The Second Coming of the Beast

“the beast that was, and is not, and yet is”

Revelations 17:8

An excellent essay on Substack explains why what C.S. Lewis called “that hideous strength” is these days most hideously strong.  The author’s purpose is to damp all callow optimism about the restoration many say will follow from a “red wave” in the upcoming midterm elections.  Should such a “red wave” rise and tumble over the beach of American politics, it may yield a good deal of red foam, and red spray, and red thunder, but, like all waves, it will then run back down into the ocean, leaving the sand on the beach undisturbed.

Progressivism is “that hideous strength,” and if Progressives lose the House and Senate next November, the House and Senate will be the only instruments of power they will lose.  They will retain almost all the apparatus of propaganda, almost all the key points in law, almost all the vast and oily quasi-government of foundations and NGO’s, and—most crucially—the minds of almost all American youth under thirty.

Against this hideous strength, a little bitty “red wave” will do little more than foam, spray, thunder—and then withdraw without leaving a trace.

This is because the roots of “that hideous strength” run much, much deeper than mere politics.  The author of the Substack essay tells us that its deepest taproot is the spiritual malaise caused by nihilism and loss of the old faith.  As the author puts it, “one does not simply walk away from religious belief.”  One turns away from religious belief, sees the abyss of chaos and old night, and screams.  And then one works like a madman to beautify the brink of the abyss with the flowers and shrubs of new but mad beliefs.

The beautifying madmen and their flowers and shrubs today exercise “that hideous strength.”

* * * * *

I believe “that hideous strength” is nothing other than what St. John in his Apocalypse called “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”  This is, you must admit, a puzzling line, for it would seem to imply that this Beast both is and is not.  I will suggest an answer to this paradox, but before I do, I must deplore the fact that so much Christian writing on the apocalyptic Beast has been wasted in sectarian invective and spleen.  Whatever protestants may have wished to say against the Pope and Church of Rome, it is now clear that they could not foresee their true enemy.  They did not know,

“what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”*

I believe Yeats should have said reborn.  The title of his poem is, after all, The Second Coming.  And I believe the second coming of Yeats “rough beast” is identical with the second coming of “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”

When this “rough beast” first came and “was,” it ruled the earth as chaos and old night.  As we are told in Genesis, after that first coming of the Beast, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

The connection between the Beast and primal chaos is indicated in the dream of Daniel, where it is said, “four great beasts came up from the sea,” and that the last and greatest of these is the Beast. The Beast is a force of pure destruction that was, in Daniel’s dream,

“dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it.”

The sea is a symbol of primal chaos, and the Beast is the rule of chaos and old night that governed the earth—that “was”—before God’s act of creation.  Hence the Beast hates God’s creation and seeks to destroy it by devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping the residue under its feet.

The creation the Beast hates and seeks to destroy was accomplished when “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,” and the rule of chaos and old night was replaced by the rule of logos and light.  The Beast was replaced by the logos that is Christ, and this is why the Beast hates that logos and seeks to destroy it.

With God’s act of creation through the logos that is Christ, the Beast of chaos and old night lost its dominion over the earth.  This is why John described it as the Beast that “was and is not.”  John tells us that the act of creation threw the Beast into a “bottomless pit,” this being the very abyss that so horrifies those who turn away from religious belief, and the brink of which they consequently attempt to beautify with the flowers and shrubs of their new and mad beliefs.

When Satan falls from Heaven in Milton’s Paradise Lost, he finds the Beast of chaos and old night already confined in the pit.  With Death at his side, Satan looks into the abyss, and this is what they see:

“Before their eyes in sudden view appear
The secrets of the hoary deep, a dark
Illimitable ocean, without bound,
Without dimension; where length, breadth and height,
And time, and place, are lost; were eldest Night
And Chaos, ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal anarchy, amidst the noise
Of endless wars, and by confusion stand.”

The pit is ruled by the anti-logos of the Beast, and both Daniel and John agree that this Beast will one day rise from the pit and seek to undo creation and restore its rule of chaos and old night on earth.

This is the rebirth or “second coming” of the Beast.

“The beast . . . shall ascend out of the bottomless pit”. (Revelations 17:8).

“And he shall . . . think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand” (Daniel 7:25).

“The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces” (Daniel 7: 24).

The kingdom of the Beast will be “diverse from all kingdoms” because its kingdom will rebel not only against God, but also against Nature and the logos of creation.  This is why Daniel tells us that the Beast will “think to change times and laws.”  The Beast will think to return to the time before “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,” and it will think to replace the logos that is Christ with the anti-logos of chaos and old night.

This is what Daniel means when he says the Beast will “devour the whole earth,” “tread it down,” and “break it in pieces.”  Or what Yeats means when he says in his great poem:

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

Mere anarchy is loosed and the world (i.e. the divine cosmic order) is devoured by the Beast.  The Beast devours, destroys, and uncreates the world by undoing and replacing the “divisions” with which God created the world, by overturning, at least for a time, the logos that is Christ.  To devour, destroy and uncreate the world, the Beast calls on men to go “beyond good and evil,” and to see that God’s creative division of male and female disguises a non-binary reality that is as “fluid” and chaotic as the primal sea.

When John says that the Beast “is not, and yet is,” I believe he means that the Beast “is not,” even in these end times, altogether free from the yoke of the logos that is Christ; and yet the Beast is, during the mere anarchy of its Fourth Kingdom, apparently free of that yoke.  The Beast cannot undo creation and restore the “time” when “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep,” but it can in this uniquely wicked Fourth Kingdom make men share its hatred for God’s creation, make men love its anti-logos, and make men join it in its work of un-creation and destruction.

To share the hatred of the Beast is the “mark of the Beast,” and likewise to love its anti-logos and to join in its work of un-creation and destruction.  And those who bear this mark have “that hideous strength” against which little bitty “red waves” can do nothing at all.

*) “The Second Coming” (1919)

33 thoughts on “The Second Coming of the Beast

  1. It is ages old, this turning tide at war with itself, inexorably enacting its struggle through material existence. The Roman Catholic Church itself for many centuries orchestrated or gave its backing to travesties in the name of God against “idolators” (the slaughter of the Albigensians, for example) with a curious similarity to the intransigent ideologues of modern godless nihilism. Why should another appearance of this back-and-forth struggle be a surprise now?

    I read through, rather quickly, the essay to which you allude. One point I note: the author acknowledges that the seeds planted in the 50s in the US by the Frankfurt school (which were in fact here decades before in another form in lesser profusion) took 50 years to grow into its full destructive fruition. And now their belladonna — the only thing they planted — is dying (and what is to revive it, as it feeds upon what is left of itself?). More importantly, what of the hopeful seeds newly planted and growing apace to take its place? My gosh, I see it everywhere, even among young people. The author doesn’t write of those.

    In passing, as most of us know, Yeats was an occultist, for whom magic played an essential part (along with Crowley and that lot). I wish I could remember the title of the essay in which the author demonstrated that Yeats’s reference to “the second coming” and “the Beast” was not “of Christ” and “the devil,” but rather something else (which I have forgotten, could have been associated with a Pharoanic cult), but that the coming power of “the Beast” was to Yeats a welcoming. If I can find that essay again, I’ll append it.

    • I agree that the second coming of the Beast should not be understood solely in terms of secular time, and also that we should be very cautious in declaring that this return is the ultimate real deal of cosmic beastliness. The Substack essay is really a pretty exhaustive answer to those who say that Cultural Marxism/Political Correctness/Woke is near to having run its course. Do whatever you can to foster those hopeful seeds, but we should not be Pollyannaa about the most probable future. Yeats certainly had a great deal of Celtic mythology mixed up with whatever Christianity he may have had, but I try not to be too much of a puritan when I look at the faith of other people. Puritans purge tend to purge old superstitions, thereby opening themselves to all the superstitions of their own day and age. I doubt anyone has ever been “purely” Christian, and I’m not sure anyone should wish to be.

  2. That Hideous Strength is excellent philosophy, plausible and prescient, but bad literature. The good thing about the latter is, in being dated, it gives a sense of a specific time and place.

    Ed Dutton comments that Leftists, being highly neurotic and convinced the world is a dangerous and threatening place, never feel they are power even when they are. One such person commented that there are Rightist think tanks and one or two private conservative colleges to explain his sense of siege. Hence, the Leftist urge to eliminate even these puny holdouts.

    Apparently, monopolists everywhere see threats to their stranglehold around every corner. Having achieved supremacy they have nowhere to go but down, after all.

    • We point out the hypocrisies of the Left and their contradictions and they just laugh and
      /or ignore us and continue on with their world dominating agenda. The Right have no agenda of their own and so spit in empty fury.

      • That’s exactly right, no serious agenda, just vain hopes for office in the next election. This is what the Substack essay nails on the head.

      • The left/right binary originates in and defines the Leftist worldview. I don’t accept and, in fact, reject that bifurcation of humanity — of consciousness. One ought not place oneself within that theoretical construct.

      • You may not be interested in the left/right binary, but the left/right binary is interested in you. You may, perhaps, transcend the constructs and categories of the privacy of your own closet, but those are the constructs and categories that are in force when you step into the street.

      • Their ideas, if you can call them that, occupy no place in my consciousness. You may not be willing to speak publicly what you actually think, but I am and do. I have noticed that many who consider themselves conservative are entombed in the Leftist worldview and outwardly express their compliance with and submission to it. This is my disagreement with you which we touched on in the past. One must be willing to express one’s ideas and defend them and never give in. Why? Because our ideas are better, more nutritious to the human soul, worthy of our protection and dissemination.

      • If I was unwilling to speak publicly what I actually think, I would not write posts like this one. If I lived in India, I would have to be “conscious” of the Hindu worldview, even though it was not my “consciousness.” I do not share the “consciousness” Left, but I am rightly conscious of it.

      • Yes. As I am, but they’re view does not matter to me. I do not call myself right-wing because I am not: Only in the mind of a Leftist am I right-wing. I’m conservative because I recognize and value the wisdom of the ages and wish to, and work towards in my own small way, its conservation and dissemination. I think you are fundamentally similar to me in this regard. Where we differ, as far as I can tell, is that glass half-full, half-empty sense of things. Perhaps this is because I work outside of the rotten edifice of institutional higher education where I see very hopeful things happening.

  3. I agree that Hideous Strength has shortcomings as literature. As was evident in Screwtape Letters, Lewis was much better writing about bad people than good. You are quite right about the paranoia of neurotic Leftists, which is cruelly ironic to men in our position. I’m pretty reticent at the university, but have still been warned that any less reticence might make people feel unsafe. If Marxists were persecuted in academia, it was well before my time and so outside the experience of anyone working today.

  4. I would not describe that substack essay as ‘excellent’ – it is grossly over-complicated and contains many dubious/wrong – because completely ‘materialistic’ – assumptions (e.g. about how evil ideas arise and spread, where they originate and why).

    e.g. It never mentions God/ Christ/ Satan/ devil or demons – and only mentions ‘sin’ in order to misuse/ parody the concept. There is zero comprehension that this is a spiritual war.

    I really think this kind of complex, secular, politics-level analysis is worse than a waste of time – not least because what the author regards as a ‘good’ outcome is nothing of the sort; but just itself some kind of more moderate, but fully-secular, God-excluding/ pro-demonic Leftism.

    • Not perfect but well above the average. Anything that gets those who oppose the Beast to look deeper than politics is good, in my opinion, even if it doesn’t go to the absolute bottom of the question. Going straight to the absolute bottom of the question risks losing readers who are prejudiced by what you and Barfield call “residual unresolved positivism.” One must, for instance, use the word demonic judiciously when the public has a cartoon notion of demons. Indeed, before one gets to the absolute bottom of the Beast, one discovers that it has bent the language so that it is hard to talk about the Beast without sounding crazy. It seems to me this author goes deeper than most while still sounding like a wonk, and that sounding like wonk good for an evangelist when the world is wonky.

      • @JMS – That was what many thousands of people were saying about Jordan Peterson just a few years ago… I know, they kept saying it to me!

        These complex, half-correct, better than average – yet *wrong* – explanations (rooted in secular assumptions of causation) are not necessarily better that the non-explanations of the mainstream; because far too many people get tangled up in them. We’ve had decades, generations, of such stuff – and see where it led.

        I speak from experience. I got stuck in Jung (and his school) – and short of being a Christian – for more than 20 years. That is the usual result – and anyway there is no time left to us for such ‘semi-truths’.

        There are just the two sides, and the choice between them. Providing ‘better’ but still fundamentally wrong, explanations may well do more harm than good; because they seem to provide an alternative to the more obvious incoherence and gross dishonesty of mainstream discourse.

        The mainstream media (or any media with mainstream secular assumptions) just is not a place where truth can be broached, argued or discussed; and the attempt to engage and do so is itself corrupting.

        If anywhere; such matters can only be discussed one to one, and on the basis of the right and shared basic assumptions – or, at least, with people who are prepared honestly to examine their own metaphysical assumptions.

      • I have yet to read more by the author of the Substack essay, so I really cannot say what his limitations might be. He does put the spiritual vacuum front and center, and he doesn’t tout the facile remedies of voting Republican, growing the economy, and “strong family values.” The line that always pops into my mind is the admonition of Aragorn to Frodo at the Prancing Pony, “you’re not scared enough, you don’t know what you are up against.” What I also learned from reading about secret, underground societies, is that they always initiate by degrees. As you say, many will get “stuck” in some half-way house of semi-spiritual understanding, but they will not start the journey if you start out telling them exactly how far they have to go. You may be right that we do not have time for “semi-truths,” but I say in that case that we do not have enough time.

        I agree with your last two paragraphs and do not look forward to any mass conversion to our point of view. Those who wear “the mark of the Beast” are in God’s hands, quite beyond my power of persuasion (and downright dangerous to me). Those who are just a little queasy with it all, I will try to initiate by degrees. Some may have the charismatic power to convert them with immediate disclosure of the “whole truth,” but I don’t.

      • @BGC I actually disagree a bit, I don’t think it’s like Jordan Peterson.

        The value of the sub stack piece is a concise description of the what. He really doesn’t delve very much into why or even offer solutions. However it is a an excellent description of the size and disposition of enemy forces in an admittedly unfortunately secular sense.

        JBP provided rules for life, “positive” (in the philosophical sense) suggestions, etc. The sub stack article is perhaps better for Christians to read, emphasizing that a merely worldly solution is not going to happen. We’re also prone to thinking that “eh, things won’t be so bad” and going back to sleep.

    • The article I refer to is also a reaction to this sort of callow optimism. I think it does a good job of showing that the foundations of Wokeism are much deeper than many suppose.

      • The foundations were always tissue thin are are now rotted through and collapsing under their feet. One may find oneself sinking with them (I don’t, myself). But that is because one has been subsumed by the Leftist worldview, and has accepted his place as an oppositional force within the worldview of another– rather than as a free man whose consciousness is not limited to the theoretical classifications of the shallow and fraudulent pseudo-intellectuals, like Marx, Sartre et al.

      • “The foundations were always tissue thin are are now rotted through and collapsing under their feet.”

        Wokeists, like Christians, like the pagan holdouts who worshipped at Ba’albek, like the Hasidim still waiting on the Messiah, indeed like everyone who accepts a faith-based tenet, do not care about your exquisite reasoning. The author of the essay is exactly right: people do not just walk away from religious belief and the void of meaning has not been filled. Wokeism therefore will persist. It has plenty of money and sentiment behind it, and it has no limiting principle: diversity, tolerance, justice, equity, fairness!. It’s like asking a Christian if there’s such a thing as too much theosis.

        I agree with you insofar as this: wokeism will last only as long as the money is good, and the money’s still good.

      • The metaphysical hunger for meaning and righteousness is one foundation. The other is the resentment that naturally occurs when visibly different subpopulations live side by side and enjoy markedly different degrees of material success. This difference will have to be “theorized” in one way or another, and Woke is the theory that rationalizes the resentment. Every society must deal with class conflict, some but not all of which is just plebeian envy, and this gets much harder when the patricians don’t look like the plebeians. Add the abyss of post-Christian nihilism and you have a gift that will keep on giving for a very long time.

  5. As I have written many times elsewhere, throughout the ages, we are witness to the Leftist’s Circular Firing Squad. It always happens, whatever label may have applied historically (now they call themselves Leftists). It is a function of animal nature, heightened (to outrageous depths) in a small percentage of the human-animal population. These few cause most of the trouble on the planet; have done so since the beginning of recorded human history.

      • I don’t think you have been paying attention to the myriad incidents that prove the rule I call the Leftist’s Circular Firing Squad. Even now, in America, we are witness to it on a daily basis. More collquially: “throwing your comrade-in-arms under the bus” when jockeying for supremacy.

      • My observation is that “throwing your comrade-in-arms under the bus” is a vice of the Right. Moderate Democrats make excuses for the radical Left. Moderate Republicans . . .

  6. The purpose of the so-called ‘right’ in this system of the mass politicization of the mass man is now as it ever has been: to secure the flank of the perpetual revolution against retrenchment. This shallow reaction is nothing more than an integral part of the dialectic of liberalism working itself out in time.

    As such, it is nothing to inspire excitement or hope in the hearts of those who love the uttermost West. Scorn and disdain are closer the mark.

    It is good for us in these latter days to remember that, despite the evil that has been wormed into our hearts since our earliest days by this hideous project, the salvation of man does not come through politics, of whatever stripe. Damnation often does, but never salvation.

    • Politics is not of ultimate importance but it is often of immediate importance. John Maynard Keynes said “in the end we’re all dead,” which entails JMSmith’s corollary: “until the end we’re still alive.”

      • It’s often very, very important, on this we agree wholeheartedly. The serfs may not want war, but that doesn’t mean the baron’s men don’t come requisition their crops for it anyway.

        I just caution against losing your soul to it, either through despair or enthusiasm, and point out that this is a particularly salient danger, since that is the exact mechanism by which our system of governance justifies itself to itself.

      • I’m sitting in the waiting room of an orthodontist, waiting for my daughter, tapping out a post on this very thing.

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