Martin Surridge writes in the latest issue of Liberty.
The political liberty that exists within the stanzas and books of Paradise Lost accosts the reader and makes one feel uncomfortable. Can a hell that holds democratic elections and reasonable discussions be more unjust than a heaven controlled by God with absolute authority and no checks or balances? Yes, but only when one realizes that this argument hinges on two important ideas: that not only is it folly to compare the politics of humanity to the law of heaven, but that in Milton’s mind the only thing worse than absolute monarchy is dictatorship in the guise of democracy.
John Milton knew that while Britain’s experiment with republican government may have failed, the people of his country would one day be free from the tyranny of absolute rule. Leaving the reader ultimately unsure of how to reconcile such seemingly opposing scenarios on earth and in heaven, the poet makes a simple plea. In between these lines of blank verse written centuries ago, Milton asks the reader to have faith that God knows better than we do, and that sometimes we need to trust, often blindly, in the plan of an all-knowing Creator.
In opposition to many of his Calvinist colleagues who believed in predestination, Milton argued, through the unrhymed lines of poetry in Paradise Lost, that the push for more political freedom on earth is an unstoppable tide of progress. That desire for liberty exists only because of the divinely instilled presence of free will given to humanity by the Creator, who, while He may have foreseen the Fall, allowed it to happen in order to give humanity an opportunity to make the greatest decision the universe could ever present.
Published in Liberty – March / April 2013