The end of the world
There is considerable dispute on the date of the end of the world, sometimes even up here in the High Doganate. It is a gentlemanly dispute, however, in which the (aspiring) gentleman who lives here politely considers & then rejects the various alternatives to his own beliefs. I have been doing that all my life. Sometimes I find that I am wrong, but only in retrospect. In prospect my vision is 20/20. Things that haven’t happened yet have never failed to happen. And I have a perfect track record because in every case, as I would be willing to demonstrate, they fail to happen only in the future. Which is to say, elsewhere in the multiverse, not here.
Once again the issue is in the air, for I gather the President of the United States was so foolish as to predict the end of the world, should the “sequester” of funding he proposed himself be allowed to happen on the first of this month. It is wise normally to predict the end of the world for a more remote date; the President was guessing it would happen “tomorrow” on the very eve. Curiously, he had done everything in the power of his office to assure that the end of the world would take place; for like many petty politicians before him, outraged by budget cuts, he made sure they would fall in the most visibly destructive manner on essential government services, leaving mountains of pork & incredible waste untouched. He wants his opponents on their hands & knees, begging him to restore these services & promising to raise more taxes on “the rich” to support them. It is a game so tawdry, & played so many times, that I’m amazed anyone can still be suckered by it; but needless to say the entire liberal media are playing along with his latest “crisis narrative.”
And yet, it is March 3rd already, the sequester has happened, & the world has not ended; just as it did not end at the Winter Solstice, when the ancient Mayan calendar hit 220.127.116.11.0, & nothing followed beyond the usual news & views. There was not even a memorable earthquake in, say, Tierra del Fuego. As we write, south of the border, there is no evidence of a catastrophe yet unfolding. It turns out that even if you remove la crème de la crème of the most necessary functions of the U.S. Government, nothing much happens. The President will have some explaining to do.
Eschatology is not a science we have much pursued (up here in the High Doganate). This may have something to do with our low regard for the statistical methods that are too often employed in calculating the date on which the world will end. They strike us as almost amateurish sometimes. Of the eschatological systems of the great religions, other than my own, I have sometimes taken note from a motive that could be confused with pure self-entertainment. It is not: I think such spiritual insights as each may provide are presented compactly & vividly, in each end-of-world scenario.
Let us consider in passing Frashokereti, the Zoroastrian expectation, which comes to mind whenever I am reading news of anything from “frosh week” in a university to the hydraulic “fracking” of mineral resources. In brief, there are three ages in the world, that of Creation, of Mixture, & of Separation. The first was good, but into the second evil was insinuated. In the third, which is surely coming soon, God, under the name “Ahura Mazda,” effects a winnowing. There is a huge battle between the Yazatas & Daevas (the proponents of good, & evil, respectively). In the course of their exchange, all the dead are raised. Too, the metals of this world melt & flow by tributaries into one great river through which all must pass. No supernatural agent nor force will be able to intervene on behalf of individuals: each man & woman will be tried in the balance of all his thoughts, words, & deeds. The good will find the river as warm milk, the evil will experience it as a consuming fire. The molten stream will itself pour over the ledge of this world, into the depths, where it will find & annihilate “Ahriman” (the very Devil & his Hell). It is an optimistic cosmogony.
Before I receive death threats from aggrieved Zoroastrians, let me acknowledge that this is not from the Avesta, but from interpretive, non-scriptural works. The Avesta itself, or the parts we retain, contain only poetical allusions to this End Time. The most sacred Gathas — hymns attributed to Zoroaster — are in a very old form of Persian indeed (7th century BC?) but the interpretations were written in Book Pahlavi far more than a millennium later (9th century AD). It makes no sense to speak confidently of any Avestan eschatological doctrine; & yet the power in such ancient prophecy can be discerned in resemblances to every other earthly eschatological doctrine; for in all, the worth of men is tested. And on a Zoroastrian view, as from a Christian, it makes no sense to assign specific future dates, or treat prophecy as a prognostic method.
On the other hand, lest gentle reader titter at the introduction of so exotic a body of mythic moral teaching, let me remind him that from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, & others, we often encounter doctrines as arcane. Each, to my mind, is the product of very sincere “visionaries,” without “conventional” (not to say, “Catholic”) formation, struggling to convey an experience of unknown otherworldly origin in worldly terms; without first subjecting it to the reasoning of the wise. Then seeking followers among the spiritually estranged & hungry.
For some time in childhood I became a kind of connoisseur of the illustrations in publications of the Watch Tower Society — then as now fairly widely disseminated — which showed the lion lying down with the lamb rather literally, & a multicultural assortment of humans smiling as if they had all just won the Irish sweepstakes. These pictures of an imminent heaven on earth struck me as naïve, & contributed to my youthful, smartass atheism. Moreover, as I was distantly aware, the Society & other congregations of “Christian outliers” had been almost trigger-happy in predicting that imminent end, projected from quite worldly political events.
Yet in retrospect, it seems there is something sound woven into their notions. The significance accorded by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to October 1914 — when Christ was held to have resumed the throne of which He had been deprived by the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, & the End Time began to unfold — was well chosen. I myself assign not that event, but something cognate, to a moment a little earlier in that year: to the 28th of June, 1914, when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo. The summer which followed consisted of an extraordinary matrix of declarations of war, & acts of invasion. By September, Tannenberg & the Marne trench warfare; by October, Ypres.
The Great War was an entirely man-made, planetary disaster, whose vortex was Europe, then fairly plausibly the centre of everything. Its effect was like Constantine, in reverse. Almost everything we now live is fallout from that War: through Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Islamism, to the effects of mass democracy & the construction of Nanny States. In the background, everywhere, the replacement of religion with ideological totalitarianism, & the moral & spiritual blindness which follows from our new loyalties to the available “least evils.” We entered an era that might be called with justice the Age of the Mass Grave; or if you will, the Culture of Death with Wheels On; or with less colour, “post-modernity.” The evils of the Modern Age came home to roost, among all the false hopes of “man’s triumph over nature.”
One might call 1914 the beginning of the end, but let me credit the Jehovah’s Witnesses for also discerning, while I was growing up in the ‘sixties, the impending end of the end in that decade. Though let me quickly add that, in retrospect, John Lukacs (the historian of Chestnut College, not to be confused with György Lukacs, the fatuous Marxist) put the matter more elegantly in his book, A Thread of Years (1998). This book offered a series of vignettes, from commonplace life, cast year by year from the beginning of the 20th century, to 1969, in which the decline & final extinction of “the idea of a gentleman” was knowingly presented. It stands in my mind as the greatest of several dozen of the author’s imaginative yet authoritative historical works.
Though I don’t entirely agree with Lukacs’s world view, which I consider too Anglophile & Churchillian, I think he offers real insights into what has gone down. In particular, his understanding of the emergence of the bourgeoisie in “Renaissance” modernity, & of its development into the Populism of our post-modernity, is essentially correct. He owes this to an astute grasp of 20th century history. As a World War II survivor himself (Budapest son of divorced parents, a Catholic father & a Jewish mother), personally acquainted with forced labour in the penumbra of the Holocaust, he was able to spot a lie at the heart of historical teaching in liberal academia. It was the lie that the German working classes were opposed to Hitler. No: they were his principal support. It was the goad for Lukacs to expose more generally false teaching.
To say that he despises Populism is almost an understatement. I despise it with some warmth, & Lukacs despises it with more than I will ever muster. There is a crucial question we would answer, perhaps, a little differently. I anchor Populism in the self-worship of man, per se. He, to my mind, is a little too indifferent to this philosophical question, & comes closer to despising it for itself. But for practical purposes, the difference comes out in the wash. We have been led, through post-modernity, by men who were truly representative of “the people,” & not by any of the old, & now demonized, men of aristocratic vocation. The carnage may be attributed to the ideal of “democracy” in itself & in its natural ramifications; to the promise of giving the people exactly what they want, without reference to the better angels.
This democratic ideal, though already eloquently expressed through the bloodletting of Paris after 1789, may be said to have matured definitively by the summer of 1914. One might even call it the greatest triumph of democracy — with mass public demonstrations in all the capitals of Europe, from all sides, demanding immediate total war. In cause & effect, we have this history backwards: again, from the lies taught in our schools. It was not old aristocratic politicians cynically manoeuvring “the people” into war against their will, to serve their own mysterious interests. It was “the people” manoeuvring them, into an Armageddon; one which many of the aristocratic, old school, “balance of power” diplomats did actually foresee, & did everything in their power to forestall, fearing it would be the end of their own class.
But it was not a simple process, not some new or sudden thing, for the history of the rise of “popular” national chauvinism & jingoism goes much deeper. We look here only at the point of combustion, through which the politics of the world were radically & unambiguously transformed, from a degree of self-critical civilization, to a high-tech barbarism incapable of self-appraisal. Within this new world order, that emerged from all the blood lust: an oscillation between the “total war” of conscripting national armies, & the “total peace” of conscripting national bureaucracies.
It has been an apocalyptic scenario, to be sure; & it is understandable that we, in consequence, have come to look forward — sometimes religiously, more often superstitiously — to a nuclear incineration, or some equivalent environmental catastrophe. In our gut, we feel that we may have contributed to this as tiny atoms; but at large it is something over which we believe ourselves to have no control, being mere cells in the body politic, hardly to be held to account. From the train of secondary explosions throughout the 20th & into this 21st century, we expect things to end, inevitably with a bang not a whimper.
In fact, the world ended on the 10th of August, 1969. This happened to be a Sunday. People look to the future for an event which actually happened in the past; but I am glad to see that Alain de Benoist, the celebrated French pagan of the nouvelle droite, has picked up on this, over at Occidental Observer. He is the compleat crackpot of course, or cinglé as I believe it is called over there, with a long history of viewing everything upside down. That might be his strength, however. Turn him right side up & all becomes coherent. Meanwhile, let me offer encouragement for the first thing he may have got right: in his essay entitled, “Yes, the end of the world has happened.”
For decades I have held this view against all comers. Indeed, I have held it since the 10th of August, 1969, when I was sixteen. How do I know the date? Because I was there. I remember it perfectly. I was standing at the time in a ruined coastal fortification, from World War II, near New Waterford, Cape Breton. I was up in a concrete tower (once disguised as a church steeple), looking down over a field of blank concrete slabs (once pretending to be a churchyard). It must have happened around two o’clock in the afternoon, Atlantic time; which is to say, about Vespers, GMT.
At the time, I will admit, I was not entirely certain that the world had come to an end that day. But everything I have since read or otherwise learned has tended to confirm my initial observation.
People often ask me what happened that day. “It was the end of the world,” I reply. “You are asking me to mention something bigger? What else could you want? Surely the end of the world will do for a newscast.”
Pressed on the point, of what happened on the day the world ended, I say, “Nothing much.” It ended, after all, not with a bang as everyone had expected, but instead with a whimper, or less. Pressed further, I recall that the LaBianca murders also happened on that day, “But that was sheer coincidence.”
I am even asked what happened to me on that day, as if my own personal fate could have any significance against this world-historical background. “Again, nothing much,” I explain. “The usual adolescent stuff, you know. Unrequited love & all that.”
And nothing much has happened, since; or at least, nothing much good has happened. Forty-three years, & a half, have passed in which people have gone on, not realizing it is over, pretending to themselves that the end of the world has not, in fact, happened. It is obtuse to look to the future for something that has already occurred in the past. I protest against this general obtuseness, & argue earnestly that it must be overcome. We have reached the point of stasis, at the end of the pendulum; we hover there. But I look for some movement, sooner or later, in which the pendulum begins to swing back, the other way.