How to Immanentize the Eschaton
In 1969 a sixteen-year-old boy wrote to conservative columnist William F. Buckley, Jr., “to discover just what, in God’s name, the phrase ‘to immanentize the eschaton’ means.” Buckley replied: “Eschaton means, roughly, the final things in the order of time; immanentize means, roughly, to cause to inhere in time. So that to immanentize the eschaton is to cause to inhere in the worldly experience and subject to human dominion that which is beyond time and therefore extraworldly. To attempt such a thing is to deny the transcendence of God; to assume that Utopia is for this world.”
Buckley’s answer strikes me as humorous because “to immanentize the eschaton’ basically means to bring about the end of the world (i.e., “the final things in the order of time”). It may be said, that those who deny the transcendence of God carry within themselves the apocalypse as they attempt to build their silly Utopia. For what better way is there for bringing about the “end times”? Those who would free us from racism, sexism and classism, seeking to make “the world as one,” fail to realize that humanity isn’t perfectible; that any attempt to make men perfect is likely to confuse essential instincts, breaking up whatever workable order we’ve managed to achieve.
One is reminded of the results of socialism – in Russia and the West. One is also reminded of President Bush’s Utopian attempt to bring democracy to Iraq. There is a passage from a novel by David Ignatius about Middle East espionage, titled Agents of Innocence. It expresses the damning verdict of an Arab who had been working for the Americans. At first he thought the Americans had the toughness to persevere. He thought they were “cynical enough” to liberate the Arab world (and t hereby do something good).
The disillusioned Arab wrote to his handlers: “I was wrong. Americans are not hard men. Even the CIA has a soft heart. You want so much to achieve good and make the world better, but you do not have the stomach for it. And you do not know your limitations. You are innocence itself. You are the agents of innocence. That is why you make so much mischief.”
The great teaching of David Ignatius may be condensed, as follows: Men who are not sufficiently cynical, who are soft-hearted, who do not have the stomach for what they propose, cannot do anything good. If you want to level nations and kill millions of men, adopt a Utopian foreign policy. Ignatius’s Arab tells his American handlers, “You convince people to put aside their old customs and allegiances and to break the bonds that hold the country together. With your money and your schools and your cigarettes and music, you convince us that we can be like you. But we can’t. And when the real trouble begins, you are gone. And you leave your friends, the ones who trusted you, to die.”
There is, indeed, a millenarian spirit at work. This spirit now contaminates American domestic policy as well as military policy. “You urge us to open up the windows of heaven,” wrote Ignatius’s Arab. “But you do not realize that the downpour will come rushing through and drown us all.”
There is no better way to immanentize the eschaton. And today we are directly on course, trying our level best, to hurry the Last Trumpet. We rudely expect that we will achieve Utopia on the installment plan – with slightly higher taxes. We have had eight years of a Republican Utopian, and now we are in for a Utopian Democrat. They are “agents of innocence” every one, determined to “open the windows of heaven” and drown us all.
President Obama is going to Moscow next week in order to assure that our Utopia becomes a “nuclear free” Utopia. Here the “audacity of hope” meets Stalin’s grandbaby henchmen. It is believed that the Russians and Americans will agree to reduce their nuclear forces to below 1,700 warheads on each side. Meanwhile, the Russians prepare another invasion of Georgia as their agents of influence stage provocations in Ukraine and flex their muscles in Latin America. The leadership of the United States, in the name of Utopia, is ready to agree to anything so long as they can plausibly move forward with unilateral American disarmament. In other words, they will be immanentizing the Eschaton.
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