National Reckonings: The Last Judgment and Literature in Milton's England

Cornell University Press, 2019

My book shows how widespread expectation of the world’s end shaped nationalism in seventeenth-century England. During the tumultuous years of the English Revolution and Restoration, crises like civil wars and the execution of the king convinced Englishmen that the end of the world was imminent. Theorizing what Christ’s return would mean for England, Milton, Hobbes, Winstanley, Vaughan, and other writers used anticipation of the Last Judgment to disrupt existing ideas of the nation and generate new ones.

I argue, then, that for Milton and his contemporaries, nationalism was not only a horizontal affair between citizens and their sovereign but a vertical affair that pitted the nation against the shortly expected kingdom of God. The Last Judgment was the site at which these two imagined communities, England and ecclesia (the church universal), would collide. Co-opting biblical futures and writing the nation into prophecies of the end times, Paradise Lost, Leviathan, and other literary works offered contemporary readers an opportunity to experience reckoning while there was still time to alter its outcome. By means of literary narrative, the last things were transformed into present things, and readers were given visions of the wondrous world to come—which was, in a sense, already there.