Apocalypse and Politics

I was referred by someone on the Ecunet Girard list to Bob Hamerton-Kelly’s online essay titled Politics and Apocalypse: An Introductory Essay.
Hamerton-Kelly introduces the essay’s topic with two quotes:
“Where the corpse is, there will the vultures flock” –Matthew 24:28 / Luke 17:37


“Leave the dead to bury the dead, and, ‘Come! Follow me!'” –Matthew 8:22 / Luke 9:60

Then he says:

“The root meaning of the Greek term ‘apokalypsis‘ is ‘unveiling’ or ‘disclosure;’ and the background of all the papers here is the assumption that something is being revealed about our world’s order, whether by divine grace or human reason, and that the revelation not only documents the threat to order but also causes its increasing instability. How does Girard’s theory help us to interpret the apocalypse of world history in general, and the period after 9/11 in particular? We can only suggest an approach to an answer but in any case we must be clear about how the term ‘apocalypse’ is currently used and what its trajectory or line of meaning through history has been and will be.”

He goes on to define and describe apocalypse in a several ways, taking his cues from a variety of cultural sources:

  • Based on an actress’s description of playwright Harold Pinter‘s last theatrical performance, a man with cancer playing a character with cancer: “an apocalypse is a bleak and ravaged place, where death reigns; an after-the-battle scene of cold corpses, dead horses, and splintered guns.”
  • Based on conservative columnist David Brooks‘ findings of Americans’ impressions of Muslims: “apocalypse is an attitude of quasi-paranoid self-righteousness.”
  • Based on Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind book series: “Apocalypse to them is a worldview that sees into the future and prophesies the glorious vindication of the in-group and the cruel punishment of those outside.”
  • War is a staple of apocalypse, expressing the deep dichotomy between the two major protagonists, which is a dominant feature of the genre. … [A]pocalypse is fixated on the final solution of the problems of the group, and the final solution must be war and extermination.”
  • Much later, after exploring the Biblical roots of apocalypse, H-K sums up these descriptions, then adds: “‘Apocalyptic’ today has all its traditional meaning: the final justification of the precious group by means of a final cataclysmic act of universal punishment, as well as a newer secular meaning of simple catastrophe.”

Next, Hamerton-Kelly examines Biblical Roots of Apocalypse — introducing the topic with the rather sweeping statement that “from the Bible we learn that apocalypse and politics are intimately connected from the start; indeed, in most cases apocalypse is a narrative interpretation of politics in code” — primarily by examining the 7th chapter of the book of Daniel, in which, H-K says, “we glean all the formal characteristics of the content of apocalypse, as well as its general significance as the origin of universal history. The stable elements of the content are the heavenly world, the interpreting angel, the special group, the books of secret records, the war and final judgment, and the seer or, as the Mormons would say, ‘revelator,’ who is the earthly counterpart of the angelic interpreter.” He adds that “Because the purpose or end of universal history is human, apocalypse emphatically uses the principle of moral responsibility to interpret its trajectory. The final judgment is a moral rectification of the order of history.”
He also looks at the Gospel of John, the apocalyptic sayings attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels (especially Mark 13:1-37), 2 Thessalonians, and of course the Book of Revelation.
In the last large section of the essay, H-K discusses Mimetic Theory as Apocalypse, taking as his starting place: “From the first, [Rene] Girard’s mimetic theory was an apocalyptic theory.” It’s apocalyptic, I think, because the central idea is that Jesus’s death and resurrection utterly reveals (dis-covers) the lie about ourselves that we have maintained with great care from the beginnings of human history and that in fact underpins who we are, what we do, and how we live as a culture.

I think H-K is contrasting this understanding of apocalyptic with those he’s named previously, those that are prevalent in the popular culture now.
Among other interesting thoughts in this section are:
^Conversion is metaphorically an exorcism, but empirically it is an apocalypse” (as in Stepan Trofimovich’s confession in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, implying a revelation, an uncovering of what had been hidden from him: When I understood the turned cheek, I also understood that I have lied all my life.)
^ “Girard discerned how mimetic desire gives structure to groups and maintains public order. … The analysis by means of mimetic rivalry and the ‘scapegoat’ leads to the vision of this world as a structure of Sacred Violence, erected by the three powers of the surrogate victim, namely, ritual, myth and prohibition. Ritual makes institutions, myth makes identity, and prohibition makes law. The sacred structure of ‘this world’ thus emanates from the surrogate victims as a series of differences whose first and foundational difference is the gap between the profane and the sacred, that is, the difference between the living and the dead, the lynch mob and its victim. The victim … [creates] the solidarity of the lynch mob [and] … gives stability to the group normally wracked by mimetic rivalry and competing violence, but this stability is unstable. Ritual sacrifice renews the stability, myth hides it, and law enforces it, but each of these agents is disingenuous. The ruse’s effectiveness depends on its being hidden from view and immune from understanding, and if this is so then the last thing the ruse can tolerate is an apocalypse, or unveiling of the hidden secrets.
^ “In as much as the Crucifixion of Jesus unveils the victim slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8) it is the decisive apocalypse, nothing less than the arrival of the end of time in the midst of history.”
^ “[M]imetic theory shows how the Cross demythifies the world, that is, tells the truth about the world’s origin and survival as an ever renewed structure of sacred violence dependent on the rituals of sacrifice, the myths of origins, and the laws of prohibition and enforcement.”
^ “Currently, globalization is eroding cultural distinctions, self-victimization is becoming a cultural industry, and most significant of all, violence is erasing even the existential distinction between life and death. In the cults of the suicide killers, the desire for mass destruction, contained during the Cold War in the sacred structure of deterrence, is now leaking to more and more minor players. … The surrogate victim ruse operates by killing someone else, suicidal murder operates by killing the self as well as someone else, and thus erases the distinction between killer and victim, and confuses the principle distinction in the culture, namely, the one between the sacred and the profane, between the dead victim on the one hand and the live perpetrators on the other. … Ironically, the sacred violence of jihadist Islam, which believes it is strengthening its sacral foundation, is in fact sawing at the branch on which the religion sits. Suicidal violence no longer confirms the fundamental distinction but rather erases it, and deals crippling blows to the system of good violence that is supposed to control bad violence.”


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