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There is a scene early on in Fritz Lang's 1927 film 'Metropolis' that is perhaps one of the starkest images in early cinema. Towards the beginning of the movie, the hero of the film, Freder, descends into the bowels of the undercity below the gleaming palaces and splendors of the vast city, Metropolis. All his life, Freder has lived in comfort and luxury, but when he finally discovers the factories that were working under his feet all this time to provide him with those comforts, he is stricken by horror.
His gaze falls on a vast machine, with dozens of workers doing a series of repetitious motions in a kind of rhythmic dance. The chief engineer in charge of this machine, exhausted from his toil, struggles to regulate the heat and pressure valves. He slips, the rig, whose purpose is mysterious, explodes. The workers fly down in a shower of human bodies, fleeing while tearing their clothes off as they are burned by the steam exhaust.
Freder turns his eyes again towards the machine to see it transformed into a face: a terrible, inhuman face. A staircase ascends to its gaping mouth, and the injured workers are now seen as slaves, led by chains into the open maw with whirring gears for teeth flanked by two motionless men in the garb of Mesopotamian priests. In case the symbolism is lost on the viewer, the film helpfully flashes a stylized text card which reads: Moloch! The vision dissipates, and the machine remains with a new crew of workers replacing the injured or the dead.
Moloch: the god that consumes men, often identified with Baal in Sacred Scripture. An ancient Canaanite deity of sun and fire, it was traditionally felt that Moloch was a being that, unlike the distant and often fickle-seeming God of All Creation, would achieve results. Traditionally depicted in bronze with the body of a man and the head of a bull, Moloch projected power. He is the god of charging problems headlong, of goring your enemies with no fuss and no questions. The cost? A trifle. Merely the future. Kindle a fire in the bowels of the great bronze effigy, and toss in your firstborn.
The Moloch Machine of Our Times
But this is all for barbarians, correct? No civilized society would embrace such murderous superstition. On the contrary, as GK Chesterton wrote in, 'The Everlasting Man,' (part 1 chapter 7)
"...the worshipers of Moloch were not gross or primitive. They were members of a mature and polished civilization abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably far more civilized than the Romans. And Moloch was not a myth; or at any rate his meal was not a myth. These highly civilized people really met together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. We can only realize the combination by imagining a number of Manchester merchants with chimneypot hats and mutton-chop whiskers, going to church every Sunday at eleven o'clock to see a baby roasted alive."
Yet here is the irony, Moloch was not defeated by the sacking and salting of Carthage. His cult could never be stamped out. It is, up to this point it seems, a human universal. And Chesterton's analogy could not be more apt, because whether or not you think such a being exists of ever existed, his cult swims like sharks in the waters of the modern world, especially among those who consider themselves the most modern, the most civilized, and the most cutting edge. Let us lay aside the obvious: that the world, East and West alike, gluts this demon on the blood of the unborn. Let us talk of how all the world is a machine for consuming men.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the phenomenon of the "IQ-shredder," the mechanism by which the great cities of the world consume the best and brightest of the age, keep them so chained to their productivity that humane life escapes them, and thus the genetic currency of intelligence within a population is denied fruition and consumed wholesale. Much ado has also been made of the dysgenic effects of the modern city upon their populations, but little has been said of its inhumanity. In the same chapter in which he describes the Manchester Moloch Cult, Chesterton expresses a sentiment that helps illumine the true viciousness of the IQ-shredder:
"The materialist theory of history, that all politics and ethics are the expression of economics, is a very simple fallacy indeed. It consists simply of confusing the necessary conditions of life with the normal preoccupations of life, that are quite a different thing. It is like saying that because a man can only walk about on two legs, therefore he never walks about except to buy shoes and stockings… Cows may be purely economic, in the sense that we cannot see that they do much beyond grazing and seeking better grazing-grounds; and that is why a history of cows in twelve volumes would not be very lively reading."
The IQ-shredder may very well contribute to social and civilizational collapse, but missing in this analysis is how it collapses the human person. The intellectual elite of the modern city have all of their needs met and met in abundance: food and drink of the highest quality and in unlimited quantities, pleasures cheap and extravagant all within the reach of six figure bank balances. But this is not living. This is the life of cattle, being fed and tranquilized while productivity is drained from men like milk from udders. There are greater and vaster things: God, the true God, and the fulfillment of true religion. Duty, service, sacrifice, love, fertility of body and mind. All of these are suppressed, save that they serve the Machine, that they serve as an incentive to walk willingly up the steps and into the whirring gear-like teeth of Moloch. And what a slaughter it has been, of men and souls, far beyond IQ points on spreadsheets.
This is not an isolated pattern. This is the course of modern history. St. Thomas More wrote in Utopia in 1516, "Your sheep eat people." Market incentives, the form, perhaps, that Moloch took to appeal to a new age that would see the birth of capitalism, drove tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of English peasants into vagabondage and theft for mere survival, for which they were summarily executed. The endless petty wars of the Continent created an idle class of skill-less rogues and retainers that, bereft of enemies to kill, turned to looting and banditry. A new age had dawned in England, where the markets for wool stood to make petty nobility rich, not a hazy, far off prophecy but an imminent reality, and they seized upon it. The cost? The peasantry into the brazen bull? In they go.
What does the Revolution cost? Only human lives? Into the brazen bull. What do progress, empire, security, liberty, and human rights cost? Only human lives? Into the bull they go. The results are in. Feeding people to the bull works.
The Efficiency of the Machine to Run the Culture of Death
And the radicalism of modernity has been to make the process faster, easier, more deadly, more versatile. To give a blunt illustration, only so many people could have been put to the sword by a conquering army in the Middle Ages, but whole cities of civilians can be vaporized by atomic weapons in the blink of an eye. Our scientific advancement and sophistication has served to help industrialize the feeding of the bull, and to put it at a remove from the average person such that you would never know it was happening. Without faux outrage from leftists who are more concerned with their toys of power these days, we might never know that all our clothing and textile products were produced with child slave labor from Southeast Asia. The expansion of the Cult of Moloch has meant that instead of sacrificing your firstborn, you get to sacrifice someone else’s, a Ponzi scheme of unnatural death, inhumane life, and suffering radiating out from whoever happens to be the priest at the head of the procession.
In an inversion of the Created Order, Man, the Pinnacle of Creation, must be consumed, not by animals or worms or the soil, but by the profit motive, by liberty, by human rights. By abstractions, lacking any being of their own. If the Creation of God is a Chain of Being, then the Creation of Men is an ouroboros, a cosmos wherein the greatest of all created beings is sacrificed to literally nothing.
Tradition, Reaction, Conservatism, whatever you deign to call it, was not founded upon using trad aesthetics or political maneuvering to bring about a saner world. It is not about evolutionary advantage and adaptability, burgeoning IQ scores, ethnic harmony, soaring cathedrals, and tranquil mountaintop shrines. It may contain all these things, but it is fundamentally about perceiving the embedded structures of Order in the Universe, created by God for the benefit of all mankind. It is about the advocation of flourishing over consumption, of the sacredness and meaningfulness of human life.
It may seem obvious to anyone who has looked into the tranquil face of a sleeping infant, wholly dependent, wholly vulnerable, that life matters. That giving one's life for life is profound. And nothing seems more obvious than the fact that the world is a machine that eats men. In the womb, through abortion. In youth, through poisoning the mind with hatred for what is truly human. In adulthood, by the reduction of all human value to the economic. In old age, by the warehousing of those unwanted and unloved until death. All of human life is pared down, lubricated, and streamlined for maximum profit with minimal investment.
Augustine famously said that there are two cities: "formed by two loves; the earthly by the love of self, and the heavenly by the love of God." He could have just as easily have said the earthly city is formed by the consumption of men, body and soul, while the heavenly city is formed of the outpouring of surplus life. St. Thomas said men are like vessels, some larger than others, each designed to be filled with the Holy Spirit such that the Infinity of God perpetually overflows the rim. The City of God, the proper ordering of the universe, is about life and life abundant. Metropolis, the modern city, the brazen bull - these things are about destruction of life.
Dismantling Moloch's Machine Through Faith
But what is to be done? What can be done? One of the tragedies of the modern condition may be that those same systems capable of converting human life into money can convert it just as easily into political power, and can even convert anxiety and desire for change into compliance and complicity with the system.
The answer must similarly be wide-sweeping and omnipresent.
There are those who would give up all hope that a sane, moral, and correct ordering can be restored to human affairs or anything else in this fallen universe. To some, the impossibility of men of God to make a sinful world into a paradise is an excuse to do nothing. To them I counsel to remember the words of Christ: that which you have done for the least of these you have done for me. We must take up the mantle of sanity in an insane world and stop the jaws of Moloch, not merely because there is no alternative for men of courage and moral fortitude, but because each image-bearer we allow to be swallowed up by the machine is beloved by our God and charged into our care. To answer the age-old question: yes Cain, you are your brother's keeper.
The inhumane system of capital will not die until we demand that human beings come before profits, that the economy conform to man and serve his interests rather than man serve the interests of the market. The inhumane system of informational warfare against the world's population, of political tyranny and repression, of desecration of what is sacred, holy, and good, will not end until we acknowledge that people are not the playthings of the strong, and that there is an eternal judge to whom all temporal power must hold itself to account.
It will not come about by sloganeering, by political pandering, by the buying and selling of favors. It will only come from a reassertion of reason and humanity into an irrational and inhumane world, an incarnation of a Divine Order within the visible Body of Christ here on earth. Just as nothing could end the eons of sacrifice to dark gods save the Incarnation of Christ, nothing could stop the works of the modern Moloch save a reemergence of that same force in human history through those that partake in and of His Body. It is the one point of human history that is distinct, the focal point around which all the cycles of triumph and tragedy organize, and in the millions of small, personal manifestations of Christ in and to men, individual lives are bent and centered around that singularity of humanity. To speak plainly, nothing can bring about change except a revival of genuine, unapologetic, unwavering, unflinching, robust, supernatural faith in Our God.
What else could? What else could serve as the organizing principle of all mankind than the only being which is both human and divine, above all humanity, loving all of humanity, and serving as the Pinnacle of all that exists? What else would serve as a lofty enough goal for a race as lofty as man?
This essay was originally published at the Hidebound Press, which is the publishing arm of the Hidebound Convivium YouTube channel, and has been republished with the permission of the site's owner.
Photo Credit- flickr.com