Robert Hughes Benson's Lord of the World. Folks, you need to read this book. It matters not that the book was published in 1907, the same year as St. Pius X's Pascendi, five years before the Titanic sank, seven years before Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Ferdinand, thirty-two years before Hitler invaded Poland. The novel features euthanasia, the loss of religious liberty, anti-Catholicism (because they're two different things), globalization, total war, martyrdom, demagoguery, and the miraculous.
Bradley Birzer, author of illuminating studies of Christopher Dawson and Tolkien, earlier this year posted this brief article at The Imaginative Conservative. I myself was reminded about Benson and this particular novel by this Crux article by John Allen, Jr. Both Benedict XVI and Francis have recommended the book. Benson (1868-1914), whose father had been Archbishop of Canterbury, was a celebrity convert and priest. Once quite popular among English-reading Catholics, his reputation has vanished since the Second Vatican Council.
Lord of the World follows the parallel trajectories of Father Percy and his doppelganger, Julian Felsenburgh, a senator from Vermont (no, I am not making that up) who is clearly the anti-Christ. Secularism has pushed all religion to the fringes as the masses chose instead this world's pleasures (euthanasia and what amounts to physician-assisted suicide are readily available). Only Rome the city itself resists as it has, through international treaty, become the sole earthly haven for Catholics. Martyrdom awaits any Catholic who dares declare the Faith openly. Meanwhile a worship of divinized earthly powers spreads like wildfire. Amassing this new awakening, and yet remaining above it all, stands Julian Felsenburgh. Traveling across the world at record speeds, Felsenburgh successfully unites the entire planet, save Rome, under one government. Meanwhile, Father Percy sees his clerical friends lose their faith and the Church lose even what little it retains on earth. The impending victory of Felsenburgh's atheist materialism seems complete. The conclusion, though, must be read all the way to its very last words. No spoilers here.
(Pic credits: Ave Maria Press & Wikipedia)
Here's the point: Donald Trump's ascendancy since last summer bears remarkable resemblance to Julian Felsenburgh. (I would suspect that had Senator Bernie Sanders, against all odds, defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, we would have heard much more about the novel's Vermont senator.)
Matthew Schmitz writes: Not enough has been said about how Pope Francis—a man of strong intuitions and vivid language—lives in and has been formed by literature. ... And he thinks by their patterns. Whereas Benedict strove for a concise, clear scholarly expression, Francis seeks the striking images and strong characterizations of the storyteller. Over here are the good guys, over there the bad.
Predictably, the only place online where I could find somebody else making the Trump-Felsenburgh connection was a self-described radical fringe chat room where the other topics include UFOs, the Illuminati, and Jesuit conspiracies (OK, I made up that last one.)
At one level, to pump this blog's title, the Trump campaign appears as one big, geographically-extended example of "spiritual diabetes." Having feasted for years on the cheap carbohydrates of unreflective rhetoric, myopic self-righteousness, and genuine dismay at national events, Trump followers have reached a point in their own--individual and collective--spiritual states where they can no longer moderate their own spiritual blood-sugar levels. Those have elevated persistently, thus inflaming the entire system. The high blood sugar level results in thirst, but now no amount of water can slake it. Trump's campaign of "Make America Great Again" appears as yet another quick-fix/no sacrifices involved solution.
But the time has passed, if it ever were present, for indulging in cute ideas. The problem is that Trump's campaign represents, just like the actual nation-wide diabetes epidemic, a real threat to national well-being. Trump himself and his supporters, especially younger ones, seem frustrated with the democratic process itself. As in, "why do we need it?" Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post:
Recent decades have seen precipitous declines in trust in nearly every major U.S. institution. Still, many of us assumed that, underneath it all, faith in democracy itself held steady — that we are angry at so many entrenched institutions because they have fallen short of cherished democratic ideals.