets, Predictors, and Hucksters of Salvation
by Ted Daniels
New York University Press, 1999
253 Pages, $15.16
ISBN: 0-8147-1909-0

 

"Doomsday" can suggest a variety of things. Literally, the term means "Judgment Day," and in that sense it is familiar from Christian eschatology. However, without much stretching, the term is also an apt characterization for the role "the revolution" plays in the Marxist model of history. The fact that the present order of things is judged by "historical necessity," rather than by God, is inessential. In fact, this basic pattern of belief is familiar around the world and throughout history, though the mechanism that is supposed to bring about doomsday varies according to the local sense of the possible. The world we know is flawed, it will presently be destroyed, and it will be followed by a better one. This is the faith and the patience of the Saints, of Deep Ecologists, and of social revolutionaries alike.

"A Doomsday Reader" does not purport to cover the whole world, though it includes an overview of the role millennialism plays in the major world religions. Its stated goals are ambitious enough: to illustrate the modern role of "apocalypse in the West and its effects on our politics and our lives." The author is Ted Daniels, a folklorist at the University of Pennsylvania and the Director of the Millennium Watch Institute. The Institute is part of a network of organizations that have been monitoring what is loosely called "millennial fever" in the run-up to the year 2000. For instance, Dr. Daniels contemporaneously collected the popular rumors that began growing up about the Hale-Bopp Comet in late 1996. At the time, I wondered why he bothered. Then, in 1997, the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide, motivated in part by these beliefs. Shows you what I know. (Nevertheless, I am mentioned in the Acknowledgments.)

The book consists of 11 brief "apocalyptic" texts of relatively recent vintage (none is earlier than the excerpt from "The Communist Manifesto"), prefaced by longer analytical essays that provide historical context. Many readers will find the final five chapters particularly useful. These deal with the major violent or suicidal groups of recent years whose beliefs incorporated a large apocalyptic element. Daniels does not attempt to devise a unified theory to explain the Branch Davidians, the Order of the Solar Temple, Aum Shinri Kyo, Heavens Gate and the Montana Freeman. Nevertheless, he does make what may turn out to be very useful observations about the dynamics of such groups. For instance, he suggests that the reason the Freeman eventually surrendered to the authorities, while the other groups either killed themselves or tried to kill everybody else, was simply that the Freeman lacked a charismatic leader.

Daniels offers a general Freudian interpretation of the leaders of destructive apocalyptic groups that may persuade even non-Freudians. In this view, such leaders are narcissistic personalities who understand, at some level, that they are deficient. However, rather than locating the deficiency in themselves, they project it onto the world. Thus, rather than trying to heal themselves, they seek to heal the world. In extreme cases, rather than try to kill themselves, they will try to kill the world. When many people come to share such a person's projections, then you have an apocalyptic movement. (Usage varies in the terminology, but a movement is often said to be specifically "millenarian" if it seeks to help create a future age quite different from the world we know, and "millennial" if it seeks a future that is better than but continuous with the past. An "apocalyptic movement" might be any drive for fundamental change based on a "revelation" of some sort.)

"A Doomsday Reader" is of far more than historical interest. Though the number of readings is small, they and the groups that produced them are nevertheless typical of quite durable apocalyptic traditions. This is particularly the case with the global conspiracy theories that the media have released from the subcultural subcellar in recent years. One version of them, the Jewish international conspiracy, runs through both "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" and "The Turner Diaries," which were written 80 years apart and excerpted for this collection. It is particularly illuminating to read this material in conjunction with the history of the Order of the Solar Temple, which really was a secret society that aspired to exert its influence internationally. The fact that the Order was not a rousing success did nothing to dampen the conviction among conspiracy buffs of the potency of such groups. Some bad ideas just don't go away.

This is not to say that all the characteristics of apocalyptic thinking are without value. Daniels notes that apocalyptic is often an expression of the desire for vengeance, a forum where the high and mighty are brought to answer for their malefactions. For my money, at least, he does a bit of it himself, by naming some smug secular organizations as apocalyptic actors. He caps his discussion of the anti-human wing of the ecology movement with the text of the "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity," issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 1992. As Daniels observes, this document does not request, but requires, dramatic changes in every area of life, everywhere, if total ecological calamity is to be avoided. Indeed, this Warning has the distinction of being the bossiest text in an anthology that also includes an excerpt from "Mein Kampf." We need more of this willingness to tell the educated that, when they are looking for millenarians, they can often forget about looking in trailer-parks and just look in the mirror.

"A Doomsday Reader" does have bloopers which should have been picked up by the editor. To pick a few nits, "chiliasm" is not a Greek cognate of "millenarism," but merely its equivalent in meaning. The pyramids of Egypt were not "rediscovered" by Napoleon's armies "at the beginning of the eighteenth century," or indeed at any other time. Hegel was far more likely to have been a major influence on Comte than the other way around, since Hegel was 28 years older. More seriously, while the statement, "Augustine surrendered the world to evil," might be defended, the defense would need to engage the widely held belief that Augustine is the father of the idea of progress. Finally, though I recognize the point is really beyond the scope of the book, the fact that Chinese cultural history is little concerned with "eschatology," in the sense of the final end of history, does not mean that it lacks a conspicuous millenarian element.

Still, these are minor blemishes. "A Doomsday Reader" is a groundbreaking book. Dr. Daniel's special forte has been the mastery of the Internet as a medium for research into popular culture. The references in this book do not simply tell you about what is happening in various apocalyptic subcultures, they give you the tools to go online and watch it happening yourself. Additionally, this book could have important implications for public policy. Its close analysis of the successes and failures that the authorities have had in dealing with apocalyptic groups may help to prevent more disasters like those we have seen in the 1990s. While we may not always find other people's ideas about the imminence of the new age plausible, the fact that they think this world is about to end usually means they have some real complaints against it. We should pay more attention in the 21st century.

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View: Imperial Hubris

Imperial President

Imperial President

My favorite paragraph from this review:

The Bush Administration has rejected withdrawal. It has also declined the option of butcher-and-bolt. Anonymous says we will rue these decisions, and maybe he is right. Be that as it may, the policy the U.S. has actually adopted is sometimes called “draining the swamp,” meaning that the United States does not seek to destroy the Muslim world, or to ignore it, but to transform it. This is really just a concrete application of the Clinton Administration's doctrine called “Democratic Enlargement.” Under whatever name, what we are dealing with here is Wilsonianism; it is difficult to imagine any successor to the Bush Administration that would really reject it.

John correctly foresaw that the successor to George W. Bush would be incapable of really doing anything different regarding foreign policy in the Middle East and Islamist terror. This is because to do so would require rejecting the bi-partisan consensus in the American ruling class about how things are done.

Now that we have the successor to the successor, I haven't got any clue what he might do. The Trump administration very much rejects the conventional wisdom here, but that is a pure negation. I haven't tried to discern what they might try to do.

Hopefully, they won't listen to Michael F. Scheuer, who gives me a really odd impression. After reading this review, I looked his Wikipedia article, and then his website, Scheuer strikes me as a nut. In 2004, I could see making the argument that allowing Islamists to take power in the Middle East might be better than the dictators we had been supporting.

We tried that, albeit in a way that attempted to make the Middle East more democratic, and we got chaos and war. And Lo, in 2017 Scheuer is still making the same arguments he made in 2004 without reference to intervening events. No thanks.


Imperial Hubris


Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
By Anonymous (Michael F. Scheuer)
Brassey's, Inc., 2004
307 Pages, $27.50
ISBN 1-57488-849-8

A Review
By
John J. Reilly

 

What do we mean by hubris?

In this book, and apparently also in the author's previous one, “Through Our Enemies' Eyes” (2001), we are told that it means the tendency of U.S. intelligence agencies to “Americanize the data,” so that anything alien about alien societies is disregarded, combined with the assumption that the U.S. is so powerful that it must also be invulnerable. The anonymous author is Michael F. Scheuer, a CIA analyst specializing in South Asia and Afghanistan. (I should mention that he made his identity public in a letter to the 911 Commission.) If he says this is how American intelligence works, there is little in its history to contradict him. Having read Anonymous's latest delightful rant, however, I cannot shake the conviction that what he really means by “hubris” is that the American government dared to reject his advice:

“And the thing that these American experts on Afghanistan knew best and above all others was that there was no possibility of installing a broad-based, Western-style, democratic, power-sharing central government in Kabul.”

Nothing, in this world or the next, is more certain to Anonymous than that the ministers of the American-backed government must someday choose between escape by helicopter or impalement on meat hooks in the streets of Kabul. In the author's estimation, this is very bad news, because it is hard to exaggerate the importance of Afghanistan to the worldwide Muslim insurgency that has arisen against the West. We are told that Osama bin Laden regards Afghanistan as the only true Muslim state, and the model for a revitalized Islamic civilization. He will not rest until that country is once again secure under Mullah Omar, though of course that is only a part of the larger program that bin Laden has been pursuing since at least the early 1990s.

And what exactly does Osama bin Laden want? Anonymous tells us more than once:

“These attacks [of 911] are meant to advance bin Laden's clear, focused, limited, and widely popular foreign policy goals: the end of U.S. aide to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state; the removal of U.S. and Western forces from the Arabian Peninsula; the removal of U.S. and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands; the end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India; the end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera, and the conservation of the Muslim world's energy resources and their sale at higher prices.”

“Clear, focused, limited”? Those are not the first adjectives that even analysts who generally agree with Anonymous might have chosen to describe the Islamist agenda, but he uses these terms to combat two alleged misapprehensions that are common at both the popular and the policymaking levels.

The first is that al Qaeda represents the mere impulsive backlash of a failed civilization. He is willing to concede the thesis, propounded by such stout fellows as Bernard Lewis, that, in some sense, Islamic civilization has failed. He insists correctly, however, that this in no way implies anything irrational about bin Laden or his goals.

The second misapprehension is more debatable, which is that al Qaeda's aims are “apocalyptic.” Anonymous says they aren't, and if by that he means that the Islamists are not seeking indiscriminate destruction, he has a point. On the other hand, as he also notes, al Qaeda does not expect to be able to defeat the West itself, but rather to spark a pan-Islamic revival under Allah's guidance. Historical goals of that scale are eschatological, in the sense of relating to the structure and goal of history. That would be true even in an ideological context that attempted to be rigorously secular. Islamism, of course, is self-consciously anti-secular. It seems likely to me, at least, that the Islamist agenda is informed by Islamic eschatology, orthodox and otherwise.

Readers will note that the list of al Qaeda's grievances seems a bit self-generating. The U.S. is in Afghanistan, for instance, because of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11. (That's also true of Iraq: irrespective of the Baathist regime's role in 911, there was no way a comprehensive response could have been made without resolving the Iraq question, though Anonymous will have none of this line of argument.) We find the same damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don't quality in Anonymous's extended list of things that the U.S. does to annoy Muslims. For instance, we are told:

“America has declared that waging jihad against Islam's attackers is a criminal act and seized and incarcerated—often without trial—hundreds of suspected mujaheddin around the world. For a Muslim to refrain from joining a defensive jihad to protect Islam means disobeying God's law and earning damnation.”

This is a head-scratcher. Apparently, arresting an aspirant martyr as he tries to smuggle explosives over the Canadian border is not just a disappointment, but a grievance. In fact, it's a legitimate grievance, since Anonymous accepts the characterization of al Qaeda's project as a “defensive jihad.” When Osama bin Laden says that Muslim lands are under assault all over the world at the behest of the U.S., he is describing reality. That is why the United States was struck on 911.

Other observers may find bin Laden's list of “attacks” against Islam to be, at best, unevenly persuasive. It includes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic on which differences of opinion sometimes occur, but at least Anonymous is clear that no solution that includes the existence of Israel would be acceptable to al Qaeda or other Islamist groups. It includes the independence of East Timor, which I had thought of as a Catholic country that Islamic Indonesia had tried and failed to assimilate, but I can see how other people might think differently. As far as I am concerned, however, there is only one sane opinion about this complaint from bin Laden:

“What documents incriminated the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina and warranted the Western Crusaders, with the United States at their head, to unleash the Serb ally to annihilate and displace the Muslim people of the region under U.N. cover?”

Perhaps an isolated villager in the Hindu Kush could be forgiven for believing that the United States tried to use Serbia to de-Islamize all or part of the Balkans. However, as Anonymous never ceases to remind us, Osama bin Laden is a well-informed man, with a sophisticated understanding of the world. In the case of this grievance, at least, we are not dealing with a culturally different perception. We are dealing with what Joseph Goebbels used to call “The Big Lie.”

Does that mean that bin Laden has no gravamen against the U.S.? By no means: until the recent Iraq War, American policy the since end of the Second World War has been to preserve the regimes of the Middle East. This was done chiefly with an eye to maintaining the oil supply, and the effect was indeed to prop up regimes that were, in varying degrees, corrupt and tyrannical, though whether any of them was ever entirely apostate is a matter of opinion. What the Islamists want the U.S. to do is stop propping up those regimes. Then, the Islamists can establish regimes more to their liking. In due course, they will re-establish the caliphate.

There is a term for this sort of project. It is not “jihad”; it is “civil war.” Moved by some mixture of piety and adventure, Osama bin Laden is trying to overthrow the government of his homeland and those of the neighboring states. Anonymous recognizes that the attack on the United States was only incidental to this endeavor. Indeed, he praises bin Laden for the strategic brilliance of this strategy. Feeble though they are, the states of the Middle East are still too substantial for groups like al Qaeda to conquer, at least as long as those states are supported by the West. By making the United States the unique enemy, al Qaeda accomplishes two things. First, it gains credit in Muslim countries for defending Islam, while avoiding the opprobrium that might result from waging jihad locally. Second, by signaling to Europe that its quarrel is only with the United States, it makes it more likely that the U.S. will receive no substantial assistance in waging an increasingly burdensome string of small wars. Eventually, when the U.S. goes away, the region will fall into the lap of bin Laden or his successors.

Anonymous is correct that this strategy is not irrational, but that does not mean it will or could work. Al Qaeda's “policies” confuse overturning the existing state of things with achieving power. Where Islamism flourishes, it turns civilization to rubble. Still, even if the enterprise of the caliphate is doomed to miscarry, that does not mean that the United States will not be subject to devastating attacks meant to drive the West out of the Middle East. How, then, goes the war to date, and what strategy should the U.S. follow?

Regarding the war so far, Anonymous says that the American position is steadily deteriorating, outside of a corridor that runs from Amman to Islamabad. Indeed, in the author's estimation, pretty much anything that the United States does in response to the jihad counts as a loss: “Steps we take to protect ourselves and save the lives of others—immigration and precision bombing—are seen by our Muslim foes as evidence of racism, hypocrisy, and a lack of courage to save U.S. lives. The measures we take in self-defense or to protect others unfailingly empower our Muslim enemies to hate us all the more, and to attack us with greater impunity.”

This assessment is of a piece with his relentlessly positive account of the prowess of Islamist organizations and personalities. He compares al Qaeda to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia: high praise from a history-minded American. He finds in both the same qualities of determination, resilience, and ingenuity. Indeed, not only does he see the spirit of the Old Cause among the Islamists; he even catches a glimpse of Robert E. Lee: “Viewed from any angle, Osama bin Laden is a great man, one who smashed the expected unfolding of universal post-Cold War peace.” Bin Laden is compared to an “Errol Flynn” character, or to Robin Hood, because of the way that bin Laden's persona fits the Arab archetype of the pious bandit.

How did Anonymous formulate these conclusions? In large part by reading what Islamic groups have to say about themselves on the Internet, notably in such cyber journals as Al Ansar. It is, of course, valuable to know what one's opponents say about themselves, and even to know what they want you to think about them. Nonetheless, this material is presented in this book in a way that often does not distinguish Anonymous's sober assessment of the Islamist threat from the Islamists' own spin-doctoring, wishful thinking, and general mendacity.

As for what the U.S. can do, there are just two options. First, we can elect to pursue the war in the way we have begun, without changing our attitude toward the Muslim world. In that case: “A policy of status quo, in essence, leaves America no choice but a war of annihilation.” The other option, which Anonymous endorses, is that we give al Qaeda what it wants. Maybe that is why these books were written on Anonymous's own time, since there is a statutory prohibition (Title 50 United States Code Section 407) against spending federal money to figure out how the United States could surrender.

Let us first take a look at how to conduct what the Germans call a Vernichtungskrieg.

Anonymous seems to have no patience at all with “the revolution in military affairs,” or at least with the tactics that have developed to take advantage of the new technology: “[W]hat has the U.S. military produced since 1990? Victories that are asserted, subjective, arguable, and unrecognized by the enemy—none of which had even a second-rate military—as anything more than the loss of one round in a multi-round war.” Oddly for a man who cites Clausewitz, Anonymous seems to think that the only real war is a “pure war,” one that aims solely at destroying the enemy, without regard to political considerations, or even to one's own casualties.

Given the state of things on September 11, 2001, there was no choice but for the United States to strike at al Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan. In fact, Anonymous insists that the only measure that might have mitigated the disaster of the attacks was a same-day decapitation strike, aimed at everyone and everything in Afghanistan that even might have been connected to al Qaeda. If I understand him correctly, massive numbers of U.S. troops should have been introduced immediately. Rather than try to work with local allies, the U.S. should have sealed the borders and hunted down the enemy leadership. Then the U.S. should have left, leaving behind admonitory piles of corpses.

The British had a name for this strategy: “butcher and bolt.” Anonymous, predictably, is an admirer of Kipling, so I wonder that he does not use the term.

Even worse than America's social-worker military leadership, we are told, is the international community. Among the bad habits America will have to break is the impulse to immediately seek partners and coalitions whenever anything goes wrong. After 911, that meant delay in proceeding against Afghanistan, which he believes lost the United States its only chance to win the war. He dismisses the idea of “sharing the burden” with the U.N. or N.A.T.O.: “The lesson is not only that others will not do our dirty work, but that others will stop us from doing our dirty work as completely as possible.”

In some ways, the most interesting part of the book is the author's critique of “the intelligence community.” This is particularly so now, when a proposal to consolidate all the intelligence services under a Grand Spook is all the rage in Washington. Anonymous says that “intelligence community cooperation” is an ideology; like any other form of political correctness, it gums up the works when put into operation. The FBI is particularly clueless at handling national-security information, and its expansion overseas is a waste of money. More generally, he can barely maintain his composure about the disregard by the intelligence chiefs for any information that is not secret. The sort of information that warned against 911 was in the public domain, or in the academy. An intelligent newspaper-reader would have been better informed about the Islamist threat than someone who depended on the high-level intelligence assessments.

As for “counterterrorism,” Anonymous says that it was invented in the mid-1970s precisely to avoid the necessity of attacking terrorist states: “As practiced by the U.S., counterterrorism is appeasement.” He finds the whole “counterterrorism community” to be “bloated, risk-averse, and lawyer-palsied.” It would be better to scrap the whole thing.

And speaking of appeasement, we come to the surrender option.

There is no way to end the jihad immediately. Perhaps, after the next massive attack on the homeland, we can get started on the butcher-and-bolt raids. However, if we do not want to continue that strategy for the foreseeable future, Anonymous advises, we can make some long-term policy changes.

The simplest is the abandonment of Israel. One may quarrel with how much more favor that would curry for the U.S. in Muslim lands, or even whether Osama bin Laden himself really cares much about it, but it's on every Islamist's wish list.

Then there is the achievement of oil independence from the Arabian Peninsula, and a complete Western withdrawal from the area. Regarding oil independence, that sounds like an obvious good, but the matter is more problematical. The fact is that the world has a petroleum economy, not because of American machinations, but because petroleum was an economically optimum fuel source, at least until recently. Also, no matter what the posters to Al Ansar may say, it just isn't true that petroleum suppliers are being undercompensated: you can ask the Russians. As for the successor states after an American withdrawal from the Middle East, Anonymous is almost surely wrong to claim that an al-Qaeda regime in Saudi Arabia, or even a new caliphate, would be no more hostile to the United States than the current governments are. Again, as I have remarked, a caliphate is not likely to materialize. Still, even the bare possibility is not something any sane Western government would encourage; neither is the regional chaos that is far more probable.

The Bush Administration has rejected withdrawal. It has also declined the option of butcher-and-bolt. Anonymous says we will rue these decisions, and maybe he is right. Be that as it may, the policy the U.S. has actually adopted is sometimes called “draining the swamp,” meaning that the United States does not seek to destroy the Muslim world, or to ignore it, but to transform it. This is really just a concrete application of the Clinton Administration's doctrine called “Democratic Enlargement.” Under whatever name, what we are dealing with here is Wilsonianism; it is difficult to imagine any successor to the Bush Administration that would really reject it.

Anonymous likes this not at all. He quotes Patrick J. Buchanan about the cause of 911: “They are over here because we are over there.” Anonymous quotes John Quincy Adams's famous statement in 1821, when he was Secretary of State: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” As with Washington's Farewell Address (which seems to be Patrick Buchanan's favorite thing ever said by an American president who was not actually Ronald Reagan), this was sound advice when it was given. The U.S. could have done little in the second decade of the 19th century to aid the cause of democracy in the world. Even today, the United States would not be justified in pursuing democratic regime change abroad, even in hostile countries, simply because Americans believe that liberal democracy is the best form of government.

The fact is, though, that the Bush Administration's policy of transforming the Middle East is not based on mere friskiness. Kant was onto something: liberal republics really are much less likely to threaten each other than are other sorts of regimes. To this, of course, one could argue that democracy is a rare, fragile flower. Anonymous repeats the familiar argument that democracy is not transferable, because it was created by a peculiar history. That's true, but it's true of a lot of other things that turned out to be universally exportable, from mechanical engineering to double-entry bookkeeping. For that matter, electoral democracy was in fact successfully exported to India and much of East Asia, regions whose hierarchical civilizations might be thought less amenable to it than is Islam, with its traditions of egalitarianism and consensus. The United States is, I think, obligated to attempt democratization first, before we start talking about surrender or Annihilation War.

And finally, there is this: John Quincy Adams could be sanguine about the monsters abroad, because none ranged globally, and there were many regional champions around the world to handle the local ones. Neither is true today. The dragons can fly around the world in a day for the cost of a passenger fare, and all the local champions retired during the 20th century. It is not hubris to recognize that the United States is uniquely vulnerable because it is uniquely responsible.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: The System of Antichrist

Here is an excellent example of why I still think John J. Reilly has something to say all these years later. This book review is a synthesis of ideas he had been working on for nearly ten years, nicely summarized by the links he put in to his earlier work. And also, this paragraph:

Like Foucault, Upton notes that evolution in modern thought replaced ontological hierarchy with historical development. In fact, the fallacy that makes all the other New Age fallacies possible is the belief that new Truth (that, is truth not already contained by Tradition) can come to light in history. Upton's critique in this regard is not so different from other criticisms of "Process Theology," which might be summarized by the principle that God is the best that exists at any given time, not the best that can be.

Reminds me of this current controversy in the Catholic Church. These ideas haven't gone away, or even changed very much.


The System of Antichrist

Truth & Falsehood in
Postmodernism & the
New Age

By Charles Upton
Sophia Perennis, 2001
562 Pages, US$27.95
ISBN 0-900588-30-6

A Review by
John J. Reilly

 

Globalization, the New Age Movement, and postmodernism did not merely arise at about the same time, according to The System of Antichrist. Rather, they are all manifestations of a common impulse, one that is not entirely of human origin. They are in fact symptoms of the impending end of the world. As is the way with eschatological analysis, much of the book's argument is best taken metaphorically. However, these are the sort of metaphors you neglect at your peril.

The author, Charles Upton, began life as a conventional Catholic. He experienced the 1960's Counter Culture and subsequent New Age spiritualities, which he now views as pathologies that have been marketed to a mass audience. Eventually, he washed up on the shores of Tradition, and became a Muslim Sufi. Upton's book is largely a synthesis of the theological metaphysics of Frithjof Schuon's The Transcendent Unity of Religions with the eschatology of Rene Guenon's The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times.

The System of Antichrist does not attempt to summarize Tradition systematically, so neither will this review. Suffice it to say that Tradition is a curious blend of neoplatonism and comparative religion that was devised in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Tradition, or corruptions of it, crops up in the most extraordinary places, from Black Metal music to the writings of Robertson Davies. As a matter of intellectual history, it belongs in the same class as Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy, Jung's psychology, and the comparative mythology of Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell.

Additionally, I think it important to point out that Tradition is also closely related to the reaction against speculative philosophy that we see in Heidegger, with the vital difference that Traditionalists find that the Transcendent, rather than Being, is inescapably "thrown" to them.

As we will see, Traditionalists tend to believe that the state of the world is very unsatisfactory, and fated to get worse. Wicked Traditionalists not only believe that the world is ending, but are keen to help it along. (One of the most puzzling features of this book is the failure to engage directly the esoteric fascism of Julius Evola.) In the sense in which Upton uses the term, however, "Tradition" means almost the opposite of world-hating Gnosticism. Gnostics deny the value of the world; Traditionalists see eternal value in the world. For Tradition, the creation of the world was not a mistake, but an act of divine mercy. Everything in it tells us something about God. These things include the human institutions ordained by God, the most important of which are the world's revealed religions.

This is where Tradition differs from ordinary syncretism. Tradition is a spiritual practice that needs a revealed matrix. Traditionalists can be Muslims, or Jews, or Christians, or Buddhists, or even shamanists, but they cannot mix and match. These traditional religions, at least according to the Traditionalists, are united by the transcendent object toward which they look. Each represents a revelation of the divine nature; the differences between them can be resolved only eschatologically. The attempt to create a world spirituality, in fact, is one of the satanic counterfeits of these latter days.

Although The System of Antichrist has its biases, it is not religiously partisan. Many of its theological points are perfectly orthodox. For one thing, Upton never departs from the principle that eschatology is fundamentally personal. Creation and apocalypse are always present. Eschatological history is only a symbol of the death of the ego and its replacement by God. In one sense, you are the Antichrist, and in your own latter day that tyrant will be overthrown. On the other hand, there is no denying that eschatology also has a universal dimension. The book usually works on the assumption that a personal Antichrist will appear in the penultimate stage of world history; several of the world's religious traditions say as much, and personification facilitates the discussion. However, Upton reminds us repeatedly that the concept of Antichrist can also be taken to refer to a collectivity, one that has existed as long as Christianity itself. That collectivity becomes coherent and visible as the end nears.

Admirers of C.S. Lewis will be happy to know that they may have already read some fictionalized Traditional metaphysics, in the form of Lewis's novel, That Hideous Strength, which deals with a conspiracy of scientific magicians to open a branch office of Hell in central England. In The System of Antichrist, Upton seeks to make explicit the suppositions behind that story:

"[A]s this cycle of manifestation draws to a close, the cosmic environment first solidifies – this being the result and the cause of modern materialism – after which it simply fractures, because a materialist reality absolutely cut off from the subtle planes is metaphysically impossible. These cracks in the 'great wall' separating the physical universe from the subtle or etheric plane initially open in a 'downward' direction, toward the 'infra-psychic' or demonic realm (cf. Rev. 9:1-3); 'magical realism' replaces 'ordinary life.' It is only at the final moment that a great crack appears in the 'upward' direction..."

If you don't like esoteric metaphysics, this would still be an interesting statement about the history of philosophy. The rejection of the transcendent resulted in materialism, which, like all monisms, is at best incomplete. By the middle of the 20th century the materialist edifice was riven by skepticism toward scientific and historical knowledge. With the coming of postmodernism, very strange substitutes for metaphysics began to appear. Upton means much more than this, but this is one way to look at it.

The Intellect is the faculty of the mind by which we perceive "self-evident truths." During the 19th century, the Intellect could no longer look to a transcendent God; even metaphysical first principles were rejected after Kant. In consequence, emotion became divorced from the truth. The affective part of human nature was expressed, for a while, as the irrational sentiments of Romanticism. The postmodern declension from Romanticism is emotional numbness, enlivened by atrocity and sinister fascination. There is such a thing as emotional intelligence, and the trajectory of the postmodern world is to stultify it. Postmodernism removes the possibility of romantic heterosexual love as a spiritual exercise. Worse yet, it makes God inaccessible.

The New Age might be called "folk postmodernism," except that folk religion is better structured. In traditional civilizations, there is a hierarchy of the religious life: popular practice, an institutional church, and esoteric tradition. The New Age collapses these layers, so that the transcendent element that had been the object of esoteric spirituality is lost. All that remains is the psychic, meaning both ordinary psychology and the shadowy realm that surrounds the material world but is not necessarily superior to it. The result is people who channel extraterrestrials, or embrace psychological management techniques, or are attracted to some of the less-grounded forms of Pentecostalism. The forgetting of the distinction between psyche and spirit makes Antichrist's counterfeit of the spiritual possible.

Like Foucault, Upton notes that evolution in modern thought replaced ontological hierarchy with historical development. In fact, the fallacy that makes all the other New Age fallacies possible is the belief that new Truth (that, is truth not already contained by Tradition) can come to light in history. Upton's critique in this regard is not so different from other criticisms of "Process Theology," which might be summarized by the principle that God is the best that exists at any given time, not the best that can be.

Anti-historicism is central to Tradition. The school arose in opposition to that other tradition, the one that proceeds from the French Revolution. Tradition denies the possibility of historical progress. It is resolutely anti-Hegelian. Also, largely in response to the evolution-based postmillennialism of the Theosophical Society, it will have nothing to do with the concept of evolution. Even if new forms of life appeared over time, they were simply the instantiation of preexisting archetypes. The only historical change is decay:

"It is certainly true, according to esoteric philosophy, that the created order returns to its Divine Source through the conscious spiritual unfolding of individual sentient beings. But this 'evolution,' this unfolding of the individual through a transcendence of the self-identified ego, is not a continuance of the cosmogonic process, but a reversal of the process..."

One could expand at length on the misapprehensions in this book about evolution. The chief one is the common error that the Second Law of Thermodynamics forbids local increases in order. As a corrective, one might refer to Robert Wright's "non-zero-sum" model of evolution, which gives a persuasive explanation for why history must be, in some sense, both progressive and teleological. Actually, the idea that evolution may be a process by which "ideal forms" incarnate is not so far off the scientific reservation, according to Simon Conway Morris. However, even a Platonic approach to evolution requires that higher forms appear with the passage of time.

Be this as it may, the point Tradition tries to make is that religious novelty is never for the better. This has proven to be the case with the New Age. There is such a thing as a New Age agenda, one with a long pedigree. New Agers suppose that belief in anything beyond the psychic is patriarchic oppression. The major New Age writers usually envisage the end of Christianity, and particularly of the Catholic Church.

Upton gives us a selective tour of some of the fashionable New Age belief systems of the past three decades. James Redfield's Celestine Prophecies gets a rather more thorough critique than the matter merits. (Upton does hit the nail on the head by calling the cult of the books a manifestation of "New Age singles culture.") Deepak Chopra comes in for measured criticism for seeming to equate enlightenment with material well-being. Some of these writers have always been obscure and have become only more so with the passage of time. Still, their ideas have permanently affected the popular imagination.

Upton believes that "A Course in Miracles" is the acme of New Age thought. It is based on the channeling of the "Seth Material" by Jane Roberts. As you might expect, this is a lengthy revelation that is supposed to come from a supernatural entity named Seth. The resulting doctrine does, at least, accept the existence of a divine absolute. The problem is that the absolute is so absolute that God does not even know this world exists. "A Course in Miracles" purports to go beyond the dichotomy of transcendence and immanence by saying that this ego-generated world is too unreal for God to be immanent in.

I was previously unfamiliar with "A Course in Miracles." It seems to be almost classically Gnostic, complete with a dying and senescent demiurge in the form of the Christian God. Remarkably, "A Course in Miracles" adapts the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics as the basis of a theory of simultaneous incarnation. That is unlikely to be true, but it is very ingenious.

Upton is so impressed by the Seth material that he wonders whether it may have been designed to lead astray the metaphysically inclined. He has particularly harsh words for its treatment of the question of whether God is personal: "The tendency to use the Impersonal Absolute to deny the Personal God, all-too-common among many people shallowly interested in mysticism and metaphysics, is simply another form of the ego's desire to be God." Depersonalizing God distorts the divine essence into a mere cosmic potentiality. We may use it, but it can make no demands on us. In Christianity, Upton points out, the meaning of the incarnation of the Second Person is that no one may approach the Godhead except through personality.

There is a larger metaphysical point here that is worth a little attention: the distinction between transcendence and abstraction. An abstract idea is merely a selection of common features. Upton's notion of a transcendent idea, in contrast, sounds like a "phase space." It encompasses all that something can be. Archetypal ideas are ideas of this order. In Upton's system, an entity of this sort is just what we mean by a "person." God is more than personal, but he is also personal in this way.

If great archetypal ideas are personal, it by no means follows that they are necessarily friendly. The powers of darkness appear as unconscious belief systems and social mores. An unconscious false belief on the psychological level is a demon at the psychic or spiritual level. The world is misled by fallen entities of a high order: cherubim, demons of the Intellect rather than of the will. In Upton's estimation, these shadows of the Four about the Throne can be characterized as Law, Fate, Chaos, and Self. These false alternatives war among themselves, and foment war on Earth. Self-deluded, they delude us.

The postmodern world presents a greater peril than merely a disordered cultural climate:

"Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'Be careful: while you are looking into the abyss, the abyss is looking into you.' This is why I caution the reader not to open this section while in a state of depression, anxiety, or morbid curiosity. Whoever already knows how bad UFOs are, and is not required by his or her duties to investigate them, should skip this chapter."

Despite the warning, Upton's account of extraterrestrials as a postmodern demonology is not without a certain morbid fascination. The growth of the popular cult of UFOs means that the blackest kind of black magic has gone mainstream; an assessment that, oddly enough, echoes Michael Barkun's conclusion that the UFO mythology have served to distribute "stigmatized knowledge" throughout the whole culture.

Upton relies heavily on the UFO researcher Jacque Vallee, who is best-known for arguing that the reports of UFO encounters closely resemble folkloric accounts of meetings with faeries, incubi, and (Upton's favorite spooks) jinn. Vallee does not limit the phenomenon to folklore. In the more than fifty years of UFO reports, there are real physical effects, instances of mass psychological phenomena, and human manipulation. About this Upton says: "The critical mind tries to make sense of this, fails, and then shuts down. It is meant to."

Upton sketches a history for us. The earliest accounts of meetings with extraterrestrials, which date from the mid-20th century, come from people with connections to the occult underground. Black magicians, who earlier in the Occult Revival had been able to invoke demons only for themselves, had been searching since the beginning of the century to invoke them for the masses. This was not entirely the magicians' idea. The Jinn, or at least the malicious ones, are seeking a stable incarnation in this world. They induce people to welcome and worship them. They also, perhaps, inspire computer technology and genetic engineering. These technologies undermine the human image. They also could be media through which the jinn achieve bodily form. They would then either displace the human race, or corrupt it to their purposes.

I would say that little of this is likely to be literally true. Still, it is true that there is a deep connection between flying-saucer cults and transhumanism. In any case, these dark desires, whether human or demonic, interpenetrate seamlessly with the spirituality of what has been called "the transnational class," but which Upton calls simply "the global elite":

"The characteristic 'religion' of some (but not all) sectors of this global elite is a kind of 'world fusion spirituality' – which, however, is essentially psychic, not spiritual – made up of texts, music, ritual objects, yogic and magical practices, and even shamanic initiations from around the world."

The spiritual disorders that arise from the denial of the personal God are important precisely because they are integral to the drive toward world unification. Neither side of the globalization struggle is strictly on the side of the Antichrist, but then neither is necessarily opposed to him.

Postmodernism is one of the reasons what a united world would be intolerable. Upton correctly notes that pluralism and the subjectivity on which postmodernism is based are incompatible. Postmodernist globalism, under the cover of multiculturalism, creates unity by denying its possibility. Metaphysical unity is a reality, always and everywhere. When it is denied, it reasserts itself as power rather than as cognizance. On the other hand, the multiplicity of cultures is metaphysically necessary, because each reflects some aspect of the divine. Suppress that multiplicity, and the result will be inter-ethnic chaos, which only force can control.

As is so often the case in this book, one notes that Tradition comes in different forms, and that all of them use the cultural resources of historical societies in a selective fashion. Other writers influenced by Tradition emphasize the archetype of the "empire," of the necessary unity of humanity, which is found in many civilizations. Even Islam, which makes a point of officially tolerating the existence of other confessions, contemplates that this toleration should occur in the context of a universal Caliphate. Upton's critique echoes the common anti-globalist complaint that both the unity and the diversity offered by globalization are disingenuous.

In any case, Upton asserts that today we live in a world that has moved from "the revolt of the masses" (which old-style conservatives like Guenon worried about) to "revolt of the elites" (which troubled another of Upton's favorites, Christopher Lasch). For the first time in history, it is the wealthy and educated who want to remake the world. As a critique of globalization, The System of Antichrist is in many ways a more lucid version of Hardt & Negri's "Empire." (That book, despite it postmodern Marxist rhetoric, expresses many Traditional themes.) Actually, for a book that is supposed to reflect the viewpoint of primordial truth, Upton's seems to accept uncritically the "litany" of the anarchist left, from alleged environmental collapse to corporate malfeasance. Fundamentally, however, politics and economics are epiphenomenal to what is really happening.

The Antichrist appeals to the best in us; therefore he is at his worst when he most closely approximates the truth. Beyond the vulgar New Age, we learn, there is a long-running tradition of "counter-initiation." The people engaged in this project do not seek to destroy the revealed religions, but to subvert them in all their forms, exoteric and esoteric. The Theosophical Society is the best–known example, but Upton is most alarmed by those he calls the "false traditionalists." Most famous of these is Carl Gustav Jung, who is a well known inspiration for the world's proto-global elites. The object of Upton's peculiar ire, however, is one William W. Quinn, Jr., author of The Only Tradition. While sometimes deploring the dissolution of traditional cultures and religions, Quinn sees it as a necessary step toward the creation of a Traditional Planetary Culture, one that will be simultaneously scientific and religious, a post-democratic world ruled by a hierarchy of adepts. This is very much what the system of Antichrist would look like in its maturity.

Upton admits he was strongly tempted by the prospect of a Traditional Planetary Culture, but overcame the glamour. False Tradition of this kind is a mere "higher empiricism." It views revelation, not as the word of God, but only as data. The result is metaphysics without religion; in other words, a sort of psychic engineering. Again, God becomes a resource, not a person.

As for the apocalypse itself, we are given a comparative tour of mythologies as they relate to the endtime. (I once attempted such a study myself, by the way, in a book called "The Perennial Apocalypse.") Upton's survey includes aspects of the eschatological ideas found in Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity (chiefly in its Orthodox version), Islam, and the religions of the Hopi and the Lakota. As you might expect, the survey finds a high incidence of Antichrist-like figures who deceive the world in the latter days, and Messianic figures who briefly restore Tradition before the end.

We learn quite a lot about the Shiite idea of the "occultation": messianic figures disappear for centuries, until they are ready to play their endtime role. Despite the high incidence of millenarian hopes throughout history, we are given to understand that a literal Millennium, of a perfected earthly society, is not Traditional. However, Upton intriguingly parses the possibility of a "short Millennium." This might be consistent with the reign of the Mahdi, or the period alluded to in Revelation that occurs immediately after the Second Coming. This period is variously described as lasting a few days, or months, or years; in one Shiite version, it lasts 309 years.

Our destiny is the New Jerusalem, the perfection and crystallization of our world. Though Upton is no more clear than his sources, one gathers that will occur Elsewhere. There may be some continuity of our physical world with a following one. It is possible that Earth will not be destroyed, and even that there may be a few human survivors. That next world, however, will be another creation. Our business is with salvation in this one.

Upton suggests some spiritual possibilities unique to the endtime. The latter days allow for detachment, since at last we know enough not to place our hopes in history or "the future." There is also a unique opportunity to acquire encyclopedic spiritual knowledge from around the world. Indeed, the very advent of the Traditionalist school is a providential "sign of the times." Finally, we may hope for the spread of serenity like that which accompanies the old age of just persons, through whom eternity begins to shine.

On a practical level, we must not forget that the forces of globalization and those opposed to it are equally apt to the hand of Antichrist. He might even come to power to overthrow a previously established world system. The System of Antichrist suggests that we deal with this situation in the way that Jesus did when he was asked whether it was licit to pay taxes to the Romans. To that he answered that we should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. We must avoid being trapped in crooked choices. Our goal in the latter days is not to save our lives, but our souls. Even politics can be a "liturgy," in which we play the role we are assigned.

* * *

Upton's analysis merits comment. So does the doctrine of Tradition itself.

No doubt it is true that God forgives even theologians for their theology. Nonetheless, the principle of the transcendental unity of religions is open to question. The doctrine holds that the revealed religions are more similar to the degree that they approach their Object. This is not obviously so. Regarding personal eschatology, for instance, the Buddhist "moksa" is not equivalent to the Christian Beatific Vision; neither is self-evidently identical to the model of collective immortality that Upton himself seems to favor. The latter's best known exponent is the Muslim mystic Ibn al-Arabi. That is an important point.

In addition to Western Hermeticism, Tradition exhibits quite a lot of Sufism. The primordial Traditionalist, Rene Guenon, famously became a Muslim, and Upton followed suit. There are Christians, indeed Latin Christians, who consider themselves Traditionalists. Still, sometimes I can't help but wonder whether Tradition is just a very refined form of Sufism. This suspicion is probably misplaced, but Tradition is nonetheless parochial in a more fundamental way.

Sufism is a wisdom that crystallized from an age of skepticism and heresy. So, for the most part, are the other civilized esoteric traditions from which Tradition was composed. Tradition is not primordial. It's like the music of Solesmes, which was created at almost the same time as Tradition, and for much the same reasons. The Traditionalists are right, surely, when they say that it is mere bigotry to look on the past as inferior simply because it is past. We have a duty to extend the same sort of imaginative sympathy to the modern era that we do to distant times and places. The West is still going through its own centuries of skepticism. Someday, modernity could appear as primordial as Atlantis.

End

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Dark Imperium

Here is an old essay of John's on Satanic eschatology. I'm sure there must be all of 50 people in the world who are interested in this subject, but for the rest of you, this essay is also a window back into time, when the Internet was young. Using the Internet for serious research was a new idea in 1998, and here John gives an idea what that felt like at the time.

The Dark Imperium
Satanic Eschatology on the Internet
by John J. Reilly
The Biblical tradition is short on information about the motivations of the forces of evil in history. Revelation 12:12 explains the violence of the Evil One in the latter days with these words: "Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you in great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time." In Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," the tempter Mephistopheles explains that demons tempt men simply because they are themselves wretched and seek to make others wretched, too. Perhaps the most prosaic explanation for diabolical behavior, and the one best known to modern readers, is C.S. Lewis's hypothesis in "The Screwtape Letters" that demons are hungry and eat the human souls they catch.
Whatever the merits of these explanations, they shed no light on the motivations of the human agents of conscious evil. There is, of course, a long philosophical tradition, starting with Platonism and extending even through Utilitarianism, that there is no such thing as a conscious agent of evil. Since evil is simply the privation of something good, according to this view, it must be that those who seek to do evil are merely mistaken: they are in fact really trying to do good as it seems to them. Be this as it may, it cannot be denied that there is an ancient impulse, which has sometimes assumed concrete historical form, which seeks to overthrow the whole order of things, religious, ethical and social.
This impulse need not take the form of mysticism. Subversive art, like the plays and novels of the Marquis de Sade, can manifest this mood while denying the reality of the strictly supernatural. Still, a particularly dramatic manifestation of this spirit does seem to inform the division of the modern occult that styles itself "Satanic." Satanism is a large subject, and the term is often applied to types of occultists, notably wiccans, who for the most part deny any connection with it. For the purposes of this discussion, however, the general category of "Satanic" is limited by one major criterion: a systematic concern with universal eschatology, that is, with history's goal. It is hard to imagine a Satanist who accepted the Judeo-Christian model of history, since in that model Satan and all his followers are ultimately defeated and punished. What are the beliefs about the future, then, among that minority of Satanists who are interested in such questions?
This essay is actually an extension of the chapter entitled "The Coming Man," which appears in my forthcoming book, "The Perennial Apocalypse: How the End of the World Shapes History." In that chapter, I explore what turned out to be a surprisingly widespread modern myth. This myth says that the current age of the world is nearing its end, and that in the coming age mankind as it presently exists will be replaced by a new species. In some forms of this myth, the species already covertly exists, while other forms say that it will come into being in the future. A common motif in the forms of this myth is that many human beings will help the new species come into being. I argue in "The Coming Man" that this motif was part of the motivation of at least some Nazis during the Hitler regime.
Since the material in my book is largely historical, one evening in early 1998 I had an inspiration to update my research by asking the Infoseek search-engine the following question: "Is a new human species appearing?"
So it would seem. At any rate, the search results showed that there is a lot of chatter about the subject, mostly of a New Age variety. There is even a weekly science-fiction drama on American television (the ABC network) called "Prey" which is premised on the idea. However, in light of my earlier research into the connection between the Third Reich and the occult, what immediately caught my eye was the link:
Satanism--The Sinister Path
This essay is largely based on the links I found there, and at
The Internet Satanic Syndicate
There are also several related newsgroups, of which the one with the most predictable name is alt.satanism.
(The Internet Satanic Syndicate site, by the way, has a subpage entitled "Helvete." This deals with "Black Metal" rock music, a term I had not heretofore encountered. The subpage's name is the nickname of an apparently legendary distributor of this material in Norway, where I gather Satanism has a lively presence.)
Again, Satanism is a large subject, but all the Internet Satanists have a few things in common. None, as far as I could tell, think of Satan as a personal entity. Some think of him as an impersonal "force" of some kind, others as a psychological archetype. While all perform ritual magic, which may take the form of worship, they generally think of this as a psychological exercise. If they expect the magic to affect the real world, they say the power comes from their own wills. When they speak of Satan, they speak of him in the original Hebrew sense as the Adversary or the Accuser. They do not think that Satan accuses them. Rather, they themselves take on Satan's role. By calling themselves Satanists, they mean that they are the world's critics.
We may pass quickly over the well-known Church of Satan, founded by the late Anton Szandor LaVey (who died on October 29, 1997), as well as its offshoot, the Temple of Set (whose members are called "Setians"). These are the sort of groups that provide the stage properties for the popular "Gothic" subculture of would-be vampires and fans of heavy metal music. Taken at face value, they are more Gnostic than anything else. By their own account, they seek a form of subjective spiritual illumination. By reputation, the techniques they use to achieve this state include a fair amount of perversion, ritual suicide and unkindness to small animals. In reality, there are probably worse things in the world than the Gothic subculture, though some people may think that one Halloween per year is quite enough.
Indeed, what is most striking about the material by the popular Satanic groups on the Internet is their eagerness to appear respectable, or at least not criminally indictable. Thus, they deny that they sacrifice human beings, kill animals or promote pederasty. Despite the well-known associations between fascism and the occult, some are even at pains to distance themselves from Nazi politics. For instance, there is a group related to the Temple of Set called "The Order of the Trapezoid" that purports to be carrying on the ritual magical practices of the Nazis. The order was even initiated by a magical "working" at the SS site at Wewelsberg Castle. Still, they denounce what they call Nazi "excesses," and they deny that their beliefs require racism, antisemitism or militarism. One may wonder how seriously to take these protestations from people who think that Heinrich Himmler was a misguided genius, but there is unlikely to be much harm in such folk.
Harmlessness is not a self-evident quality of the literature of at least three Satanic groups with an Internet presence. All of them claim to be "traditional" Satanic groups, with doctrine and organizational ties extending into the misty past. Such claims might reasonably be taken with a grain of salt. One recalls Ambrose Bierce's remark in "The Devil's Dictionary": "[The emblems of the Freemasons] have been found in the Catacombs of Paris...on the Chinese Great Wall...and in the Egyptian Pyramids -- always by a Freemason." For that matter, since the sources in question here are Internet material, it is entirely possible that all of it was concocted by five guys with gross haircuts who work in mailrooms somewhere. Still, the groups in question here are related and they do have a coherent historical agenda. Whatever their actual antiquity or size, these groups therefore do afford us an example of a consciously diabolical model of history.
The oldest and most influential is The Order of the Nine Angles, or ONA. This group has its own website at http://thor.prohosting.com/~atazoth. Based in England, the ONA appears to act as a sort of "mother church" for Satanists who describe themselves as "traditional." (The more popular, "Gothic" types of Satanism are often disparaged as "American.")
The ONA's beliefs, and some of its documents, are mirrored in the Internet material relating to the Order of the Deorc Fyre, formerly known as the Order of the Left-Hand Path. This group is based in New Zealand, though contact information is provided on the Web for other places in the world. Its documents suggest that it is more interested in recruiting than are other groups of this type.
The White Order of Thule, formerly known as the Black Order, seems to be pan-European. The only contact information I found was a mailing address in the United States, where this kind of thing is constitutionally protected. It has by far the smallest amount of Internet material. It is also almost pedantically Nazi: its literature even reflects something of the style of German "völkisch" groups of the early 20th century. Such material as there is suggests an acquaintance with the academic literature on the subject, such as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's "The Occult Roots of Nazism."
All these groups are unconcerned with making themselves appear respectable. They insist that real Satanic groups do and must make human sacrifices, though they emphasize that this is never done at random and is never done to children. (It's not that they are sensitive to the welfare of children; it's just that they prefer killing people for character flaws that become apparent only in adults.) They emphasize how much more serious and dangerous their kind of Satanism is than that of the popular Gothic variety. Most important for the purposes of this discussion, they also insist that their goals are not just personal but historical. They seek to set the stage for a wholly new age and a new human species to live in it.
Before proceeding to quotations from documents posted either by these groups or in their name, it would be helpful to explain a few important assumptions that all these groups seem to share. Throughout the material that follows, I have provided links to material on my website that may help to illuminate some of these assumptions:
(1) The Doctrine of the Two Worlds. These Satanists hold that are two kind of reality, the "causal" world known to physics and the "acausal" world which sometimes intersects with it. The "acausal" seems to be related to the notion, familiar in esoteric circles, of the "causal plane." This is the world of the "forms," the Platonic Ideas, that provide what order there is in the world. Any organism, according to the ONA, is an intersection of the causal and the acausal. The notion is not quite gibberish, since the idea that the structures of biological organisms are governed by a small class of mathematical patterns is gaining adherence among some biologists. See my essay "After Darwin." The stretch is the assertion that cultures and civilizations are also organisms. An even greater stretch is that intersections of the causal and acausal can be influenced by ritual magic or by more prosaic means.
(2) Popular Spenglerism. All these groups have a grasp of the cyclical historical models of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Both these historians suggested that the West had exhausted its basic stock of ideas, and that politically it was headed toward the final stage of a civilization's evolution, what Toynbee called a "Universal State." What I find interesting about this is that my own book on these matters, "Spengler's Future," sketches a future that is not so different from that of the ONA, at least in the timescale. This is not really surprising, since Spengler's historical cycles are supposed to be fairly inflexible, but it is a bit disconcerting.
(3) Satanic Dispensationalism. The most popular form of Christian eschatology in the United States is known as "dispensationalism." This is the belief that salvation history is divided into ages, known as "dispensations," in which somewhat different divine ordinances apply. Much the same is true of Traditionalist Satanism, in which history is divided into Aeons, and the Aeons into civilizations. These Aeons, like the civilizations that occur within them, are organisms with their own lifecycles. By controlling the intersections of the causal and acausal planes, Satanists can influence the course of an existing Aeon and determine the nature of a future one. These manipulations are the stuff of what they call "Aeonic magick."
So, what exactly are these people up to?
The ultimate historical goals of Traditional Satanism are reasonably straightforward:
Satanism, Tradition and The Sinister Way
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1995ev
"The Order Of The Deorc Fyre sees these goals as being two-fold: the first is the creation of a new type of Human Being - Homo-Galactica, or to put it in Nietzschean terms, 'Higher-Man'. The second is the creation of a new reality born from this noble individual."
The endeavor of Satanists today should be to create the social and cultural context in which these developments can occur:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"For Satanists, the practical realization of an esoteric 'current' is through political means. For as much as Sinister tradition is a way of life, so to must it evolve progressively to its eventual and ideal manifestation of a 'Satanically' inspired state, or Imperium."
The "Decline of the West" (to use the English title of Spengler's book) does not mean the collapse of the West, but its final consolidation of the whole world into a Universal State. Before that can occur, however, the present Time of Troubles (to use another of Toynbee's expressions) must come to a climax. One of the Satanists' stated goals is: "To provoke or cause, through both practical and magickal means, the destruction, the Ragnorak, which is necessary now to build a New Order from the diseased society of the present, and regain the ethos, the Destiny, which is necessary to inspire the creation of such a New Order." Just such a revolution is described in the infamous "Turner Diaries," a detailed review of which is also provided on my website.
The point of this Dark Imperium is not power for its own sake. Even the empire of the world has an ulterior motive:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The new Aeon [which is still to come] means a new, and higher, Galactic civilization - several centuries after the energies of the new Aeon first become manifest and are presenced, via new nexions [intersections between the causal and acausal worlds]. The decline and ending of the current Aeon means the establishment of a new and expanding physical Empire: a New Order which is the last and most glorious manifestation of the genuine spirit, or ethos, of the old [current] Aeon."
World-historical goals are not inconsistent with the hope of personal "salvation" in one's own lifetime. Eschatology is normally both universal and personal. Thus, Satanists can believe in this sort of thing in both a long-term and a short-term sense:
Culling - A Guide to Sacrifice II
ONA 1990eh (revised 1994eh)
"This essence [of true Satanism] is that it is a practical means, a practical way, to create a new, higher type of individual - and eventually a new human species."
As for the distant historical goals, the very act of working towards them necessarily creates a measure of personal liberation and power:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"[F]or the majority of individuals, their Destiny is that of the civilization itself - they do not possess a unique Destiny of their own. Only those individuals who have achieved the stage of evolutionary development which individuation/Adeptship represents have a unique Destiny..."
The Satanic eschatology is, as we have noted, structurally similar to some Christian models of history. The Satanists look, in fact, to the coming end of the Christian era in a way analogous to that in which Christians look to the Second Coming:
The Black Order
"'Should the subduing talisman, the Cross, break, then will come the roaring forth of wild madness of the old champions... The talisman is brittle, and the day will come when it will pitifully break. The old stone gods will rise... and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes. And Thor, leaping forth with his giant hammer, will crush the Gothic Cathedrals!'..... So wrote the poet Heinrich Heine in 1834."
On the other hand, there is deep historical patience in some of these writings which echoes the long-term view of salvation history expressed by St. Augustine in "The City of God." In both cases, there is a sense that the coming kingdom has already arrived, but has not yet fully expressed itself:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"[T]his Being [Satan] is part of the present civilization, and its Aeon, which still exists, and which will exist for several more centuries, albeit toward its decline and end. . . .the acausal energies of the next Aeon, which will give rise to a new civilization centuries after, are already becoming manifest, partly through the work of esoteric groups. . ."
The actual timescales envisaged are not as astronomical as that those found in, say, Hindu mythology, but they are long enough:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"An aeon lasts about 2,000 years of causal time - a civilization lasts around 1,500 years. That is, it takes several centuries for the energies of a particular aeon, already presencing or 'flowing' to Earth from the acausal, to produce practical, visible and significant changes: to re-order the causal in a specific geographical region."
The following table of Aeons, Archetypical Symbols and Civilizations actually gives us some rough dates:
 
[Three Aeons deleted]
Hellenic Eagle Hellenic 3,000-1,500BP [1000 BC - AD 500]
Thorian Swastika Western 1,000BP-500AP [AD 1000 - AD 2500]
Galactic -- Galactic >2,000eh [?]
 
References scattered about this material suggest the hope to establish the Dark Imperium within the next 50 to 100 years. Still, it should be emphasized that the Satanists do not claim to be causing the decline of the West, or even to be the fundamental cause of the Universal State that will mark its last phase. What they do claim to be able to do is channel these natural developments for their own ends:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"Civilisations can rise and fall in the period of time known esoterically as an Aeon. The 'end time' of a civilisation is known esoterically as the Winter phase or as the Hindu have named it the 'Time of Troubles'. The 'Winter phase' marks the disintegration, and eventual demise, of a civilisation which is then followed by the emergence of another. This process occurs over many thousands of years, but because it is a naturally occurring cycle it can be perceived and influenced by knowledgeable Adepts."
If you believe this variety of Satanists, the Adepts have been at it for some time. Another table, this one of civilizations, their ethos and homelands, illustrates their view of the centrality of mystical Nazism to the historical process:
 
II Basic Principles of Aeonic Magick (ONA):
Hellenic Iliad Greece
Western National-Socialism Third Reich
Galactic Galactic Empire Solar System and --
 
Traditional Satanists quite clearly embrace the Nazis as part of their own tradition:
The Occult--Fascist Axis
The Black Order
"It is not surprising then that the ground for Fascism was largely prepared by esoteric societies which arose in Europe. Among these were the New Templars of Von Liebenfels, the Runic order of Von List, and the German Order. The latter gave rise to the Thule Society, which was to establish the NSDAP as its political front."
....
"These `sinister' esoteric societies proclaim the `Daemonic revolution', to usher in the New Order on the collapse of the Old; a New Order that will reawaken the Dark soul of man, that he might live as a totality with the Light and the Dark returned to balance. These esoteric societies recognize Fascism (whether called by that name o[r] not) as the political expression of primal truths. They include The Black Order of Pan-Europa, Fraternity of Balder, Order of Nine Angles, Abraxas Foundation, Blood Axis..."
Of course, the Nazis having lost the Second World War, some people might suppose that history was not on the Nazis' side. This thought does not greatly commend itself in Satanic circles:
To Comrade T
The Black Order "Firstly, TBO [The Black Order] is not a National Socialist organization per se. The role of National Socialist philosophy and the Third Reich on the Aeonic destiny of the European is however very much a part of its terms of reference."
. . . .
"NATIONAL SOCIALISM & AEONICS
National Socialism was the political form of an Esoteric Current in Europe which was then represented by The Thule Society. The Third Reich was a SEEDING of the future European Imperium. It created new archetypes and martyrs of the European folk with its BLOOD SACRIFICE and epic heroism in the service of that Destiny.
"Hitler was the central figure of that COSMIC DRAMA, but he did not seem to regard himself as the final embodiment of the Vindex/Kalki that was/is awaited by the European Esoteric Current. Rather he was something of a `John-the-Baptist' establishing the way (`seeding') for `the one that would come after', as he himself stated.
"Therefore the first experiment - The Third Reich - was not the final -aborted - form of the European Imperium, but the prelude to something greater to come: something nothing less than cosmic and starbound in scope."
These remarks about a "European Imperium" are particularly interesting in light of the supranational aspirations some forms of Neofascism are showing. As I note in my review of Roger Eatwell's "Fascism: A History," some fascists seem to be trying to fashion an ideology, not just for their own countries, but for the whole European Union.
In any case, it may be that Satanists are not much discouraged by historical setbacks because they do not regard history passively. They believe that it is an artifact, and that they are the artificers. The need is pressing:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The Faustian/Promethean (or more correctly, the Satanic) Destiny of this current civilization must be returned, and the present cultural disease affecting this civilization cured, with the excision of the parasites sucking the life-blood of this civilization - for only this returning of Destiny will enable the Empire to be created, and only this Empire will breed in sufficient numbers the new type of individual required to create, build and expand the entirely new Galactic civilization and Galactic Empire which will arise from the eventual decline of the old Promethean/Faustian Empire."
There are various means to this end:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"Those Forms [of culture] of a more degenerate nature: that subvert a civilisation from its organic and desirable outcome, need to be used, or destroyed, for the benefit of those Forms that aid the Sinister Dialectic. Forms become degenerate when they cease to be a healthy and vital part of civilisation. These Forms express their identity by subverting both Life and Nature e.g.: The Magian ethos expressed magickally as the Cabala, or Political-economy expressed via Plutocracy. They have a pernicious, and inhibiting, effect on the nature of civilisation; while subverting the natural development of an Aeon."
["Magian," by the way, was Spengler's term for the civilization of the Near East, which was defined by Churches rather than nations in the Western sense. Magian societies include Islam, Judaism, Byzantine Christianity and Zoroastrianism.]
"For if there is to be a sustained flowering of higher-Human endeavour it must be predicated now, in the Winter phase of this Western Aeon. Thus it can be seen, that in its Winter phase, Western civilisation is actively seeding, or in a more strict sense, 'creating' the emerging 6th Aeon."
Direct methods can be used to promote the emergence of the coming Aeon:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The change that is necessary means that there must be a culling, or many cullings, which remove the worthless and those detrimental to further evolution."
Individuals of no social value may be culled. So may persons who oppose the Sinister Path, or traitors to it. Before a Satanic groups culls a person or group, proper form requires a secret, quasi-judicial hearing on the matter. There should even be a "defense counsel" to argue for the life of the victim. Individuals selected for culling are to be subjected to tests to redeem themselves, of which the subject is not to be aware. Should they fail, the killing will be made to seem an accident. On the other hand, the Internet material does suggest that cullings may be made of whole populations:
Culling - A Guide to Sacrifice II
ONA 1990eh (revised 1994eh)
"[T]he correct choice of opfer [German for "victim"] means that with their elimination the sinister dialectic will be aided and thus the intrusion of the acausal into the causal speeded up. ( In non-esoteric terms read: `aid the dark forces to spread over Earth.') "
. . .
"IV) An Adept desires to practically and effectively disrupt the status quo and encourage the breakdown of the present system, aiming also to bring about a revolutionary state of affairs in his country beneficial to those whose actions and policies (unknown to them) are aiding and will aid the dialectic and thus evolution. To do this, he aims to target a particular, distinct, group - considering them all as suitable potential opfers. That is, he considers this particular group - by its nature and by its collective presence and actions - has shown itself to be suitable: removal of as many of its members as possible will be conscious natural selection in action. In effect, he wished to create a particular type of 'tension' in society by eliminating members of this particular, distinct, group."
Evolution is more normally fostered by nonviolent means, such as political organization, ritual magic, even by art:
Basic Principles of Aeonic Magick (ONA)
[Acausal energy may be]:
"a) Directed into a specific already existing form (such as an individual) or some causal structure which is created for this purpose. This structure can be some political or religious or social organization, group or enterprise, or it can be some work or works of 'Art', music and so on.
"(b) Drawn forth and left to disperse naturally over Earth (from the site of its presencing).
"(c) Shaped into some new psychic or magickal form or forms - such as an archetype or mythos."
. . . .
"The nature of such things should be akin to the type of changes desired. Each such creation should itself be represented by a unique symbol or sign; by a unique descriptive word, phrase or slogan; by a unique piece of sound [or 'music']; by particular collocations of colour, and so on - or by one particular individual who embodies that idea, ideal, mythos or whatever."
The notion of art as an upwelling of the folksoul is quite absent from these considerations. In the context of Aeonics, symbols are weapons:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"A rudimentary and mostly unconscious numinous symbol is an archetype; another is a myth/mythos....Further, a conscious numinous symbol can be used by an individual to bring about controlled aeonic changes because such symbols, being understood, can be precisely controlled and directed.....A numinous symbol thus makes Aeonic magick feasible for really the first time."
All of this bears some resemblance, though admittedly not much, to Georges Sorel's ideas about the use of myth as a revolutionary weapon. The matter is discussed in Eatwell's "Fascism: A History."
Finally, one may note that Traditional Satanism has taken to justifying its traditionalism precisely in terms of its eschatology:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"Thus to scorn and reject what now is, presenced as the Satanic, is to reject what is yet to be - and thus it is to reject that which alone ensures the creation of the next civilization, its Galactic Empire and the new higher race of human beings we through our lives, our magick and our deeds, desire to create."
As is often the case in small religious groups, the Traditional Satanists seem less annoyed by the non-Satanic majority than by innovators and apostates who claim to follow the Left-Hand Way:
Satanism, Tradition and The Sinister Way
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1995ev
"Of course there are other occult Traditions: The Golden Dawn and its heir the OTO, or Ordo Templi Orientis; and the relatively new trend of Chaoism, as expounded by the IOT, or Illuminati of Thanatos. Not one of these Traditions reflect the Promethean vision of Western civilisation; instead their teachings are derived from the messianic Cabala. At its heart the Cabala is the magickal expression of Judeo-Christianity - or more precisely the cult of the Magi."
This is not to say that Traditional Satanists are blind to the need to concentrate on their real enemies:
To Comrade T
The Black Order
"Today, we of TBO think it more fitting that the adversity and accusation be directed against plutocracy, whether in its Puritan, Jewish, or Vatican forms, which seek to LEVEL all under the doctrines of Universalism and cosmopolitism, euphemistically called the `New World Order'."
"The New World Order." Most millenarian Christians think that the Satanists are the New World Order. I guess the New World Order just can't win. In any case, people interested in following that particular line of thought are invited to look at my World Government subpage. As for this discussion, however, I think that I have already given the Devil more than his due.
Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Ecumenical Jihad

Ecumenical Jihad is another book I read because of John. I like Peter Kreeft's work, but I find him a little odd. I think John did too. Which isn't to say his ideas aren't interesting. John recommends reading this book along with Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. I'm willing to guess the readership for the two books doesn't overlap much. More's the pity, since you can learn a lot more from the two together.

There are a couple of lines in this review that strike me 18 years later. John, like me, has an eye for Providence. One of the more reasonable versions of American Exceptionalism notes that America has done far better than any judicious independent observer would have predicted [except maybe Tocqueville]. History seems to show many instances where things have turned out better than anyone intended. You should not be surprised by this.

...

An interesting feature of Kreeft's Holy War is that he does not purport to be able to say how it will be won, or even what victory would look like. God is full of surprises, he reminds us, and we are likely to be astonished by the solution God actually devises. Though he does not mention the analogy himself, the whole thing sounds rather like the strategy devised at Rivendell for Tolkien's War of the Ring. By any reasonable criteria, defense against the Shadow was hopeless and an offense would have been insane. In the event, however, victory depended on not being reasonable.

...

He is plainly in love with Thomism and, like many people in love with a theory, he genuinely cannot see why other people do not accept it.

...

Throughout fourteen centuries of Muslim-Christian conflict, both sides have repeatedly noted the commonalities between the two faiths and sometimes hoped for a commonality of interests. Never yet have these hopes been realized beyond the sort of temporary military alliances of which Samuel Huntington might approve. Kreeft more than once cites a poll finding that only 5% of Muslims today understand Jihad in a military sense. I don't quite see how you could poll the members of a religion that extends from Bosnia to Malaysia. Whatever that number represents, however, I strongly suspect that the percentage of Muslims who believe that Jihad absolutely excludes a military sense is zero.


Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War
by Peter Kreeft
Ignatius Press, 1996
172 Pages, $10.95
ISBN: 0-89870-579-7

The Really Good War

This book belongs on the same reading list as Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations." Huntington's thesis is much discussed these days. According to him, whereas the global politics of the past few centuries was about conflicts between nations within western civilization, the global politics of the twenty-first century will be about conflicts among civilizations. The primary contenders will, perhaps, be China, Islam and the West. He further alleges that the moral and political principles that the West, and particularly the United States, spend so much effort promoting in the world as universal goods are in reality culture-specific customs. Freedom of speech, from this point of view, is as parochial a practice as eating with forks, and so is only imperfectly exportable. He advises that we cease trying to promote a pseudo-universal ethic and concentrate on realistic issues of trade and military balance.

Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, thinks otherwise. According to him, the real division in the world today is between those who accept some form of natural law and those who do not. While people on either side of this divide can be found in every society, today overwhelming the opponents of natural law are to be found in the West, particularly in the United States (and even, one suspects, in no small part in the neighborhood of Boston). His analysis is explicitly eschatological. What we are seeing, he says, is the tangible incarnation of the City of God and of the City of the World as described by Saint Augustine. While he carefully distances himself from the proposition that the Battle of Armageddon is necessarily imminent, he does suggest a three-stage model of Christian history in which the first millennium was one of unity, the second is one of division, and the third will be one of unity restored. Such a schema is, of course, more than a little suggestive of Joachim of Fiore's three-stage model of history, as is Kreeft's expectation of a dramatic transition between the second and third eras. According to Kreeft, what we should not only expect but prepare for is a universal conflict in which the allied forces of light within every nation do battle with the forces of darkness, who are increasingly in league.

What we have here is a diversity of opinion. The short answer to Huntington might be that his cultural relativism is as Western as Occam's Razor (in fact, I strongly suspect it is a lineal descendent of Occam's Razor). The short answer to Kreeft might be that he was overly impressed with the success the Vatican achieved in alliance with conservative Muslim states at the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population. (On that occasion, readers will recall, this alliance succeed in defeating some of the more obviously pathological proposals of the American and West European delegations regarding the definition of the family and the status of abortion rights under international law.) Short answers are rarely complete answers, however, and in fact there is something to be said for both theses. Here I will attempt to provide a long answer to Peter Kreeft.

"Ecumenical Jihad" is not a call for a shooting war. Rather, the author calls for an alliance of Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Muslims, even ethical pagans and agnostics, to conduct the Culture War on a more equal footing against a (not altogether figuratively) demoniacal Western cultural elite. The book is dedicated to Chuck Colson, Michael Medved and Richard John Neuhaus, who have already made something of a name for themselves as culture warriors. (Colson and Neuhaus are the principals in the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" initiative.) The groups Kreeft has particularly in mind are, not unexpectedly, Protestant Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews and theologically conservative Roman Catholics of the sort who do not believe themselves to be more Catholic than the pope.

The author's list of evils to be combated is familiar: abortion and its logical corollary euthanasia, laws that discriminate against traditional family structures, an educational establishment that has fallen into the hands of malign ideologues, brutalizing films and music, and a constitutional policy of forced secularization of all public institutions. The measures that Kreeft has in mind, at least for the present, include equally familiar things like political action, community organizing and the cultivation of virtuous domestic life. Despite the control by the City of the World over the media and the courts, it is still possible to seek the reform of society through normal electoral processes, aided sometimes by boycotts and civil disobedience.

An interesting feature of Kreeft's Holy War is that he does not purport to be able to say how it will be won, or even what victory would look like. God is full of surprises, he reminds us, and we are likely to be astonished by the solution God actually devises. Though he does not mention the analogy himself, the whole thing sounds rather like the strategy devised at Rivendell for Tolkien's War of the Ring. By any reasonable criteria, defense against the Shadow was hopeless and an offense would have been insane. In the event, however, victory depended on not being reasonable.

Reasonability aside, I cannot say that I find Kreeft's idea of an intercultural alliance of theists and other well-disposed persons altogether promising. Kreeft is a convert to Roman Catholicism from Calvinism. He is plainly in love with Thomism and, like many people in love with a theory, he genuinely cannot see why other people do not accept it. What he is essentially proposing, if I understand him rightly, is a Thomistic "big tent" in which theological conflicts will be suspended in the interests of civil peace for the duration of the emergency (which at one point he calls "the Age of Antichrist"). I suspect that what we are dealing with here is another case of "beyondism." Beyondists of a sort are often found on the pro-abortion side of the abortion debate, arguing that we should move "beyond" today's current squabbles by accepting the holding in Roe v. Wade but being very solemn about it. Kreeft, rather more ingenuously, is proposing a kind of ecumenical beyondism in which all parties tacitly agree to the centrality of Catholicism, but with the understanding that they do not have to pay Peter's Pence this year. Unless they want to, of course.

In addition to problems with the theory of the alliance, some people might find his definition of its key participants to have certain drawbacks. First of all, getting evangelicals to do anything as a group is like herding cats. As Protestants, they have a natural predilection to be "against the government" in ecclesiastical matters. Second, although the Orthodox wing of American Judaism is perhaps the most self-confident part of the whole community, still it is a surprisingly small part. (Kreeft may not be using "Orthodox" in the narrow sense of the word, however. Certainly it would be a mistake to conflate Reform Judaism with liberal Christianity.) As for the Roman Catholic Church in America, Kreeft himself has a very lively sense of the degree to which the administrative apparatus has been taken over by duplicitous cultural liberals who occupy themselves sabotaging what they regard as the reactionary episcopate, all the while waiting for their chance to remake the Church in the image of the 1960s. Kreeft says of Catholic liturgists that they as "as poisonous as lizards and lawyers." Even if you accept that liturgists can ultimately be saved, it is hard to see what help there is in such people.

This brings us to his project of militant universal ecumenism. In its support, the author spends a lot of time in this book relating conversations with dead foreigners. Thus, he pretends he spoke to Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed and Moses during an out-of-body experience he had while storm-surfing in the aftermath of Hurricane Felix. (You see what extreme sports will do to you?) He meets these worthies in Purgatory, where they explain in turn how their teachings either did not conflict with Christianity or, where they did, were not flawed beyond the inevitable incompleteness of private revelations.

These portrayals perhaps leave something to be desired. To pick one minor nit, Confucius did not live during the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.), but the during preceding Spring and Autumn period (770-476 B.C.). (It seems me that if Kreeft has a problem with the Enlightenment, then he probably would have a problem with people like Confucius, who lived in a time of pre-deluge "enlightenment" similar to Plato's Hellas and 18th century Europe). In any event, the most interesting meeting, particularly in light of the title of the book, is the encounter with Mohammed. During it, we are given to understand that the Koran is indeed a record of divine revelation, but not part of the canon of revelation and so of course not inerrant.

Kreeft seems to be yet another student of history startled by the discovery that Islam is a Christian heresy more than it is anything else. (There is, in fact, an argument to be made that Islam is a "Reformation" of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, though one that went rather farther than the Reformation of the Latin West.) Additionally, Kreeft seems to have had many sympathetic conversations with pious Muslim students who were properly aghast at the moral state of contemporary America. They express outrage at the disrespect Christians allow to be visited on Christian symbols, since Jesus is after all a Muslim prophet. Kreeft believes that Christian cooperation with Muslims both in America and internationally could expand this sympathy into reconciliation.

The problem is that this is not a new idea. Throughout fourteen centuries of Muslim-Christian conflict, both sides have repeatedly noted the commonalities between the two faiths and sometimes hoped for a commonality of interests. Never yet have these hopes been realized beyond the sort of temporary military alliances of which Samuel Huntington might approve. Kreeft more than once cites a poll finding that only 5% of Muslims today understand Jihad in a military sense. I don't quite see how you could poll the members of a religion that extends from Bosnia to Malaysia. Whatever that number represents, however, I strongly suspect that the percentage of Muslims who believe that Jihad absolutely excludes a military sense is zero.

The other dialogue of the dead is in a chapter entitled "Is There Such a Thing As 'Mere Christianity'?: A Trialogue with C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas." It appeared as an article in "The New Oxford Review" some time back, and it is much more fun than the interviews in Purgatory. The setting is Lewis's study as he is finishing "Mere Christianity." Luther and Aquinas appear to Lewis to exhort him not to create a new denomination of "mere-ism" with his book, but at the same time to emphasize that Catholics and Protestants have the same religion, even though they have different theologies. Again, though Kreeft tries to do Luther justice, it is my impression that Aquinas gets the better of most of the arguments. The piece may or may not facilitate Evangelical-Catholic cooperation, but it is a wonderful piece of apologetics.

So what is left of Kreeft's Jihad? The Confucians are in East Asia, pre-occupied with the manufacture of compact disks. The Muslims in the Middle East are smuggling uranium for use in a most unmetaphorical Jihad against Jerusalem and Paris and Washington. Even in America, the Southern Baptists mutter darkly into the foam of their non-alcoholic sodas about the Gunpowder Plot and the wiles of the Scarlet Woman. Is the situation therefore hopeless? Will the City of the World triumph amid the divisions of all who still oppose it?

I would not bet on it. Though I quarrel with his practical proposals, Kreeft's central insight is essentially correct. God will not permit the world to damn itself, and He will save it in part through the actions of many sorts of people who do not now know they are on the same side. For instance, the day is not far distant, I suspect, when science will again be the friend of faith, and the powers of evil will be forced to resort wholly to rhetoric and obscurantism. As for the enemies of the City of God, we should remember that they are motivated for the most part not by radical evils but by corrupted virtues. As the fall of communism must remind us, hearts can change in the twinkling of an eye. Finally, though this is a dark consolation, in a disordered world the war between the two cities is can never remain completely metaphorical for long. Should another world crisis arise, much folly and nonsense would be cast aside as the West again cultivates the natural virtues necessary for its survival.

The insight which Kreeft shares with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and St. Augustine, that we may know the goal of history without knowing how we will get there, must be repeated in every age. The immediate future may be just as dreadful as we foresee. The ending of the story, however, will be far more wonderful than we could have imagined.

This article first appeared in the April 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine.

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Eschatology

This is John's subject index for eschatology, a well populated page indeed. A great deal of John's writing was influenced by this study of the Last Things, so not everything he wrote on the End of the World is referenced here. I particularly recommend John's book, The Perennial Apocalypse. It is a short, but very informative read about how the world keeps trying to come to an end, and sometimes actually does. I would rank it as one of my favorite books of all time. You can get it as an ebook rather inexpensively. John no longer profits from it, but it is a fine study of different cultures approach the end of the world, and what they all have in common when they do.

Eschatology: The science of the Last Things

The subject embraces personal death, the goal of history, the end of the world and the fate of the universe.

 

I have done a comparative study of the end of the world, rather along the lines of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." You can find information about it here:

The Perennial Apocalypse
How the End of the World Shapes History


Here are some of the shorter things I have written specifically on this subject. Just click on the underlined words to see them. Please note that many of the pieces which appear elsewhere on my website, particularly under "History" and "Science," also bear on eschatology.