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The Humanist Tradition and Milton's Satan: The Conservative as Revolutionary

Wayne A. Rebhorn
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
Vol. 13, No. 1, The English Renaissance (Winter, 1973), pp. 81-93
Published by: Rice University
DOI: 10.2307/449871
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/449871
Page Count: 13
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The Humanist Tradition and Milton's Satan: The Conservative as Revolutionary
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Abstract

Satan's fallen mentality conceives the universe in political terms, where Fate is supreme and God, a tyrant who removes the devils in an act of divine nepotism. When Satan rebels, he justifies himself on paradoxically "conservative" grounds: he would restore an order God disturbed. While Satan clearly misconceives the universal order, deriving merit simply from hierarchical position, his conservatism clashes directly with the beliefs of Christian Humanism which lie behind Milton's revolutionary attitudes. For Christian Humanists, one's position depended entirely on merit which was identified with moral and spiritual achievement. In this perspective, only the best could rule, and Satan's conservative derivation of merit from position would be rejected, while his rebellion, implemented by treachery and force, would be considered a parody of true revolution, based on spiritual achievement. Thus, while Paradise Lost is incompatible with Satan's false notions of merit and revolution, it is perfectly compatible with the revolutionary notion Milton developed out of Christian Humanism, the notion of an order based on spiritual achievement, which is exactly the order of God's heaven.

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