The most insidious aspects of the authoritarian regime depicted in George Orwell’s book, 1984, is not the shifting of language, nor the omnipresent surveillance, nor the visceral torture by rat-cage, nor even the permanent state of a historicity foisted upon the people of Oceania. Rather, the most terrifying—and most prescient for our current Late-Stage Capitalist empires– is the troublesome matter of the clandestine revolutionary, Emmanuel Goldstein.
(This book review is an original piece from Gods & Radicals, republished here with permission.)
In that novel, the protagonists attempt to escape the hegemonic oppression of Oceania by searching for the leader of the liberation movement hated so severely by Big Brother. But in the end, they learn that the scapegoat upon whom all the failures of the regime are placed, may not have existed at all.
The matter is left ambiguous—it is the Authority itself which claims to have created the Luciferian figure (which Orwell himself crafted from his own distaste for anarchist Emma Goldman), but how can such an Authority be trusted?
Emmanuel Goldstein, then, if the rulers of Oceania are to be believed, is what Lacanian psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek understood as a generated opposition. In his readings of St. Paul’s letter, the atheist Marxist expounds upon Paul’s attempts to describe the existence of sin through the founding of law.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (Romans 7:7, KJV)
What Paul appears to argue is that the very existence of a Law (such as ‘thou shalt not covet’) defines the boundary between what is sin and what is not, and without such a law, sin can be unknown. What Zizek later extracts, important more for an understanding of modern Capitalism than for the Bible, is that a stricture generates its opposite specifically because there is now a law against the thing.
Consider so-called ‘radical Islam,’ which stands in opposition to the continued incursions of European and Anglo-American Capitalism in the Middle East. Radical Islam does not exist as a thing at all; there are those who follow Wahhabi teachings, or argue for strict understandings of Islamic Sharia law, or wish to establish new political orders modeled after the Moorish and Turkish Caliphates, or the particularly terrifying Daesh being resisted by the Anarcho-Marxist PKK. But “Radical Islam,” is a Liberal Capitalist short-hand for any Muslim-identified group which uses violence to resist or oppose the West.
That is, the West generated its own opposition by naming all opposition to it in the Middle East as ‘Radical Islam,’ and also has variously funded warlords and ideologues in proxy-struggles who then, when they turn upon their backers in the United States, become part of the circumscribed opposition.
But this does not mean Liberal Capitalist nations are faking their opposition, only that they’ve channeled the narratives of their enemies into an easily-identified (yet eternally irrespressible) foe of their own naming. Like the ambiguous existence of Emmanuel Goldstein’s ‘Brotherhood,’ Radical Islam both does and does not exist.
Such opposition to Authoritarian order will always exist the moment Authority is established—like Paul’s understanding of sin and law, it is the very thou shalt not which creates the “I shall anyway.” But as in Orwell, the most affective Hegemonic Authorities then name and define the rebels who seek to de-throne them, a dualistic trap seen in George W. Bush’s ‘either with us or with the terrorists.’
Behind the Revolutionary, the Revolt
With that understanding and a familiarity with Critical Studies and Historiography, Peter Grey’s Lucifer: Princeps is an incredibly rewarding book. It is not an easy text, but no mystery is ever easy.
Those looking for the ‘historical’ Lucifer in these pages will be as disappointed at those thumbing through the hundreds of books purporting to unveil the ‘true Jesus.’For such things, one might as well also ask a historian for a true account of the life and times of Ceridwen, or archeological evidence for Ariadne’s birth and death.
Yet those looking for Lucifer will certainly find him, in a manner similar to Winston Smith finding Emmanuel Goldstein or soldiers of the United States finding the terrorists they were sent to kill– a truth both raw and incomprehensible until the very thing you are looking for is forgotten, replaced by the brutal reality of insurgency obliterating the body, overthrowing the Authority, and torching the cities.
Likewise, a reader hoping for an easy path to unraveling the mystery of Lucifer outside the Biblical texts or discourses on the political climate of early Mesopotamia will be precisely missing the real magic of Grey’s work. Like the fraught, climatic unveilings in 1984, Grey meticulously–and slowly–unravels the historical and religious processes which obscured ancient magical and spiritual forms, appearing each time to lead down a false path to a dead end. And yet each apparent non-answer gathers to form the question we didn’t know to ask.
The story repeats throughout the pages of this work, a story we already know because we live it. Ancient cults crushed by state-priests in distant Mesopotamian cities is nothing unfamiliar, for it is the everyday life of the urban poor, the displaced indigene, the low-waged worker, or the would-be re-wilder: always our attempts to become the meaning of the world are stolen and re-written into a narrative of The Enemy.
In searching for Lucifer, we learn just as much about those who re-made him as we do about the fallen kings and the demonized gods. Reading Bibical (and apocryphal) texts as a political history unveils the processes by which Authority crafts the Heretic from the screams and flesh of heretics, the Whore from the menstrual blood and dangling bangles of whores. From these pages could just as easily be crafted a grimoire of Authority as a narrative of the witch, but those seeking easily-grasped Power-Over will be as frustrated as those hoping to summon the Lucifer we were told opposed the True God.
The creation of Yahweh as Hegemonic god and state founding-myth becomes as interesting as the composite figure of Lucifer, and integral to finding the path out of the relentless false-stops. Particularly the opening to Grey’s dissection of Deuteronomy is worth quoting:
Deuteronomy is delivered in the form of the purported sermons of Moses. Though ostensibly a book of law, at heart it is an attempt to explain away the consistent and crushing failures of Yahweh….
…Deuteronomy appeals to the state origin myth of Moses and the promise of a land to be ruled by their god, recounting the bloody conquest of an already occupied territory of Canaan. Here is a god who brooks no rivals. This rousing account of entitlement and slaughter, or inflexible law and order, would have been sustenance for the exiles who returned, radicalised, to build the state of Israel.
…The combined texts were designed to provide the only explanation for failure, that is was not Yahweh who had broken his covenant, but the people who had not submitted to the justice of his yoke.” (p. 57)
Similar to Zizek’s notion of the generated opposition, we begin to find, also, that just as the state priests further craft political myths to defend Yahweh from the rebel, the rebel begins to become an inextricable shadow of Yahweh. As the authoritarian state in 1984 relied on the ‘2 Minutes Hate’ and their crafting of Emmanual Goldstein to keep the populace subservient, Lucifer becomes, for Yahweh, an enemy whose power increases from that reliance.