"Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest"
In the 1961 classic dystopic novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. wrote grimly of a post-apocalyptic future centered around an abbey. In its seemingly small length, A Canticle for Leibowitz weaves a veritable treasure trove of Catholic themes. For the philosophically literate, this story – or really series of stories – is a rich field waiting to be harvested. While it is classified by some as science fiction -- it is much more than that. It addresses what was in the 1950s and 1960s a very real fear: nuclear war and annihilation. In the era of Cold War saber rattling and “fallout” shelter fever, Miller envisions a future of humanity following a full-scale nuclear war. Many stories have been written about a post-nuclear war world. What makes Miller’s so different is that he uses that backdrop to tell a story and explore themes in a way that transcends that tragedy. Where many similarly themed stories are contented to merely portray the gore and struggle for survival in that awful scenario – in other words, the story is the nuclear war and its aftermath; A Canticle for Leibowitz uses it merely to jump off and explore much more.
When Miller’s future generations of monks, reduced to the intellectual and material conditions of the Dark Ages six hundred years later, distill the history of humanity’s nuclear calamity, they record in early medieval language::
So it was that after the Deluge, the Fallout, the plagues, the madness, the confusion of tongues, the rage, there began the bloodletting of the Simplification, when remnants of mankind had torn other remnants limb from limb, killing rulers, scientists, leaders, technicians, teachers, and whatever persons the leaders of the maddened mob deserved death for having helped make the Earth what it had become. Nothing had been so hateful in the sight of these mobs as the man of learning, at first because they served the princes, but then later because they refused to join in the bloodletting and tried to oppose the mobs, calling the crowds "blood thirsty simpletons."
To escape the fury of the simpleton packs, such learned people as still survived fled to any sanctuary that offered itself. When Holy Church received them, she vested them in monks' robes and tried to hide them in such monasteries and convents that had survived and could be reoccupied, for the religious were less despised by the mob except when they openly defied it and accepted martyrdom. Monasteries were invaded, records and sacred books were burned, refugees were seized and summarily hanged or burned. The Simplification had ceased to have plan or purpose soon after it began, and became an insane frenzy of mass murder and destruction such as only occurs when the last traces of social order are gone. The madness was transmitted to the children, taught as they were -- not to merely forget -- but to hate, and surges of mob fury recurred sporadically even through the fourth generation after the Deluge. By then, the fury was not directed against the learned, for there were none, but merely the literate.
Miller does not dwell extensively on the “Simpletons,” but he relays a vivid picture of an irrational orgy of senseless violence and hatred that seems to summon directly from Hell. The “intellectual” targets -- as in all purges -- are painted with broad brush and include eventually those who merely refuse further bloodletting. One of the heroes of Miller’s novel (someone ironically we never meet) is Leibowitz, a learned convert who founds an order to preserve what was left of civilization from the barbaric Simpletons. The book follows Leibowitz’s order and monastery through the centuries.
It would be speculative to believe that Miller imagined his Simpletons as an allegorical theme rather than a literary device. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what group of people that Miller thought the Simpletons represented in his world. But more than fifty years after Miller’s book, we can see that the Simpletons are becoming less and less a fictional account -- they are coming and they are us.
How can I write this in an era in which the cult of science reigns and the gods of technology rule with Chinese-built precision? How can I seriously contend that bloodthirsty mobs filled with hatred, like Miller’s Simpletons, are becoming a reality? Only seemingly a few years ago, I would have dismissed such analysis out-of-hand as the stuff of cranks or paranoid even though I would have agreed that we were witnessing a gradual yet profound cultural decline in Western Civilization. What I did not count on then -- and what I see so clearly today -- is that our cultural decline is one marked by an exponential decay.
The lethal cocktail of two generations of essentially atheistic education, an ever-increasing laxity of traditional moral notions, and a debasement of authentic aesthetic sensibilities replaced by a near obsession with the the prurient and puerile has re-paganized an historic Christian people at a geometric pace. Who would have thought that a society that prosecuted Lenny Bruce for using profanity fifty years ago and Larry Flynt for obscenity thirty five years ago would embrace an anti-culture of unspeakable vulgarity and pornography as acceptable means of social discourse. Who would have seen to the degree in which the “arts,” and I use that term loosely, would become utter repositories of the repulsive and outlandish. Who would have thought that a country in which a divorced candidate was considered potentially unfit for the Presidency as late as 1980 would consider fornication, adultery, and homosexuality as permitted -- if not outright normal - social behavior.
If you think I exaggerate, indulge me in this experiment: walk through any American suburban mall on a Friday night and study those young men and women who appear under thirty -- what you will see, for the most part, is not young ladies and gentlemen, you will see tattoos and nose-rings, tri-colored hair, butchy women and women who leave virtually nothing of their bodies to the imagination, effeminate “boys” and gangster wannabes -- collectively what you’ll see is a generation of young people who proudly think that they are rejecting conformity yet all look and act the same as if diabolically programmed. And these are the leaders of tomorrow.
I just did not count on the speed at which this collapse is happening.
The hallmark of our Simpletons is rage and herein lies the paradox of our age: the more “liberty” is granted for every social deviance, the greater the anger smolders among them. This phenomenon repeats over and over again; among feminists, abortionists, homosexuals, liberals, atheists, and identity groups -- the more they achieve their goals, the more they destroy the dwindling edifices of civil society, the angrier and more miserable they become -- by their own reckoning. In what almost amounts to a divine proof that the policies of sin are recipes for manifest unhappiness, the more these people obtain what they want, the madder they get about it. For an anecdotal demonstration, merely peruse the website of The Nation to get a sense of the unbridled rage of Leftists.
Among many others, this is one of the reasons that the prudential decision to “dialogue” with the modern world made by the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council was so profoundly flawed -- these people do not want dialogue. In fact, dialogue with the Church or any other authority only disgusts them -- as if their bona fides were compromised by the very engagement. Setting aside that the Church’s role is not to dialogue but rather witness to the one, true Living God, this approach has only emboldened an enemy that sees dialogue as tantamount to weakness.
Our Simpletons are all but divorced from their historic culture -- they are the collective equivalent of a son or daughter that despises their mother and father. Our Simpletons are already turning their rage to violence. Their rage is so blinding now that they cannot tolerate -- in any way -- the espousal of views contrary to their social dystopian views. Try holding up a sign at any major motor crossing asking motorists to “honk” if they support traditional marriage -- you will be, in very short order, spat upon, assaulted and cursed. The day is coming, and it is not as far off as you think, that ordinary people will be molested leaving and entering Church for Holy Mass. The next generation will shame their peers mercilessly to renounce their nominal Christian faith because it “oppresses” women and homosexuals. People who actually speak out in favor of historic Western Civilization -- who write an essay such as this one or speak up at a town council meeting -- will be viciously persecuted.
Thus when I read Walter Miller’s account of a purely irrational bloodletting by an angry mob at war with knowledge and literacy, I cannot help but see the angry mob of Simpletons in our midst today. Miller’s Simpletons and ours share a pathological disdain for order and reason -- they do not bargain or negotiate -- they only want to destroy in a fit of spite. Hate has become the righteous virtue and rage is everywhere. The Simpletons are coming.
God help us all.