Why I can never be Tyrus Rechs

I recently completed my book review of Requiem for Medusa by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. It took me a little longer than I would have liked. I first read the book on vacation in June, and I tried to start writing the review shortly after I got back, but I found myself stuck.

This was an unwelcome surprise, and one even moreso when I discerned that the reason I was having trouble was that I was disappointed. I like Cole and Anspach’s work, but I also like to be honest, so I decided to sit on the review for a while, and then re-read the book after I’d had some time to digest it.

I’m glad that I did, because I found out that the book itself is awesome. I also found an interesting take on the character and personality of Tyrus Rechs, and this is a good place to explore some of the interesting bits I left out of that book review.

This will be a bit more personal than I usually make my book reviews, but that I why I separated this into another blog post. Only regular readers need to suffer from my introspection, not random Amazon review readers. I am also going to give away all of the secrets of the series, less volume 9, Retribution, since I only just started it today. Consider yourself warned about spoilers.

I really liked Imperator, the Galaxy’s Edge standalone novel about Goth Sullus. The review I wrote for it is my favorite of the Galaxy’s Edge series so far. Sullus turned out to be Tyrus Rechs’ oldest friend, another practically immortal survivor of the twisted experiments of the lighthugger Obsidia. The impression I got from Imperator was that Casper Sullivan always lived in Tyrus’ shadow. While a capable warrior in his own right, no one looks badass standing next to the Tyrus Rechs.

I also got the impression that Tyrus and Casper both loved Reina, the woman who saved them from captivity on the Obsidia. And that maybe Casper felt he got out-competed by Tyrus here too. Thus, I wasn’t really all that surprised when Casper killed his oldest friend, because this is the way friendship turns into jealousy. And here, the reason is that I think Casper always wanted to be Tyrus, and he could never be him. They were just fundamentally different people.

Tyrus and Casper each instantiate an archetype of manliness. I’m going off the schema from the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, which I’ve found pretty informative, especially in explaining stories.

King Arthur – Charles Ernest Butler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

King Arthur – Charles Ernest Butler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tyrus is the warrior, you can think of him as something like King Arthur. He’s epic, and strong, and dashing, and probably gets all the girls too.

Tyrus is a fundamentally simple man. You do the just thing because it is the just thing, and that is that. While there is something refreshing about this, Tyrus is also something of a blunt instrument. He is like the man with a hammer, except he has an autocannon. Every problem looks like something to shoot. Preferably lots of times. Tyrus is introspective enough to understand this about himself, but he is fundamentally accepting of himself as well. He can rest in his own skin.

Casper is more like Merlin, a more introspective and devious character, but also key to Arthur’s success. He can see further, and knows when discretion is the better part of valor. Arthur probably never appreciates Merlin, or stops to thank him for what he does.

As Goth Sullus, the politician and tactician Casper Sullivan becomes more truly what he is. He gains unspeakable powers from beyond the Galaxy’s Edge, the ability to peer into men’s minds, shape reality, bend all to his will. But….something is missing for him. The power isn’t enough, or in the service of the rightful King.

The Moirai – By William Blake - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

The Moirai – By William Blake - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

There are two more archetypes in this schema, which interestingly, Reina seems to fit both. The Lover, and the King. She is the love interest, and her name even invokes the sound of reign, which seems right as Reina represents what both Tyrus and Casper fight to preserve, even when they find her conducting vile experiments in another lighthugger, the Moirai, the Fates of Greek legend. I don’t yet know what happened to Reina, other than some hints in Imperator, so I’m interested to see what comes out of Retribution. [My guess, she is the Mother in the heart of the Cybar mothership.]

One of the things that surprised me most about Requiem for Medusa was that it portrayed Tyrus and Casper’s fundamental similarity and difference in the same way, at the same time. Imperator showed a Casper, as Goth Sullus, willing to blow up the whole galaxy to see justice be done. In Requiem, we see a Tyrus willing to do exactly the same thing.

Except, the way they both do that is characteristically different. Casper wants to see cosmic justice. Every mourner’s tear wiped away. Tyrus just wants to kill every bastard involved in setting up his woman, and everyone who happens to get in the way of that. Casper ruined the galaxy in his fool’s quest. Tyrus just ruined himself.

When I realized that, I realized why they were friends. In a way, they both wanted the same things, and just pursued those things in their own characteristic ways. Yet, at the end of the day, I realized that I just couldn’t identify with Tyrus Rechs, even though I had wanted to ever since I first met him in Galactic Outlaws.

Tyrus Rechs is a hell of a warrior. Steadfast, loyal, unmovable. Simple even. I respect him, but I found that I was disappointed that I can’t be like him for one simple reason:

I am Goth Sullus.

Message for the Dead Book Review

Message for the Dead

Message for the Dead

Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published April 25th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge

In a tweet storm last month, I threatened to write an essay about the millennialism of the lighthuggers portrayed in Imperator when I had a chance. As it turns out, the end of the world came and found me before I was ready. Let my unreadiness serve as a warning to the others. Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

In many ways, this is a book of endings. An end to scheming. An end to corruption. An end to freedom. An end to life. The progression from the first to the last is the essence of the Faustian bargain. We trust more in our own power than in the power of God. We insist that our will be done.

Isildur's moment of doom

Isildur's moment of doom

Griffith about to make Isildur's mistake

Griffith about to make Isildur's mistake

For Goth Sullus, the vice that makes his fall possible is justice. Yes, justice. I am not fool enough to call good evil just to make a point. However, it is precisely by means of a thirst for justice, for vengeance!, that evil enters the soul of the man known as Goth Sullus. [I admit that I suspect envy played a part as well, but we shall see] Yes, the galaxy is a dumpster fire. And Sullus insists that justice be done, though the heavens fall. His justice is swollen to madness in isolation from all else that is good and holy.

Yet, there is still hope. That hope is a slim hope, desperate even. Yet for all our weakness and foolishness, we have not been left to face the monsters alone. Although, it damn well feels like it. What it feels like, is the end of the world.

As I said, this is a book of endings. Yet, this is a specific type of ending. Not every apocalypse is created alike you see. This is only an introductory apocalypse. In an introductory apocalypse, the wicked system of the world is swept away. The world will then be united under the rule of the saints. During that time, things will be as they should be. However, the great enemy has merely been bound, not destroyed. At the end of the eponymous millennium, a revolt will occur, in which the cosmos will be consumed. That is a terminal apocalypse. Simply the end.

Now, clearly, something is amiss in the schema I have just described. While Goth Sullus certainly sees himself as worthy, I have my doubts. We also don't really know what role Aeson Keel, or Ravi, or Prisma Maydoon will serve in the end. We don't even really know what happened to Reina, although I have some dark suspicions. 

Without the ability to see into the hearts of men [or whatever Ravi is], we cannot really know what is to come. It is only by their fruits that we shall know them. Yet despite the bitter fruits that have fallen from Goth Sullus, I have hope for him too.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review

Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review

The Long View: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

By Anne Rice - http://www.annerice.com/images/AnnesChamber/072706-ar.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=997592

By Anne Rice - http://www.annerice.com/images/AnnesChamber/072706-ar.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=997592

Five years after this review was written, Anne Rice found herself unable to really embrace the doctrines of Catholicism, or at least the way she felt they were being applied. Which makes John Reilly's comment apposite:

It is quite possible to accept an early date and high historical reliability for the Gospels and still believe that the people who wrote them were deluded or disingenuous. On the other hand, it is also possible to accept the message of the Gospels and still maintain unorthodox notions about their history and provenance.
That is what happened to Ms Rice.

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
By Anne Rice
Alfred A. Knopf, 2005
322 Pages, US$25.95
ISBN 0-375-41201-8


Anne Rice is best known for her vampire novels, books that combined a diligent study of social history with a non-theistic model of the supernatural. Then we learned that she had embarked on a series of biographical novels about Jesus Christ. We were assured that she had diligently studied the finest modern biblical scholarship. Moreover, the story was to be told from the point of view of the subject, in the first person. Perhaps she planned a fictionalized version of Morton Smith’s Jesus the magician. Maybe a Jesus modeled on the Vampire Lestat would paraphrase Josephus in a tale laced with atrocity and dark witticisms. And that might be if we were lucky: the first novel was to deal with the childhood of Jesus, and some accounts of those “lost years” have him visiting the Ascended Masters in Tibet.

The actual book is a complete surprise.

This story, told through the mouth of seven-year-old Jesus, is thoroughly engaging. Yes, there is quite a lot of Josephus and other standard authorities, but the book never falls to the level of a Pageant of History (or worse, of source notes). The backbone of the story elaborates a quite conventional reading of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, an account we find in Matthew’s Gospel. (Rather cleverly, Ms. Rice has Joseph the foster-father of Jesus doing carpentry for Philo of Alexandria, the philosopher who attempted a Platonic interpretation of Judaism and who clearly influenced St. Paul.) In the biblical account, Jesus implicitly becomes the new Moses. Ms. Rice sets the return of Jesus’s family to Nazareth during the revolts against Herod Archelaus, so that their experiences in riot-torn Jerusalem and Judea also become a recapitulation of the history of the Jewish people on the return from Exodus.

For better or worse, Ms. Rice has also chosen to revive some noncanonical tales about Jesus from the apocrypha, but orthodox readers will find little to object to in Christ the Lord. The Author’s Note at the end of the book does suggest there may be a little packet of dynamite in the series, but we will get to that in a moment. Let us consider now how the book works as a novel.

It is presumptuous to speak in the person of the Lord, but that has never stopped people from doing so. In this book, Ms. Rice does succeed in creating a believable voice for Jesus, down to a touch of sibling rivalry, as we see from Jesus’s first sight of the Temple:

As for Big James, my brother James who knew so much, James had seen it before, when he was very small, and had come here with Joseph before I was ever born, even he seemed amazed by it, and Joseph was quiet as if he had forgotten us and everyone around us.

The problem, of course, is that the voice of an actual seven-year-old would soon grow tiresome. At one point, we get a hint that maybe this is not the seven-year-old Jesus who is speaking:

But as I am trying to tell you this story from the point of view of the child that I was, I will leave it at that.

In any case, most of the speaking is not done by Jesus, but the members of his enormous extended family, of whom the most talkative member is his know-it-all maternal uncle, Cleopas:

Cleopas took me by the shoulder. “You’re the only one who ever listens to me," he said, looking into my eyes. “Let me tell you: no one ever listens to a prophet in his own land!” “I didn’t listen to you in Egypt,” said his wife.

Ms. Rice makes her characters bilingual in Greek and Aramaic; Uncle Cleopas even knows enough Latin that once he buys a small book in that language. The story, like the Gospels, is history “from below,” but Ms. Rice knows that the people below often have articulate and well-informed views about politics and current event. For instance, the people of Nazareth have mixed feelings about the Romans, but they despise the loathsome Herodian dynasty. As for social status, Joseph was essentially the head of a fair-sized construction firm composed of brothers and brothers-in-law. Though not well-to-do, they were not poor people, and they did not live in a backwater.

In addition to her trademark social history, Ms. Rice’s supernatural does maintain some continuity with her earlier books. A character strongly reminiscent of Lestat appears in the person of Satan, whom one suspects will get many of the best lines in later books. Jesus himself is often frightened, but he always has access to perfect peace. And of course, sometimes he sees angels:

They came again, so many of them but this time I only smiled and I didn’t open my eyes. You can come, you aren’t going to make me jump and wake up. No, you can come, even if there are so many of you there are no numbers for you. You come from the place where there are no numbers. You come from where there are no robbers, no fires, no man dying on a spear, but you don’t know what I know, do you? No, you don’t know.

And how do I know that?

For many readers, the most interesting part of the book will be the Author’s Note, in which Ms. Rice describes her research and relates something of her spiritual history. She had fallen away from the Catholic Church in college. She returned in 1998, but did not attempt a systematic study of the origins of Christianity until 2002, when she began the background research for this book. By her account, she would have been prepared to accept a distinction between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. The results of her researches were not what she expected, however:

In sum, the whole case for the nondivine Jesus who had stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified by nobody and had nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and would be horrified if he knew about it – that whole picture which had floated into liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for 30 years – that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.

This is not an unusual assessment. There is good higher criticism and bad higher criticism, but even the good higher criticism is no better than plausible. Classicists, notoriously, often think that the whole of New Testament criticism is stuff and nonsense. That is far from saying that scholars of Greek who are prepared to treat the New Testament like an ordinary text are necessarily persuaded by what it says. It is quite possible to accept an early date and high historical reliability for the Gospels and still believe that the people who wrote them were deluded or disingenuous. On the other hand, it is also possible to accept the message of the Gospels and still maintain unorthodox notions about their history and provenance.

That is what happened to Ms Rice. In the Author’s note, we also find this:

Before I leave this question of the Jewish War and the Fall of the Temple, let me make this suggestion. When Jewish and Christian scholars begin to take this war seriously, when they begin to really study what happened during the terrible years of the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the revolts that continued in Palestine right up through Bar Kokhba, when they focus upon the persecution of the Christians in Palestine by the Jews; upon the civil war in Rome in the 60s which Kenneth L. Gentry so well describes in his work Before Jerusalem Fell; as well as the persecutions of the Jews in the [Diaspora] during this period -- in sum, when all of this dark era is brought into the light of examination -- Bible studies will change. Right now, scholars neglect or ignore the realities of this period. To some it seems a two-thousand-year-old embarrassment and I'm not sure I understand why.

But I am convinced that the key to understanding the Gospels is that they were written before all this ever happened.

Kenneth L. Gentry (and another major authority for her, N.T. Wright), are preterists, people who believe that the whole of Biblical prophecy was completely or almost completely fulfilled in the 1st century. The apocalyptic prophecies in the New Testament (and in the Old Testament too, for that matter) were fulfilled by the New Covenant established by Jesus and by destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. In order to maintain this position, they must show that the canon of scripture was complete by AD 70. This includes John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation. Traditional scholarship was content to assign a date of composition for those books to end of the first century. After a long period when scholars speculated about fantastically later dates for those books, modern Biblical criticism has returned to that view. With a few dissenters, however, modern criticism resists the notion that any of the Gospels could have been written before Jerusalem fell.

This has become an issue because of the growing interest in recent decades in endtime prophecy. Preterism is not a new idea; in some ways, it is just a form of postmillennialism, which holds that Christ will come again after the church has reformed the world. In any case, within the last 30 years, ideas along these lines have seemed increasingly attractive to certain churchmen and theologians who were embarrassed by the theology of the Rapture that we find in the books of Hal Lindsey and in the Left Behind series. Preterists argue, in effect, that the Tribulation has already occurred. The most rigorous preterists, sometimes called "hyper-preterists," would add the Second Coming and Resurrection to the list of fulfilled prophecy. (Readers may be interested in a review of John Noë’s Beyond the End Times.) Christians thus need not fear the end of the world.

Preterists had had high hopes for the year 2000. Endtime hysteria, they believed, would expand in a great bubble, and then burst in disappointment at the failure of the Rapture to occur. Christian millenarians would thereafter cast about for a new model of salvation history; the preterists thought they had the most coherent one on offer.

Maybe they did, but they suffered a form of millennial disappointment themselves. The only people who were really preaching doomsday for the year 2000 were doing so in connection with the Y2K computer bug. So, pretribulation dispensationalism (the technical term for the Rapture model) survived the year 2000, and preterism was without any obvious prospect of linking to popular culture. Now, five years later, comes Anne Rice and what promises to be a successful series of popular novels, endorsing preterist views and texts.

Although the preterists have embraced Ms. Rice as one of their own, this does not necessarily mean that she shares their views about eschatology. Her interest in the area seems confined to the dating and credibility of the Gospels. Still, her work may succeed in doing what I would not have thought possible: providing preterism with a mass audience.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Reformation

John reviews a fine one-volume history of the Reformation, marred by a jarring lapse into modern obsessions at the end.

The Reformation: A History
By Diarmaid MacCulloch
Viking, 2004
800 Pages, US$35.95
ISBN: 0670032964


In the later volumes of A Study of HistoryArnold Toynbee came to the conclusion that world history was about the development of universal religions rather than the rise and decline of civilizations. Certainly Christianity has most often understood its core mission to be the salvation of souls, though it has rarely neglected to make the argument that this enterprise also tends to alleviate the secular human condition. The Reformation era was one of the great inflections in the development of Western civilization, however. In the history of civilization, the theological controversies of that era necessarily become history's factors rather than history's meaning. In this telling by a professor of church history at the University of Oxford, the story begins in the 15th century with a strange interplay between the theologians of England and Bohemia, well before the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, and reaches a conclusion around 1700 with the establishment of the first gay subcultures in Amsterdam and London. The book itself meanders to the end of the 20th century.

If we ask why the Reformation narrowly so called occurred, why the Lutherans and Calvinists (very roughly, the Evangelicals and the Reformed) seceded from the Church of Rome, there may be two fairly straightforward reasons.

First, the theology of the Catholic Church, particularly with regard to the Eucharist, had long been cast in terms of Thomas Aquinas's understanding of Aristotle. This understanding, called “moderate realism,” has it that universal concepts really exist, but are present in the sensual world as individual things that reflect the universals. This is a handy model in several contexts. In theology, it means that human ideas, human institutions, and even the material world participate in divine universals. By the end of the fifteenth century, however, moderate realism had fallen out of fashion in favor of nominalism, which holds that universals are just names attributed to individual things. Without moderate realism, God's knowledge became an entirely different thing from human knowledge, and the concept of natural law was undermined. Anyone with a motive for doing so could easily point out that it had become very difficult to maintain traditional doctrines in nominalist terms. Martin Luther was, of course, a nominalist.

The other straightforward cause, the author suggests, was that an economic bubble burst. The bubble in this case was the Purgatory Industry, the endowment of chantries and other institutions to pray for the souls of the dead. There is a case to be made for some commerce between the living and the dead as a corollary of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. However, by 1500 in northern Europe the institutional expression of this argument was clearly in a state of unsustainable hypertrophy. An amazing amount of capital and manpower was going into the repetitive performance of liturgies whose only visible benefit was the satisfaction of the descendents of the original donors. The Purgatory Industry was the kind of endowment that invites expropriation (let today's universities take note). It did not help that the most prominent purgatorial entrepreneurs were crooks.

Those are the straightforward reasons the author highlights for our consideration, but he does not claim they were the deep causes. This reviewer, at least, takes away two key points to remember about the Reformation era.

The first point is that reform occurred throughout Latin Christendom. Before the reform, the typical parish priest was likely to be a man with a rudimentary education; he could say the Mass in Latin and perform other liturgical functions, but he might not be able to do much else. The work of preaching and of spiritual counsel (which was closely connected with hearing Confession) was in the hands of the friars, and to a lesser extent of the older monastic orders. By the end of the seventeenth century, priests and ministers on either side of the new Catholic-Protestant divide were people of some education (in the case of England, of university degrees) who could deliver an exposition of doctrine and who acted as spiritual pastors to their congregations. The late medieval world has been called a “blocked society,” in the sense that there was a general consensus that many social and ecclesiastical abuses needed to be corrected but insufficient will to make the correction. By and by, the consensus of around 1500 about what needed reform was carried out everywhere. In some ways, the era of reformation started in Spain, with a great campaign against ecclesiastical featherbedding and a notable outburst of precise Biblical scholarship (the Inquisition was part of it, too: go figure). The Counter-Reformation associated with the Council of Trent (1545-1563) was, in its own understanding, a conservative enterprise, but it was the sort of conservatism that turned what had been options into principles. One could argue (though it is not clear that the author does) the process in Protestant Europe was different in degree rather than kind.

The second point was that the great drive for reform was moved from first to last by the manifest approach of the end of days. Savonarola's Florence in the 1490s was only slightly precocious in this regard. Spain was in the lead here, two, with a simultaneous outbreak of ecstatic millennialism among Christians and Jews and Muslims, each confession with its own eschatological agenda but all three in contact. The launching of Columbus's transatlantic voyages was closely connected with this social mood. (He hoped to find the resources in the Indies to take the Holy Land from the Turk and begin Joachim of Fiore's endtime scenario.)

As is so often the case, the expectation of an imminent apocalypse expressed a perfectly accurate intuition of the fact that the world was about to change. As is often also the case, the effort to prepare the world for the Second Coming was itself one of the chief causes of revolutionary change. Church and state needed to be rebuilt, and even gutted. The Antichrist's advent was expected hourly (and indeed he was already present, in the person of the Bishop of Rome), so that leagues had to be formed and state structures integrated to an unprecedented degree to oppose him.

The degree of apocalyptic fervor varied over time and from confession to confession throughout the 16th century, of course. Millenarian enthusiasm, indeed enthusiasms of any sort, was coolly discountenanced in Reformed Geneva. Millennial excitement broke out among commoners and elites in Catholic-controlled areas, but it was almost invariably denied support by even subordinate agencies of the Catholic Church. On the whole, the expectation of the end of history tended to morph into the expectation of the beginning of a new age, and then into the idea of historical progress.

The author has a great deal to say about the Rosicrucian Enlightenment of the beginning of the 17th century, with its technological optimism and its expectation of a Protestant world informed by the sound principles of modern alchemy. This was the ideology behind the Elector Palatine Frederick's bid to take the throne of Bohemia from the Habsburgs. This was, perhaps, intended to be the first step toward protestantizing the Holy Roman Empire. The failure of this adventure at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620 famously turned a set of minor disputes into the Thirty Years War. On the whole, the Protestant confessions did badly in that conflict, and would do worse still as the 17th century progressed. However, the Rosicrucian Enlightenment's essentially hermetic interpretation of history as a story of social evolution became the distinguishing feature of the modern era.

The Reformation era was also the time when the states of the classic European international system crystallized. Again, this happened on both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide, and in both cases the autonomy of ecclesiastical structures suffered. France, notoriously, was a world to itself in terms of state control over Church governance. However, though French governments until Louis XIV generally were more interested in social peace than in religious conformity, Protestantism was eventually suppressed, and the author has some fascinating things to say about the continuities in French history that this process reveals.

Unkind persons (Englishmen, probably) have sometimes said that the real constitution of France is bureaucracy mitigated by riots. The riots started with the refusal by the Catholic populace of French municipalities to accept the terms of royal measures of toleration, of which the most important was the Edict of Nantes in 1598. The mob discovered that they could face down edicts of the government, and they did not forget. Similarly, the royal government tended increasingly to act unconstitutionally in part because France's dense and recalcitrant system of local government often refused to take steps to protect Protestants. One does not usually think of Louis XVI as having been beheaded by the remote effects of his ancestors' good intentions, but there you have it.

Speaking of Englishmen, the author often delicately refers to “the Atlantic Isles” rather than to England, and for the most part resists the temptation to make the history of Europe in this period simply a colorful background to the evolution of the Anglican Church. Nonetheless, one cannot help sensing a note of satisfaction when he observes that the English tended to think of the Reformation as something that was done far away by, well, foreigners, and that did not bear directly on important domestic concerns.

One of the what-ifs often mentioned in connection with the Reformation is the conjecture about what would have happened if Luther had become pope. A much more plausible alternative would be the election of the English Cardinal Reginald Pole, who actually came within one vote of becoming pope in 1549. As the author points out, the cardinals had been rereading Augustine, too, and at least some of them saw the point of the Protestant theories of faith and works. Cardinal Carafa, who became Paul IV a few years later, considered Pole a heretic (not much of a distinction, frankly: Paul IV had similar thoughts about Ignatius Loyola). Pole was preserved from a heresy trial by the fact he had become Archbishop of Canterbury and was presiding over, if not quite conducting, the anti-Anglican persecution of Queen Mary. Very few of the prominent actors of the early modern era are entirely sympathetic to late modern eyes.

The author, in what might be taken to be typical Anglican fashion, tends to split the difference regarding the various theories about the relationship of Protestantism to capitalism and democracy. He suggests that Max Weber's hypothesis of a Protestant Work Ethic was really just a projection of the state of Switzerland in Weber's own time onto the 16th and 17th centuries. He also is not much impressed by the “stripping of the altars” model of Protestantism as elite vandalism of popular religious practice. On the other hand, he says that Protestantism often meant a loss of local control; what actually happened in late medieval parishes had usually been decided by the local guilds, which paid the clergy salaries and maintained the buildings. Most of that local autonomy went away, in both Catholic and Protestant countries.

In Reformed Protestant areas, whose presbyterian form of governance often overlapped with civil government, control was of course extremely local. Such churches were oligarchies of the Saints rather than democracies, perhaps, but public affairs were managed openly and decisions were made by a relatively broad base. We should note that this style of government used the actual consent of the governed to justify a remarkable constriction of liberty. The same principle applies to condominiums and homeowners associations today.

Finally, let us address what the author suggests to be the conclusion of the Reformation. The process worked out the implications of nominalism. The relationship of God to the world was no longer part of the great chain of being that extended to the relationship of the king to the kingdom and the father to the family. Even as late as the beginning of the 17th century, for instance, the Holy Roman Empire seemed to be part of the furniture of the universe. By the end of the Thirty Years War, it was just a confederation. The important point was not a change in power but in ontological status. The author argues that the same happened to every human relationship. Everything became subject to renegotiation.

The great bulk of this commendably bulky book is solid, careful, political and intellectual history, illuminated by social studies, and all of it adhering to the ordinary standards of historiography. The final section, however, is given over to the late 20th-century scholarship of gender and of sexual identity. It is oddly incoherent with the rest of the book. Suddenly, a book that had been notable for crisp facts becomes sodden with theory. The switch is a little disorienting. If patriarchy was so important for understanding the later 17th century, then why does it rarely come up when the author has sola scriptura and the millenarian tyranny of the Munster Commune to talk about? Towards the end, the author suggests that the great issue facing Christianity today is the need to adjust its views on sexual morality. Of course, it is notoriously difficult to bring a broad-scope history down to the present without overestimating the significance of the issues of one's own time. In the long run, it may well become apparent that the questions that dominate the book's end were cultural epiphenomena incident to a lapse in demographic morale rather than a latter day extension of the Whig Tradition. Be that as it may, the book's treatment of these issues does not diminish the interest or importance of the earlier sections.

Copyright © 2011 by John J. Reilly

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The Reformation: A History
By Diarmaid MacCulloch

The Long View: The Forge of Christendom

Cricketer, historian, and author Tom Holland is here a proponent of the thesis that one of the things that truly differentiates the Christian West, Christendom, is the separation of powers between church and state that gradually evolved out of a fight over who was allowed to nominate bishops.

However, Holland also takes millennialism seriously, which adds a layer of interest for me. For many, it is one of those things that are just not mentioned in polite company. John also mentions here [I think elsewhere too, but I can't find it at present] the idea that Eastern Christianity never really developed the idea of just war. I find the idea intriguing, but I don't know the field well enough to confirm or deny. It is certainly plausible, with the relative unpopularity of Augustine in the Greek-speaking East, but on the other hand, Justinian also sent Belisarius to recover territory lost to Germanic barbarians. On the gripping hand, no one in the Roman empire after Belisarius managed to emulate his military successes.

The Forge of Christendom:
The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West

By Tom Holland
Doubleday, 2009
512 pages, US$30.00
ISBN-10: 0385520581
ISBN-13: 978-0385520584
(2008 British Edition: Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom)


The West has deep roots, reaching down past the Roman Republic to the level where Hellas differentiated itself from the societies of the Near East. Tom Holland, armed with an Oxford doctorate and a rolling prose style that the best Victorians might envy, has already written well-received popular histories on those subjects. (He also does vampire fiction.) Despite the West's continuities with antiquity, however, it's beginning in anything like the sense we mean it today was notoriously discontinuous. In the generation to either side of the year 1000, a new system booted that was clearly distinguishable from its Islamic neighbor and even from its sometime ally in Constantinople. In the author's telling, the first great characteristic act of the young West came at Canossa in 1077, when Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV conceded to Pope Gregory VII a right beyond the power of the state (the right to nominate bishops) in the Investiture Crisis. The concession was only temporary, and Gregory died in frustrated exile, but the pope's point stuck. Thereafter, the political and religious were recognized as different spheres with enforceable borders; the beginning of all civil liberties. This was something new in the world, but it was not the only novelty of the new society.

The two centuries that the book covers in detail, the 10th and the 11th, are among those stretches of history that make almost novelistic sense. The plot is driven by fear of the imminence of Antichrist and the hope for the Parousia.

The question of millennial expectation connected with the year 1000, whether that fear was important or even whether it existed at all, is one of those historiographical controversies that are prone to coup and counter-coup. 19th-century Romantic historians painted a dramatic and, well, Romantic picture of popular enthusiasm and even frenzy. The Romantics' successors, sometimes exaggerating what their predecessors had actually claimed, said the “terrors of the Year 1000” were a 19th-century myth and that the change of the millennium was little regarded at the time. Late in the 20th century, the American medievalist Richard Landes reopened the question (disclosure: I the reviewer am a member of his Center for Millennial Studies). His assessment informs Holland's book.

There was no revolutionary millenarianism around the year 1000 like that which occurred in late medieval or early modern times, Landes noted, but the fact is that the intellectual and political life of those generations was suffused by the preparation for a new age, impelled by a mood of expectation that had both a popular and an elite dimension. There was quite a bit of interest in the year 1000 itself. (Yes, people did know when it was: the information was available in every set of tables showing the dates for Easter.) There was at least as much interest in the year 1033, however, the millennial anniversary of Christ's Passion. One could argue that the West was actually born in the intervening years.

The term “postmillennialism” does not occur in this book, but something very similar to that doctrine was at work in the 11th century. Postmillennialism posits that Christ will return at the end of the Millennium; the millennial age itself, then, is a historical period during which human effort will perfect the world in preparation for that event. Postmillennialism was closely connected with the progressive, reformist Social Gospel that underlay much of the politics of the early 20th century. The idea of historical progress is really just a politely secularized version of postmillennial eschatology.

Medieval eschatology was different in detail but not in effect. St. Augustine in the fifth century (when the world did indeed seem to be ending, by any reasonable measure) had cautioned against the idea of a literal millennium as a period of historical felicity lasting 1000 years, though the Book of Revelation does mention a thousand-year reign of the Saints. He also cautioned against the temptation to apply information in the Bible to historical events in order to calculate precisely when the Second Coming would occur. He did, however, suggest that the reference in the Book of Revelation to a “millennium” could be taken as an allusion to an age of indefinite duration following the establishment of the Church by Christ that will end with his Second Coming.

In the tenth century, the condition of Western Christendom was dire enough to suggest that maybe the end was near and the 1000 years should be taken literally after all. In that century and the eleventh, sophisticated clerics tended to vehemently deny the possibility of predicting the End Time using calculations drawn from the Bible, all the while assuming a near-term eschaton in their worldview and planning.

The imminence of Doomsday had practical implications for medievals. Before the advent of Antichrist set the dramatic machinery of Revelation in motion, the world must first be evangelized and set to rights. This implied the revival or restoration of the Roman Empire in Christian form; even before Constantine, Christians had come to regard the Empire as “the Restrainer” of Second Thessalonians, the power in the world whose presence prevented the eruption of the worst historical evils, and whose final withdrawal would mean the end of the age. In the Byzantine Empire, where Rome never entirely fell, the hope for a penultimate age of peace became centered on the figure of the Emperor of the Last Days. He would restore the ancient empire and end his career by laying down his crown at Jerusalem, thereby marking the beginning of the end. This idea was easily transferable to the West, particularly after Charlemagne revived the imperial title in 800. (That was another possible date for the beginning of the endtime, by the way, arrived at through another set of calculations based on the seven-millennium model of history.)

We should recall that there is little institutional continuity between the Carolingian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. The last Carolingian “emperor” died in 905, long after anything resembling an empire had lapsed. The title was revived in 962 by Otto I, who had won the Battle of the Lech against the then-pagan Hungarians in 955. Both events were part of a process that solidified the idea of a German identity. Not incidentally, the battle also ended one of the several existential threats to the still inchoate West that were defeated in the decades before 1000.

The author emphasizes that Christendom was born in a near-death experience. The measure of security that Charlemagne had been able to bring to Europe scarcely survived him. From the east came Slavs and Hungarians. In the south were the Muslims: Sicily was an emirate for much of the period covered by this book, and corsairs sacked St. Peter's in Rome as late as 846. In the north and on all the coasts there were the Vikings, and in France there were the French.

“France,” “French,” “Germany,” “German”: all are anachronistic terms for this period, the author reminds us. “East Francia” and “West Francia” are better. Be that as it may, one of the themes of the ninth and tenth centuries was the trend among the elites in what would become France toward pure predation. In most of Europe, castles were usually places of refuge or barriers against barbarian invasion. In France, they were often prison towers to facilitate the plundering of the population and attacks against the bandit lords in the neighboring castles.

In such a situation, anyone who could impose legitimate order was clearly doing God's will, even if violence was necessary to do it. When bishops consecrated German kings, they left no doubt that one of their duties was to defend their people from their appalling enemies. The papacy began a practice of endorsing campaigns in Italy and Spain for the defense of Christian polities. The practice would evolve into the theory of the crusade.

This was in marked contrast to the Byzantine Empire, a church-state that regarded war as the greatest of evils. The Orthodox Church never developed an analogue of the theory of the Just War. The state favored defensive fortress warfare and acute diplomacy to solve its problems. Despite the contempt this posture often inspired in the Latin West, it worked at least as well against the Muslims as the Western preference for the offensive. At any rate, it did until the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when a fresh invasion of Turks caused the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in Anatolia. That defeat set the events in train that would lead to the request for help from Constantinople to the West that sparked the First Crusade. The book ends with the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

On the level of diplomacy and military affairs, the elites of the West were often sidetracked by impractical schemes of universal empire. They did nation-building, but by accident; what really interested them was universal empire, always with an eschatological dimension. That dimension was no less present in the reform of civil life, however, and usually to better effect.

Any outburst of disorder was regarded by medievals as a precursor of Antichrist, or at least a type. The violence of the lawless aristocracy of the West was just as evil and intolerable as the depredations of the Hungarians, and just as much a sign of the endtime. The remedy in this context was not counter-violence, but holy example, particularly holy example as set by the most innovative monasteries. The most important monastery of all, perhaps as important for the reform of the West as the papacy itself, was the monastery at Cluny, founded in 910:

Earlier generations of monks, following the prescriptions of their rule, had devoted themselves to manual labour, so as to display humility, and to scholarship, so as to train their souls; but the monks of Cluny had little time for either activity. Instead, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, they sang the praises of the Lord: for this, in heaven, was what the choirs of angels did. Indeed, on one occasion, it was claimed, a monk had ended up so lost in his devotions that he had actually begun to levitate. Prayers and hymns, anthems and responses: the chanting never stopped. [Abbot] Odo had required his brethren to recite one hundred and thirty-eight psalms a day: more than three times what had traditionally been expected of a monk. Barely a minute of a Cluniac's life went by, in short, but it was governed by ritual, as unwearying as it was implacable. Hence, for its admirers, the monastery's unprecedented nimbus of holiness: "for so reverently are the masses performed there,” as Rudolf Galber put it, “so piously and worthily, that you would think them the work, not of men, but of angels indeed.”

Cluny, at least in this telling, was Shangri-La, but a Shangri-La that succeeded in projecting its inner peace onto much of the outer world. The monastery was an important element in organizing the Peace of God Movement, under which the armored aristocracy swore before bishops and huge assemblies of peasants to respect the lives and property of the general population. The movement went on for decades, and as the author notes, it implied the formalization of a social structure based on the private appropriation of what had once been common property. Nonetheless, the commoners apparently believed that even an unequal law was better than no law. The Peace of God was not the Millennial Kingdom, but it was regarded as a preparation for that no longer distant prospect. As it ran its course, everywhere the cathedrals were built, and the landscape took on the look of ordered settlement.

Meanwhile, the borders of Christendom were expanding through missionary effort. The author plainly admires St. Adalbert, who left important posts at Magdeburg and Rome to die a martyr in 997 in the evangelization of the east. The conversion of the rulers of the Scandinavians and the Normans (and of the Russians, for that matter) seems to have been marked by a fair amount of Realpolitik. They had a lively sense that a Christian king or duke had far more legitimacy than even the most successful tribal plunderer. These accessions left the heartlands of Christendom more secure. Nonetheless, they too were evidence that the end was near, since the end could come only after the remotest parts of the world had heard the Gospel. Surely newly Christian Iceland was as remote was it was possible to be?

Much of the book's attention is given to Spain, where the famously wealthy and sophisticated Caliphate of al-Andalus made one last drive against Christian Leon before imploding from its own internal divisions. The recapture by Christian forces of the ancient Visigothic holy city of Toledo put the strategic position of Moorish Spain past remedy.

Fatimid Egypt also comes into the picture. Caliph al-Hakim entertained eschatological notions, in his case centered on himself. His destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem in 1009 simultaneously appalled the West and confirmed its view that the climax of history could not be far off. (Latterly, in some tellings, he joined the ranks of Hidden Imams; he is still venerated or worshipped by the Druze, depending on whom you ask.)

Though the West still interacted with Islam and with the Byzantine Empire in important ways, by some point in the 11th century it had become an “intelligible unit” in Toynbee's sense of “civilization,” a society with a story that can be understood only on its own terms.

The author allows the text to reflect the sources, usually to good effect. If someone said they saw a dragon, then they saw a dragon; why argue about it, since the dragon is rarely the point of the story? When the author wants to be critical, he lays on the solemnity a bit too thick, which is actually a very medieval thing to do. The downside of this approach is that the text glides over points that are controverted. It is also economical of explanatory digressions. Still, any reader who does not know about the filioque clause will no doubt find everything he needs in the substantial bibliography and large number of footnotes. This book is a delight to read.

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection

Ross Douthat pointed out today that atheism, as such, isn't particularly rational. For most of recorded history, gnosticism has been the preferred alternative for intellectuals to classical monotheism or paganism. The argument that God is evil is a far stronger one than that God doesn't exist.

Also, this paragraph:



The short answer to this view is that apocalypse and gnosis usually go together. Certainly they did in Zoroastrianism, the apparent source of much of Judeo-Christian apocalyptic. It is common in religious systems for eschatology to be expressed on both the personal and the universal level. In other words, the fate of the world and the fate of individual human souls tend to follow parallel patterns, and Gnostic theology is no different. Manicheanism, for instance, had a particularly elaborate cosmology describing how the divine substance was trapped in the world of matter, forming the secret core of human souls. The hope Manicheanism offered was that someday this divine essence will all be finally released in a terminal conflagration. Details vary among Gnostic systems, but they generally hold that the creation of the world shattered God. History and the world will end when the fragments are reassembled. Often this takes the form of the reintegration of the Primal Adam, the cosmic giant whose fragments are our souls. While this aspect of gnosis can also be taken metaphorically, the fact is that Gnostic millenarianism has not been at all rare in history.

is the best summary of End of Evangelion I've ever seen. Far better than this psychoanalytic take [Freud was a fraud, dammit].

Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection
By Harold Bloom
Riverhead Books (G.P.Putnam's Sons), 1996
$24.95, pp. 255
ISBN: 1-57322-045-0


Getting Over the End of the World


Harold Bloom, perhaps, needs no introduction. A professor at both Yale and New York University, he is primarily a Shakespearean scholar who in recent years has taken an interest in religious questions in general and American religion in particular. This book is a personal spiritual meditation. Though quite devoid of index, footnotes or bibliography, it is well-informed, and the author is good about citing his sources. In fact, the book has something of the appeal of G.K. Chesterton’s historical works: the author relies on a modest selection of books with which many of his readers are probably familiar, so the argument is not intimidating. Reading it, you will learn a great deal about Sufism, Kabbalah and those aspects of popular culture that seem to be influenced by the impending turn of the millennium. You will, however, learn less about millennial anticipation than you might have hoped. The lack is not an oversight: apocalypse is a kind of spirituality that holds little appeal for Bloom. While this preference is of course his privilege, it does mean that, like the mainline churches which prefer to take these things metaphorically, his understanding of the spiritual state of today’s millennial America has a major blind spot.

Bloom's subject is his experience of "gnosis," the secret knowledge that is at once self-knowledge and cosmic revelation. The book's method is a review of different kinds of gnosis. Bloom has much to say about "Gnosticism" properly so-called, which was the religion of heretical Christians and Jews in the early centuries of the Christian era. (It would be churlish to put "heretical" in quotations marks here. The word, after all, was coined with the Gnostics in mind.) He is also concerned with contemporary popular spiritual enthusiasms. We hear a lot about the fascination with angels, dreams, near-death experiences and intimations of the end of the age that take up so much shelf-space in bookstores these days. Bloom is at pains to show that these sentimental phenomena in fact are part of a long Gnostic tradition that has engaged some of the finest minds of every age.

This aspect of the book is perhaps something of a patriotic exercise, since Bloom reached the conclusion in his study, "The American Religion," that America is a fundamentally Gnostic country, whose most characteristic religious product is the Church of Latter Day Saints. Bloom’s conclusions struck many people familiar with the professed theologies of America’s major denominations as a trifle eccentric, but he was scarcely the first commentator to claim that the people in the pews actually believe somthing quite different from what their ministers learned at the seminary. Besides, Tolstoy thought much the same thing as Bloom about the place of the Mormons in American culture, so who will debate the point?

Bloom is perfectly justified in complaining that the angels in particular have been shamefully misrepresented in America today. In the popular literature of angels, they appear as a species of superhero. They friendly folks just like you and me, except they are gifted with extraordinary powers to make themselves helpful, especially to people in life-threatening situations. Angels in art have been as cute as puppies for so long that the popular mind has wholly lost contact with the terrifying entities of Ezechiel’s vision. Bloom seeks to reacquaint us with these images, particularly as they have survived in Kabbalah and in Sufi speculation. He is much concerned with Metatron, the Angel of America, variously thought to be the Enoch of Genesis and the secret soul of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. His treatment of Metatron never quite rises to that of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett in their novel, “Good Omens,” who describe him as, “The Voice of God. But not the ‘voice’ of God. A[n] entity in its own right. Rather like a presidential spokesman.” Nevertheless, it is good to see some hint of the true depths of angelic theology make available to the general public.

While “Omens of Millennium” is not without its entertaining aspects for people who do not regularly follow New Age phenomena, Bloom does seek to promote a serious spiritual agenda. The central insight of gnosis (at least if you believe Hans Jonas, as Bloom does without reservation) is the alienage of man from this world. We are strangers to both matter and history. Bloom despairs of theodicy. Considered with an objective secular eye, the world is at best a theater of the absurd and at worst a torture chamber. If there is a god responsible for this world, then that god is a monster or a fool. And in fact, for just shy of two millennia, Gnostics of various persuasions have said that the god of conventional religion was just such an incompetent creator. The consolation of gnosis is that there is a perfect reality beyond the reality of the senses, and a God unsullied by the creation of the world we know. The fiery angels, the prophetic dreams, the visions of an afterlife that make up much of the occult corpus are images of that true reality. They move in a middle realm, connecting the temporal and the eternal, ready to guide human beings desperate enough to seek the secret knowledge that gives mastery over them.

The people take these images literally. They believe they will not die, or that the resurrection is an event that will take place in the future. They believe that spiritual entities wholly distinct from themselves love them and care for them. They wait, sometimes with anxiety and sometimes with hope, for the transformation of this world. The Gnostic elite, in contrast, knows that these things are symbols. They understand that there is something in themselves that was never created, and so can never die. They can learn to use the images of the mid-world to approach these fundamental things, but without investing them with an independent reality. They need neither hope nor faith: they know, and their salvation is already achieved.

All of this sounds wonderfully austere. It allows for an aesthetic spirituality that avoids the twin perils of dead-between-the-ears materialism and vulgar supernaturalism. It is, one supposes, this sort of sensibility that accounts for the popularity of chant as elevator music. Neither is this spirituality without formidable literary exponents. Robertson Davies, for instance, suffused his fiction for decades with a genial Gnostic glow, marred only occasionally by a flash of contempt for the “peanut god” of the masses. Of even greater interest to Bloom, perhaps, would be the fiction of John Crowley. His recent novel, “Love and Sleep,” is entitled with the esoteric terms for the forces by which the truly divine is imprisoned in the world of matter. The story even treats in large part of Shakespeare and Elizabethan England, Bloom’s special province. If gnosis as such still seems to have a relatively small audience, this could be reasonably ascribed to its very nature as a philosophy for a spiritual elite. The problem with Bloom’s particular take on gnosticism, however, is that it is not only alien to sentimental popular religion, it is also alien to the esoteric forms gnosis has taken throughout history.

Bloom believes that gnosis appears when apocalyptic fails. This is what he believes happened in Judaism around the time of Jesus. By that point, Palestine had been bubbling with literal millenarianism for two centuries. Generation after generation looked for the imminent divine chastisement of Israel’s enemies and the establishment of a messianic kingdom. This universal regime would endure for an age of the world that, thanks to the Book of Revelation, finally came to be called “the millennium.” The dead would rise, the poor would be comforted, and the wicked would be infallibly punished. It was the stubborn refusal of these things to happen that prompted the strong spirits of those days to consider whether they may not have been looking for these things on the wrong level of reality. They were not arbitrary fantasies; they spoke to the heart in a way that mere history could not. Rather, they were images of realties beyond what this dark world could ever support. This was true also of the image of the apocalypse, in which this world comes to the end it so richly deserves. Apocalypse properly understood is not prophecy, but an assessment that put this world in its place. More important, it pointed to the greater reality that lay eternally beyond the world. Bloom hints that this process of ontological etherealization is in fact the explanation for Christianity itself, since he suspects that Jesus himself was a Gnostic whose subtle teachings were grossly misinterpreted by the irascible apostle Paul.

The short answer to this view is that apocalypse and gnosis usually go together. Certainly they did in Zoroastrianism, the apparent source of much of Judeo-Christian apocalyptic. It is common in religious systems for eschatology to be expressed on both the personal and the universal level. In other words, the fate of the world and the fate of individual human souls tend to follow parallel patterns, and Gnostic theology is no different. Manicheanism, for instance, had a particularly elaborate cosmology describing how the divine substance was trapped in the world of matter, forming the secret core of human souls. The hope Manicheanism offered was that someday this divine essence will all be finally released in a terminal conflagration. Details vary among Gnostic systems, but they generally hold that the creation of the world shattered God. History and the world will end when the fragments are reassembled. Often this takes the form of the reintegration of the Primal Adam, the cosmic giant whose fragments are our souls. While this aspect of gnosis can also be taken metaphorically, the fact is that Gnostic millenarianism has not been at all rare in history.

One of the impediments to understanding apocalyptic is the secular superstition, perhaps best exemplified by E.J. Hobsbawm’s book “Primitive Rebels,” that millenarianism is essentially a form of naive social revolution. Thus, one would expect people with an apocalyptic turn of mind to be ill-educated and poor. Bloom is therefore at something of a loss to explain the ineradicable streak of millenarianism in American culture, a streak found not least among comfortable middle class people who worship in suburban churches with picture windows. His confusion is unnecessary. Indeed, once could argue that the persistence of American millenarianism is some evidence for his thesis that America is a Gnostic country, since gnosticism is precisely the context in which apocalyptic flourishes among the world’s elites.

Sufi-influenced Islamic rulers, from the Old Man of the Mountain to last Pahlevi Shah of Iran, have a long tradition of ascribing eschatological significance to their reigns. Kabbalah has an explosive messianic tradition that has strongly influenced Jewish history more than once, most recently in the ferment among the Lubavitchers of Brooklyn. (The tradition is itself part of an intricate system of cosmic cycles and world ages, in which more or less of the Torah is made manifest.) Regarding Christian Europe, Norman Cohn has made a special study of the Heresy of the Free Spirit, which from the 13th century forward offered Gnostic illumination to the educated of the West in a package that came with the hope of an imminent new age of the spirit. As Bloom knows, the Renaissance and early modern era, and not least Elizabethan England, was rife with hermeticists like Giordano Bruno who divided their time between political intrigue and their own occult apotheosis. The gentlemanly lodge-politics of the pre-revolutionary 18th century made a firm connection between hermetic theory and the hope of revolution (as well as providing endless entertainment for conspiracy buffs who think that secret societies like the Bavarian Illuminati are somehow immortal). Whatever else can be said about gnosis, it is clearly not hostile to apocalyptic thinking.

In the light of this history, it is hard to accept Bloom’s complacent assertion that gnosis bears no guilt because it has never been in power. It has frequently been in power, though rarely under its own name. There is even a good argument to be made that the Nazi regime was fundamentally Gnostic. Certainly Otto Wagoner, one of Hitler’s early confidants, made note of his master’s admiration for the Cathars, those martyrs of the Gnostic tradition. Some segments of the SS even cultivated Vedanta. For that matter, as Robert Wistrich argued in “Hitler’s Apocalypse,” the regime’s chief aim was the expungement of the Judeo-Christian God from history. Marcion, the ancient heresiarch who rejected the Old Testament as the work of the evil demiurge, might have been pleased.

Is there a logical connection between gnosis and apocalyptic? Of course. Apocalypses come in various flavors. Some are hopeful, some are fearful, some are actually conservative. There is also an apocalypse of loathing, of contempt and hatred for the world and its history. We can clearly see such a mood in societies that nearly destroy themselves, such as Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or sixteenth century Mexico, but to a smaller degree it has also informed less extreme revolutions and upheavals throughout history. Gnosis has much in common with this mood. Gnostics at best seek to be reconciled with the world. Some seek to purify themselves of it. Others look forward to its destruction in a grossly literal fashion. More than a few, it seems, have been willing to help the process along.

Finally, at the risk of making a churlish comment about what after all is supposed to be a personal spiritual statement, one might question the credentials of gnosis to be the treasured possession of a true spiritual elite. Bloom mentions at one point that C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” is one of his least favorite books. One may be forgiven for wondering whether this antipathy arises because even a cursory acquaintance with Lewis’s writings show him to have been a Gnostic who eventually grew out of it. (If you want a popular description of serious angels, no book but Lewis’s novel “That Hideous Strength” comes to mind.) As St. Augustine’s “Confessions” illustrates, gnosis may be a stage in spiritual maturity, but it has not been the final destination for many of the finest spirits. Bloom seems to think that his version of gnosis has a great future in the next century, after people tire of their current millennial enthusiasms. Perhaps some form of spirituality has a great future, but it is unlikely to be the one he has in mind.

An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the February 1997 issue of First Things magazine.

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Coming Age of Cathedrals

Times Square in 1978

Times Square in 1978

In 2014 I speculated that John Reilly probably knew Richard Landes, because of their common interests. I managed to miss this essay of John's where he talked about meeting with Landes in New York City. I'm not sure how, since I referenced the ideas here in a couple of talks I gave at my local Catholic parish on millennialism

This essay is also an interesting point of contact with my unreleased review of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. By 2004, New York City had begun to decisively move away from the archetype of Gotham City that it had been embodying ever since the 1970s[popularly referred to as the Sixties, this trend really started about 1968 and peaked in 1973]. The fate of Times Square is a synedoche for the city as a whole. The only time I have been to Times Square was in 1998, on a school trip, and it was less seedy than in 1978, but far less clean than John saw it in 2004, or the sanitized version we have now.

The story of how that happened is a fascinating one, and it illuminates the curious nature of American politics at present. But that is a story for another post.

I really like Richard Landes' theory that millennialism is embarrassing to most educated Westerners, while also being absolutely fascinating to almost everyone, even the people who find it embarrassing. John takes that idea here, and links it up with a great many other ideas that he often featured on his blog, and produces a truly great essay on how the idea of historical progress fits in to the broader cultural trends of the West.

Written in 1997, this essay is more optimistic than it would have been in 2017. In 1997, the United States was in the middle of an economic boom, had no serious rivals, and had not yet been humbled by 9/11. An interesting twist to 2017 is that the optimism of 1997 really did manage to leave out a number of Americans from the increasing prosperity, but since they were largely concentrated in the declining industrial heartland, the hidden losers of the dotcom boom, the coastal elites largely ignored them. This was likely helped by a very robust late 90s stock market. Pensions were generally pretty strong then.

For all that, John had enough historical depth to know that good times don't last forever.

The Coming Age of Cathedrals


by John J. Reilly


I rarely have occasion to walk through Times Square in Manhattan. My visits to the city usually have to do with business to the east or south. That was why, when I walked through the area one morning in the summer of 1996 on one of my even rarer visits to Lincoln Center, I was taken aback by how much the place had improved since the last time I saw it. It was still noisy and crowded (it is hard to imagine that location in the city being otherwise), but the area was clean. The facades and many of the buildings were new. If any of the stores specialized in pornography, they were discrete about it. Shabby persons did not wait under the eaves of storefronts to offer goods and services to passersby. There was a cop or security guard on every other corner.

If the dark, dystopic film "Bladerunner" is the popular image of the future American city, then here was a city that was evolving in a different direction. It was not just Times Square, of course. The reason you see few politicians trekking to the South Bronx these days is that the burned-out neighborhoods that provided such dramatic photo opportunities for several election cycles have been substantially torn down and rebuilt. Actually, good news like this seems to crop up more and more these days, in areas ranging from medicine to crime statistics. Like many of the people who pass through Times Square each day, I generally just note the improvement and continue on my way. That morning, however, I was going to a meeting that gave me reason to consider such things in a broader context.

I was in Manhattan to speak to one Richard Landes, a medievalist from Boston University and an authority on the year 1000. With each year's calendar getting closer to the double-millennium figure, this previously obscure subject is becoming increasingly topical. It is already fashionable to attribute this or that event to "millennial fever." (In a way, that is what I am going to do here.) Anyway, we were meeting to talk about several of the academic projects that are in the works in connection with the upcoming turn of the millennium.

Landes is something of a revisionist. Like many revisionists who seek to overturn the accepted wisdom on a subject, his new interpretation is a dialectical synthesis that strongly resembles the view of the matter which preceded the accepted wisdom he is revising. For reasons which I trust I will be able to make clear, his ideas about the 11th century may have a great deal to do with the once and future Times Square.

It was perhaps the nineteenth[-century] historian, Jules Michelet, who was most responsible for popularizing the idea of the "terrors of the year 1000." You can find contemporary, or nearly contemporary, chronicles of the period which describe the people of Western Europe as living in a agony of apocalyptic expectation. There are accounts of civil disturbances, of grotesque acts of mass public repentance, of popular prophets and their crazed followers. All in all, Michelet made the turn of the millennium sound like the sixteenth century on particularly bad day. By the beginning of the twentieth century, historians realized there was something fishy about this picture. For one thing, while these accounts turn up in some historical literature from the period, they do not dominate it. More generally, Western Europe in the decades following the year 1000 really did not act like a society that was paralyzed by fear of the imminent end of the world, or that was disappointed by the failure of its eschatological schedule.

The 11th century was the time when the great cathedrals began to go up and the crusades were launched, following decades of increasing contact with Byzantium and the Levant. Western Christendom in those decades was an expanding, curious, inventive society. To that extent, it did resemble the Western Europe of the sixteenth century. However, this earlier age of discovery and change was not characterized by the dark disasters of the century that followed Columbus and Luther. This perhaps is the chief reason why for nearly a hundred years historians have generally believed that the "terrors of the year 1000" existed largely in the minds of the nineteenth century Romantics.

Well, maybe not. Landes and other medievalists are taking a third look at the primary sources, and finding both more and less in them than did their predecessors. It is true that nothing happened around the beginning of the second millennium on the order of the Peasants' Revolt in sixteenth Germany. (For purposes of eschatological anxiety, by the way, the millennium did not turn in an instant. The year 1033, for instance, was at least as good a year for the Second Coming in the minds of apocalyptic literalists as was the year 1000.) On the other hand, it is not hard to find discussion about questions of universal eschatology in the writings of the period. Evidence of popular interest in these questions is fragmentary, but it is there. More accessible is the scholarly debate which arose about when the age might be expected to end.

Landes believes he detects a degree of censorship among the writers of the period in favor Augustine's model of history. Whatever else might be said of Augustine's ideas about the end of the world, certainly they tended to downplay the catastrophic and revolutionary. (Violent, popular endtime belief is sometimes characterized as "millenarian," to be distinguished from the less dramatic "millennialism" with which Augustine is often associated.) Augustine, in most interpretations of him, preserved the events of the Endtime depicted in Revelation and the Prophets as literal expectations for the indefinite future. However, his system (to the extent he had one) was very wary of any attempts to discern eschatological significance in the events of secular history.

The medieval Latin Church, in its eschatology as in so much else, was at least nominally Augustinian. The Church around the year 1000, however, dealt in two ways with what probably was perceived to be a crisis of apocalyptic expectation. The immediate response was to deal with millenarianism on its own terms. The more long-term and more important response, however, was to transform apocalyptic into theodicy.

The proper Augustinian reaction to millenarian enthusiasm, particularly to enthusiasm sparked by calendrical considerations, is to declare the time of the end to be unknowable. What many of the authorities around the year 1000 did, however, was to quibble about chronology. Thus, accepting for the sake of argument the old thesis that the world would last 6,000 years, they answered doom-mongers with estimates for the age of the world that put the beginning of the seventh millennium a comfortable distance into the future. Such arguments were not always wholly convincing on their merits, and they did have the disadvantage of leaving time bombs for later Augustinians. (The excitement about the year 1000 was perhaps a time bomb planted by Augustine himself.) Be that as it may, such arguments sufficed for the immediate occasion, and they probably did contribute to the pacification of millenarian sentiment, especially among the lower clergy.

On the other hand, there is a great deal more to Augustinian eschatology than the suppression of other people's enthusiasms. Augustine is sometimes called "the father of progress." This view can be exaggerated, as it was perhaps in Robert Nisbet's "History of the Idea of Progress." Certainly St. Augustine's ideas about the future bore little resemblance to those of, say, the Fabian socialists. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be said for the proposition that his model of time is the basic template on which more specific ideas about history can form, of which progress is simply one instance.

Augustine freed time from the constriction of an imminent eschaton, thereby making history a theater of grace and will. Augustinian history need not be progressive, but it can be. In fact, it has a predilection to be under certain circumstances. The Augustinian view of time is not unique in being linear or in its suspicion of revolutionary enthusiasm. Neo-Confucianism, for instance, has these characteristics. For that matter, Neo-Confucian historiographers, like Landes's turn-of-the-millennium ecclesiastics, did indeed tend to de-emphasize or mischaracterize popular millenarian movements. What makes Augustinianism different is its ability to impart meaning to favorable historical trends.

Although the idea of historical progress has received more than its share of derision in recent years, the fact is that many facets of history, and even whole historical eras, really are progressive. The statistics on population growth and economic output in certain parts of the world often rise steadily for a long time. New arts and sciences appear and are perfected over the course of a few centuries. These things were almost as true of the Hellenistic Age as they were of the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet notoriously the ancients were without an idea of progress, despite the fact that at least part of their history was progressive by any measure. Other fortunate times and places have suffered from a similar lack of imagination.

Was Western Christendom at the turn of the first millennium the first society to take steps toward giving historical meaning to "progress," to great social enterprises terminating only at a horizon of unguessable distance? Naturally, the classical nineteenth-century idea of progress is no more medieval than it is Hellenistic or Neo-Confucian. However, the cathedrals and the crusades may stand as symbols for a wider cultural assumption that social development can be a moral enterprise, perhaps even a morally necessary enterprise. Such a conviction would be far less deterministic than, for instance, the theology of the Social Gospel. Socially progressive Christianity in this century has demanded progress from history. Augustine merely hoped for it. Perhaps he did not hope for very much, just that the Vandals would go away and that future emperors would be more edifying. Nevertheless, he hoped with good reason.

Whatever the validity of these reflections with respect to the 11th century, certainly this interpretation of Augustine is alive and well and being expounded from the Throne of St. Peter. John Paul II's 1994 encyclical on the celebration of the coming turn of the millennium, "Tertio Millennio Adveniente," can hardly be described as a millenarian document. Nevertheless, it looks forward to the turn of the century as far more than a peculiarly obvious occasion for historical commemoration. For reasons which are perhaps intuitive, the Pope anticipates that the beginning of the next millennium will be a time of novel significance in the history of salvation. The encyclical puts the Second Vatican Council into perspective as a providential event whose true significance was to prepare for this new era. The specifics of the document are concerned with how the Church should ready herself to take advantage of these coming opportunities.

If in fact the next century is another time of constructive hope, future historians who attend to such things will probably see this transformation as in part a reaction to the dark images of the future that have prevailed since the 1960s. While the `60s were a time of exhilaration for the young, we should not forget that one of the tenets of the Counter Culture of that era was the coming collapse of civilization. William Irwin Thompson perhaps best captured the mood of the period in his still-interesting book, "At the Edge of History" (1971). Visiting the Esalen Institute retreat center in the summer of 1967, he learned that the end of civilization was not only expected by hippies of nearby San Francisco, it was devoutly hoped for. Many of the people attending Esalen with him that summer, who like himself would soon become prominent figures in the nascent New Age movement, were of similar if subtler mind. They were less likely than the hippies to put their faith in predictions of world-changing earthquakes or in the public arrival of the flying saucers. Instead, they anticipated salutary effects from the breakdown of American society from more conventional causes. After an era of "broken-back" technocracy, they expected a new spiritual age to emerge. The immediate future did not turn out the way that the budding opinion-makers of those years anticipated, but as with so much else about the Counter Culture, their view of the future became a popular orthodoxy.

The hope for a new spiritual age has waxed and waned, but the expectation of a future with a broken back has shown a quarter century of resilience. Examples of it can be found from before the 1970s, of course. It is related to "post apocalypse" stories, tales built around the idea of a new barbarism that arises after some great catastrophe, usually a world war. H.G. Wells's novel "The Shape of Things to Come" (1933) may be the classic of the genre, despite the fact it antedates the invention of nuclear weapons (which were another one of Wells's ideas, but that is another story). However, while many of these stories, including Wells's, are about the rebuilding of civilization, the broken-back future is about civilization's progressive darkening. It depicts a society in which social chaos often continues to exist with high technology. Among its prominent literary exponents is Doris Lessing, in such novels as "Memoirs of a Survivor" and "Shikasta." It achieved a somewhat cultish respectability in the work of J.G. Ballard. It appeared in the short novels by John Crowley, notably "Engine Summer." As for cinema, we find it in films from "Soylent Green" to the appallingly-influential "Blade Runner." The influence of the "Mad Max" series has, of course, long been inescapable. In fact, in recent years it has become difficult to find fictional presentations of the near future that do not feature decaying cities, a ruthless ruling class, economic collapse and impending ecological catastrophe.

These images have effects beyond the arts. They informed, though of course they did not determine, a great deal of the social and economic thought of the last twenty years. The "declinist" school of geopolitics, most notably associated with Paul Kennedy's provocative book "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," sometimes seemed to depict a future for America more than a little like the shabby International Style cities of the "Max Headroom" television series. On a more serious level of ethical reflection, John Lukacs' "The End of the Twentieth Century" anticipated a new dark age, in which ethnic nationalisms clash in the twilight like street gangs with national anthems. This image of the geopolitical future is not original with Lukacs. It is close to being the consensus view of the post-Cold War world.

One might be tempted to see these motifs as simply reflections of America as it changed during the Reagan Administration, but they antedate the Reagan years. It is, indeed, quite likely that they affected the way those years were reported. Certainly they affect the way America is perceived by its public officials at this writing. Charles Lane, writing recently in "The New Republic," describes how a group of staffers from the Clinton White House met for a briefing by a German economist to get some international perspective on U.S. economic policy. They had come expecting a lecture on the comparative disadvantages of slovenly American work habits and the lack of coherent U.S. industrial policy. They quickly became highly disoriented. The economist lamented the way things are done in his own country. He came close to depicting the United States as a Shangri-La of job growth and technological innovation. The staffers were at a loss to know what to say.

America is not Shangri-La, nor likely to become such a place anytime soon. However, it is also no longer the country in desperate need of restructuring that it was in 1976. At various levels, the realization that this is the case is gradually seeping into elite opinion. It is, perhaps, even affecting public administration, as projects like the renovation of Times Square illustrate. If you expect Mad Max to rule the future, then you are unsurprised by the decay of public places and disinclined to do much about it. What is perhaps most interesting about America culture today is the revulsion, sometimes inarticulate but with increasing clarity, against the assumption of a dark future.

Regarding the material side of things, the case for a merry beginning to the next millennium was recently put by the economist (and senator's nephew) Michael Moynihan in "The Coming American Renaissance." Even if the title is over-optimistic, nevertheless it is useful to have a handy compendium of good news that is only gradually becoming reportable.

Economics is not everything, of course. If you want a positive image for American society as a whole in the next century, you could do much worse than to consult William Strauss and Neil Howe's "Generations." It appeared in 1991, and it apparently has something of cult. It stays in print for good reason, since its anachronistic forecasts of declining crime rates and rising academic performance have proven remarkably accurate.

The book is another attempt to interpret American history as a recurring sequence of generational psychologies. The elder and younger Arthur Schlesingers tried this with a model using two types of generation, whereas Strauss and Howe use four. The latters' thesis owes its popularity in large part to its description of Generation X as a set of demographic cohorts fated to be misfits and tragic heroes. They are like the Lost Generation of the 1920s, and thus more noble than the be-ringed and be-whiskered zombies they appear to be at first sight. The Xers, it seems, are destined to be the parents of a new "civic" generation, one that could accomplish works of daring and organization in the next century as great as those accomplished by the "civic" generation that began to come of age about 1940. They will be the sort of people who could colonize Mars, create universal peace and end poverty. They will have their faults, just as the World War II generation did. Still, any future they would create would be more in the spirit of the 11th century than in that of "Bladerunner." One hopes that at least the lighting will be brighter than in the film.

Attempts to predict the future are best kept to the briefest of outlines, unless you want to afford amusement to people who live in the future you attempt to describe. Certainly these reflections have been at a sufficiently high level of abstraction to protect them from disconfirmation by grubby facts. All I am suggesting, really, is that if the turn of second millennium is significantly similar to the turn of the first, then we should look for a dynamic century of hope and progress on many levels. On the other hand, these reflections have also been too specific, since they referred mostly to the United States. A millennial future would involve the whole West as well, since all our civilization runs to some degree on the same historical clock.

Many people make a point of ignoring the current pope, including some who work in the same building as he does. In this case, however, I wonder whether he may not have sniffed a change in the eschatological wind. We live at the end of a chaotic interlude. That it was going to end should not have surprised us: few conditions are so ephemeral as chaos. Order always reasserts itself, whether in international politics or in personal mores. This insight is likely to be a commonplace of the other side of what John Paul II calls the "Holy Door" of the year 2000.


Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Millennium and the Roman Catholic Church

I blame John for getting me interested in millennialism. I find the subject endlessly fascinating, even though it retains something of a disreputable air. I have used the linked piece in particular in a number of [relatively] popular talks I have given on the subject of millennialism and millennial movements.

In the United States, it is evangelical and charismatic Christians who are most associated with millennialism, but the Catholic Church is millennial too, just in a very different way. The terminology is endlessly confusing to the uninitiated. For example, Catholics are millennial but not millenarian. The recent Catechism of the Catholic restates the view advanced by St. Augustine in the 5th century: all of history since the time of Christ is the Millennium. The interesting twist is that all of the events in ordinary history that inspire apocalyptic expectations really are lesser instances of the eventual final apocalypse. To put it as Augustine would, each apocalyptic event participates in the form of the Apocalypse. Each one truly shares in its nature, even though they are not simply identical. For Augustine, this is why he declined to identify the sack of Rome in 410 with the literal end of the world, even though in a sense the Western Roman world really was ending.

Every version of secular progress advanced in the West ever since has been a rehashing of Augustine's argument. It is one of the durable features of Western Civilization, and part of the reason why people still find the City of God a book worth reading.

The Millennium and the Roman Catholic Church

By John J. Reilly


In "The Devil's Dictionary," that indispensable treasury of acidic wisdom, Ambrose Bierce defined the Millennium as "The period of a thousand years when the lid is to be screwed down with all the reformers on the under side." This terse formulation is actually not much different from the term's ordinary significance in popular American apocalyptic (see Rev. 20:1-3). In that context, the term refers to a future paradisiacal stage of history, when such constants of human experience as war, death and poverty will no longer exist. Although the earth will continue to exist in something like its familiar form, this future age will be discontinuous from secular history. It will be inaugurated by a period of natural and social disasters, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. The biblical verse on which this view is primarily based is Rev. 20:4, which says in part:

"And I saw thrones, and men sat upon them and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the word of God, and who did not worship the beast or his image, and did not accept his mark upon their heads or upon their hands. And they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years..."

A good argument can be made that this view of the final stage of history was also that of primitive Christianity. Certainly it was the view of St. Irenaeus of the second century, who likened the Millennium to the Sabbath of a historical "week" that consisted of "days" of a thousand years each. This view is often called "millenarian," and many observers have noted that it is an essentially revolutionary way of viewing history. From Montanus in second century Phrygia to David Koresh in twentieth century Texas, millenarians have tended to form sects that are separatist, often antinomian and sometimes violently insurgent. As a general matter, of course, persons and groups with millenarian beliefs live undramatic lives in harmony with their wider societies. However, millenarianism does lend itself to outbreaks of apocalyptic anxiety when historical events chime with one or another of the apocalyptic texts of the Bible. Millenarians are notorious for setting dates for the end of the world and then setting new ones when doomsday fails to materialize.

A point that often escapes American commentators on popular eschatology is that the official theology of the Roman Catholic Church, by far the largest segment of Christianity and the largest denomination even in the United States, is resolutely antimillenarian. The recently-issued "Catechism of the Catholic Church" provides a useful summary of traditional doctrine:

Par. 676 "The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the 'intrinsically perverse' political form of secular messianism."

This section contains a reference to the encyclical "Divini Redemptoris" by Pius XI, which condemned the "false mysticism" of the "counterfeit of the redemption of the lowly." The school of sociologically-informed Catholic social theory known loosely as "liberation theology" has fallen more and more into official disfavor during the pontificate of John Paul II largely because the Vatican sees it as just this sort of counterfeit, one that comes close to equating leftist politics with the creation of the Kingdom of God. Another problem with liberation theology, ironically, is that it has not proven popular with the poor whom it was intended to serve. Its chief effect so far, in fact, seems to have been to drive millions of Latin Americans into Protestant churches. (For a CIA assessment, see Patrick E. Kennon's "The Twilight of Democracy," Doubleday, N.Y., 1995, pp. 196-197.)

The origin of this Catechism, it may noted, illustrates the perception in the Vatican that not just liberation theology but liberal Christianity in general does not have much of a future. The Catechism is the first such universally authoritative document to appear since the "Catechism of Pius V" was composed in the 1560s following the Council of Trent. The new Catechism was created in the 1980s by a pontifical commission charged with restating essential Catholic doctrine in the wake of the disorder that followed the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965). The conservative content of the Catechism was widely deplored by liberal Catholics. The publication of an English translation was delayed until 1994 by objections from much the same people on the ground that it failed to use "inclusive language." Whatever may be thought of the merits of these controversies, the Catechism that resulted from this ecclesiastical wrangle well reflects the remarkable continuities in Catholic doctrine, not least in the matter of the Last Things.

The Catholic view of universal eschatology was formulated in all essentials in the fifth century by St. Augustine, bishop of the North African city of Hippo. Few dogmatic constructs have proven to be so durable and so practical as the Augustinian model of history. Augustine was skeptical about the possibility of associating particular biblical prophecies uniquely with particular historical events. In his day, the final decades of the Roman Empire, the western world was in fact doing a good imitation of ending. He was shocked by the first Gothic sack of Rome in 410, and himself would eventually die in the siege of his city by the Vandals. Despite this, however, he declined to see the catastrophes of his time as the literal end of the world. Rather, he showed how apocalyptic could be applied metaphorically to a range of historical situations.

The most interesting of his doctrines for our purposes is his theory that the whole age of the Church should be associated with the Millennium of the Book of Revelation. His view of the matter, as set out in Book XX of "The City of God," is reflected in the Catechism:

Par. 670 "Since the Ascension God's plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at 'the last hour.' 'Already the final stage of the word is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.' (The quotation is from the Vatican II document, 'Lumen Gentium,' chapter 48, section 3.) Christ's kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church."

This view of history is sometimes called "millennialism." (Nomenclature in the comparative study of eschatology can be bewildering. Augustine's view, more or less, is also sometimes called "post-millennialism," to emphasize that the Second Coming is at the end of history, or even "amillennialism," to emphasize its total rejection of the Millennium of the millenarians. The simple distinction used here is borrowed from J.F.C. Harrison's "The Second Coming," Rutger's University Press, New Brunswick, N.J., 1979, pp. 5-6.) Augustine's model is closely associated with the modern idea of historical progress. (See, for instance, Robert Nisbet's "History of the Idea of Progress," Basic Books, N.Y., 1980.) In this scheme of things, the reign of the saints takes the form of the gradual improvement of the world under Christian influence. There is no lack of material in the New Testament to support such a "long-haul" view of history. Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed that grows into a great tree. The Kingdom is also like the field where the wheat and the tares, good and evil, mature together until the harvest at the end of history. (Matt 13:24-43) This rather comforting view of history has often developed into a rejection not just of millenarianism, but of apocalyptic in general. In the view of the Social Gospel, which has enjoyed intermittent periods of popularity in the United States, history does not end in a climactic battle between good and evil, but in a state of perfection achieved by secular progress. Augustine held no such view, and neither does the Catholic Church today:

Par. 677 "...The kingdom will be fulfilled...not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven...."

The eschatological schema set out in the Catechism is often bewildering to Americans familiar only with protestant millenarianism. However, the Catholic view retains the ancient features of Christian apocalyptic, from the conversion of the Jews to a personal Antichrist. There are passages in the new Catechism that ten Jesuits dancing on the head of a pin would have trouble allegorizing away:

Par. 675 "Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the 'mystery of iniquity' in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah in the flesh."

Thus, we see that Augustinian millennialism is as capable of simple apocalyptic expectation as is millenarianism. The chief difference, perhaps, lies in the Augustinian ability to transform specific historical events and personages into "types" of the elements of prophecy. As John Henry Newman (1801-1890), once an Anglican priest and later a Catholic cardinal, once put it : "...every event in the world is a type of those that follow, history proceeding forward as a circle ever enlarging...For every age presents its own picture of those future events which alone are the real fulfillment of the prophecy which stands at the head of them all." ("Tracts for the Times," Vol. V, 1838-40, London, J.G.F. & J. Rivington, 1840, pp. 4-5) From this perspective, very destructive wars are typical of the Battle of Armageddon, persecutions of the Church are typical of the Tribulation, great tyrants are typical of Antichrist. The fact that none of these precursors have yet turned out to be the embodiment of the prophecies of the endtime does nothing at all to invalidate the prophecies. To quote Newman again: "Events interpret the text."

Throughout her long history, the Catholic Church has done a very good job of suppressing apocalyptic fervor or of channelling it to social projects. This, however, is not to say that Catholicism lacks a popular eschatological tradition. Some features of popular Catholic eschatological belief are charming perennials, no less engaging for their pedantic obscurity. This class includes such items as the Prophecies of St. Malachy of Armagh, a Irish saint of the first half of the twelfth century. The prophecies are of a familiar type, a list of future popes and their characteristics. The prophecies set out 111 popes after St. Malachy's time, the last being "Peter II" or "Peter the Roman." He too is a familiar figure of medieval apocalyptic, the "Angelic Pope" who will lead the Church through the final tribulation. St. Malachy's prophecies did not come to light until about 1590, and Bernard McGinn is so rude as to suggest in "Visions of the End" (Columbia university Press, N.Y., 1979, p. 189) that they were composed then. However, the prophecies are still dragged out and discussed whenever a new pope is to be elected. There is some confusion about the full tale of the popes because of the contested papal elections of the Middle Ages. No matter how you count them, however, the list is exhausted either in John Paul II or his successor.

The chief exception to the Church's record of control over millenarian excitement is the tripartite model of history developed by Abbot Joachim of Fiore in the twelfth century. The effects of this model continue to this day, not least in the form of Hegel's ineradicable three-stage dialectic of history.

Joachim's impending Third Age would not be wholly discontinuous from history as we know it. (See Marjorie Reeves's "The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages," Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969.) Joachim seems to have meant it simply as a specially blest period, after the defeat of the first of two Antichrists, when the world would in effect be a vast monastery. The abbot's followers notoriously turned it into an image of revolutionary theocracy, but even they tended to maintain its continuity with secular history. There is still a Third Order of St. Francis for the laity. Had history gone according to the hope of the fraticelli, the radical Franciscans who were so strongly influenced by Joachim, something like this auxiliary would have come to encompass all of civil society. The Second Coming in Joachim's system would still come at the very end of history, after the Third Age. In this, the Third Age resembles other features of medieval apocalyptic, such as the future reign of the Emperor of the Last Days, which permitted the hope of a temporary defeat of the powers of evil before actual end of history in the approved Augustinian manner. While these examples are familiar mostly to specialists, they embody patterns which continue to manifest themselves in sometimes spectacular forms.

The prophecies connected with the Marian apparitions at Fatima in 1917 are not obscure. They remain the single most important element in popular Catholic apocalyptic in the twentieth century. The story has been told many times before, often in connection with one political agenda or another. See, for instance, Malachy Martin's entertaining if somewhat alarmingly titled book, "The Keys of This Blood: The Struggle for World Dominion Between Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev & the Capitalist West," Simon and Schuster, N.Y., 1990, p. 629 ff. The mention of Mikhail Gorbachev in the title of this still-recent book is yet more evidence, if any were needed, of the soundness of Augustine's caution against reading eschatological significance into particular historical figures. For a discussion of Marian apparitions in general, particularly the important French ones of the nineteenth century, see James Webb's "The Occult Underground," Open Court Press, Chicago, Illinois, pp. 134-140.

The gist is the story is that three children, who lived in the neighborhood of Fatima in Portugal, had visions of the Virgin Mary on the 13th of every month from May to October of 1917. Their names were Lucia dos Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Although the visions were in general apparent only to the children, they were concluded by the famous "Miracle of the Sun," in which the sun was seen by many members of a large crowd to throw off colors, spin like a pinwheel, and approach the earth. The incident is significant to popular eschatology because of the three "messages" or "secrets" which the children received.

The third message has occasioned an extraordinary popular tradition, one that continues to accumulate, since the "secret" still remains something of a secret. It was committed to paper only in 1944 by Lucia, by then a nun and the only surviving visionary, and entrusted to the pope. By most accounts, she directed that it not be revealed until 1960. That year, of course, was in the reign of John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council. Pope John died in 1963, and rumors swirled to the effect that whatever was in the message was so terrible that it killed him. In any event, he decided that the message did not apply to his own pontificate and did not publish the message. Remarks made in the 1980s by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, suggested that the message was simply a restatement of Chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation, particularly those elements relating to the "great apostasy," a general falling away from the faith which is another staple of eschatological prophecy (see 2 Thess. 2:3). However, the actual text has still to be published.

The other messages, however, have long been well known. The first was a call conventional in Catholic piety to personal penitence and to prayer for the dead. The second dealt with matters of historical import. This version of the latter is taken from "The Reign of Antichrist" by Fr. R. Gerald Culleton, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, 1974, p. 186 (originally published 1951). Note that though the Millennium is nowhere mentioned, the text ends with the more modest sort of favored age that Abbot Joachim probably had in mind:

"...The war will soon end. But if men do not stop offending the Lord it will not be long before another and worse one begins; that will be in the Pontificate of Pius XI.

"When you see the night illuminated by an unknown light, know that it is the great sign which God is giving you, indicating that the world, on account of its innumerable crimes, will soon be punished by war, famine, and persecutions against the Church and the Holy Father.

"In order to prevent it I shall ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, as well as Communions of Reparation on the First Saturdays of the month.

"If my requests are granted Russia will be converted and there will be peace. Otherwise Russia will spread her errors through the world fomenting wars and persecutions against the Church. Many will be martyred, the Holy father will have much to suffer; several nations will be destroyed.

"In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, Russia will be converted, and there will be a certain period of peace."

It may be noted that this prophecy, including the mention of the Russians, resembles some of the private revelations attributed to Pope St. Pius X, who reign from 1903 to 1914. Paul Johnson, in his "Modern Times" (Harper & Row, N.Y., 1983, p. 145) dismisses this pontiff as "the last of the great reactionary popes," a conventional assessment that is probably ripe for reconsideration. (See also Johnson's "History of Christianity," Atheneum, N.Y., 1963, pp. 469-474. The character of Denethor, Stewart of Gondor, in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" is arguably based on this Pius.) In any event, the first two "secrets" of Fatima were widely publicized in the years between the world wars, and the second secret, understandably, was an important feature of anticommunist polemic.

The visions of Fatima went through the rather skeptical review process accorded "private revelations" by ecclesiastical authorities, and unlike most, they passed review. This meant, simply, that in 1930 the local bishop declared them "worthy of belief"; it did not endorse their content. It is dogma that no revelation after the close of the New Testament period can add to the "deposit of the faith," though such things may be edifying and useful in particular historical circumstances. No one is required to believe them. The review simply determined that there was no fraud involved, no obvious physical or psychological explanation, and the private revelation revealed nothing that was contrary to faith or morals.

In contrast, we may note that the visions that began to be reported from Medjugorje in Bosnia in 1981 have been through similar reviews by the local authorities and failed them. (See E. Michael Jones's "Medjugorje: The Untold Story," Fidelity Press, South Bend, Indiana). These and other disapproved series of visions, usually characterized by prophecies of imminent catastrophe and often including invective against the hierarchy, are a conspicuous feature of popular Catholic apocalyptic as the millennium nears its end. However, since this subject deals largely with the beliefs of schismatic groups, such as the Society of Pius X, it lies outside the scope of this essay.

Students of apocalyptic often assume that part of their problem must be to explain how people can continue to believe prophecies that are repeatedly disconfirmed. However, as Paul Boyer has noted in "When Time Shall Be No More," history rather often seems to confirm many details of prophetic expectation. The "unknown light" mentioned in the second secret was widely held to have been fulfilled by an extraordinary aurora visible over much of Europe in August of 1939. Albert Speer, later to be the German Minister of Armaments, described the eerie display, which he viewed in the company of Hitler and his entourage from the terrace of the Berghof on the evening of August 23, two days after the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was concluded. Hitler remarked: "Looks like a great deal of blood." ("Inside the Third Reich," Albert Speer, The Macmillan Company, N.Y., 1970, p. 162.)

The course of the war and of the Cold War period would have been enough to confirm all but the gravest apocalyptic anxieties. After his accession to the papacy, John Paul II made some effort to organize special prayers for Russia, which were interpreted by Fatima enthusiasts as an attempt to fulfill the vision's demand for "consecration." Similarly, the collapse of the Soviet Union was widely regarded as a partial fulfillment of the prophecy. This would suggest that we are now living in the "period of peace" foretold by the visionaries. No one would argue, of course, that we are living in the sort of Millennium envisioned by the millenarians. Still, though the world continues to have no end of problems, in many ways it at least has better problems than it had even a few years ago. As St. Augustine might have put it, the situation is typical.


(This article also appeared in the Millennial Prophecy Report in 1996.)

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The Long View: Theonomy, Globalism, and Babylon

A brief note by John on Thomas Friedman's imperial policy ambitions, and Antipas Ministries, which still has a website sixteen years later.

Theonomy, Globalism, and Babylon

This note was originally posted to the Talk 2000 Forum, and appeared in the April 1999 issue of Let's Talk 2000.

Those of you who get the Sunday New York Times may have noted the somewhat startling cover art on the magazine of March 28, a picture of a clenched fist with an American flag painted on it . The story it illustrates may mark a significant turning point in liberal thinking about foreign policy issues, and maybe in American politics generally. Its argument might even rate as "millennial" in its own right. I mention it here, though, because of the way it dovetails with some premillennial web material I have come across that treats of questions of world order.

The piece in question was written by Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman. The title is "What the World Needs Now: For globalism to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is." Friedman makes much the same argument about America's political elites and globalization that I (and others) have made about politically active millenarian Christians and Jews: they really don't have a clue in terms of a general theory of statecraft. The elites, say Friedman, have a variety of ideas about domestic economics, trade issues and military posture, but no one has succeeded in constructing a model for how these things can work together. This is the case despite the fact that America benefits most from globalization, and is simultaneously the prime target for "blowback" from the process. (Readers may be reminded of Salman Rushdie's recent remark that "international" is becoming a euphemism for "American.")

Friedman suggests a synthesis uniting a hegemonic strategic policy with a generous welfare state and a regime of largely unfettered free trade. Nice work, if you can get it. Though he does not mention it, his prescription is much like the mix of the late New Deal. In fact, Friedman's argument is original mostly in that it issues from the liberal part of the spectrum. Culturally conservative internationalists, notably those at the Weekly Standard, have been groping toward some such synthesis since the Bush Administration. (Even I took a poke at it: see the section of Spengler's Future dealing with 1992 -- 2022 at http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/sfol/sf10.html) The belief in a need for a Grand Hegemonic Doctrine could easily become a consensus, as containment theory did after the Second World War.

Meanwhile, unremarked by the Times editorial page, there are some new shoots in the garden of eschatology. I have come across a sophisticated website [http://www.endtimesnetwork.com] maintained by the Antipas Ministries and the Institute for the Study of Religion in Politics. The site includes a readable online book, "The Antipas Papers," by one Steven Ray Shearer, which explains the doctrine of these people. The material is significant because (1) it makes much the same assessment of geopolitics as does Thomas Friedman and (2) it also makes some shifts of emphasis in the familiar premillennial endtime scenario to accommodate the assessment.

The Antipas Ministries is vigorously evangelical, but their eschatology is a minority position. That is, while they are premillennial, they also hold that the church will have to go through the Tribulation. Also, though based in California and apparently staffed in part by former US Army intelligence officers, they place the locus of evil in the final days in the US rather than in the European Union.

Since the premillennial revival began in the US in the 1830s, it has always been something of an anomaly that its projections for world history required an increasingly muted role for America as the endtimes approached. For 150 years, the general expectation has been that Israel would be reestablished and that Europe would be united by the Antichrist, who would make a false peace with Israel. In this scenario, the Roman Church or Europe as a whole is the Scarlet Woman, destined for destruction, while the US is either a bystander or one Antichrist's deluded allies. According to Antipas Ministries, in contrast, America is Babylon, which in the future will be ruled by an Antichrist of wholly Gentile origins. The identification of the US with Babylon is made partly through a conventional critique of economic globalization. "The Antipas Papers" is the first premillennial document I have encountered that quotes extensively from William Greider and Alexander Cockburn.

A remarkable feature of this material is its root and branch rejection of every link between the church and politics. There are predictably harsh remarks about such Theonomy (or Dominion Theology) advocates as Gary North and Rousas Rushdoony, who hope to establish a theocracy in the United States. However, the condemnation also extends to the Christian Coalition and such mainstream figures as Ralph Reed, as well to attempts to coordinate the public policy agendas of Catholics and evangelicals. Real evangelicals, according to Antipas Ministries, don't have public policy agendas. This world is wholly under the dominion of Satan. It is not just futile to attempt to save it, but actually dangerous.

Indeed, the Theonomists and the Christian Coalition are part of the forces of Antichrist in this endtime scenario. The program to create a culturally conservative theocracy will succeed, but its leader will be Antichrist. Antipas even goes so far as to quote Hitler's calls for a return to traditional morality. The argument is not that traditional morality is fascist, of course, but to warn that a politicized moral platform can be trap for an antichristian agenda.

There is a great deal of material on this site, and I have not been over all of it. However, it does not seem to have any nasty features. Though Antipas Ministries anticipates that real evangelicals will be thrown out of their churches during the Tribulation, I saw no survivalist language. The site suggests that believers prepare for the persecution by forming house churches now, and otherwise keeping a low profile.

It is hard to see how there can be much of a future for a style of eschatology that makes ecclesiastical anarchy a virtue, but then evangelicalism has always managed to live with this feature. It is also hard to imagine anyone but the Antichrist himself being much annoyed by the sort of mild, pietist "inner migration" that Antipas Ministries seems to represent. Should the hopes of people like Thomas Friedman be realized, this species of premillennialism could grow in counterpoint to the successes of the Grand Hegemonic Doctrine.


Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-10-21: Culture War and Foreign Policy

The two essays John linked together in his left sidebar for this post are Ecumenical Jihad and Theonomy, Globalism, and Babylon. One of the things John is trying to communicate here is that Christianity is growing rapidly in the Global South, at a pace that still seems to be accelerating. The consequence of this is the historical trajectory of Christianity in the West may be dwindling in importance. What the recent kerfluffle over the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and the breakup of the Anglican Communion have in common is an increasing disconnect between more traditionally minded Christians in Africa and Asia, and the less orthodox believers in the Americas and Europe.

How this links into foreign policy was both sides in the Cold War sought to recruit allies from the Third World to bolster their international reputation and fight in proxy wars. Insofar as the Soviets could tar the West with the Original Sins of slavery and colonialism, the Soviets had a clear advantage. Thus, John claims that desegregation and civil rights in America set the stage for the Helsinki Accords, which the Soviets considered to be a victory at the time, but later were seen as a key factor that weakened the Soviet Union and its satellites from within.

The twist is that the political movements that allowed the United States to claim the mantle of justice in the mid-twentieth century now seem increasingly bizarre to an international audience, let alone to their domestic political opponents. Thus we have an odd collusion of interests both at home and abroad that increasingly see the continuing dominance of America as something at odds with both political order and domestic harmony. At the extreme ends of the spectrum, this shades off into outright identification of the United States with the Whore of Babylon. So far, this remains a minority opinion.

Culture War and Foreign Policy

[I wrote this essay in April 2000. Even I thought it was a little speculative, and it seemed to communicate nothing to the opinion journals to which I sent it, so I let the matter rest. However, an interesting exchange that has begun on FrontPageMag suggests that we may be almost ready to confront this issue. The essay appears here without updating.]

* * *

There are several reasons why the United States began to move during the 1950s to finish the work of Reconstruction. One was the growth of a substantial black middle class that saw no reason why it should continue to put up with apartheid. Another was that the mass media and easy travel make it harder for white people to ignore how other people lived. Not the smallest consideration behind Establishment acceptance of the movement to make civil rights at last universal, however, was the handicap imposed by segregation in the prosecution of the Cold War.

The world has never been predominantly white, of course, but the only governments that mattered in the early modern era had been those of a small number of European states. Even with the end of the Second World War and the beginning of decolonization, the US remained chiefly concerned with how Europeans on both sides of the Iron Curtain acted. Still, in order for the US to present itself as a model for the future to both Eastern Europe and the developing world, it was necessary for Americans to be able to argue that their own society was not merely successful, but also fundamentally just.

The extent to which the US has ever achieved justice or convinced the rest of the world of its own essential goodness is open to debate. Nonetheless, simply putting such questions on the domestic agenda in the 1950s made it possible to raise them as international human rights issues in the 1970s. Though often dismissed at the time as irrelevant to serious statecraft, the "basket of rights" in the Helsinki Accords contributed signally to the successful conclusion of the Cold War. A predicate for the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was the decision by the Eisenhower Administration to use federal troops to desegregate the schools in Little Rock in 1954.

Today the US faces a quite different international environment, but one in which the "soft power" of moral credibility is even more important. The US is often characterized nowadays as a "hegemon," though perhaps more in the better American magazines than in the wider world. In any case, to the extent that this characterization is true, it is true by default. The only military capable of global force projection may be American, for instance, but that is less a measure of the power of the US military than an indicator of the sense of strategic security that prevails over most of the globe. (To use a favorite expression of one security analyst of my acquaintance, having the most powerful military in the world in AD 2000 "is like being the smart kid in the dumb room.") The US continues to have the largest national economy, but the composite economy of the European Union is larger. Even the "American culture" that is now found so universally becomes more and more syncretic as it spreads, as phenomena like "world music" attest.

The US has the position it does in the world today because it is tolerated. For this situation to continue, one precondition is that the rest of the world must remain convinced that American society is not repulsive or evil. The fact is that the US is not doing a particularly good job of preventing just such a negative image of the US from crystallizing.

There is no need to be excessively worried by such indicators as the front-page story in The New York Times of April 9, "Europe's Dim View of U.S. Evolving into Frank Hostility." If you read the article, you will see that "Europe" means mostly "France," and I will leave it to P.J. O'Rourke to comment on what the French think. (In any case, the fact there was space for such an item on the Times front page of a Sunday is evidence enough that the Pax Americana is not altogether chimerical.) There may be greater cause for concern in the anecdotal evidence for the coalescence of a version of the "Ecumenical Jihad."

This term was coined by Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College. In a book of that name which he published in 1996, Kreeft proposed a universal alliance of all persons who continue to believe in natural law. While not a call for a shooting war, the book alleged that the chief opponents of natural law are the American elites, who seek to spread their own perverse system internationally. In this view of the post-Cold War world, the forces of historical darkness are largely coincident with Fukuyama's victorious "liberal democracy." The notion that America is what is wrong with the world is scarcely new, on either the Left or the Right. (Kreeft himself is an orthodox Catholic.) What is different now is that the kind of wrongness of which America is suspected is acquiring an ever more cosmic character.

The most conspicuous example of this, perhaps, is the Green-politics opposition to genetically engineered food. The US has had problems with Europeans regarding food exports for over a century. Those disputes were about manageable, empirical things, like price. The new objection seems to be that America is exporting metaphysical poison, food in which "life itself" has somehow been tampered with. The fact that this poison has no observable bad effects just makes it all the more insidious.

Less well-known, outside of the relevant subcultures, is that the United States is becoming the evil empire of popular apocalyptic. This role is quite different from the part America has played in endtime scenarios since the middle of the nineteenth century, and even as recently as the burst of apocalyptic thinking that accompanied the Gulf War. Judging by some Internet sources based both in the US and in Eastern Europe (not necessarily representative of anything but themselves, of course), America has now become Babylon the Great, the future seat of Antichrist's empire. It used to be that, when the Iranians called the US "the Great Satan," editorialists could safely make light of that sort of invective. Relations with Iran itself may be improving, but the early Islamic Republic's view of the US is arguably gaining a wider audience.

How did this happen? Envy has a lot to do with it, of course. So does the sincere belief (and this is the chief explanation for the attitude of the French) that you can't run an international system without a balance of power. One severe irritant is the tendency of the US Congress to act like the "Parliament of Man" in the service of domestic politics. This is pretty much how Congress acted when it passed the Helms-Burton Amendment, which single-handedly abrogated international law regarding compensation for the expropriation of property. Considerations like this, however, explain antipathy toward America only on the level of strategic policy. Popular anti-Americanism is less likely to spring from specific acts of the American government than from the long-term effects of the image America projects abroad. To the extent the image is negative, it is often not accidental. There is no lack of Americans with the power to make a difference who just do not care how their country appears internationally. There is also no lack of Americans who use their country's position to spread their own fixed ideas. Another way to put it is that America has, to some extent, succeeded in exporting its own culture war.

The problem America has with maintaining moral credibility is not simply the fault of mischievous liberal elites. There are features of popular conservative politics that can be quite as disconcerting as anything that comes out of the universities. For instance, though there is a good argument to be made for the permissibility of capital punishment, the enthusiasm with which notorious criminals are executed in some states is, frankly, an international embarrassment. No ethicist has ever, to my knowledge, argued that there can be situations where the death penalty would be morally mandatory. Capital punishment is the paradigm case of the sort of question about which Americans should consider costless reforms in their own society, made in part with a view to enhancing their moral credibility abroad.

Other examples can easily be adduced of conservative enthusiasms that make America appear to be an unattractive hegemon. On the whole, however, it is probably the case that it is the currently ascendant cultural Left that does the most to make the US look like an occupation force of Martians.

Abortion law in the US is not actually much more permissive than in most of the rest of the developed world. Still, the American constitutional ideology of "personal autonomy" in which the abortion license is embedded is actually quite parochial. Even people who support abortion for demographic reasons are nervous about the ideology's larger implications for questions like euthanasia, human cloning and, more speculatively, recreational drug use. Nonetheless, this ideology is the face of America in most international forums that deal with family life. Similarly, American elites seem determined to promote the interpretation of homosexuality as a universal civil rights issue. This approach is distinctly non-obvious for a phenomenon that clearly has medical, psychological, and moral dimensions, particularly one that seems to be chiefly a feature of the modern Anglo-German culture areas.

Part of the reason we do not usually perceive the American cultural Left as a strategic liability is that so much of international civil society is made in its image. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, international civil society is not coincident with "the Davos people." Most members of this "society" cannot afford to vacation in Switzerland. Rather, they tend to be the folks who belong to the NGOs that have spread through every developed nation, and even to some of the underdeveloped ones for which they so often claim to speak. A large fraction of international civil society, in fact, are members of the really radical Left who have lost out in the politics of their own countries, but who hope to recoup their position by appealing from national governments to international forums.

Until the end of the Cold War, appealing to the UN or other international bodies was usually a bootless tactic, since the major international institutions had little freedom of movement during the superpower standoff. Arguably, international institutions still don't have that much real power, even now that the standoff is over. In recent years, however, there has been a concerted effort to enhance their independence, an effort motivated in part by fear of American hegemony. Thus, we have a situation where institutions that are starting to think of themselves as quasi-governmental bodies are interacting with a new class that thinks of itself as "the people of the world."

No good will come of these mutually reinforcing delusions. Even now, they support a crust of activists and bureaucrats that tends to obscure the real world from responsible statesmen. Paradoxically, in fact, it will often be necessary for the US to oppose what purports to be "world opinion" in order to avoid appearing alien and tyrannical to most of the world's people. These days, the spokesmen for "the world" are usually the real aliens.

The security of the United States is a function of the state of the world. An international system which is only lightly militarized and where goods and people can move freely is the safest imaginable for the US. It is also the cheapest to maintain: all we would normally be called on to do is to act as an arbitrator. For such a system to work, however, it is necessary for the arbitrator to be trusted, and to be trustworthy. One prerequisite is some minimum of military and economic heft. Another, however, is that the arbitrator cannot be the proponent of aggressive ideologies that cut across the human grain. Were that to occur, the rest of the world would surely unite in self-defense, and security could not then be purchased at any price.

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

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Mistborn Book Review

MistbornMistborn: The Final Empire
by Brandon Sanderson
Tor Fantasy 2007
$7.99; 658 pages
ISBN 978-0-7653-5038-1

Sometimes, I worry that I'm not the hero everyone thinks I am.
The philosophers assure me that this is the time, that the signs have been met. But I still wonder if they have the wrong man. So many people depend on me. They say I will hold the future of the entire world on my arms.
What would they think if they knew that their champion—the Hero of the Ages, their savior—doubted himself? Perhaps they wouldn't be shocked at all. In a way, this is what worries me most. Maybe, in their hearts, they wonder—just as I do.
When they see me, do they see a liar?

The Final Empire is not a happy place. The teeming masses of the Empire, known as skaa, are used to clear the brown fields of the ash that falls from the sky without cease. Their unending toil brings only meager sustenance from the scorched and blighted land. When their labor is done, night falls, and the mists come. Each and every night, the world is wrapped anew in terror and mystery. Even the stout-hearted quail before the creeping tendrils. Few willingly venture outside after dark.

The life of the skaa is nasty, brutish, and hopefully short. Skaa labor provides what few luxuries the land can provide to the hereditary aristocracy. Despite their relative paucity, the aristocracy find their entertainment inadequate. Bloodsport and sexual exploitation fill the gap.

The nobility are themselves watched by the obligators, the omnipresent Imperial bureaucrats who must witness all agreements, financial or otherwise, between the nobility. The obligators are in turn watched by the terrifying Steel Inquisitors, creatures of flesh and metal who report directly to the Lord Ruler himself. None dare resist their power. One thousand years after the Hero of Ages traveled to the Well of Ascension to save the world, all is not well. Society shambles on, but it is dead, feigning the symptoms of life.

It is the time of the final cultural forms, of petrified urban-dominated society (the part of the cycle to which Spengler gave the name “Civilization” as a technical term). There is no theme to the events in the Winter: there is a lot of art and politics, but it is powerdriven, market-driven, fashion-driven. All these events simply toy with traditions and motifs which the culture created when it was alive. Usually something ghastly happens to civilizations which reach this fossil state, but according to Spengler, this something comes from outside.

-The Perennial Apocalypse, John J. Reilly

A friend recommended this book to me as something similar to Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind. I had been waiting for a copy to show up at my local used bookstore, and I finally found one just before Thanksgiving. 

That is an apt comparison, the books have somewhat similar magic systems, were published about the same time, and they were both a blast to read. Other than that, these books are completely different.

This is a good thing. I really enjoy seeing similar ideas worked out in very different ways, by authors with entirely different styles. The Name of the Wind and it's sequels have a laser like focus on Kvothe; which is appropriate, since these books are the story of his life. Other characters appear, but they are always secondary to Kvothe. This fits, since Kvothe is a narcissist. Everyone else really is secondary. Sanderson, on the other hand, has an ensemble cast who all are fully part of the story, with their own plausible motivations and desires. They are not simply part of the scenery, but rather provide a richness of detail that makes the story seem more real. Sanderson also does a really good job with politics and applied psychology in this book. Deceit, manipulation, and Machiavellian politics are a major part of the story, and I loved it all.

Actually, there is one other way these books are alike; they are both about the end of the world. I know, there he goes again.

Mistborn is the tale of the brave and doomed skaa resistance to the reign of the Lord Ruler. Following the introductory apocalypse at the Well of Ascension, the Lord Ruler consolidated his dominion over the entire world. This really is the end of history, for in the Final Empire, nothing every changes, including the immortal Emperor. The Lord Ruler's grasp may grow somewhat weaker as you travel further away from his capital, Luthadel, but there are none who do not acknowledge his sovereignty.

In typical usage, a millennium is a thousand year period of peace and prosperity after the constraints of the human experience, such as war, death, and poverty, have been overcome.  Sanderson has turned the concept on its head, positing a millennium where the forces of evil have triumphed instead. The Three Horsemen run rampant in the Final Empire [only War has been vanquished; War against the Emperor is inconceivable]. This kind of millennium poses as the end of history, but it is really a pregnant pause.

A millennium of this kind implies a nameless war to follow, a revolution after the revolution. The Final Empire reaps this in plenitude. In the book of Revelation, the thousand year reign of Christ comes to an end when Satan, who has been bound, but not destroyed, rises again. He will be defeated in a nameless war after the end of the world, after which the cosmos will be consumed. 

Sanderson fulfills the archetype completely; the paradigm will out, even when you start out to subvert the idea. What Sanderson does maintain, the reason why I enjoyed the book so much, is the identity of good and evil. Good still wins out in the end. What remains the same is that the cosmos is consumed in the resulting conflagration. Only now, a new cosmos needs to be constructed to replace the old. This is the task the protagonists find they have created for themselves. It should prove to be most interesting.

I enjoyed this book so much that I am eagerly awaiting my next trip to the bookstore to buy the rest of the books in the series. If you have a hankering for more, you are in luck. The other two books in this trilogy are already written, and Sanderson has even greater plans for extending his ideas into a grand overarching story with more than thirty volumes. This is a venerable conceit. Writing stories that fit into the same universe is a mental savings, and fun for your fans as well. I look forward to exploring Sanderson's creations.


My other book reviews

The Long View: Holy Madness

The 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries were the ages of revolution: The American Revolution, the French Revolution, the collapse of the vice-royalties of Spain and Portugual in the Americas, the Springtime of Peoples, the Russian Revolution. There were so many revolutions in part because there were so many revolutionaries; failed revolutionaries floated around the world after their exile, pitching in wherever they could. Which produced more revolutions, and so on.

In this age of total war, it is easy to forget that war was less brutal in the Napoleonic era. A successful uprising might produce casualties in the hundreds rather than the thousands. War really was romantic and fun for a while. The Great War was the Great War precisely because it shattered that comfortable illusion. It was the very success of nationalism that transformed war from a game between kings to a clash between peoples.

Often, the revolutions were the result of an upswing of nationalist feeling among the educated classes. However, the tide of nationalism was so strong that even reactionary backlashes tended to be nationalist too. After all, it was Napoleon who welded the Scots and English together into a nation 100 years after the Acts of Union.

Holy Madness:
Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871
By Adam Zamoyski
Viking, 2000
498 Pages, $34.95
ISBN 0-670-89271-8


In the 18th century, Western civilization began to shift from its traditional religious foundation to a new platform, compounded of personal emotional experience and what were believed to be the dictates of reason. Nations, nationalism, revolution, and mass warfare appeared during the long transition. So did new arts, mass literacy and, almost as an afterthought, an unprecedented increase in general well-being. This period is the subject of "Holy Madness." As the author points out in the Preface (the author is Adam Zamoyski: born in New York, settled in London, with several titles on Polish history to his credit), it really does not constitute a "subject" at all. Nonetheless, it seems to me that readers of Paul Johnson's "Modern Times" will find the genre familiar. The book is a sprawling, moralizing, cultural and political history with a conservative subtext. If you like this kind of thing, you will find few better examples.

"Holy Madness" is arranged more or less chronologically around the key dates of the history of the revolutionary tradition: The American Revolution of 1776; the French Revolution of 1789; the final fall of Napoleon in 1815; the Liberal Revolution of 1830; the "Springtime of Peoples" of 1848; and, finally, the Paris Commune of 1871. However, the story spreads far beyond the particular events that put those dates in the history books. We get synopses of the revolutionary histories of Latin America, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and, especially, of Poland.

Reading this book gives the impression that the Confederation of Bar of 1768 and its subsequent suppression were among the key events of modern history, because they began the long-running Polish diaspora of revolutionary patriots. The Poles were just an extreme case, however. The Western world soon hosted a floating population of freelance patriots like Kosciuszko, Byron, Kossuth, Bakunin, Garibaldi, and Alexander Dumas. These exiles by necessity or caprice might command a fleet off newly independent Peru in one decade and help drive the Bourbon dynasty from southern Italy in another. Nonetheless, in the years of reaction following the Congress of Vienna, "Polonism" was Metternich's term "for the whole internationale of bards and braves threatening his pan-European monarchical order with the promise of universal redemption through the apotheosis of the nations."

"Holy Madness" is chiefly concerned with a few key themes, the most important of which is that romantic nationalism retained the shape of the Christianity it so often sought to replace:

"[T]he national instinct is a natural one where religious belief-systems have failed...[I]t inherits from these not only crude fanaticism, but also a spark of divinity, for it is, ultimately, a kind of mission...However different the brutal gunmen of today may be from the noble Marquis de Lafayette, all who rally to the cause of some real or invented nation carry within themselves an instinctual religious germ; [they] see themselves as valorous knights defending their world against monsters, dragons and giants."

This was not quite what the philosophers of the French Enlightenment had in mind. Zamoyski makes Rousseau the chief theoretician of nationalism. Rousseau, whom Kant called "the Newton of ethics," tried to replace the transcendent with the national community as the basis of morality. It was Rousseau who popularized the idea that nations are created through suffering, and that the highest good is to die in the national defense. These notions simply relocate Christian ideals of sacrifice and atonement. The new nationalism even held out the hope of immortality, in the form of lasting renown in the national history.

Stated baldly, such propositions sound repulsive even today, but they have nonetheless shaped our language and thought. The expression "baptism of fire," for instance, was a neologism of the wars of the French Revolution. Having rejected or lost interest in the traditional sacraments, French revolutionaries instinctively tried to turn war and revolution into sacraments of a new order.

In its early phases, the revolutionary tradition managed to combine hopes for universal liberation with parochial nationalism. Thus began the long string of claims by national communities, most of them new and some of them largely imaginary, to be the "redeemer nation" of the current historical epoch. The first of these, in arrogance as well as time, was France itself, whose cynosure became Napoleon. Napoleon occasioned a type and degree of popular adulation that can be called cultic in a quite unmetaphorical sense, and not only in France. Alexander the Great, whose role in classical history has often been compared to Napoleon's place in the modern world, was frankly worshipped as a god after his death. Early modern Europeans came as close to doing the same to the French hero as their culture permitted. In some regions, the defeated emperor became the "once and future king," who had brought justice in the past and would someday return to re-impose it.

Zamoyski highlights the fact that the Enlightenment took different forms in different places, or even that there was more than one Enlightenment. French enthusiasts for the American Revolution never quite took on board the fact that, while they used millenarian rhetoric, American revolutionaries were often literal millenarians. The German Enlightenment, like German Romanticism, was always more frankly mystical than its French counterpart. In fact, gallophobia was an early component of German nationalism, which would have nasty consequences after a century or so. There were other continuities. The Burschenschaften ("fellowships," or perhaps "guy-ships") of post-Napoleonic Germany bear comparison with the "Wandervögel" of the pre-World War I era. Like that later generation, the student members of the Burschenschaften seemed to be simply waiting for some cause hopeless enough to call forth their suicidal devotion. I might note that in this they differed from the still later babyboom generation in America: the "Counterculture" of the 1960s was also a movement of rumpled young people who were credulous of wonders, but those young people, especially the men, had a keener eye for their personal safety than did their 19th century predecessors.

The revolution in Latin America was not simply an artifact of the Enlightenment. There was also a lively tradition of military insubordination that went back to Cortez and Pizzaro. However, until the late 18th century, this had not greatly interfered with social order. The author is at pains to emphasize the prosperity and general tidiness of the Spanish viceroyalties. (La Plata, with its frontier economy and precocious proletariat in Buenos Aires, was something of an exception to the norm of civil order.) What really shook Spanish Latin America free of Spain was the eclipse of the monarchy by the Napoleonic occupation of the metropolitan country. The separation was sealed by the collapse of the Spanish revolution in the 1820s, which left a metropolitan authority too weak and too unattractive to reassert control. In Brazil, monarchy lasted longer because the royal family decamped from Portugal to Brazil during the Napoleonic emergency, but the link to Portugal itself dissolved in any case.

Great Britain, in the author's estimation, is almost as much a product of the era of revolutions as is the United States. The monarchy and the army had been held in light regard in the British Isles for generations. Then the existential crisis of the Revolution and Napoleon served to weld the kingdoms together, with the king and the army becoming popular symbols of a new national identity. Zamoyski suggests that the French Revolution may have prevented revolution from breaking out in Britain. There was at least as much elite sentiment in Britain as in pre-revolutionary France for radical change, and probably more popular discontent.

Here is a bit of alternative history for you: suppose that the American Revolution had failed, thereby depriving French radicals of a template. The French monarchy might then have survived the fiscal crisis of the 1780s. In that case, however, radicals in Britain would have had no example of French excess to restrain them. They would probably have had the added grievance of a reactionary (and expensive) policy of pacification in North America. The result might have been a British Revolution. Had that happened, the North American colonies would likely have drifted away in a fashion comparable to the disengagement of the viceroyalties from Spain. The interesting difference would have been that the United States (or whatever the successor entities were called) would have come into being on the other side of the modern watershed. Instead of looking back to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, America, like Revolutionary France, would have been founded on the slippery slope that led to the Finland Station. That would not necessarily have meant a better world.

What was the motivation of those bards and braves who kept Metternich's numberless spies employed? Though they justified themselves in terms of devotion to the public good, one cannot escape the impression that, as with anarchists today, the whole exercise was oddly self-referential:

"The generation brought up on the literature of the Romantics abhorred inactivity and routine; they demanded bursts of action and craved danger, they relished the mysterious, the hidden, the forbidden. Action in this sense was a sublimation of love, and was indulged in with the requisite passion and the same sense of relish for the hopeless, the unrequited and the fatal, which translated into a politics as a capacity to luxuriate in the poignances of failure and defeat."

One of the drawbacks to politics as a hallucinogen is that it discourages its practitioners from excessive concern with mere facts. Quite early on, the revolutionary tradition embraced the practice of pious falsehood. Zamoyski's account of the American Revolution is perhaps unnecessarily jaundiced, giving excessive attention to the persecution of loyalists, as well as to George Washington's interest in acquiring land that the British government wanted to reserve for the Indians. On the other hand, he is onto something when he implies a parallel between the French fantasy-literature about the new United States with what progressives in the 1930s told themselves about the Soviet Union. The fraud was even worse about Greece, where the ultimately successful uprising of the 1820s against the Turks was marked by "cowardice, cunning and cruelty." Nonetheless, Romantic revolutionaries flocked to the region from all over Europe. Under the gross misapprehension that they were assisting in the resurrection of the Hellas of Pericles, they were often robbed by the very people they had come to help.

On the subject of fraternal societies, it would not be possible to write a history of the revolutionary era without reference to the role of the Masons, whose lodges could be found in every part of the West. However, Masonry itself seems to have been not so much an actor as a utility, a means of communication but not a single ideology. Adam Weishaupt's Illuminati do put in an appearance in the book, but the author believes that most of the activities attributed to them were fantasies of the police. Zamoyski places the real origin of the tradition of revolutionary conspiracy with Buonarotti. It was he (working with Babeuf) who adumbrated the underground armentaria of centralization and dissimulation. It was several generations before revolutionary strategy achieved the clarity of Lenin's time, however. Until then, insurgents generally employed many Gothic properties. During improvised faux-Masonic ceremonies, terrible oaths were exchanged in cellars and darkened rooms from Bogotá to Belfast to Krakow:

"These rituals [of the Carbonari], as well as the patents, membership certificates and other material that has come down to us &emdash; all decorated with variable combinations of the cross, the crown of thorns, the sun, the moon, the cock, the fasces, the ladder, St. Theobald, skulls, crossed bones, geometrical dividers, pentangles, triangles, and the odd papal tiara being struck by lightening &emdash; suggest organized religion had somehow let these people down."

One might note that it was possible for Poles and Italians, and even some Germans, to have fond memories of the Napoleonic era because the wars of that time lacked the savagery of the Thirty Years' War, or of the 20th-century World Wars. Popular uprisings, even a successful campaign like Garibaldi's liberation of the Two Sicilies in 1861, might produce casualties in the hundreds rather than thousands.

In the days of reaction after the Congress of Vienna, revolution became a matter of grand opera. In fact, quite a lot of good grand opera was written with implicitly revolutionary themes, as well as literature extolling Romantic nationalism. (This book reminded me of Mark Twain's surmise that Walter Scott's novels caused the Civil War.) Following the precedent of the fraudulent works of Ossian, ancient national epics were discovered or forged in central and eastern Europe. Aristocrats who spoke French socially and conducted government business in Latin made an effort to learn the language of the colorful peasants. By 1830, some of these operas succeeded in bringing down the house. To everyone's surprise, another French Revolution succeeded. New "nations" appeared in Belgium and Greece. There was a flurry of unrest everywhere.

In 1848, half of Europe rose in revolt. At any rate, half of Europe's students, lawyers, and newspaper editors held noisy rallies and stormed city halls. The continent was briefly covered with constitutional conventions and new flags. When even this outburst of enthusiasm was suppressed, or simply subsumed by ordinary politics, a terrible truth began to dawn on the Romantic internationale:

"The urge for national liberation, so long assumed to be a natural instinct, intimately bound up with personal liberation and empowerment, appeared not to have fired the masses at all. Earlier [pre-1848] failures had been put down to lack of education among the people and to their indoctrination by the civil and religious agencies of the ancien regime. But this argument was wearing thin. If anything, they had rallied against the revolution with some spontaneity."

This was not a new phenomenon. When the French Revolution came to Haiti, it was the slaves who rose in support of the king, while their masters sported tricolor cockades. In the Polish territories of the Habsburg lands, the peasants were quite willing to hunt down the educated city-people who marched through the countryside in yet another attempt to restore national independence. The rural masses sided with "the good emperor," partly because his government was familiar and not altogether unjust, but also because the would-be revolutionaries were often so obviously self-interested. This was particularly the case in the Kingdom of Hungary, only 40% of whose people were Hungarian. The rest, Slavs and Romanians and Saxons, knew that their own hope of retaining their communal identity lay in keeping the kingdom part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

There were exceptions to the rule that revolutions tended to have a rather restricted audience. The Russians really did succeed in provoking the Polish peasants to rise on occasion. Garibaldi, who was as responsible as anyone for creating the Kingdom of Italy, did become a national legend in his own time. Even in his case, though, "popular support" usually meant the kind of support that people give their favorite sport teams.

The deeper problem with the Risorgimento was that, as Zamoyski puts it: "a handful of patriots had been manipulated by a jackal monarchy and its pragmatic ministers." The people of Sicily did not even speak a language comprehensible by northern Italians. (Garibaldi's own first language was Ligurian). When the nationalists delivered control of Italy to the rulers of the Piedmont, they were in effect handing over colonies.

Because of this futility even in success, the revolutionary impulse darkened. By the 1860s, the "new men" had already begun to appear. These forerunners of today's terrorists despised liberal democracy, as well as the Romantic view of politics as a spiritual exercise. For them, liberation was a kind of surgery: scientific, focused, and without anesthetic.

Poetic nationalism helped create actual nations, but these entities evolved on a trajectory of their own. The ideals of 1789 were drowned by both materialist socialism and by nationalism reconceived as a Darwinian struggle. The nationalism of real nations transformed war from a conflict between sovereigns to a conflict between peoples. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 was the logical conclusion to this process. In Zamoyski's estimation, the Commune of 1871 should not be seen as the forerunner of the following century of socialist politics. Rather, it was a nostalgic reenactment of the first French Revolution by the last adherents of the politics of the Lost Cause.

This book does not touch on the later expressions of Romantic nationalism. I might mention in particular the Celtic Renaissance and Easter Uprising in Ireland, which together achieved something close to the Platonic ideal of thuggish political mysticism. The true "Springtime of the Peoples" came only with the Versailles Conference: nationalism's greatest practical proponent was not Rousseau, but Woodrow Wilson. Then there was the history of decolonization and Third Worldism. Nonetheless, Zamoyski may be right in ending the story in 1871. After that point, there were few novelties in the ways that nations came into being and expressed themselves. The Holy Madness of nationhood had become a commodity.

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Antichrist: Islam's Awaited Messiah

And a third book review. This set formed a kind of trilogy. This final volume combined my interest in learning more about Islam with my existing interest in millennialism. I wrote this review in 2009. If anything, I think it has only gotten more topical.

Mohammed Abdullah HassanI was lent this book by the same person who lent me Islam and the Jews: The Unfinished Battle and Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics. Since I have an interest in millennialism generally, I dived straight in. Richardson's work is a prime example of what John Reilly called the 'Standard Model' of Christian millennialism. This is the common-sense, popular, literal model based on direct identification of particular events with the prophecies contained with the Apocalypse of St. John. This model has taken different forms at different times, but in twenty first century America it takes the form of premillennial dispensationalism. This is the frame of reference of the author, who then sets out a detailed comparison between al-Mahdi and Isa bin Maryam and the Antichrist and the False Prophet depicted in the book of Revelations.

The author wrote this book under a pseudonym, out of a rightful fear of retribution. At least in the United States, such things are not yet commonplace, but in Europe, violence or threats of violence against those critical of Islam is commonplace. For example, the makers of the game Little Big Planet recalled the game after it came to light that one of the songs in the game featured verses from the Koran. Given the location of the developer in London, actual violence was a possibility. However, the author is at pains to emphasize that he means no ill will, but simply wishes to tell the truth as best he understands it.

Richardson's account is based largely on the hadith and the commentaries thereon that have been translated into English. This is not a complaint, since this is an admirable amateur effort. Acquiring sufficient linguistic expertise to read Islamic commentaries on the hadith in Arabic is the province of the ivory tower, and such a work would likely have been stillborn within the academic world. That being said, there are strange gaps in Richardson's knowledge that are the likely result of autodidactism. When self-taught, one does not know what one does not know. For example, Richardson seems wholly innocent of Islamic tradition with regards to the people of the book, as opposed to other faiths.

"Interestingly enough, Islamic tradition speaks much of the Mahdi's special calling to convert Christians and Jews to Islam, yet speaks very little specifically of conversions from other faiths. It seems as though converting Christians and Jews to Islam will be the primary evangelistic thrust of the Mahdi." -pg 61

Indeed. Given that the Mahdi's job is to conquer the entire world, there will not be believers of any other faiths except Christians and Jews. Christians and Jews, being people of the Book, get special treatment. One may convert, or one may remain a Christian or Jew and pay the Jizyah. Neglected people of the Book include the Sabians*, who lived in Baghdad and were eventually massacred en toto in the twelfth century. Other faiths only have the option of conversion or death. Thus, by the time the Mahdi has done his work, there will be no Hindus or Buddhists or what-have-you left. Ask the Zoroastrians how that works out.

This book is really good for a ground-eye view of a living millennial belief, worked out in light of objections and the shifting situations in the world. If you want to learn about the terms used in premillennial circles, this book is quite good. This work also has generally good basic info about Islamic millennialism, including the fact that al-Mahdi is not exclusively a Shia figure. However, it would be wise to cross-check the meanings of Arabic words and the preeminence of interpretations with more scholarly works.

I admire the author for including a chapter of likely rebuttals to his work. Chief among these is the popular model has been identifying Antichrists without notable success for two millennia. He is bound and determined to move forward however, because he believes that he sees real parallels. This is actually what is most interesting about the book. Richardson is on the very edges of the premillennial model, and has included material in his book that actually points away from his thesis considered literally. Simply stated, millennial expectations are a completely normal aspect of all human cultures, so we cannot be all that surprised by similarities between different accounts. But there is more to it than that. As St. Augustine put it in Book XX of the City of God, each age is equally close to the Millennium, because each age instantiates the elements of the Last Days. Thus the parallels that Richardson sees are real, but that does not necessarily mean that the events he foresees will therefore be the unique, final end that St. Augustine also believed in. Biblical prophecy exhibits properties analogous to quantum indeterminacy. The more one knows about what is going to happen specifically, the less one knows about when exactly this will take place. (Mark 13) Whereas, the less one tries to apply prophecy to particular events, the more certain you can become that will occur eventually.

A worthy book, and an act of personal bravery on the part of the author. Worth a read if you are interested in millennialism of either Christian or Muslim varieties. Most flaws are probably due to to a lack of editing in volumes of this type.

*In the original version, I had this as Sabbateans rather than Sabians. This was a typo. The Sabbateans are Crypto-Jews in Turkey, also known as the Dönme. That is a whole 'nother subject.

The Long View: Soft Landings

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

Table of Contents:







Presented at the Fifth Annual Conference

of the

Center For Millennial Studies

Boston University

October 28 -- October 31


Soft Landings: "Generations," Tolkien & Preterism


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

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


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


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

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

According to Strauss and Howe, a generation is a 20-year block of demographic cohorts who might be expected to have comparable experiences at each stage of life. The key to the system is the hypothesis that a society-wide crisis tends to fix the character of the generation then in young adulthood. If the crisis is successfully overcome, they are heroes: they get special deference for the rest of their lives. The formation of a Hero generation begins a predictable sequence of four generational types that appear over a period of 80 to 100 years, during which social mores relax and then tighten again.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thank You.


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

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

(3) William Strauss and Neil Howe:

______"Generations: History of America's Future, 1584--2029" (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991)

______"13th Gen : abort, retry, ignore, fail?" (New York : Vintage Books, 1993)

______"The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy" (New York: Broadway Books, 1997

______"Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation" (New York: Vintage Books, 2000)

(4) (September 15, 2000):



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(12) "Tolkien: Man and Myth," Joseph Pearce (London: HarperCollins, 1998) The Tolkien Society (http://www.tolkiensociety.org)

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

(14) David van Meter listed the following Catholic apocalyptic novels on his "Marian Apparitions" site (http://members.aol.com/UticaCW/Mary-App.html) as of September 15, 2000:

MacFarlane, Bud Jr. Pierced by a Sword : A Chronicle of the Coming Tribulations. Fairview Park, OH: St. Jude Media, 1995.

McInerny, Ralph M. The Red Hat. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998.

O'Brien, Michael D. Eclipse of the Sun. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998.

________. Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996.

________. Strangers and Sojourners : A Novel. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.

West, Morris. The Clowns of God. New York: William Morrow, 1981.

To these I would add:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(24) The homepage for the International Preterist Association is http://www.preterist.org The homepage for Living Presence Ministries, the exponent of Transmillennialism (TM), is http://www.livingpresence.org

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

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

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

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

(29) "Beyond the End Times: The Rest of the Greatest Story Ever Told," John Noe (Bradford, Pa.: International Preterist Resources, 1999). For a review, go to http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/betet.html

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

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

(32) A response to hyperpreterism can be found on the International Preterist Association website at http://www.preterist.org/articles/Walt Hibbard Responds to Misunderstandings about the Preterist View.html

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The Long View 2002-03-25: Happy Doomsday!

Once you know Sauron was overthrown on the Feast of the Annunciation, many things become clear.

Happy Doomsday!

From Giants With Feet of Clay: On the Historiography of the Year 1000 by Dr. Richard Landes, Center for Millennial Studies:

"Why then, would a conservative Parisian cleric invoke the Eschaton in the year 1000? Understandably, someone in Rudolf of Fulda's day might do so, since then it was over a century and a half away -- but why someone with only a generation to go? The answer comes in the next incident Abbo reports: the apocalyptic rumor from Lotharingia which, he claimed, had 'filled almost the entire world.' This computus-based calculation predicted the End when the Passion and the Annunciation coincided on Friday, March 25, the very date of the creation of Adam, of the Annunciation, and of the Passion."

March 25 may be the most uncanny day in the calendar. Readers of The Lord of the Rings will recall that it is the day Sauron is overthrown, and which is therefore made New Year's Day. Once again, Tolkien was being creatively unoriginal: March 25 was sometimes New Year's Day in the Middle Ages. It is also the traditional date on which Doomsday is expected to occur.

This is my gift to the world's greeting-card companies.

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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: Empire

John mananged to review at least three books by the same title: Empire. This one is famous, it is the book everyone is citing, conciously or not, when they call something "imperialistic". They are also using that word incorrectly, but memes are notoriously bad grammarians.


by Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri

Harvard University Press, 2000

478 Pages, $18.95

ISBN: 0-674-00671-2


You think that globalization is just a device for smothering revolutionary potential, do you? The authors of Empire argue otherwise. One of them, Michael Hardt, is an associate professor in the Literature Program at Duke University. The other, Antonio Negri, has taught political science at the Universities of Paris and Padua. Currently, he is so ineffably progressive that he is actually being held in Rome's Rebibbia prison for the radical violence of decades past. 

Empire analyzes the current world situation, reformulates contemporary Leftist theory to accommodate it, and tentatively points the way toward the overthrow of post-historic capitalism. The work is relentlessly postmodern; it connects with classical Marxism chiefly to explain why it is no longer relevant. The authors' thesis is that would-be revolutionaries are mistaken if they oppose globalization as such. Globalization really is the end of history, and there is no going back. However, the form that the globalized world is assuming, which the authors call the Empire, is a corruption of the post-historic world. The task of revolutionaries is to find where the Empire is vulnerable.

The problem is that, to use one of the authors' metaphors, the Empire is Saint Augustine's City of God. As you might imagine, it's a tough nut to crack. Like the Roman Empire, it seems to its subjects to be permanent, eternal, and necessary. It has no outside, at least in principle, and internally it distinguishes neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. It does not rest on conquest, but on consensus. The Empire is the post-historical incarnation of eternal justice. The Empire does not merely happen to exist, like a historically contingent state does; rather, the Empire must exist, at least as an ideal. It closes the gap that opened in the Renaissance between the ethical and the juridical. Its wars are just wars, police actions against opponents who can marshal no principled claims against it. No civil or military stresses remain that might threaten it; the Empire is always in a crisis, so its acts are emergency measures that trump the ordinary law of the sovereignties and corporations that comprise it.

The authors point out that the Empire is not really a state. It does indeed have state-like organs, such as the UN, the IMF, and the WTO. For that matter, it even has a tripartite anatomy. At the top of the top third is the United States, or at any rate its military and cultural power. Immediately below are the G7 countries, or rather their command of the world's money. In the middle third are the governments and corporations that carry out the routine functions of governance. In the bottom third are the NGOs, churches and other organs of civil society. These latter represent the People of the Empire, just as the middle tier represents its aristocracy and the top third the royal power. (The authors are very impressed by the description of the late Roman Republic given by Polybius in the second century B.C.)


The biggest single problem with this book is that the authors never clearly explain what they are trying to do. They speak of revealing "the City of Man" under the corruption of the Empire, but we hear nothing about that City's constitution. They say this City of Man will in fact see the end of the human, in the sense of an anthropology that places man above nature. They hope to pursue a wholly immanent ethics, something along the lines of Foucault's "care of the Self."  They say that what they seek is a "re-total" rather than a "re-public." This language is not helpful.

The authors have had some kind words about the recent great demonstrations against the institutions of globalization, though they continue to point out the futility of opposing globalization itself. Those demonstrations were marked by contempt for free speech, public safety and human life. Quite likely, in those cosmopolitan riots, we saw what the City of Man really looks like. We can't say we were not warned. 

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.

The Long View: If Germany Had Won World I.....

The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28th June 1919   By William Orpen - Imperial War Museum Collections: Website Webpage, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2212540

The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28th June 1919

By William Orpen - Imperial War Museum Collections: Website Webpage, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2212540

Given John's penchant for cyclical models of history, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that if Germany had won World War I, not much would have changed. We like to think of battles and wars as momentous things, and sometimes they are, but the outcome of the twentieth century was overdetermined, at least according to Spengler and Toynbee.

By way of proof, consider this: Spengler started writing the Decline of the West in 1911, and finished it in 1914. Weimar culture, famed for its decadence and defeatism, started before the war too. Its analogues started in England, France, and the United States about the same time.

Here is John's boldest claim:

I would go so far as to say this: something very like the Nazi Party would still have come to power in Germany, even if that country had won the First World War. I realize that this assertion runs counter to the historiography of most of this century, but the conclusion is inescapable. Politics is a part of culture, and the Nazis represented a kind of politics which was integral with Weimar culture. Salvador Dali once said, perhaps ironically, that he approved of the Nazi Party because they represented the surrealists come to power. The connection is deep, as with the Nazi affinity for the modernist post-rationalism of the philosopher Heidigger, and also superficial, in the styles the party promoted. The Nuremberg Rallies, for instance, were masterpieces of Art Deco stagecraft, particularly Albert Speer's "cathedral of ice" effect, created with the use of searchlights. As a young hopeful in Vienna, Hitler once passed up the chance to work as a theatrical set designer because he was too shy to go to the interview. But whether he knew it or not, that is what he became. People with no fascist inclinations at all love to watch film footage produced by the Nazis, for the simple reason that it is very good cinema: it comes from the same artistic culture which gave us METROPOLIS and THE BLUE ANGEL. The Weimar Republic and the Third Reich formed a historical unit, one whose advent was not dependent on the accident of who won the First World War.

Leni Riefenstahl deserves mention here too. A Triumph of the Will was a masterpiece of a movie, and continues to be influential today, although no one would be so foolish as to admit it influenced them. The Nazis were stylish and popular, a reflection of the spirit of the times.

John gets even more contrary towards the end. He suggests that despite the colossal waste and horror of the Great War, the way it turned out may have been better than some of the likely alternatives. This is worth considering.

If Germany Had Won World War I.....

In a way, this is a more interesting hypothesis than the more commonly asked question about what the world would be like if the Germans had won World War II. Several historians have noted that both world wars should really be considered a single conflict with a long armistice in the middle. If this viewpoint is valid, then the official outcome of the first phase of this conflict may have been important for reasons other than those usually cited.

As a preliminary matter, we should note that the actual outcome of the First World War was a near thing, a far nearer thing than was the outcome of World War II after 1941. While it is true that the United States entered the war on the allied side in 1917, thus providing vast new potential sources of men and material, it is also true that Germany had knocked Russia out of the war at about the same time. This gave the Germans access to the resources of Eastern Europe and freed their troops for deployment to the West. The German Spring Offensive of 1918 actually succeeded in rupturing the Allied line at a point where the Allies had no significant reserves. (At about this time, British Prime Minister Lloyd George was heard to remark, "We are going to lose this war." He began to create a record which would shift the blame to others.) The British Summer Offensive of the same year similarly breached the German lines, but did a much better job of exploiting the breakthrough than the Germans had done a few months earlier. General Ludendorff panicked and demanded that the government seek an armistice. The German army did succeed in containing the Allied breakthrough, but meanwhile the German diplomats had opened tentative armistice discussions with the United States. Given U.S. President Wilson's penchant for diplomacy by press-release, the discussions could not be broken off even though the German military situation was no longer critical. While the Germans were not militarily defeated, or even economically desperate, the government and general public saw no prospect of winning. Presented with the possibility of negotiating a settlement, their willingness to continue the conflict simply dissolved.

The Germans were defeated by exhaustion. This could as easily have happened to the Allies. When you read the diaries and reports of the French and British on the Western Front from early 1918, the writers seem to be perfectly lucid and in full command of their faculties. What the Americans noted when they started to arrive at about that time was that everyone at the front was not only dirty and malnourished, but half asleep. In addition to their other deleterious effects, the terrible trench warfare battles of that conflict were remarkably exhausting, and the capacity of the Allies to rotate out survivors diminished with the passage of time. Even with American assistance, France and Britain were societies that were slowly falling apart from lack of ordinary maintenance. Both faced food shortages from the diversion of farmers into the army and from attacks on oceanborne supplies. Had the Germans been able to exploit their breakthrough in the spring, or if the German Empire had held together long enough for Ludendorff's planned autumn offensive to take place, its quite likely that either the French or British would have sued for peace. Had one or the other even raised the question of an armistice, the same process of internal political collapse which destroyed Germany would have overtaken both of them.

Although today it is reasonably clear that Germany fought the war with the general aim of transforming itself from a merely continental power to a true world power, the fact is that at no point did the German government know just what its peace terms would be if it won. It might have annexed Belgium and part of the industrial regions of northern France, though bringing hostile, non-German populations into the Empire might not have seemed such a good idea if the occasion actually arose. More likely, or more rationally, the Germans would have contented themselves with demilitarizing these areas. From the British, they would probably have demanded nothing but more African colonies and the unrestricted right to expand the German High Seas Fleet. In Eastern Europe, they would be more likely to have established friendly satellite countries in areas formerly belonging to the defunct empires than to have directly annexed much territory. It seems to me that the Austrian and Ottoman Empires were just as likely to have fallen apart even if the Central Powers had won. The Hungarians were practically independent before the war, after all, and the chaos caused by the eclipse of Russia would have created opportunities for them which they could exploit only without the restraint of Vienna. As for the Ottoman Empire, most of it had already fallen to British invasion or native revolt. No one would have seen much benefit in putting it back together again, not even the Turks.

Communist agitation was an important factor in the dissolution of Imperial Germany, and it would probably have been important to the collapse of France and Britain, too. One can imagine Soviets being established in Glasglow and the north of England, a new Commune in Paris. This could even have happened in New York, dominated as it was by immigrant groups who were either highly radicalized or anti-British. It is unlikely that any of these rebellions would have succeeded in establishing durable Communist regimes in the West, however. The Soviets established in Germany and Eastern Europe after the war did not last, even though the central government had dissolved. In putting down such uprisings, France might have experienced a bout of military dictatorship, not unlike the Franco era in Spain, and Britain might have become a republic. Still, although the public life of these countries would have been polarized and degraded, they would probably have remained capitalist democracies. The U.S., one suspects, would have reacted to the surrender or forced withdrawal of its European expeditionary force by beginning to adopt the attitude toward German-dominated Europe which it did later in the century toward the victorious Soviet Union. Britain, possibly with its empire in premature dissolution, would have been forced to seek a strong Atlantic alliance. As for the Soviet Union in this scenario, it is hard to imagine the Germans putting up with its existence after it had served its purpose. Doubtless some surviving Romanov could have been put on the throne of a much- diminished Russia. If no Romanov was available, Germany has never lacked for princelings willing to be sent abroad to govern improvised countries.

This leaves us with the most interesting question: what would have happened to Germany itself? Before the war, the German constitution was working less and less well. Reich chancellors were not responsible to parliament but to the Kaiser. The system could work only when the Kaiser was himself a competent executive, or when he had the sense to appoint and support a chancellor who was. The reign of Wilhelm II showed that neither of these conditions need be the case. In the twenty years preceding the war, national policy was made more and more by the army and the bureaucracy. It is unlikely that this degree of drift could have continued after a victorious war. Two things would have happened which in fact happened in the real world: the monarchy would have lost prestige to the military, and electoral politics would have fallen more and more under the influence of populist veterans groups.

We should remember that to win a great war can be almost as disruptive for a combatant country as to lose it. There was a prolonged political crisis, indeed the whiff of revolution, in victorious Britain in the 1920s. Something similar seems to be happening in the United States today after the Cold War. While it is, of course, unlikely that the Kaiser would have been overthrown, it is highly probable that there would have been some constitutional crisis which would have drastically altered the relationship between the branches of government. It would have been in the military's interest to push for more democracy in the Reich government, since the people would have been conspicuously pro-military. The social and political roles of the old aristocracy would have declined, since the war would have brought forward so many men of humble origin. Again, this is very much what happened in real history. If Germany had won and the Allies lost, the emphasis in these developments would certainly have been different, but not the fundamental trends.

All the bad and strange things which happened in Germany in the 1920s are conventionally blamed on the harsh terms of the Versailles treaty. We forget, however, that the practical effect of these terms was really very limited. The diplomatic disabilities on Germany were eliminated by the Locarno Pact of 1925. The great Weimar inflation, which was engineered by the government to defeat French attempts to extract reparations, was ended in 1923. The reparations themselves, of course, were a humiliating drain on the German budget, but a system of financing with international loans was arranged which worked satisfactorily until the world financial system broke down in the early 1930s. Even arms development was continued through clandestine projects with the Soviet Union. It is also false to assert that German culture was driven to insanity by a pervasive sense of defeat. The 1920s were the age of the Lost Generation in America and the Bright Young Things in Britain. A reader ignorant of the history of the 20th century who was given samples from this literature that did not contain actual references to the war could reasonably conclude that he was reading the literature of defeated peoples. There was indeed insanity in culture in the 1920s, but the insanity pervaded the whole West.

Weimar culture would have happened even if there had been no Weimar Republic. We know this, since all the major themes of the Weimar period, the new art and revolutionary politics and sexual liberation, all began before the war. This was a major argument of the remarkable book, RITES OF SPRING, by the Canadian scholar, Modris Ekstein. There would still have been Bauhaus architecture and surrealist cinema and depressing war novels if the Kaiser had issued a victory proclamation in late 1918 rather than an instrument of abdication. There would even have been a DECLINE OF THE WEST by Oswald Spengler in 1918. He began working on it years before the war. The book was, in fact, written in part to explain the significance of a German victory. These things were simply extensions of the trends that had dominated German culture for a generation. They grew logically out of Nietzsche and Wagner and Freud. A different outcome in the First World War would probably have made the political right less suspicious of modernity, for the simple reason that left wing politics would not have been anywhere nearly as fashionable among artists as such politics were in defeat.

I would go so far as to say this: something very like the Nazi Party would still have come to power in Germany, even if that country had won the First World War. I realize that this assertion runs counter to the historiography of most of this century, but the conclusion is inescapable. Politics is a part of culture, and the Nazis represented a kind of politics which was integral with Weimar culture. Salvador Dali once said, perhaps ironically, that he approved of the Nazi Party because they represented the surrealists come to power. The connection is deep, as with the Nazi affinity for the modernist post-rationalism of the philosopher Heidigger, and also superficial, in the styles the party promoted. The Nuremberg Rallies, for instance, were masterpieces of Art Deco stagecraft, particularly Albert Speer's "cathedral of ice" effect, created with the use of searchlights. As a young hopeful in Vienna, Hitler once passed up the chance to work as a theatrical set designer because he was too shy to go to the interview. But whether he knew it or not, that is what he became. People with no fascist inclinations at all love to watch film footage produced by the Nazis, for the simple reason that it is very good cinema: it comes from the same artistic culture which gave us METROPOLIS and THE BLUE ANGEL. The Weimar Republic and the Third Reich formed a historical unit, one whose advent was not dependent on the accident of who won the First World War.

The Nazi Party was other things besides a right wing populist group with a penchant for snazzy uniforms. It was a millenarian movement. The term "Third Reich," "Drittes Reich," is an old term for the Millennium. The Party's core began as a sort of occult lodge, like the Thule Society of Munich to which so many of its important early members belonged. It promoted a racist theory of history not unlike that of the Theosophist, H.P. Blavatsky, whose movement also used the swastika as an emblem. The little-read ideological guidebook of the party, Alfred Rosenberg's MYTH OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, begins its study of history in Atlantis. Like the Theosophists, they looked for a new "root race" of men to appear in the future, perhaps with some artificial help. When Hitler spoke of the Master Race, it is not entirely clear that he was thinking of contemporary Germans.

This is not to say that the Nazi Party was a conspiracy of evil magicians. A good, non- conspiratorial account of this disconcerting matter may be found in James Webb's THE OCCULT ESTABLISHMENT. I have two simple points to make here. The first is that the leadership had some very odd notions that, at least to some degree, explain the unique things they said and did. The other is that these ideas were not unique to them, that they were spreading among the German elites. General Von Moltke, the chief of the General Staff at the beginning of the war, was an Anthroposophist. (This group drew the peculiar ire of the SS, since Himmler believed that its leader, Rudolf Steiner, hypnotized the general so as to make him mismanage the invasion of France.) The Nazi Party was immensely popular on university campuses. The intellectual climate of early 20th century Germany was extraordinarily friendly to mysticism of all types, including in politics. The Nazi leadership were just particularly nasty people whose worldview bore a family resemblance to that of Herman Hesse and C.G. Jung. The same would probably have been true of anyone who ruled Germany in the 1930s.

Am I saying then that German defeat in the First World War made no difference? Hardly. If the war had not been lost, the establishment would have been much less discredited, and there would have been less room for the ignorant eccentrics who led the Nazi Party. Certainly people with no qualifications for higher command, such as Goering, would not have been put in charge of the Luftwaffe, nor would the Foreign Ministry have been given over to so empty-headed a man as Von Ribbentrop. As for the fate of Hitler himself, who can say?

The big difference would have been that Germany would been immensely stronger and more competent by the late 1930s than it was in the history we know. That another war would have been brewed by then we may be sure. Hitler was only secondarily interested in revenge for the First World War; his primary goal had always been geopolitical expansion into Eastern Europe and western Asia. This would have given Germany the Lebensraum to become a world power. His ideas on the subject were perfectly coherent, and not original with him: they were almost truisms. There is no reason to think that the heirs of a German victory in 1918 (or 1919, or 1920) would have been less likely to pursue these objectives.

These alternative German leaders would doubtless have been reacting in part to some new coalition aligned against them. Its obvious constituents would have been Britain, the United States and Russia, assuming Britain and Russia had a sufficient degree of independence to pursue such a policy. One suspects that if the Germans pursued a policy of aggressive colonial expansion in the 1920s and 30s, they might have succeeded in alienating the Japanese, who could have provided a fourth to the coalition. Germany for its part would begun the war with complete control of continental Europe and probably effective control of north Africa and the Near East. It would also have started with a real navy, so that Britain's position could have quickly become untenable. The coalition's chances in such a war would not have been hopeless, but they would been desperate.

It is commonly said of the First World War that it was pure waste, that it was an accident, that it accomplished nothing. The analysis I have just presented, on the contrary, suggests that the "war to end all war" may have been the most important war of the modern era after all.

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Religion and the Racist Right

Despite John's opening sentence, millenarianism is still faintly embarrassing to almost everyone. At least that is Richard Landes contention. As best I know, John was acquainted with Richard, since John was affiliated with the Center for Millennial Studies, of which Richard is the Director. I have found millennialism fun to talk about, because lots of people are interested in the subject, but no one seems willing to discuss it. 

This particular review is about a small movement that looms large in the elite consciousness of America, despite it's small size. What influence it has is probably due to media attention, rather than anything the Christian Identity Movement has been able to accomplish. The book featured here is 20 years old. I have no idea whether this particular movement even exists any longer. Even if it doesn't, these things take on a life of their own and tend to survive the destruction of any particular embodiment. Nonetheless, I would wager there are about as many adherents to Vernor Vinge's Singularity as there ever were to CIM.

CIM pushes all the right buttons, and I very much mean the right, to get lots of media attention. And official attention, as when the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 issued a report detailing the risks of right-wing extremism among returning veterans. Veterans' groups understandably protested this, but after all one of the early challenges to Federal authority in the United States came from Revolutionary War veterans.

A likelier home for this kind of discontent today is the sovereign citizen movement, which while it can sometimes result in armed standoffs, tends to dissipate energies in futile court battles. John makes the very good point here that that cultic milieu from which the Christian Identity Movement originated is still with us, and it crosses right and left with ease. 9-11 Truthers, the Chemtrail folks, and Earth First share some of the same ideas with the sovereign citizens, birthers, and militia groups.

Religion and the Racist Right:
The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement

by Michael Barkun
The University of North Carolina Press, 1994
290 pp., $39.95 cloth, $15.95 paper
ISBN 0-8078-4451-9

Apocalypse Stew

There was a time, not too long back, when millenarianism was something you heard about only in anthropology courses. The notion that large groups of people would organize in preparation for the end of the age, either to flee from the catastrophes they anticipated or to create some catastrophes of their own, seemed to be faintly embarrassing to sociologists and political scientists. It was certainly off the radar screen of the mass media. Then, in the space of few months, we were presented with the spectacle of the apocalyptic Branch Davidian community immolating itself, of Aum Shin Rikyo gassing Japanese subway riders in the first phase of an intended high-tech coup, and of the many peculiar groups that came to light after the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. In reality, of course, the violent Pursuit of the Millennium (to the use the title of the classic study by Norman Cohn of "revolutionary millenarianism") has been common throughout history, from Han Dynasty China to Cromwell's England. Michael Barkun, a political scientist at the University of Syracuse, has been one of the leading students of American millenarianism for many years. This study of the Christian Identity Movement provides a detailed history and analysis of a religious ideology that has become one of the characteristic features of today's violent radical Right.

The Christian Identity Movement has no fixed orthodoxy or central organization; we will discuss the constellation of ideas that constitute Identity in a moment. The movement finds institutional embodiment in little congregations with names like "The Church of Jesus Christ Christian" and "The Church of Israel," or in political groups (sometimes involved in terrorist activities) such as the Aryan Nations and the Order. The estimates of the number of Identity believers vary widely. There are certainly less than 100,000 and probably less than 50,000. (Official membership in Identity churches may be as low as 2,500.) The greatest concentration of Identity believers is the Pacific Northwest. They can be found elsewhere, however. Until the intervention of federal authorities in 1985, they maintained a formidable armed community in Arkansas called the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord, or CSA. (Am I the only one to note that these initials have a Civil War flavor?) Also, David Duke, a former Klansman who ran with some success for various state offices in Louisiana from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, has extensive Identity connections.