The Alien Leader in the English Civil War: Examining Paradise Lost and The Blazing World

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The Alien Leader in the English Civil War: Examining Paradise Lost and The Blazing World

Throughout history, many great conquerors and powerful leaders were aliens in their communities. Examples are Alexander the Great, who was Macedonian and led the Greeks, Josef Stalin, who was Georgian and later became dictator of the U.S.S.R., Adolf Hitler, the Austrian Fuhrer of Germany, and Napoleon Bonaparte, the Corsican nationalist conqueror in France. In two primary works of seventeenth century British literature, Paradise Lost and The Blazing World, John Milton and Margaret Cavendish both employ the device of the alien leader, but they employ these devices in different ways; which belie their thoughts on alien-ness and leadership, Milton being a Roundhead and Cavendish a Cavalier during the course of the English Civil War, however, while the historical and contemporary applications are fascinating, the textual analysis provides a strong basis in and of itself to theorize on their applications of the alien leader.

Milton’s Satan is a leader of a familiar population in an alien place. Milton’s God[1] is a leader of a created population in a created place, but the population and the leader are wholly new to one another, thus making the leader alien to the people. Cavendish’s Empress, on the other hand, is an alien leader to a population familiar with their surroundings. When we examine these similarities and differences, we find two specific and important questions emerge: first, is the leader a more effective leader because he/she is alien? Second. does the leader like his/her alien state?

To be an effective leader, obviously, one must first be a leader. One cannot be an effective or successful teacher if one has no students, nor can one be an effective communicator if no audience exists. In much the same way, a leader requires both a sphere—a king without a kingdom is no king--and followers. This may seem to be overly simple, but this understanding is often neglected when considering leadership, whether alien or familiar. Satan’s sphere was altered to enable him to lead. God had to create humans so he could lead them. The Empress was, like Satan, subjected to circumstances beyond her control which placed her into a different sphere with radically unusual followers.

When Satan and his followers fall from heaven and descend into hell in Paradise Lost, Satan becomes the prince of Hell by default, as he was the wartime leader of the angels.

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His fall allows him to attain the position he had coveted, that of absolute leader. Presumably, Satan wanted to be the supreme head of something. To employ a cliché, Satan would prefer to be the biggest fish in a small pond rather than a relatively large fish in a big pond. He happily resided as leader in hell. Satan condenses his belief in leadership into a clear, concise line, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heav’n,” (Milton Book I, line 263) He preferred to have full dominion over hell than to be highest of the second-class citizens (the angels) in the larger and more prestigious realm of heaven.

In hell, Satan was not only a leader-by-default of defeated troops, but he successfully led the fallen angels. When he himself was despairing, he rallied the also dismayed fallen angels. He united them in the task of being a thorn in the Creator’s side. In addition to uniting the fallen, despairing angels, he allowed each to have their say in a council, yet eventually manipulating the fallen angels to acquiesce to his plan. An example of this is found in book II, in which Satan presents the task of spying on Eden as a terribly dangerous assignment and persuades the fallen angels that Satan was making an immense sacrifice in the name of his followers by undertaking the task himself. In reality, he intended from the start to be the designated “scout” and only wanted his followers to have extra reverence for him and ensure extra respect as their leader. Satan’s ability to unite the fallen angels was due in part to his charismatic speaking ability, exemplifying a quality that most agree is part of being a good leader: successful communication. [2]

A major component of the duplicity of God’s leadership style is the contrast between his inability to communicate directly with the humans and his desire to micromanage the activities of the humans. He outlines to the Son a plan which can be interpreted as compulsively controlling. “Some I have chosen of peculiar grace/Elect above the rest; so is my will” (Milton Book III, lines 183-184). This infers that God has predestined a caste system for society, and has managed down to the individual exactly who will succeed and rise above the rest. While this is but one interpretation, I would argue that if a leader controls a caste system, regardless of the power that the leader holds, the leader is overly controlling and limiting of his subjects. Today, we severely condemn feudalist lords for requiring serfs to remain at their very low place in society, and I argue that that is comparable to God’s dictating social order. While this idea is controversial, Satan may indeed have the clearest picture of Adam and Eve’s situation. He claims, after watching Adam and Eve in the garden rationalizing their limited, half-enlightened state, “all is not theirs it seems:/One fatal tree there stands of Knowledge called,/Forbidden them to taste: Knowledge forbidden?/ Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord/Envy them that?” (Milton Book IV, lines 513-517). Satan clearly recognizes the inanity of God’s micromanagement; he implies that it is ridiculous for a being both omniscient and omnipotent to attempt to pettily limit the knowledge of lowly humans. Satan incredulously questions God’s level of satisfaction, “And do they only stand/By ignorance, is that their happy state,/The proof of their obedience and their faith?” (Milton Book IV, lines 518-520)

The situation of communication between God and humans is indeed a complicated one. He makes attempts to communicate through dreams and using liaisons such as Raphael and Michael, and even on occasion, speaks directly to the humans. However, his communication is always limited and controlled. God attempts to find a compromise between keeping his creations innocent and sheltered from knowledge and being wholly open with them. Yet, due to God’s endeavor for a “happy medium”, he ultimately seems to tease Adam and Eve with knowledge; giving them bits and pieces, then just when they are nearly enlightened, pulling away.

God’s deputies follow this pattern of maddeningly incomplete knowledge. Raphael acts as Adam’s teacher and mentor, and wavers between giving Adam too much information and counseling Adam to remain subservient to God. An example of the latter is Raphael’s conclusion, “...love , but first of all/Him whom to love is to obey, and keep/His great command; take heed lest passion sway/Thy judgment to do aught,” (Milton Book IX lines 633-36). A tentative friendship forms between Adam and Raphael as they discuss matters such as the war in which Satan and the fallen angels fell, the creation of Eden, and Adam and Eve’s role. Adam praises Raphael’s conduct, “Gentle to me and affable hath been thy condescension” (Milton Book IX, lines 648-9)

Unfortunately, Raphael’s gentle condescension, while enlightening, may have contributed to the cause of Adam and Eve’s fall. Prior to their half-enlightenment by Raphael, Adam and Eve possessed a blind adoration of God. They sing a paean in praise of God in Book V, which gives the impression that they are adoring followers. However, in Book V, Adam and Eve do not have a full picture of their place in the universe and by extension in the “government” of the alien leader, the Father. God has largely shielded his followers from enlightenment, and as asserted earlier, this sheltered and controlled state ensures Adam and Eve’s obedience to the Father. Regardless of whether it was intentional, the advent of new knowledge may have contributed to the fall.

A counterargument can certainly be made to this position, and indeed, most scholars disagree. In fact, Northrop Frye, in his essay The Story of All Things, would likely claim that this position is unenlightened in itself. Without the influence of Raphael, Adam and Eve may have fallen faster, but I present that they may not have fallen as hard nor as blindly; that is, their fall would have been a clearly decisive one. Adam and Eve did not clearly understand the full consequences of their actions when they fell. Had they not been subjected to heavenly censorship, Adam and Eve would have been in a better position to clearly decide to fall or not to fall.

One reason for God’s wavering between micromanagement and inability to forge a direct connection with his followers may lie in the question of power. In Milton’s God, William Empson discusses the question of relinquishing power. Empson argues that perhaps the question of “abdication” is at the crux of the character of God, stating, “Milton’s God is thus to be regarded as like King Lear and Prospero, turbulent and masterful characters who are struggling to become able to renounce their power and enter peace.” As with the examples that Empson gives from Shakespeare of a king struggling with bequeathing his estate to his daughters, or a displaced Duke of Milan relinquishing full control of his daughter and of his domain, (qtd. In Milton 612). God struggles with the free will of his creations in that he gives Adam so-called dominion over Eden, then amends his declaration by forbidding the Tree of Knowledge. In Paradise Lost, the primary cause for God’s controlling actions may have been his controlling instincts and his inability to reconcile himself to his subjects’ free will. Yet again, this essay echoes Satan’s view of God as an autocrat and contradicts most recent scholarship. However, while this is an unpopular view, it is certainly worth considering.

Often, one can best measure leadership by results. Adam and Eve fell away from God’s leadership. Granted, they do later return to it, but there is evidently no other option. As with Satan making the best of his situation in Hell, Adam and Eve allegedly believe they are better in the end. It is possible to speculate that Adam and Eve realize that they cannot return to their prelapsarian state and so, decide to make the best of being fallen and find comfort in one another. It is unimportant to determine whether God was a good leader to allow his subjects some degree of freedom, or a bad leader because he was unable to control them fully. The question is, was God an effective leader? Because his followers removed themselves from full subjection to him as leader, God was an ineffective leader of humans.

To provide a contrast in authors’ views of leadership styles, we now turn to Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World , which deals with a radically different alien leader and a radically different set of circumstances. The Blazing World dates from 1666, just seventeen years after the execution of Charles I, which, for a royalist such as Cavendish, would have signified her world being “turned upside down”. The Empress is a transplanted being who becomes the leader of her new world and, while she has some doubts about her own leadership in the end, is largely successful in leading an unfamiliar population in an unfamiliar place,.

The greatest strength of the Empress in terms of her effectiveness as an alien leader was her constant usage of the inhabitants of her world as counselors. Cavendish provides a clear rundown of the Empress’ cabinet. “For they were as ingenious and witty in the invention of profitable and useful arts, as we are in our world, nay, more; and to that end she erected schools, and founded several societies. The bear-men were to be her experimental philosophers, the bird-men her astronomers, the fly-, worm-, and fish-men her natural philosophers...but before all things, she...desired to be informed both of the manner of their religion and government.” (Cavendish 134) To this end, Cavendish clearly shows the Empress’ willingness to employ the inhabitants of the alien world to give her a greater understanding of the alien culture. She recognized that she was alien to the world and instead of ignoring that proverbial elephant in the living room, attempted to remedy her status as foreigner.

The Empress did so primarily by her incessant questioning. For example, she did not mandate religion at the outset, but rather inquired as to the customary religious practices of the inhabitants. “Then the Empress seeing that the several sorts of her subjects had each their churches apart, asked the priests whether they were of several religions? They answered her Majesty, that there was no more but one religion in all that world, nor no diversity of opinions in that same religion; for though they were several sorts of men, yet had they all but one opinoon concerning the worship and adoration of God,” (Cavendish 135). While the Empress was not faultless in her questioning—even in the example of her inquiries on religion, she employed her own knowledge as a measuring stick, “The Empress asked them, whether they were Jews, Turks, or Christians? We do not know, said they, what religions those are, but we do all unanimously acknowledge, worship and adore the only, omnipotent, and eternal God...replied the Empress, I thought you had been either Jews, or Turks, because I never perceived any women in your congregations,” (Cavendish 135). While this is an example of the Empress employing her own ideas in relation to the Blazing World, the Empress does not attempt to force her ideas upon the inhabitants, but rather to compare their practices to those with which she is familiar to better understand them.

In her dealings with her subjects, the Empress did not act hastily, but rather, decided to find out as much as she could about the technology and culture of the world before making any major decisions. While the Empress would logically support a monarchy, she made it a specific point to inquire whether her subjects preferred such a form of government, and more importantly, she facilitated critical thinking and asked why they preferred a monarchy. (Cavendish 134) It is very possible that the Empress’ incessant questions required the inhabitants of the Blazing World to think about their true motives for many of their activities. Perhaps the Empress was so calculating as to have designed her questions not out of a simple and also valuable desire to learn about the culture of the Blazing World, but to encourage her subjects to think about their motives for their activities.

While this is purely speculative, the Empress may not have inquired as to the nature of thunder and lightning, the sun, the moon, and such scientific things to find out the factual answers, but rather to become informed of the opinions held by her subjects. The Empress may have asked her incessant questions regarding science to attain a sense of the common beliefs of the Blazing World. Her inquiries regarding religion and polity were distinctly motivated by a desire to learn about the culture and ideology of the Blazing World, thus, while there are no blatant examples within the text, it is not difficult to make the connection that perhaps the Empress made scientific inquiries so as to find out not the factual answers, but what the Blazing World thought about such questions

While not a truly elected leader, the inhabitants of the new world supported the Empress, just as the fallen angels supported Satan. In contrast, Adam and Eve did not see any other option for leader other than God. Popular support is almost always important in determining the style of leadership; if a leader comes to power against the will of the people, the leader must rule “with an iron fist”, and generally purport images of omnipotence and omniscience. Satan’s incredible rhetorical and persuasive abilities helped him win popular support, while the Empress won it quite legitimately by her generally tolerant attitude toward her subjects and her genuine interest in her subjects’ ideas. She attempted to forge an understanding with her subjects in spite of her alien state, which may have been a contributing factor to her subjects’ support of her as Empress. Historically speaking, if a leader has popular support, the leader enjoys a higher degree of freedom and can allow his/her followers some leniency. In addition, a leader with popular support can employ some select subjects as advisers. While the motives and specifics were radically different, Satan and the Empress both employed their subjects as advisers. The Empress did so quite honestly as examined above, while Satan caused his followers to believe that he was actually considering their opinions in the council for war in Book II, when in reality he had already made up his mind. In stark contrast, God was an autocrat; Adam and Eve were not consulted as to the running of Eden, nor did God employ his angels as advisors. One might argue that God conferred with his Son, employing their conversation in book III as an example. However, because an autocrat takes the advice of one other (also powerful) being, it does not make the autocrat into a democrat, nor even a counseled autocrat, but rather it means that the Son’s relationship with God is the exception to the rule of God’s dictatorial leadership.

A leader may be effective or ineffective, a benevolent dictator, a false democrat, or a well advised imperial leader; however, the question of an alien leader’s success as a leader leads to another question. Does the leader enjoy being an alien, and if so, how does that influence his/her leadership?

Christopher Hill asserted that Milton himself was less an individualist and more a crusader for the public good. Satan was a representative, just as the “dominant characters” in Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes are public people. (qtd. in Milton 634)[3] Hill refers only to Adam, Christ, and Samson. However, this applies to other characters, namely Satan. Satan is a representative for the fallen angels, yet, in keeping with Hill’s assertions, Satan is not merely one of the “pack”, but is an individual unto himself.

As an example of Satan being treated as a separate entity from the general blanket identity “fallen angels”, in book VI, Raphael tells Adam the story of the war in heaven. Satan is singled out repeatedly as leader of the fallen angels. Satan is referred to with epithets such as “Arch-Foe” and several verses are devoted to his experience of the battle, whereas Raphael condenses the battle experiences and wounds of other notable fallen angels such as Moloch into thirty short lines. (Milton Book VI lines 355-385) Essentially, Satan was a very conspicuous anomaly even within his familiar community and relished that state. In addition, Satan not only liked being an exception in his community, but as considered earlier, he liked being alien to his surroundings because being an alien in his surroundings was the only way he could lead at all.

While God’s motives for preferring to be alien are very different from Satan’s motives, God also liked being alien. The primary inhibitor of God’s leadership ability was his inability to communicate. However, God did not try to rectify this by fostering direct communication with Adam and Eve, but rather assigned Raphael to act as his “press secretary”, or better, his “minister of propaganda”. God liked being decidedly alien. God liked being detached from his creations, yet not wholly separate, as even in postlapsarian Eden he did not choose to fully block communication. God was still able to hear Eden even after the fall, “For since I sought/by prayer th’ offended Deity to appease,/kneeled and before him humbled all my heart,/Methought I saw him placable and mild,/Bending his ear” (Milton Book XI lines 148-152). God was not a fully alien creature, as Adam and Eve were, in theory, created in God’s own image. However, God realized too late that he could not create Adam and Eve to be full replicas of himself. Upon that realization, God’s alienation progressed rapidly, yet never came to full fruition within the text of Paradise Lost. God was far too busy attempting to pretend that he was not quite alien to his creations because he was the creator. In the Italian tale of Pinocchio, the father/craftsman Geppetto was no less alien to the marionette Pinocchio, even though Geppetto crafted Pinocchio. It was not until Geppetto recognized that Pinocchio was not a real boy that Pinocchio was enabled to become animated. In much the same way, God could only have led his creations successfully if he first acknowledged that while they were his creations, they were not carbon copies.

Perhaps an alien leader can be a better leader if the situation is so blatantly alien that the leader cannot pretend to be familiar. The Empress downright relishes her anomalous status within the Blazing World, and chooses to remain alien, yet she acknowledges that state. Unlike Satan, who tries to conform to his environment, or God, who employs a liaison to communicate with his followers, she chooses to remain conspicuously alien. Her reasoning for this may be twofold. First, she recognizes, as asserted earlier, that being alien gives her more perspective as a leader, yet she rises to the challenge of being an alien and attempts to gain an intimate knowledge of her subjects by questioning them. However, while she tries to identify and learn about the inhabitants and culture of the Blazing World, she never attempts to meld with the culture and become a true inhabitant of the Blazing World. She is an intentional anomaly, and even in the second part of the Blazing World, in which the Blazing World becomes Utopian and both the Blazing World and the native world are united under the Empress’ absolute rule, she fastidiously maintains her alien-ness.

The Empress is the only leader considered in this essay who is so conspicuously alien, and is also the only alien leader who theorizes within the text on the alien state. The most telling evidence of how the alien leader is viewed in The Blazing World comes from a conversation between the Empress and the Duchess toward the end of part II of The Blazing World. The Duchess claims, “...yet rather than imitate others, I should choose to be imitated by others; for my nature is such, that I had rather appear worse in singularity, then better in the mode”. The Duchess’ commentary is directly drawn on her experiences observing the Empress. However, the Empress is much more complicated than a simple anomaly who chooses to deviate from the societal norm. This is exemplified by the Empress’ reply, “If you were not a great lady...you would never pass in the world for a wise lady; for the world would say your singularities are vanities.” (Cavendish 218) The Empress recognized the importance of the alien making certain concessions to rise to the point in which a world takes him/her seriously and recognizes the singularities as wisdom, yet, the alien need not give up his or her uniqueness to be accepted by the culture.

This essay has examined three leaders with varying degrees of power: God was a divine and nearly omnipotent being, Satan was slightly less omnipotent but was decidedly more powerful than a human, and the Empress was, while powerful in her own sphere, ultimately human. The Empress’ power was subjective; she was only endowed with power because the people of her world ultimately chose to be her subjects and give her that power, while Satan and God both had power in and of themselves, allowing them extra control over their subjects. This raises the question of popular support: God held a great amount of power which enabled him to ignore the need for popular support. Satan was also endowed with power, but he was not considerably more powerful than his subjects, so he had to purport illusions of populism to succeed as leader. Finally, the Empress was human, and though the Emperor appointed her to her ruling position, she still faced the possibility of revolution and overthrow, thus, she was required to have some degree of her subjects’ allegiance.

Works Cited

Cavendish, Margaret. “The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World”. The Blazing World and Other Writings. Ed. Kate Lilley. London: Penguin, 1994. 119-226.

Empson, William. Selections from “Milton’s God”. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1975. 605-616

Frye, Northrop. “The Story of All Things”. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1975. 509-525

Hill, Christopher. “The Relevance of Milton”. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1975. 633-642.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1975.


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