By Jeffrey Folks
John Milton understood evil. Some say he understood it so well that he made Satan, not Man, the most interesting character in Paradise Lost(1667). Regardless, what he recorded in that epic of Man’s fall from Grace is one of the central and enduring myths of mankind. It is also a good explanation for what’s going on in Seattle, Minneapolis, New York, and a dozen other cities hit by radical protests.
Milton tells of Satan’s rebellion against God and his defeat and banishment to Hell. After his defeat by a band of angels loyal to God, Satan travels from Hell to Earth in order to corrupt Adam and Eve. He tempts Eve into partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve are then expelled from paradise into a world of suffering and pain.
The crucial point about Satan has to do with his motivation. Why should one of God’s most capable and valued followers wish to rebel in the first place? The answer is that Satan is swollen with pride and incapable of submitting to authority of any kind. He views the universe in the way today’s anarchists do. They see themselves as godlike creatures who should not have to submit to authority. While today’s radicals claim to be struggling for racial justice or equality, they are really interested in something very different: the illusion of total free will and limitless power. That was Satan’s motive as well, and Milton understood the danger it posed.
It is impossible to know just what goes on in the mind of a young protester while he is looting, setting fires, and engaging in other violent crimes. But it is possible to know what he is attacking. He is after those who are affluent, those who believe in goodness and decency, and those who support law and order. One of the primary objects of attack is the police. So far in 2020, over 30 police officershave been murdered by gunfire or other means. Far more have been seriously assaulted, many of them by Antifa or other protesters.
Based on calls to defund the police in many cities, our police officers have become a special focus of attack. Obviously, there have been cases of excessive force, but those rare events cannot explain the animosity of the young toward the police. Most adults realize that the police are all that stand between themselves and criminal violence, and most of us deeply respect the men and women who protect us. But there are thousands of protesters who truly despise those same police officers.
To a person attacking others, looting, and burning, the police are all that stand in his way. They are the equivalent of God’s army of faithful angels preventing Satan’s takeover of Heaven. They are also, in some cases, the only persons who have ever set limits on their behavior. No wonder the protesters are enraged and seek revenge. Those who throw bricks and bottles, or who gather around to beat a fallen officer in the street, are expressing their wrath because, for once in their lives, someone has told them “no.” The police may be the only real authority they have known, and they are filled with rage.
In the absence of the police backed up by strong city and state government — not the kind that exists in our liberal states — radical protests would literally burn down our country. Decent Americans would cower in their homes, defending themselves as best as they could and waiting on help that never comes. The weak — the elderly, the disabled — would become the particular targets of roaming gangs of thugs. More and more “autonomous zones” would spring up, each ruled by a murderous warlord heading a small legion of heavily armed predators.
That was Satan’s vision of what the world should look like. When he was stopped, he corrupted Adam and Eve and led them to violate God’s trust. After their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam was condemned to labor for a living and Eve to suffer the pain of childbirth. Worse yet, their innocence was lost. Afterward, they lived with suspicion and doubt and with the knowledge of their own corruption.
America, I believe, was once close to the Garden of Eden. There were justice and opportunity for all, or nearly all, and the basis of that happy condition was a shared moral code. Looting, vandalizing, murder, and rape were uncommon. Even when adjusted for a higher population, the number of violentcrimes soared during the 1960s and 1970s and has remained high to this day. There were 9,110 murders in the U.S. in 1960, rising to 16,000 in 1970; 23,040 in 1980; and 23,440 in 1990. By 2010, that number had declined, but it began rising again in 2015.
There was a time when the police were respected for their role in maintaining law and order, and they could operate with a light touch because of the cooperation they received from the public. Traffic stops did not often turn into shootouts, and arrests did not often involve suspects struggling with and fleeing officers. Nor did the public accuse officers, or anyone else who stood in the way of criminality, of racism. That tactic itself is another arrow in Satan’s quiver.
At the heart of Satan’s rebellion as depicted in Paradise Lost is the sin of pride. Satan rebels against God’s authority because his sense of self-importance will not allow him to bow to any authority outside himself. Milton understood that pride, in this negative sense, creates an endless cycle of resentment and hostility. For those who truly believe they possess unlimited free will, there is no end to their rebellion. It may begin with George Floyd, but it soon leads to smashing windows, looting, and burning. It may begin with the statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, but it quickly takes aim at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and even Abraham Lincoln.
At the heart of today’s protests is a refusal to accept authority. It may feel godlike to swarm through the streets, smashing, burning, and assaulting the police, but that sort of criminality can only lead to worse things. When Satan was defeated in his rebellion against God, he was condemned to spend the rest of his days in Hell. He spent eternity as a bitter outcast, seeking revenge and plotting against God.
That gives us some idea of what’s in store for the radicals protesting in the streets today. While many will be saved, others will spend decades joining whatever protests arise, acting out their hatred of authority. Their story is not so different from that of Satan in Paradise Lost. Milton understood what happens when an individual is eaten up by pride and when he rejects every form of authority, even that of those who wish only to protect him.