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Lucifer Has Long Had His Hands in Politics

Since the earliest days of Christianity, people have accused their political rivals of being in league with the Devil

A cartoon from the magazine The Judge, where "Democracy" is portrayed as the devil overlooking Washington, D.C., and looks very much like Grover Cleveland. (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson made waves during the second night of the Republican National Convention, when he insinuated that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was in league with Lucifer. Carson’s claims were shocking to some, but he's far from the first politician to make such an insinuation about an opponent. 

As it turns out, there is actually a long-standing tradition of accusing political rivals to be in league with the Devil. Just a few months ago, former Speaker of the House John Boehner facetiously referred to fellow Republican Senator Ted Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh,” and the 2013 History Channel miniseries “The Bible” drew controversy after some claimed an actor portraying Satan was made up to look like President Barack Obama. But while these incidents are fairly recent, over the centuries, people frequently claimed they saw the Devil’s hands at work in politics. Here are a few notable times Lucifer and his allies worked their way into politics and government:

Rome and the Book of Revelation

Some of the longest-lasting images associated with the Devil and politics comes from the Bible itself, particularly the Book of Revelation. While this portion of the New Testament is focused on the Apocalypse and how Satan’s forces would clash with God’s armies, many Biblical scholars believe some of the demonic figures are allegories for pagan Rome, which persecuted early Christians. As L. Michael White, a classics professor at the University of Texas-Austin, writes for PBS Frontline, the Book of Revelation is peppered with references to Rome, including the seven-headed “beast from the sea,” which is thought to be a direct reference to the Roman Emperor and the famous seven hills of Rome.

Dante’s "Inferno"

The first part of Dante Alighieri's epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” tracks the author’s allegorical descent through the nine levels of Hell. The poem was written as an allegory for the journey that the soul takes on the path towards God, and throughout "Inferno," he sets aside time to call out specific people and their punishments in Hell. Many of these figures were real-life politicians whom Dante had dealings with, and in some ways the poem reflects Dante’s own years of wandering after he was exiled from his native Florence by his rivals, Columbia University historian Akash Kumar writes. While Dante depicts his enemies as imprisoned for a variety of sins throughout Hell, he saves Pope Boniface VIII, who supported his exile, a special place alongside other infamously ambitious Popes and political leaders.

The Salem Witch Trials

From 1692 to 1963, the residents of Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony earned themselves a spot in history for their infamous witch trials. "More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft—the Devil's magic—and 20 were executed," writes Jess Blumberg for Smithsonian Magazine. While scholars have puzzled for years over what caused this outbreak of mass hysteria, one theory is that an extended period of cold weather lead to a series of bad harvests and economic downturn for the agrarian community. As the local economy plummeted and people struggled to feed themselves and their families, some may have turned a resentful eye towards more prosperous neighbors and merchants, sparking the literal witch hunts for allies of Satan.

Daniel Defoe and the Devil

Best known as the author of Robinson Crusoe, 18th-century novelist and satirist Daniel Defoe was also a devout Protestant Dissenter who believed that the Devil had a physical form and walked the Earth. That led him to write one of his later books, The Political History of the Devil. In the 1762 tome, Defoe claims that Lucifer manipulates world events and politics both in his own form and by possessing the minds and bodies of his allies and servants, according to the British Library. In particular, Defoe saw the Catholic Church and the Pope as allegiant to the Devil, whom he also blamed for the Crusades.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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