Lucifer’s Kingdom

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagoni...

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Saul Alinsky has become somewhat notorious for dedicating  his book “Rules for Radicals” to the “first radical” Lucifer. The dedication reads,

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical: from whom all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins – or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom-Lucifer.

Alinsky was wrong. Lucifer did not gain a kingdom. Hell is not Lucifer’s kingdom, it is his prison.

The popular conception of the Devil, which Alinsky seems to share, is shaped by John Milton’s portrayal of him in his classic epic poem “Paradise Lost“. At first glance, Lucifer appears to be noble and heroic. He has been beaten but has not given up. In the opening of the poem,  Lucifer and his angels are recovering from their lost battle and exile into Hell. Lucifer surveys his new home and gives a speech which is probably the most quoted part of Paradise Lost.

    “Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,”
Said then the lost Arch Angel, “this the seat
That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since hee
Who now is Sov’ran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equall’d, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell happy fields
Where joy for ever dwells: Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what should I be, all but less than hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign seure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n

Many readers believe that Milton has cast Lucifer as a romantic hero, a rebel who does not given up even when all seems to be lost but instead, makes the best of his circumstances. Milton seems to be on the Devil’s side.

In fact, Milton is more clever than that. Lucifer’s speech is bravado. Because he will not acknowledge God as his Creator and Lord, Lucifer loses everything, even his own self in his pursuit of vengeance. His comment about the mind making a Heaven or Hell means more than he intends. The mind may make its Heaven or Hell, but Heaven or Hell makes the mind, as Milton shows when Lucifer enters Paradise to tempt Adam and Eve.

Haply so ‘scaped his mortal snare; for now
Satan, now first inflam’d with rage, came down,
The Tempter ere th’Accuser of mankind
To Wreak on innocent frail Man his loss
Of that first battle, and his flight to Hell:
Yet not rejoicing in his speed, though bold,
Far off and fearless, nor with cause to boast,
Begins his dire attempt, which nigh the birth
Now rolling boils in his tumultuous breast,
And like a devilish engine back recoils
Upon himself; horror and doubt distract
His troubl’d thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The Hell within him, for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step more than from himself can fly
By change of place

Lucifer realizes this and despairs

which way shall I fly?
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threat’ning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav’n.

He considers giving up and asking for pardon, but he cannot do it. His hatred and pride will not allow him to submit. Even if God forgives him, Lucifer knows he will rebel again.

But say could repent and could obtain
By Act of Grace my former state; how soon
Would heighth recall high thoughts, how soon unsay
What feign’d submission swore: ease would recant
Vows made in pain, as violent and void
For never can true reconcilement grow
Where wounds of deadly hate have pierc’d so deep:
Which would but lead me to a worse relapse,
And heavier fall: so should I purchase dear
Short intermission bought with double smart.
This knows my punisher; therefore as far
From granting hee, as I from begging peace:
All hope excluded thus, behold instead
Of us out-cast, exil’d, his new delight
Mankind created and for him this World.
So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good; by thee at least
Divided Empire with Heav’n’ss King I hold
By thee, and more than half perhaps will reign
As Man erelong, and this new World shall know

Lucifer is successful at tempting Adam and Eve, but in the end he fails. He and all his demons are changed into serpents. But even  worse is the transformation that Lucifer has caused to himself. From being Lucifer, the bright Morning Star, he has become Satan, the Enemy of God and man, the Devil, the Liar. From being the greatest of the Arch Angels he has devolved into a being consumed with hatred and pride. Hardly a model for the successful rebel.

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