Pushing the Eschaton

It is in the discourse of the Right a commonplace that liberal policies implement Ponzi schemes; that their wild prodigality can be justified only on the basis of magical thinking which supposes that economic and cultural goods pour forth inexhaustibly from some mysterious cornucopia, rather than as products of unstinting, intelligent, diligent, difficult, costly labor rightly and prudently directed. In this liberalism has always reminded me of the cargo cults that sprang up among natives all over Oceania in the 20th Century after their contact with Europeans, especially during and after WWII. But of these cargo cults I had had only the most cursory knowledge. I knew only that some cargo cultists thought that if they mocked up a semblance of an airstrip, planes full of goods would land to disgorge them (“If we build it, they will come;” we see the same sort of thinking at work in those who suppose that if they just show up in a nice suit or arrive in Sweden, life will be for them thenceforth all wine and roses (and blondes)).

I’m reading Mircea Eliade’s The Two and the One, wherein he discusses the cargo cults. Now that thanks to him I now know a bit more about them, my hunch about liberalism has borne out to a truly spooky degree. Consider the following extended passages (page 125 ff.), and feel the prickle of the hairs on your neck as you begin to comprehend the true immensity of the intellectual gulf that separates us from latter day liberals:

In the years 1944-5, a strange new cult appeared in the island of Espiritu Santo, one of the New Hebrides. A certain Tsek, the founder of the cult, sent the following message round the villages: men and women must take off and throw away their cache-sexe and take off their pearl necklaces and other ornaments. “Destroy all these objects,” he added, “which you got from the Whites, also all mats and basket-making tools. Burn your houses and build two large dormitories in each village: one for the men and the other for the women. Couples must no longer sleep together at night. Build also a large kitchen, in which you will prepare your meals while it is still daylight; it is strictly forbidden to cook during the night. Stop working for the Whites. Slaughter all domestic animals: pigs, dogs, cats, etc.” Tsek also ordered the suppression of many tribal taboos: for example the prohibition of marriage within the totemic group [i.e., the clan of close kin taking their common descent from a totem animal], the obligation to buy a wife, the segregation of the young mother after childbirth. Funerary customs were also to be changed: a dead man must no longer be buried in his hut but exposed on a wooden platform in the jungle. But the most sensational part of Tsek’s message was that “America” would soon arrive on the island; all adepts of the cult would receive enormous quantities of goods; and … they would never die, they would live forever.

… the principal interest of this eschatological nudist cult lies in its paradisiacal elements. What Tsek announces in his message is in fact the imminent restoration of Paradise on Earth. Men will no longer work; they will have no more need for tools, domestic animals or possessions. Once the old order is abolished the laws, rules and taboos will lose their reason. The prohibitions and customs sanctioned by tradition will give place to absolute liberty; in the first place to sexual liberty, to orgy. For, in human society, it is sexual life that is subject to the strictest taboos and constraints. To be free from laws, prohibitions and customs, is to rediscover primordial liberty and blessedness, the state which preceded the present human condition, in fact the paradisiacal state. In Judaeo-Christian language, this is the situation of Adam before the Fall. So the malamala, or nudists of Espiritu Santo, try to make their sexual conduct like that of animals, that is to say to cast away all shame, for they consider themselves without sin. This too is why they expect both immortality and the coming of the Americans loaded with gifts.

… in a number of cases, millenarist movements have also rejected the traditional forms of Melanesian religion. The masks of the secret societies have been destroyed and women allowed to participate in the esoteric ceremonies. The traditional religion has sometimes been completely abandoned. … The people were preparing for the Kingdom – and all religious forms of the past had to be abolished. They were expecting a new life, regenerated from the roots, an existence doubly precious because it proclaimed itself blessed and without end. … the nudist cult of Espiritu Santo [rejected] Christianity, the ethical and economic values of the Whites, and the traditional tribal customs and prohibitions, all at once. They were preparing for the return of Paradise.

It’s all there, no? Like the Social Justice Warriors, the cargo cultists were trying to immanentize the eschaton. And their methods were the same. Reading, I kept thinking of Burning Man. And Rousseau and the French Revolution, the Cathars and Bogomils, the Gnostics and Mazdaks. Utopians, the lot of them. The main difference between the nudist iconoclasts of Espiritu Santo and all prior chiliastic cults on the one hand, and on the other those epitomized by Burning Man, is that for the latter, the cornucopia they do not understand has for decades already been disgorging for their enjoyment a torrent of goods. Compared to their ancestors, or anyone at any other time in history, they need to work almost not at all (almost all jobs these days (including my own) would look to our forebears like sinecures). The only thing missing is immortality – and they have faith that “the Americans” will soon deliver it through gene therapy or AI.

The liberal rejection of the traditions, customs, morality, and sexual orders developed over millennia of scarcity and insecurity makes some sense when we consider that scarcity and insecurity seem to have been more or less routed in the West since WWII. Those with eyes to see understand that this seeming is a phantasm. But we can at least understand how our fellow citizens might thus err, and honestly think themselves in the right – so that they think their own is the “reality based” party. If reality really were a cornucopia, they would be right.

But, of course, the world isn’t a cornucopia. Maintaining things in good orderly fashion, so that the cosmos continues as such, involves a lot of work, for all creatures. So the latter day cornucopians among our fellows are wrong.

A few pages later, Eliade discusses the traditional cults of Melanesia, almost all of which expect an eventual cataclysm that will destroy the universe and open ontological room for a rebirth of the world in its original paradisiacal perfection, into which the faithful of the cult will be reborn in immortal bodies.

If so many “cargo cults” assimilated millenarist Christian ideas, it is because the natives rediscovered in Christianity their old, traditional eschatological myth. The resurrection of the dead, proclaimed by Christianity, was a familiar idea to them.

As in so many traditional cultures, this eschatological reboot is iterated synecdochally at the turn of each New Year, so that for the traditional cults of Melanesia the maintenance of the current world order, too, depends upon an annual recurrence of the acts by which this world and its perfected successor are both originally made. This recurrence is effected on the part of the Human Beings (as traditional societies all call themselves) by the priesthood, who mime the creative acts of the Immortals. Eliade describes the rite deployed by the Indians of Northern California:

These tribes call their principal religious ceremony “the restoration of the World,” the repair or fixing of the World.

… The core of the esoteric rite consists of a story or dialogue relating the words of the Immortal Spirits. The recitation is accompanied by mimes symbolizing the actions of the Immortals in mythical times. All the rituals together amount to a presentation of the building of the Cosmos.

… the itineraries followed not only faithfully imitate those of the Immortals but also imply the repetition of their actions in mythical times, actions which caused the World to take the form which it preserves to this day.

A sacred communal meal is an essential part of the rite.

The priest represents or rather incarnates the Immortals. This is stressed by his titles and by the taboos to which he is subject. He is called an “immortal person” or “spirit person.” During the ceremony – especially when he lights the fires and when he is eating – no one may look at him.

… [Thus], on New Year’s Day the Immortals are considered to be present on Earth again.

… The World is not only restabilized and regenerated, but it is also sanctified by the symbolic presence of the Immortals. The priest who incarnates them becomes – for a certain period of time – an “immortals person.”

Any Christian who has studied the theology of the Eucharist will see the parallels. Each Eucharistic celebration on Earth is a participation and instance of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb proceeding sempiternally in Heaven, and a salient here below of the Life of Heaven. It is by that Wedding, which completes the integration of all worlds, that worlds are made in the first place, and are maintained. So the Eucharist is in a sense a rehearsal of the procedure of Creation, as well as an anticipation and foretaste of our eschatological destiny.

I adduce the palmary rites of the Californians and of the Church because in their intentions they differ radically from those of the cargo cults and the liberals. The former reiterate and uphold tradition; the latter destroy it. The former seek to join with the divine in the maintenance of cosmic order; the latter seek by Pelagian operations magically to push the onset of the eschaton, and so to realize for themselves, now, the Resurrection to everlasting life. They seek the end of this world as a solution to their own practical problems. This they do by living now as if the tikkun olam had been accomplished already for them, so that the rules of this world no longer applied to them; and so that they may, and indeed should, destroy all the traditional forms that had perennially furnished social coherence and survival.

Is the cost of their profound moral inversion the eventual utter deliquescence of social life – which is to say, mass death? So be it, they say; bring it on: to make an omelette, you need to break some eggs. All the chiliastic cults eagerly anticipate a holocaust of the infidels, and are ready, indeed impatient, to get started with it.

Neither the traditional nor the revolutionary utopian sorts of cults doubt that there is to be an eschaton, and thereafter a heavenly rest for the elect. The crucial, immense difference between them – in virtue of which they are perfect opposites, and therefore fundamentally opposed – is that the former are content to wait upon the Lord, to serve and imitate him, while the latter would push him to act. If you think about it for half a moment, that’s just about the craziest notion imaginable; ergo, the most lethal.

10 thoughts on “Pushing the Eschaton

  1. Pingback: Pushing the Eschaton | Neoreactive

  2. Pingback: Pushing the Eschaton | Reaction Times

  3. Other than the orgies, you haven’t got a clue about Burning Man, which really doesn’t have much eschatology about it. Transitoriness is an essential part of the event, if it builds a carnival world where normal morals are inverted, it is done with the knowledge that it is all going to evaporate in a week.

    If you have to look for a ritual predecessor, it’s more like a potlatch, where the well-off compete to extravagantly give away or destroy their wealth. Far from being parasites, a very large number of the participants have day jobs in the technology industry, and a good deal of the wealth come from there.

    • You’ve missed the point of the post, it seems.

      All such festivals of the World Turned Upside Down are transitory, so the fact that Burning Man is likewise evanescent is neither here nor there. Likewise they all engage the aristoi and the wealthy, so that doesn’t tell either.

      The difference between Burning Man and traditional festivals of moral inversion and libertinism during a “time out of time” is that the traditional sort end their catharsis with a return to normal, lawful social life, in which sexual roles are again rigidly enforced. Burning Man is different. Participants return from it to a “normal” social order in which the inversion of morals exemplified at Burning Man is more and more routine, pervasive, and rigidly enforced.

      Turning back to Oceania, the traditional societies of Melanesia that celebrated the New Year with a transitory orgiastic bacchanal did so in the context of an overarching ritual drama that reinforced their traditional religions and moral codes. The cargo cultists on the other hand sought to make the orgiastic bacchanal a permanent, regular characteristic of everyday life, and rejected their traditional religions and moral codes. Burning Man is more like the latter than the former.

    • The purpose of the potlach is to reestablish social hierarchy, not to annihilate social hierarchy. As Marcel Mauss explains so lucidly in The Gift (1925), while the spectacle of the potlach consists of competitive generosity and conspicuous consumption, those activities are accompanied by “total services” – everything from swap-meet bartering to the arrangement of marriages. Archaic customs have never permitted parasitism; liberalism enshrines it as a privilege.

      Nevertheless, O Formless One, I must congratulate you on one of the funniest lines I’ve ever read. The next time a stranger asks me how I make my living, I shall reply: “I work in the technology industry.”

      The technology industry!

  4. In my estimation, the Modern cargo cult of Liberalism actually errs in its efforts to bring about paradise:

    1) without God
    2) without epidemic destruction

    Note that the end times are full of harshness and brutality, paranoia and fear. the Liberal doesn’t see this as a possibility because he sees the world getting better and better. Richer, more advanced, more educated, more tolerant! He seems to reject the theological concept of the eschaton entirely because he is blind to any indication of decline or decay, thus he makes his own eschaton the ‘end of history’ which beyond any kind of spiritual bounty is focused around abundance and to some degree a kind of artificial ‘immortality’. For the Liberal, what evil there is in the world is caused by institutions, rather than the sinfulness of man, and so these institutions must be eliminated. He cannot abide any kind of cyclical view, any notion that we might sink back into those ‘backward days of superstition!’

    Because of this, his most dangerous tendency is to forestall the inevitable using totalitarianism. He would rather humanity be entirely enslaved than be Traditional.

    I had not previously been very aware of what ‘Burning Man’ was, but reading about it makes my flesh creep. Sounds like a Jonestown just waiting to happen.

    • Yes. I’m learning all sorts of good stuff (finding myself compelled to underline lots of the text) and making some new connections of my own (some pretty extensive marginalia have been posted to its pages). Nothing earth-shattering, but all intensely satisfying. The latest marginalium:

      In many creation myths the world is fashioned in whole or in part from the pieces of the dismembered body of the Primal Man (as Eve (ergo sex, sexual dimorphism, marriage, marital complementarity, childbirth, wide hips to accommodate large brain pans, neoteny, family life, society, culture, war, commerce – everything that makes human life peculiarly human) was fashioned from a piece of Adam’s body). At the fulfillment of Time, the dismembered Adam is reassembled to new and everlasting life (and so is the world that was made of its first dismemberment)(this is the Marriage of Heaven). Calendrically reiterated sacrifices support the maintenance of the created order insofar as they participate this process of creation, destruction, and renewal, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” The purpose of the holocaust is to reassemble celestially the dismembered (and mostly eaten) earthly body of the sacrificial victim, thus to heal and what is more, to deify it (so that the sacrificial death works out very well in the end for the victim, and the commensal communicants in the feast of his earthly body needn’t feel guilty thereat). The smoke of the holocaust is pleasing to the god (a notion that to our modern ears is revolting) because by the pyre his child and martyr is restored to full communion with him. The god eats the victim, too; this is how the victim is furnished with and obtains his theosis (reports of the heavenly ascent often recount the shedding or stripping or burning away of earthly garments, of the Body of Death, and clothing in angelic raiment, in the Resurrection Body). It is this theosis of the victim that makes his body consecrated food for its earthly communicants: the god eats the victim, the victim is thereby deified (as having been digested and absorbed into the body of the god), and his earthly flesh becomes thereby the flesh of a god, which then can enthuse his earthly communicants, either to their salvation (if they have approached the altar rightly) or to their damnation (if they have not).

      All that sprang from a single sentence of Eliade. When I happen upon a book like this, it takes a long time to read.

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