1989’s The Armageddon Crazy is a standalone near-future novel by Mick Farren.
The Crash of 1998 was deliberately engineered by banks who hoped to unseat the Democrats. The Panic of 1999 was an unintended consequence. A surprisingly fragile economy imploded. The consequence of that: President Faithful’s victory in 2000. No longer do Americans have to languish under a two party system! Now they can enjoy living under a brutal theocracy.
A brutal, incompetent theocracy.
Spoilers for a book well out of print.
Lieutenant Harry Carlisle has thus far managed to hold onto his position with the NYPD despite his suspicious lack of obsequious forelock tugging towards the deacons who enforce holy law. In part, this may be because Harry is good at his job. The deacons, on the other hand, are known for victimizing the weak and unlucky as well as for egregious corruption. Still, in an America that prioritizes servile obedience and loud lip-service to religious principle, it’s only a matter of time before some deacon takes a dislike to Harry and makes him disappear.
Oppression invites reaction. The Lefthand Path is a surprisingly competent resistance group. It has managed to keep its membership secret and infiltrators out. It employs such devices as bombs in auto-confessionals and deacon assassinations (preferably outside deacon-friendly brothels). The Lefthand Path manages to strike without leaving evidence that would allow Harry and his colleagues to track them down.
Meanwhile, Cynthia Kline survives what seems to be an attack on two policemen who were escorting her through a riot-zone. At least that’s the scenario she staged. Actually, she herself shot the two cops because they were killing civilians. As a consequence, she is lauded as the plucky bystander who killed cop-killers, not accused as a cop-killing terrorist.
Cynthia’s good with a pistol because she’s a Red Canadian agent on a covert mission into darkest America. She should be professional enough to resist the mutual attraction that blooms between her and Harry, but she is not. She cannot resist the urge to decompress from a mission in which the tiniest misstep could land her in a deacon’s torture chamber.
Head of Deacon Internal Affairs Matthew Dreisler is that rare thing, a competent deacon. He’s well aware that Cynthia isn’t the bystander she claims to be, that Harry is the sort of apostate of whom the deacons like to make an example. Dreisler has been holding off on arresting the couple; he is focused on theocratic politics. A clash between dour President Faithful and the flamboyant and popular preacher Arlen Proverb Is looming. Dreisler needs to be on the winning side … whichever that is.
The struggle between Faithful and Proverb is an opportunity the Lefthand Path could exploit. Dreisler is determined to ensure his side wins the coming war for America. He has picked Harry and Cynthia as his pawns in this game.
This book has aged in interesting ways. As one might expect, Farren, the author (like pretty much everyone), expected the Soviets to have more staying power than they did. Once the US goes dingo, Canada and every other nation that doesn’t want an army of self-righteous religious wingnuts marching across their border throws in their lot with Moscow.
On the other hand, Farren had a pretty good idea how easy it would be for a would-be autocrat in the right time and the right place to transform the US from a failed democracy into a full blown dictatorship, particularly given a cooperative Congress:
The mask had come off during the summer of 2004, “The Summer of the Three Crises.” In those three months of manufactured panic. Faithful and his gang had made their moves. A terrified Congress had suspended the Constitution and then dissolved itself. With nothing to stop them, the administration had started rewriting the rules. The Heresy and Blasphemy Laws were enacted, and the deacons were formed. The redemption centers, concentration camps by any other name, were under construction. By the fall, the country was as fully fledged a religious police state as Iran had been under the Ayatollahs. It had taken Hitler some five years to change the face of Germany. Faithful had done it to America in just three.
Checks and balances only work if the people who are supposed to provide those checks and balances actually do.
It doesn’t help if decent people con themselves into thinking that norms will stay norms, that no opportunist will ever kick over the board. As Stone, a political prisoner, muses:
It was easy for Stone to demonstrate to himself that, without his own unbelieving complacency and that of those like him. Faithful and his gang would never have been able to do what they did. He was one of the ones who had been too busy congratulating themselves for their sanity and liberalism to notice what was going on, the ones who had made the mistake of assuming that, whatever happened, things would remain within the limits of civilized behavior. By the time they had discovered their error, it was far too late.
The other detail Farren gets right is how endlessly corrupt autocracies are. Deacons may start off as sincerely religious zealots, but it doesn’t seem to take long for them to given in to the temptation to exploit their position for personal gratification. If that weren’t bad enough, as long as they instill a sufficient level of terror, their bosses don’t much know or care how competent the deacons are. Most of the upper ranks, Dreisler being the singular exception, seem unable to tell competence from incompetence.
The Armageddon Crazy, like Heinlein’s If This Goes On, imagines a US gone theocratic. But Farren is far more cynical than old Bob ever was. There’s no real hope here that the People will suddenly come to their senses and rise up. If anything, just the opposite happens. And the people in the best position to undermine the regime are not motivated to do so by any particular love of democracy, but simply by the desire to avoid the consequences of having nitwits in charge or by their will to power. Dreisler and his allies in the Lefthand Path are not Heinlein’s Cabal; they are much closer to General Friedrich Olbricht, Major General Henning von Tresckow, and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. This isn’t the most hopeful view of the future but if people wanted hope, they would not have installed an autocrat.
The Armageddon Crazy is available here (Amazon) but only used, as far as I can tell.