Satanic Fury from the Freedom Caucus

Gustave Dore, Satan in "Paradise Lost"

Gustave Dore, Satan in “Paradise Lost”


Any day that I see Paradise Lost get mentioned with regard to contemporary politics is a good day. Andrew O’Hehir of Salon recently mentioned Milton’s Satan in a passage about how the Freedom Caucus (a.k.a. the Shutdown Caucus) is creating havoc in the House of Representatives. The allusion was perfect:

In the great tradition of doomed revolutionaries, the Freedom Caucus prefers death, or at least political annihilation – which will be theirs one day, and sooner than they think – to the dishonor of compromise. It’s easy to make fun of the vainglory and self-importance embodied in the group’s name, but it strikes me as accurate enough. They have declared themselves free of all the responsibilities of government, free from the need to discuss or negotiate or pass any legislation that has the slightest chance of being enacted. They represent freedom in precisely the same sense that death represents freedom from being alive. They could just as well be called the Suicide Caucus – or the Satanic Caucus, in the grandiose spirit of Milton’s fallen angel,who fights on with no hope of victory: “To do ought good never will be our task,/ But ever to do ill our sole delight.”

O’Hehir is right that Satan knows that he has no chance of winning. He is so angry, however, that it is more important for him to vent his fury and spoil what he can than, say, figure out how to live in the world as it is–which in his case is Hell.

The House of Representatives is hardly Hell and the Democratic president is hardly God. In other words, the separation of powers is not as absolute as it is in Milton’s poem. Nevertheless, the Freedom Caucus is still furious at not getting everything it wants.

They would be advised to look at Satan’s ultimate fate. When he returns to the fallen angels to announce his victory over Adam and Eve–let’s say, he shuts down the government or defaults on the national debt–he expects applause. His public responds with something else altogether:

So having said, a while he stood, expecting
Their universal shout and high applause
To fill his ear, when contrary he hears
On all sides, from innumerable tongues
A dismal universal hiss, the sound
Of public scorn…

The hiss arises from everyone having been turned into a snake. Still, hisses are what the Freedom Caucus can expect if they get their way.

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