Saturday, November 5, 2011

Occupy Wall Street as an Heretical, Medieval Cult

If you check out the coverage of Occupy Wall Street from conservative sites like Big Government, America Spectator and The Weekly Standard, instead of relying strictly on the mainstream media, it becomes clear that there are three main groups of people involved in the uprising:

1. There are relatively ordinary people, especially idealistic young people, with cell phones, high student debts and often no job. They have been taught in university that capitalism is evil, socialism is benign and communism badly misunderstood. They don't have a clue what really is wrong or how to fix it. They are the focus of the mainstream media, however, because they seem like a group that a large number of independent voters can relate to.

2. There are street people, petty criminals, mentally disturbed people and sexual predators mixed in among the others and causing havoc. Here is a "rap-sheet" for OWS, a compilation of stories about various crimes committed or alledged against people involved in the anti-capitalist movement. No wonder the latest poll shows the growing unpopularity of OWS; its approval rating is not down to 30%.

3. There are ideologically aware, left-wing agitators who range from the Communist Party, the Democratic Socialists of America to union organizers, environmentalists, and anarchists. Here are their signs from the Occupy Oakland general strike march. See here, for example, and here, or just google "Democratic Socialists of America + Occupy". They are using the naive "dupes" for their own ideological purposes.

Absolutely nothing new has been said by the OWS movement. It is important to realize that it is just rehashing the same old anti-capitalist rhetoric the kids learned in university classes from tenured, aging hippies like Bill Ayers who have been predicting the imminent collapse of capitalism - any day now - since the 1840s.

If anything coherent is behind OWS it is Marxism in its most day-dreamy, extreme, religious form. Marxism is actually nothing new in Western culture. It is another expression of millenarian cults that have risen up periodically with a radical message that society is corrupt and the end of the present order is near since the 13th century.

Norman Cohn's book, The Pursuit of the Millennium, is not about Marxism. But it is essential for understanding Marxism. (I scored a copy of the 3rd edition for $4.00 at the Trinity College booksale a couple of weeks ago, thus enabling me to remove it from my Amazon cart.) Originally published in 1957, this remains the only book on its subject: "the tradition of revolutionary millenarianism and mystical anarchism, as it developed in western Europe between the 11th and 16th centuries." (p. 9)

Chapter 6 deals with "The Emperor Frederick as Messiah" and discusses the emergence of the heretical thought of Joachim of Fiore, which was a forerunner of Marxism. Cohn writes:
In the course of the 13th century yet another kind of eschatology appeared alongside the eschatologies derived from the Book of Revelation and the Sibylline Oracles - alongside them at first, but soon blending with them. The inventor of the new prophetic system, which was to be the most influential one known to Europe until the appearance of Marxism, was Joachim of Fiore (1145-1202). Ater many years spent in brooding over the Scriptures this Caliabrian abbot and hermit received, some time between 1190 and 1195, an inspiration which seemed to reveal in them a concealed meaning of unique predictive value. (p. 108)
Joachim forecast a new interpretation of history as consisting of three stages: the age of the Father (or Law), the age of the Son (or Gospel), and the age of the Spirit, which "would be to its predecessors as broad daylight compared with starlight and dawn, as high summer compared with winter and spring." (p. 108) Whereas the first age had been the age of fear and the second of faith and filial submission, the third would be an age of joy and freedom when all men would know God directly. The world would be a vast monastery in which all men would contemplate God mystically and ecstatically.

Cohn points out that the long-term influence of Joachim's vision can be traced right down to the present day, most clearly in the 19th century 'philosophies of history' of Schelling, Ficte, Lessing and Hegel, as well as in Auguste Compte's ideas and the Marxist scheme of primitive communism, class society and a final communism "which is to be the realm of freedom and in which the state will have withered away." (p. 109) Cohn also points out that the idea of the "Third Reich," first coined in 1923 by publicist Moeller van den Bruck, would not have had the emotional resonance it had in the European mind if it had not been for this "phantasy of a third and most glorious dispensation" which had "entered into the common stock of European social mythology." (p. 109)

Marxism stands in a long tradition of millenarian movements that range from the "children's crusades" to the Taborites to Thomas Muntzer and the millenarian cults in the English revolution like the Levelers and the Diggers. (I'm leaving out far more than I'm mentioning.) As such, Marxism is, for all its scientific pretensions, essentially an irrational, mystical, millenarian cult. It is eschatology for those who have lost their orthodox, Christian faith.

Occupy Wall Street is thus a dream come true for historians and anthropologists who want to study an actual contemporary example of one of these social movements in the form of living, breathing, 'true believers' rather than in dusty historical records.

In the 13th century the mainstream Church followed Thomas Aquinas in his orientation to Augustinian orthodoxy and rational (Aristotelian) science rather than Joachim and his mystical anarchism. The Church has been on the side of science and reason ever since, whereas Marxism stands in the tradition of the irrational, mystical, cultic, free-spirited, perfectionism and millenarianism stretching back centuries.

In the final analysis, it is not possible to reason with those who believe they have received a Divine revelation not accessible to most ordinary people and who believe they are on the cutting edge of history, which is about to be transformed into the kingdom of God. Like the Iranian mullahs and Adolf Hitler, the Marxists believe that no act of violence is unthinkable when the result is going to be the kingdom of God on earth!

Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that Divine revelation coheres with natural law and reason and therefore can be debated, discussed and understood by all who wish to engage in study and dialogue. Marxism, by way of contrast, like all heretical cults, requires the sacrifice of the intellect, the acceptance of secret revelation and irrational belief in the goodness of man, the imminence of the millennium and the need for purifying, revolutionary violence as the doorway to utopia.

It is little wonder that people who believe such things had to be suppressed by force by the public authorities in previous centuries and it is likely that free and rational societies will need to defend themselves against the forces of lawless disorder again in the future. We would do well to heed the warning from the OWS Oakland sign: "We came unarmed, this time."

Will a culture sunk deep into postmodern relativism, sexual promiscuity, hedonistic materialism, uncontrolled public debt and declining educational standards be able to muster the strength to resist the anarchistic cultists? And will it be able to do so without falling into tyrannical dictatorship? Do we have it in us to overcome another Nazi death cult without losing democracy?

These are the questions that should preoccupy all of us today.


S Masson said...

One of your most insightful posts.


David said...

I think you may be giving the occupiers a bit too much credit. The apocalyptic element we see through Christian history, Joachim and later the voices from the anabaptist Munster rebellion represent disordered intellectual and spiritual desire. It's a bit like the way love of one's children and family can be the seeds of violence in order to advance their causes or, say, sectarianism. Peter's righteous desire for self preservation becomes disordered into cowardice and leads him to deny Christ. We see Joachim or Savonorola as madmen, but I'd much rather trying to reason with them then some of the occupiers! With them there's a tradition of enquiry to draw on, core texts to work with, the core of virtue that has been disfigured, as Gollum is a mutated Smeagol, but it's there!
With the occupiers there is nothing except a series of oughts which haven't been subjected to rational analysis. These oughts are themselves the product of their being shaped by a mass media and so are nothing more than the bleating of "four legs good, two legs bad". They are, not so much After Virtue, as after ethics! There is nothing but totemic allegiances there, no critique or analysis, coherent or otherwise, no reason to engage!
I think the Savonorolas and the Joachims serve as both a cautionary tale but also an reminder to avoid the cultural compromise that Christianity can become beholden too. The protestors, and I've spent two full days with them here in Halifax, speaking to them and trying to learn from them, are "couch surfers" who have cottened on to a good thing and are getting funded and told that they're Che Guevara for doing what they do always (minus the windshield washing)!
Give me Joachim any day :)

NathanColquhoun said...

At the very least it looks like a group of people that Jesus would have been found with, especially your second group.

Craig Carter said...

If Jesus went to OWS he would go to seek and to save that which is lost. He would not be a OWS protester marching against capitalism. Absolutely nothing in the Gospels would indicate that he would join in the drive for more socialism in society. He came to bring the Kingdom of God, not another social/political program devised in the imaginations of fallen men.

NathanColquhoun said...

Huh? I just said your description of people sounded like the people that Jesus was described being with. Never even insinuated that he'd be protesting. But he'd probably be there.

Craig Carter said...

Glad to hear that you don't think Jesus would support OWS. Most left-leaning people I know think he would.