Satan is an Existentialist — Paradise Lost + Satre’s Existentialism

Satan: the sinful devil, the angel turned malevolent, the… champion of freedom? Parallels between Satan and Sartrean existentialism are evident in Satan’s pursuit to escape Yahweh’s “paper cutter” confines and develop his own essence through self-determination. Using atheistic writings while handling Milton’s Paradise Lost is less ironic when Paradise Lost serves a metaphoric purpose in rendering the various interpretations of freedom. Sartre’s critical essay “Existentialism” can be sectioned into five parts; of each, Satan reflects/portrays a critical aspect relating back to existentialism.

Satan is the prominent figure to break the “paper cutter” mold. It is implicit within the notion of non- “paper cutter” that essence precedes existence; this holds to be true. Where both, angels and humans, are encoded with predetermined temptations, intentions, morals, and desires (essence before existence), Satan and his associates (seem to have) existed first with their essence to develop. This is shown in Satan’s disobedience. Satan opposed the relegation to servitude and thus, rebelled. Satan said “no” to not only his fidelity for Yahweh, but the spectrum of obedience altogether; therefore, he exists having essence. Where angels can only obey or disobey Yahweh, Satan delineates in constructing Pandemonium. Satans existence, freedom of choice beyond a binary spectrum, and the responsibility of Hell sum to his overall essence.

In Satre’s three comparisons of freedom (stone, plant, or freedom), humans are stones, angels are comparable to plants, and Satan is freedom. It is only the last of which Satre acknowledges as attaining the true requisites for freedom. Under the allowance of full autonomy (only permitted under the last comparison), Satan broke the chains, preached to his defeated angels, and built Pandemonium for the betterment of life. His morals do not come from Yahweh. From the notion that there is no distilled good or evil (there is an impossibility in Yahweh being pure good and Satan pure evil), every being must make choices assessed on net-goodness and assume responsibility for the consequences of evil. Unlike Yahweh, Satan accounts for this fact when being decisive. This can be seen in his Satans deliberation to go to war, “ ‘Full counsel must mature. Peace is despaired; For who can think submission? War, then, war Open or understood, must be resolved.’ “ (Milton 1. 660–663). Where war is a tool of evil weaponized for the mission of “good”, Satan accounts for both the consequences of dethroning Yahweh and the losses to come. This embodies Satre’s assertion of good in evil and evil within good. Yahweh weaponized the pit of lava and chains in pursuit of Satan’s justice. In contrast, however, Yahweh does not account for the evils in his torture. The complexity of morality’s entanglement with freedom is highlighted in Satan’s character and rationale.

Satan created an essence for his hell society. In rising above the flames and delivering his speech, he developed a community of bereft angels. Satan committed to his community and never once reneged on his responsibility of leadership. He took his angels that once “Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf,” (1. 53) to “Within, her ample spaces o’er the smooth And level pavement: from the arched roof, Pendent by subtle magic, many a row Of starry lamps and blazing cressets, fed With naptha and asphaltus, yielded light As from a sky.” (1. 725–730). Satan, while owning his faults, committed to his responsibility to his society and created a community essence in Hell.

“The others” cause Satan anguish. “The others” are everyone who prescribes to the Abrahamic religions that diminish Satan to “evil” without a second thought. “The others” are Yahweh who denied Satan full range of freedom. “The others” are the enemy angels who never gave Satan the dimensions in which he existed. “The others” are a torture to Satan; Satan is a torture to others. Satan gives way to relative social apathy in coping. Instead of proving he is good/dimensional, he diverts his focus to a selfish goal: Yahweh’s throne.

The protagonist in an epic in defense of Yahweh is not Yahweh but a “Commitment Devil” called Satan. He does not float on tides or drown in tsunamis; he creates them. As Satre encourages, Satan takes a stand (against Yahweh), makes choices on behalf of Hell, commits himself to his beliefs and agenda (of war), and creates meaning in his actions (a fight for paleolibertarian-esque freedom). Satan expresses this when he says, “Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” (1. 261–263). In restatement, he proclaims he would prefer to be a “Commitment Devil” within Hell than to sacrifice autonomy for Heaven. One does not root for Satan, but in his battles, one can acknowledge his courage to betray Yahweh when his peers remained indifferent to servitude. Satan serves as the primary offense against the notion the freedom to obedience is freer than the freedom to oneself. Because of his courage, he becomes Satre’s idealization: a “Commitment Devil” (Man).

The self-determination exemplified in Satan is countering to his original purpose: fidelity and obedience. The protagonist breaks the paper cutter mold in his existence predating his true essence (one not foreordained by an external authority). With this essence and newfound sovereignty, Satan goes on to create a societal essence for his rebels, take responsibility for Pandemonium, and exemplify Satre’s “Commitment Man”. He leads his troops with the understanding morality is not derived from a polarity of good/bad. Without regard to “the others” in his rationale, his processing exemplifies that of a true existentialist. Satan is existential.

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