The Long View 2003-10-28: The AntiChrist meets Halloween

This is your regular reminder that just because the world is ending doesn't mean life can't go on.

The Antichrist Meets Halloween

Many strange reports are circulating about the upcoming CBS miniseries on Ronald Reagan, but I suspect we will see few stranger than this alleged piece of script that appeared on The Drudge Report yesterday, under the headline CBS REAGAN: 'I AM THE ANTI-CHRIST':

REAGAN: It's Armageddon... that's what it is. Armageddon. The Leader from the West will be revealed as the anti-Christ, and then God will strike him down. That's me. I am the anti-Christ.

I gather that this scene is depicted as taking place between Ronald and Nancy; the president was distraught about the truck bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, in which more than 200 personnel were killed.

Actually, speculation that Ronald Reagan might be the Antichrist does date from the 1980s. More recently, some people have tried to save this bracing speculation by suggesting that he may have been the first of a series of antichrists, the one who started the countdown to doomsday.

That said, though, it is difficult to believe that Reagan suspected this about himself, even on his bad days. In the popular pre-tribulation dispensationalism that Ronald Reagan was so widely reported to entertain, the Antichrist who comes from the West is the leader of the European Union. The Rapture of the Saints occurs long before (by most accounts, seven years before) the beginning of Armageddon. Perhaps President Reagan embraced a garbled version of this demotic eschatology, and the screenwriters were reporting the fact. If this material really is in the script, though, the odds are that they just did not know what they were talking about.

Incidentally, the best recent survey of the evolution of the figure of Antichrist is Bernard McGinn's Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination With Evil, which was published in 1994. If you are interested, there is also a review on my site of Archetype of the Apocalypse, a Jungian take on the Last Days. It's not so much that a Jungian approach is particularly fruitful in this area as that somebody had to do it.

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Here's a query for readers: have any of you ever been to a Halloween party where someone came dressed as the Antichrist? There is no modern iconography for this figure, of course, but that is remarkable in itself. Here we have an agent of supernatural terror who is real to many people in a way that vampires and werewolves are not, but no way has been devised to represent him.

One might argue that Antichrist and Halloween are apples and oranges. The Antichrist is a biblical figure, or at least derived from the Bible. The name does not occur in the Book of Revelation, of course, and Luther rejected the idea of a personal Antichrist, but that's not relevant here. No matter the origin of the notion, Antichrist is a creature of history, of a universal scenario. Halloween, in contrast, is the high holy day of perennial folkmagic. It is antihistorical; its uncanniness has nothing in common with the cunning of history.

I suggest that this need not be the case. Halloween is the old Celtic New Year. (By the way, a Celtic day runs from sundown to sundown; those of you who are really into the spirit of the thing are in no way off the hook at midnight.) Every New Year celebration is about the destruction and re-creation of the world in an annual cycle. That is why they often feature rowdy parties; chaos is briefly triumphant.

In many New Year celebrations even today, the old year is represented by a Lord of Misrule. He is a person of mean station who, as a joke, is treated like the king or the head of the household. At least, now it's a joke. In ancient societies, the mock-king was sometimes a criminal who was executed at the end of the celebration.

There's your Antichrist for you: the Lord of Misrule on a universal scale. The Tribulation can even be thought of as a Halloween Party that really got out of hand. Why the Halloween card-and-costume complex has not exploited these connections is a real mystery.

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As readers familiar with my website know, I have no problem with the end of the world, provided you don't expect too much from it. The apocalypse does appear in secular history from time to time, however, and it's just unrealistic not to acknowledge the fact. Even the otherwise commendably realistic Victor Davis Hanson can stumble in this regard, as we see in his recent essay, Why History Has No End

Hanson summarizes the thesis of Francis Fukuyama's famous book, The End of History and the Last Man. To put it briefly, Fukuyama argued that liberal democracy had permanently defeated all its rivals because it best accorded with human nature. To this Hanson replies:

How naive all this sounds today. Islamist hijackers crashing planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the looming threat of worse terror outrages, have shown that a global embrace of the values of modern democracy is a distant hope, and anything but predetermined. Equally striking, it's not just the West and the non-democratic world that are not converging; the West itself is pulling apart. Real differences between America and Europe about what kind of lives citizens can and should live not only persist but are growing wider.

To this I would say that you have to distinguish development from corruption. Islamism is traditional Islam in a state of combustion. If not suppressed, it will consume its putative base of support. (That seems to be the effect that the suicide-jihad in Iraq is having.) Similarly, the post-democratic transnationalism of the EU is skating on ever-thinner ice. It creates consumers of public goods rather than citizens. Come the crisis, it will have no defenders.

Hanson's assertion that France or Germany is going to try to behave like a 19th-century Great Power is a delusion, though one might say in his defense that the delusion is not original with him. In any case, it is strange that someone who writes so often of “the West” and its splendid ways should have so little care for its common institutions. No doubt Hanson is correct that NATO is not of much account as a military alliance. It is, however, one of the constitutional organs of the West. Understood in that sense, it should be the apple of his eye.

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Speaking of refusal to learn from history, some prime examples can be found in the article, The Stealth Bush Boom by John Berlau, which recently appeared in Insight Magazine. The hook for the piece is unexceptionable: it really is true that a large part of the media is refusing to report good economic news during the Bush Administration, and putting the worst possible spin on all the news it does report. The problem is that the author then tries to argue that Bush's fiscal policies are a universal truth. Citing one Brian Wesbury, chief economist for a Chicago broker, Berlau reports:

While Wesbury blames the recession in part on Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's panicky tightening of the money supply, he says Clinton's 1993 tax increases ended up hitting the economy at the end of the decade when productivity pushed more and more into the upper brackets through a phenomenon called real-income bracket creep.

This is breathtaking. A decade of economic expansion does not require a special explanation for its end; it needs an explanation for why it lasted so long. Part of the answer surely has to be that there was enough fiscal restraint to prevent the economy from overheating. But then this article also puts the word "bubble" in parentheses when speaking of the '90s. In reality, when we see billion-dollar companies that are based on artists' conceptions of the services they might be able to deliver someday, we know that there are excesses that are going to be corrected.

There has always been a kind of capitalist who is willing to disable the state and trash the financial system to keep a speculative boom going. When the crisis comes, they have no defenders.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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