Leto Atreides II: Satanist

“When I am gone, they must call me Shaitan, the Emperor of Gehenna. The wheel must turn.”
Leto Atreides II, God Emperor of the Known Universe

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In his essay “Prescience and Power: God Emperor of Dune and the Intellectuals“, published in the journal Science Fiction Studies, Stephen Fjellman argues that Frank Herbert’s novel God Emperor of Dune is especially appealing to a particular type of intellectual:

Whatever its intended audience, I think this novel speaks to the situation of some American intellectuals–especially those in the academy and, I suspect, particularly male ones…

Intellectuals can identify with the God Emperor. Because they have read more, studied longer, and thought deeper, they assume that they can see more clearly than the “masses.” They identify with Leto’s god-like perspective. Moreover, just because they are essentially powerless, they yearn for Leto’s power. Like Nietzche’s Overman and Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, their will to power tempts them to impose their visions on others. (After all, someone must decide; why not them? Those who can, should.)

God Emperor Leto II has seen visions of all possible futures, and has determined that without his intervention–intervention that requires him to be a ruthless oppressive tyrant–humanity will die out. His memories of human history and prescient knowledge of the future make him superior to everyone else, but also mean he is doomed to loneliness and isolation. After all, how could any common human really understand what it is like to be him? The burden of responsibility that comes with his knowledge and power? The hardship of being the only one in the universe who knows that  the horrific things he does are actually necessary for humanity to fulfill its best destiny?

He is the embodiment of the bitterness of unrecognized superiority… so of course intellectuals love him.

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This archetype also closely resembles one of the common (both inside and outside the Satanic community) negative stereotypes of a contemporary member of the Church of Satan, for whom the LaVeyan proverb Worship yourself! resonates rather more strongly than calls for belief based on science. Have you met this Satanic stereotype, in dark halls or online chat rooms?

He is smarter than everyone around him, and makes sure you know it.

What he believes is absolute fact;  it never occurs to him that he may be wrong.

He is proud to be selfish, because he knows being selfish is rational and wise and is the way nature really should work..

If you disagree with him, it is because you didn’t research enough or are too stupid to understand.

He is anti-social… but only because most people are beneath him.

He knows the world is cruel and heartless and that every person has to fend for himself, and anyone who disagrees is obviously soft and weak and has been brainwashed by dumb liberal concepts such as “generosity” and “compassion”.

He may be lonely, and he may be looked down upon… but that is just more evidence that his deeper understanding of the universe surpasses the common people around him.

Of course, in the science fiction novel God Emperor of Dune, Leto II actually is more knowledgeable and powerful than everyone else. This is why he can function as a kind of Gary Stu for both intellectuals and LaVeyan Satanists: he manifestly is the thing they desperately would like to see themselves as.

But if you carry this attitude with you, it must haunt you in some deep, dark, possibly hidden section of your mind to know that there is a key difference between you and Leto Atreided II: he is God Emperor of the Known Universe; you are merely a douchebag.

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“Ha, ha. St00pid LaVeyans.”

As usual, though, this simple reaction, based on a one-dimensional negative stereotype, isn’t a fair or complete analysis, either.

The story of God Emperor of Dune implicitly asks the reader to identify with Leto II (the bulk of it is written in first person from his perspective, after all), and if you allow yourself to be drawn into the story you are compelled to ask yourself this question:

If I knew for certain that the only way to prevent humanity from going extinct would be for me to become a tyrannical, brutal dictator for thousands of years, and act out a bloody role that would leave me lonely during my lifetime, and hated for millennia after I was dead, would I have the will (or heart, or strength) to do it?

Would you? Could you do it?  When I considered the question for myself, my first reaction was to rebel against the premise:

There is no way you could know for certain, so assuming that brutality is the only option is a kind of arrogance.

This is a false-choice situation, that has nothing to do with the real world, and therefore has no applicable moral conclusions.

The supposed “necessity” of cruelty in the world is never clear-cut, so the creation of a worldview in which cruelty is justified by “nature” seems like it’s just bootstrapping a justification for a way you wanted to act anyway.

Fascism and brutality are obvious and easy “solutions” to many problems, but as such are a mark of laziness: the more you crow that a competitive world is an ideal world because competition will eventually teach everyone the lesson they need to learn, the more obvious it is that you don’t want to do the hard work of figuring out how to arrive at the same solution without pain, pointless suffering, and anguish.

All of these things are true…. but they don’t answer the hypothetical question on the table. They don’t address Leto’s fictional dilemma: if you knew for certain that brutality and tyranny were the only way, would you do it?

It’s an interesting question to ponder. I think there is a good chance that I would stubbornly doubt my own certainty before I would give in to simply saying, “Yeah, I guess I need to be a fascist who slaughters a bunch of people…. you know, for the good of humanity!”

Is that a flaw in my personality? Or is that a virtue?

I turn back to my Satanism to introspect on the question, and I still am uncertain. On the one hand, Satan knows that his own judgment is all he has to go on: better to act on his own judgment than to put faith in an ideal simply for the sake of having faith. On the other hand: Satan knows the danger of being too self-certain… surely he has seen this trait in Yaweh, and has despised him for it.

Unfortunately, I have no pat answer to offer; but, I’m interested in hearing from other Satanists. If you were presented with Leto II’s dilemma, what would you do? What path would your own interpretation of your Satanism lead you down?  Would you be a Satanist like Leto II? Or would you be a different kind of Satanist?


  1. I don’t believe nature is cruel. Cruelty is causing pain intentionally and that is a uniquely human trait. The predator that kills is just life, being neither cruel of merciful. To use nature as a justification for human behavior is laughable. I think before we look at Leto II we need to touch on his father Paul. Unable to deny his oracle after seeing it come true time and time again, and trapped in his vision, he struggled to break away from his golden path, knowing the jihad would carry on in his name without him. He KNEW and still rejected, unable to do it. Leto II took it upon himself to follow the path. It wasn’t because he thought he was right. He KNEW. He had seen it with an undeniable prescient vison, But even then to do it he effectively removed himself from humanity. There was Leto II, now pretty much immortal, grotesque, all knowing and alone. Then there was everybody else. He became not so much a caretaker of humanity but a gardener or surgeon. Cutting and pruning where necessary, placing stresses on the organism that is humanity. There might be blood and pain but ultimately it was for the survival of the whole. I believe one of the fundamental truths of existence is that “good” is impotent without the contrast of “evil”. Humanity needed an ultimate evil so that when it was gone the joyous expression of freedom from his tyranny would be an explosion of life across the universe. Leto II disengaged and gave up his humanity and rose above it. I am human and and locked into humanity. I am human, I have doubts, I make mistakes. It would probably need a life time of oracular visions tested and proven true time and again without fail to even come close, to even beginning to consider it. On a micro level I could sacrifice my own life to save one of my family or friends. I might even be able to give my life if I knew it would save humanity. But dyeing is easy. You don’t have to deal with the messy consequences after. Would I be able to commit truly horrific actions and exist beyond to watch the fallout? I don’t know. My human knowledge and understanding, is largely based on the knowledge of other humans, who supposedly know better than I in their field of expertise, supplemented by my own observations. But humans are fallible and I have an appreciation for that fact. If Neil deGrasse Tyson came up to me and told me there was an extinction level asteroid headed to Earth and pushing this red button would save the planet but at the cost of millions of people I’d be asking “are you sure?” I don’t know if Id be able to do it. Especially if I didn’t know exactly who we would lose.

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