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Modernity and the Millennium: From Robespierre to Radical Feminism


Tom Flanagan

 Author Notes

Professor of political science, University of Calgary, former director of research for the Reform Party of Canada (1991-1992), president of the Canadian conservative society Civitas

Books by Tom Flanagan
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First Nations? Second Thoughts
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Waiting for the Wave: The Reform Party & Preston Manning (1995)
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 Essay -

I was flattered to be invited by the University of Windsor to participate in this lecture series entitled "The Millennium Approaches." Let me begin my contribution by asking a seemingly simple question: why should we celebrate the millennium? The answer will prove to be more complicated than the question.

The term "millennium" is a compound of two Latin words, mille meaning "1000" and annus meaning "year," so a millennium is literally a period of 1000 years. That's probably a good enough reason to throw a party, for the human mind loves the simplicity of large round numbers. We celebrate the end of every decade and every century, so we can hardly ignore the end of the millennium.

However, the millennium, unlike a decade or a century, is more than just a period of time. Its other, deeper meaning comes from the last book of the New Testament, which Roman Catholics call the Apocalypse, Protestants the Book of Revelation. In the middle of chapter 19 there is a vision of the last days. A rider on a white horse leads a celestial army to overthrow the beast and the false prophet who have been ruling the earth; both are thrown "into the lake of fire." Then the visionary sees

an angel coming down from heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hands. He seized the dragon, that serpent of old, the Devil or Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years; he threw him into the abyss, shutting and sealing it over him, so that he might seduce the nations no more till the thousand years were over. After that he must be let loose for a short while. [1]

This passage is the source of the Christian belief that the Second Coming of Christ to earth will establish a 1000-year-long reign of harmony. The duration of 1000 years is an accidental characteristic; what is essential is the belief in the culmination and transformation of history, the abolition of evil from earth through the intervention of divine power. In this sense the millennium was a new symbol for a much older hope, expressed as the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven in the New Testament; as the Day of the Lord or the Day of Judgment in the prophetic books of the Old Testament; or, even more remotely, as the Zoroastrian "making wonderful" of the earth. [2] In the literature of religious studies, the term millennium is now often used to describe any such period of transformation at the end of history, whether or not it's pictured as lasting 1000 years.

I will not presume to pontificate on the precise meaning of the teaching of Jesus Christ; but I have been heavily influenced by the scholars, from Albert Schweitzer onwards, who have interpreted primitive Christianity as a Jewish millenarian movement. [3] The Kingdom of Heaven as taught by Jesus certainly had spiritual dimensions, but it was also understood, both by him and by those to whom he preached, as an historical event to be expected in the very near future. Jesus took literally the cry of John the Baptist, "Repent; for the kingdom of Heaven is upon you!" [4]

The Fathers of the Church, above all Saint Augustine in the City of God, reinterpreted the millenarian aspects of early Christianity, picturing the Kingdom of God less as an historical event to be anticipated in the near future than as a spiritual condition of sanctification within the life of the Church. [5] Yet the more literal understanding of the millennium also persisted throughout the Middle Ages, as chronicled in Norman Cohn's classic book The Pursuit of the Millennium. [6] Indeed, it persists to the present day in the Christian tradition and is central to the teaching of some of the most active and growing Christian churches, such as the Latter Day Saints, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Seventh Day Adventists. [7] It has also been taken up outside Christianity in syncretistic religions such as the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) and the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. [8]

Religious millenarianism is a fascinating topic, but, as a political scientist, I would like to direct our attention to the parallel phenomenon of political millenarianism. [9] I refer here to political ideologies or movements that propose, not just to take power, but to transform the human condition, ushering in an era of peace, freedom, equality, and abundance. John Lennon's famous song "Imagine" evokes a New Age millennium:

Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger, the brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.

Religious and political millenarianism are similar in hoping for a transformation of the human condition, but they differ in their conception of agency: the former expects divine intervention to destroy the power of Satan, the latter expects man to deliver himself from bondage to evil. Relgious millenarianism is very old, well over 2000 years, whereas political millenarianism is only about 200 years old, the first instance having appeared in the French Revolution.

Political millenarianism is a derivative of its religious Doppelgänger, but in an indirect way. To the extent that Western civilization is a product of Christianity, millenarianism is an integral part of our culture. Until very recently, every educated person knew the Bible. Even those who did not take seriously ideas such as the Second Coming were well acquainted with the Christian view that history contains within itself a divine economy of salvation and, therefore, is headed towards a culmination. With the secularization of thought in the Enlightenment, it was inevitable that political thinkers would revise the story of salvation from a religious into a political drama, in which man, instead of being saved by God's revelation, saves himself by discovering and implementing a hitherto unknown ideology.

Ever since the French Revolution, millenarianism has been a prominent theme in the political thought of the Western world. In the rest of this talk, I will look at some key examples, extending, as the title says, from Robespierre to radical feminism. These are not just random cases; rather, they are chosen to illustrate a pattern. Political millenarianism implies a rejection of reality, an act of "metaphysical rebellion," in the name of a social order yet to be constructed. [10] The history of millenarian projects since the French Revolution manifests a pattern of ever more fundamental rebellions against reality.

At the risk of being overly schematic, let me divide these rebellions into three overlapping but distinguishable stages:

- First came the rebellion against political authority in the French Revolution. Underpinning this rebellion was a belief in a harmonious natural order allegedly obscured and defaced by a corrupt, exploitive political order. [11] Peace, freedom, equality, and abundance could be established by sweeping away the unnatural polity so that the natural order could emerge in all its splendour.

- With the failure of the French Revolution to transform the human condition, the millenarian project moved into its second phase during the nineteenth century. The targets became more fundamental than mere politics--namely property as the underlying source of political domination, and God as the metaphysical source of unjust politics. [12] Republicanism and nationalism gave way to communism and atheism as revolutionary ideologies.

- The twentieth century witnessed the failure of communism to produce a humane, or even workable, society. Atheism, also, has lost its power, now seeming to be merely one opinion among many, with little potential for transforming the human condition. Millenarian rebellion has had to find new targets, and all that is left is the natural order itself. Thus have arisen the contemporary varieties of biological millenarianism: racism, which rejects the differentiation of human beings into races; environmentalism, which rejects mankind's biocultural ascendancy over other species; and feminism, which rejects the sexual dimorphism of the human species.

Let us look more closely at each of the three phases of the millenarian rebellion against reality.

Millenarian Republicanism and the French Revolution

The French Revolution, beginning as a moderate attempt to impose constitutional limitations on absolute monarchy, quickly turned into the first radical effort of modern times to remake an entire society from the ground up. It is worth recalling how sweeping were the changes unleashed by the Revolution:

- replacement of the monarchy by a republic;

- abolition of the feudal system and confiscation of the lands of the aristocracy;

- disestablishment of the Roman Catholic Church, confiscation of Church property, and introduction of the cult of the Supreme Being;

- replacement of the traditional provinces by geometrically drawn départements;

- introduction of universal military conscription, the famous levée en masse;

- replacement of traditional laws by the code civil;

- replacement of traditional weights and measure by the rationalistic metric system, designed around the powers of 10.

Individually, each of these innovations had some merit, and they have all endured in France and been widely imitated in other countries. But to attempt to introduce them all at once indicates a millenarian attitude towards reality, seeing the past as a realm of darkness to be cast off in favour of a shining future.

This millenarian spirit was perfectly captured in the revolutionary calendar, whose zero point--the equivalent of the birth of Jesus in the Christian calendar--was the proclamation of the Republic on September 22, 1791. The new calendar, like all the other reforms, was based on principles of abstract rationality. There would be 12 months of 30 days, and each month would consist of three weeks of 10 days. An intercalary festival of five days (six in leap year) would synchronize the calendar with the earth's annual revolution around the sun. The old pagan names for the months would be replaced with descriptive names: Thermidor, month of heat; Ventôse, month of wind, and so on.

The Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre expressed the political purpose of all these changes in extravagant terms:

We want an order of things where all base and cruel passions would be chained, all the benevolent and generous passions awakened by the laws, where one's ambition would be to merit glory and to serve his country; where distinctions have no other source than equality itself; where the citizen is subordinated to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people, and the people to justice; where the country insures the well-being of every individual, and where every individual enjoys with pride the prosperity and glory of his country.... [13]

More concisely, Robespierre said that the purpose of the Revolution was "to put back the destinies of liberty in the hands of truth which is eternal, rather than into the hands of men who pass." [14] In J. L. Talmon's famous analysis, these words of Robespierre exemplify totalitiarian democracy:

The totalitarian democratic school ... is based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics. It may be called political Messianism in the sense that it postulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of things, to which men are irresistibly driven, and at which they are bound to arrive.... Its political ideas are not a set of pragmatic precepts or a body of devices applicable to a special branch of human endeavour. They are an integral part of an all-embracing and coherent philosophy. Politics is defined as the art of applying this philosophy to the organization of society.... [15]

The republican conception of politics as the application of a doctrine was a profound break with the traditional understanding of politics as the pursuit of glory and the maintenance of order. Republican politics had a transformative purpose, whereas the purpose of traditional politics was recognition--recognition of interests, recognition of greatness, recognition of order. Republican politics was monistic, based on one true doctrine to be put into action, whereas traditional politics was pluralistic, based on a multiplicity of interests to be recognized and conciliated. [16] Republican politics was, in fact, a rebellion against politics as previously understood in the philosophical tradition of Western civilization. It was part of a millenarian expectation that this new kind of politics would realign mankind with the natural order, and thereby banish domination, injustice, and exploitation from the human condition.

Sound philosophy and practical experience have always suggested this was a vain hope, and now we have additional confirmation from contemporary biology. Human political behaviour has many features in common with that of other social mammals, particularly in the primate order. Primate politics consists of building coalitions in order to maintain a dominance hierarchy within the community. Those included in the winning coalition obtain benefits at the expense of those excluded. There are many different types of systems, but there is no primate politics without domination, hierarchy, and partisan advantage. [17] A purely egalitarian politics is a fantasy.

Socialism and Atheism

Talmon called Jacobinism an "improvisation." The weakness or inconsistency he saw in it had to do with property. While the Jacobins embraced the monistic vision of a single purpose in politics, they were willing to allow the private ownership of property, at least on a small scale. They confiscated the property of the rich, championed the cause of the poor, and introduced price controls and progressive taxes; but they did not break with property as such because they hoped to give land to everyone. [18] There thus remained an implicit contradiction between political monism and economic pluralism.

A step towards resolving the contradiction was taken by the Babouvist conspiracy of 1796, which planned to seize power and create a communist economy. The "Grand National Economy," as described by François-Noèl Babeuf,

will be composed of all in complete equality--all rich, all poor, all free, all brothers. The first law will be a ban on private property. We will depost the fruits of our toil in the public stores. This will be the wealth of the state and the property of all. [19]

In a mood of apocalyptic excitement, Babeuf's collaborator, the poet Sylvain Maréchal, wrote in The Manifesto of the Equals:

The French Revolution is but the forerunner of another revolution, far more grand, far more solemn, and which will be the last.... Evil is at its height; it has reached its maximum, and covers the face of the earth. Chaos, under the name of politics, has too long reigned over it. Let everything revert to order, and resume its proper place.... The days of general restitution are come. Weeping families come and seat yourselves at the common table provided by Nature for all her children. [20]

In the middle of the nineteenth century, a number of socialist and anarchist thinkers went on to develop a full-fledged critique of property. I will mention only the most grandiose, that of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

The nub of their argument is found in one of the most famous sentences of The Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." [21] If the class struggle is fundamental in history, then politics must be secondary. "The executive of the modern State," they wrote, "is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." [22] Or, at greater length: "The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society--the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness." [23] This emphasis on property explained away the failure of the French Revolution as merely a political event. Only an economic revolution, the triumph of the proletariat, and the nationalization of the means of production could bring about the liberation of mankind.

Marxism is usually presented as an economic theory, but it is just as much a religion (or an anti-religion). [24] Marx came to communism via Ludwig Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity, which argued that the idea of God was man's idealized conception of himself; in order to arrive at his true identity, man had to take back the idea of God within himself. Marx took this pattern and projected it onto the canvas of world history in economic terms. Work, and the product of work, became the alienated human essence that had to be recaptured through revolutionary appropriation. The critique of religion was a necessary, but not sufficient, step towards man's recovery of his lost essence. The "criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism," wrote Marx. [25] "Religion is only the illusory sun, which revolves round man as long as he does not revolve round himself." [26]

There is no doubt that Marx and Engels conceived the future in millenarian terms. They wrote in their youthful work, The German Ideology:

in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic. [27]

Engels' description of the "realm of freedom," from his later work The Anti-Dühring, is less lyrical but equally millenarian in spirit:

With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organisation. The struggle for individual existence disappears. Then for the first time man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones. The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of Nature, because he has now become master of his own social organisation. The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face to face with man as laws of Nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him. Man’s own social organisation, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by Nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, more and more consciously, make his own history—only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom. [28]

Marxism is bad economics. Friedrich Hayek's critique is now almost universally accepted: a centrally planned economy is impossible because it would destroy the knowledge-coordinating function of the market. [29] Ownership and exchange are also biologically rooted; they are manifestations of what biologists today call "reciprocal altruism." [30] We have a much better scientific appreciation of these points at the end of the twentieth century, but the general truths were equally obvious in the middle of the nineteenth century. Hence, Marxism cannot be interpreted as other than a willful rejection of reality.

Biological Millenarianism

The twentieth century has given rise to new forms of millenarian rebellion, not just against politics or property, but against the biological nature of the human species. First was the rebellion against the evolutionary differentiation of mankind, as of all other species, into distinct subspecies or races. Adolph Hitler took the fateful step of fusing racism, and anti-Semitism in particular, with a millenarian vision of the future. [31] From The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he took the notion of a Jewish conspiracy to enslave the world: The Jew's

ultimate goal is the denationalization, the promiscuous bastardization of other peoples, the lowering of the racial level of the highest peoples as well as the domination of this racial mish-mash through the extirpation of the folkish intelligentsia and its replacement by the members of his own people. [32]

The construction of the "Third Reich," the "Reich that would last a thousand years," required the destruction of this demonic racial enemy. Hitler wrote in an extraordinary passage in Mein Kampf:

If the Jew, with the help of his Marxist catechism, triumphs over the peoples of this world, his crown will be the dance of death for mankind, and as once before, millions of years ago, this planet will again sail empty of all human life through the ether.... I believe that I am today acting according to the purposes of the almighty Creator. In resisting the Jew, I am fighting the Lord's battle. [33]

In Hitler's view, only the Nordic peoples were truly human, while both the Jews and the "mish-mash" of other peoples were subhuman Untermenschen. In that sense, the triumph of international Jewry would make the earth "empty of all human life."

Hitler and National Socialism were defeated more than fifty years ago, but similar forms of racial millenarianism are still with us. [34] A contemporary example is the novel The Turner Diaries, now famous for having inspired Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Earl Turner, the novel's hero, blows up the FBI building in Washington, DC, using a truck loaded with a home-made bomb--ammonium nitrate fertilizer mixed with diesel fuel--just as McVeigh did in real life in Oklahoma City.

The Turner Diaries chillingly portrays an ideology of millenarian racism. Earl Turner enters an underground white-supremacy movement, the "Organization," which is headed by a secretive elite known as the "Order." Its opponent is the "System," namely the American government supported by the power of organized world Jewry. The Organization begins the "Great Revolution" in 1991, when it manages to seize control of southern California, including San Diego's Vandenberg Air Force Base with its nuclear weapons. It sets up a liberated zone in California, kills or drives out the nonwhite population, then starts to wage war on the rest of the United States. It fires nuclear salvos at New York City and Israel in order to weaken Jewish power. It also fires missiles at the Soviet Union, precipitating an all-out nuclear exchange between that country and the United States. After the devastation of both countries, it takes eight more years of warfare for the Organization to pacify North America and Europe.

By early 1999, the only major power not under the Organization's control is China. When the Chinese decide "to make a grab for European Russia," the Organization counterattacks, first with nuclear weapons, then with

a combination of chemical, biological, and radiological means, on an enormous scale, to deal with the problem. Over a period of four years some 16 million square miles of the earth's surface, from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific and from the Arctic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, were effectively sterilized. Thus was the Great Eastern Waste created. [35]

It was through these drastic measures "in the year 1999, according to the chronology of the Old Era--just 110 years after the birth of the Great One [Adolf Hitler was born April 20, 1889]--that the dream of a white world finally became a certainty." [36] The year 1999 thus became the beginning of the New Era, in which "the Order would spread its wise and benevolent rule over the earth for all time to come." [37] The novel is a sadistic fantasy of cruelty and destruction, but it clearly expresses a millenarian historical consciousness.

Another recent example of biological millenarianism is the eco-terrorist Earth First! movement, best known for spiking trees in order to damage chainsaws and injure lumberjacks. Intellectually, Earth First! depends on "deep ecology," summarized below in the eight principles of Bill Devall and George Sessions:

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes. [38]

Earth First! adopted these principles in a mood of apocalyptic excitement: "The understanding of radical environmentalism ... begins at the end, the end of the world as we know it, the meltdown of biological diversity that our industrial culture has recklessly set in motion." [39] There will have to be a drastic reduction in the earth's human population, perhaps through a new ice age, perhaps through an AIDS pandemic. Mankind will also have to abandon its belief that it is entitled to use other life forms for its own advantage; it will have to progress from anthropocentrism to biocentric diversity.

This may seem like an embrace of nature, but it is actually a rebellion against the specific character of human nature. Intelligence, and therefore culture, are an intrinsic part, indeed the defining difference, of human nature. As modern biological theory makes clear, these human characteristics, like the characteristics of all species, have been shaped by evolutionary competition in which individuals pursue their reproductive self-interest in a world of limited resources. [40] Human intelligence, and the cultural development that goes with it, enable us to become, as it were, guardians of other species. We are gradually moving from the domestication of certain animal and plant species, which took place in the agricultural revolution of the late Neolithic age, to the domestication of the entire planet.

In this process, it is possible, and indeed essential, for humanity to leave room for other life forms; but to do so requires application of the most advanced knowledge we possess. What is not possible is to impose the principle of biocentric diversity, in which man is merely one life form among many. Carried to its logical conclusion, biocentric diversity would have perverse consequences. No species except man (and, indeed, chiefly twentieth-century Western man) worries about other life forms. If we were to act simply as one species among many, would we care about the spotted owl any more than the spotted owl cares about the rodents it kills to feed its chicks? Would we not continue to act like the first inhabitants of the Americas, who ruthlessly hunted the mammoths, giant ground sloths, and sabre-toothed tigers to extinction, or like the later inhabitants, who exterminated the passenger pigeon and virtually exterminated the buffalo? [41] We can try to mend our ways as we come to understand the damage we have done, but we cannot escape from human nature by pretending to be merely one species among all the others.

For a final example of biological rebellion, let us look at radical feminism, particularly Shulamith Firestone's 1970 book The Dialectic of Sex. Precisely because it has the clarity of extremism, it highlights a line of thought running in a more confused way throughout radical feminism. [42]

Firestone makes no secret of her project. She states at the outset that "feminists have to question, not just all of Western culture, but the organization of culture itself, and further, even the very organization of nature." [43] Specifically, that means using modern technology to sunder the ties between sexuality, reproduction, and the family. Freeing women from their biology will revolutionize the social and cultural institutions that have grown up around the process of reproduction. [44]

Women will never achieve social equality until they cease to bear children; pregnancy will have to be accomplished through test-tube fertilization and artificial placentas, or perhaps the implantation of human embryos in an animal host uterus. Responsibility for child-rearing must be transferred from the biological family to groups of contracting adults not necessarily related to the child. With the end of the biological family, the incest taboo can be dropped, and mankind can "finally revert to its natural polymorphous sexuality - all forms of sexuality would be allowed and indulged.” [45]

Firestone's radical feminism was a mutation of Marxism. To oversimplify slightly, she substituted reproduction for production, sex for class, and family for property, but kept the same general schema of a transformative world-historical process. For her, therefore, the end of history is more than just communism and the withering away of the state. It also includes "full sexual freedom allowing attainment of 'happiness'" and the "realization of the conceivable in the actual," as culture disappears in the "merging of art and reality." [46]

The rebellion against biology is crystal-clear in Firestone's work, but it is also more difficult than she imagines. It is not just a matter of changing the mechanics of conception and pregnancy. Evolution has made the human species sexually dimorphic. Whether or not women actually give birth, they are different from men physically, mentally, and emotionally; and these differences will not disappear even if every human baby is carried in a bovine uterus. [47]

Of course, the differences between the sexes are also cultural, but that does not mean that they are arbitrary or easily changed. Culture is not random; it tends to build on and amplify innate differences. [48] Underlying this process are principles of natural economy. If men and women are even slightly different (and we know that many of the differences are more than slight), then something like the economic principle of comparative advantage will lead them into the complex patterns of role differentiation and specialization that we call culture. Firestone's "realization of the conceivable in the actual" will founder on the simple fact that, out of all the universes that might be conceivable, we live in the only one that is actual.


During the course of the last two centuries, political millenarianism has attempted to challenge every aspect of the human condition. One after another, political movements have rebelled against political hierarchy and domination, against the idea of God, against private property and the market, against the biological parameters of human nature. All have failed. The republicanism of the French Revolution quickly gave rise to the tyrannies of Robespierre, the Directory, and Napoleon. Atheism has become widespread, but it is hard to see how it has improved human life. Communism promised both equality and abundance, but led instead to a malignant totalitarianism providing neither. Racism hardly needs further comment. Deep ecology and radical feminism have been influential movements for a couple of decades, but both are clearly on the wane, while the world remains unregenerate.

Is there anything left to rebel against? If there is, I can't think of it. Perhaps the laws of physics, but that seems pretty risky. I hope no one lets cosmic millenarians build commercial aircraft or commuter trains.

More seriously, it seems that we may be at the end of a two-century-long cycle of rebellion against the human condition. As we get ready for a new century and a new millennium, it is time to return millenarianism to the religious realm where it belongs. Let us admit that our society, our economy, our politics do and must reflect the basic facts of human nature. Nothing is fixed; there is an indefinite prospect for piecemeal changes that might be called improvements by some standard or other. But the construction of new societies based on wholesale repudiation of human nature is impossible, and the attempt brings only chaos, tyranny, and misery. [49] It is a bitter lesson; let us hope mankind has learned it well enough that it does not have to be repeated.


1. Revelation 20:1-3. New English Bible.

2. Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 99.

3. Albert Schweitzer, The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity (New York: Seabury Press, 1961); Jakob Taubes, Abendlândische Eschatologie (Bern, 1947); Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity (New York: Random House, 1986).

4. Matthew 3: 1-2.

5. Ernst Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1968).

6. Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1961).

7. M. James Penton, Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985); Heather and Gary Botting, The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984).

8. Martha F. Lee, The Nation of Islam: An American Millenarian Movement (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996); Young Oon Kim, Unification Theology and Christian Thought, rev. ed. (New York: Golden Gate Press, 1975).

9. For a discussion of some of the conceptual problems, see Michael Barkun, Disaster and the Millennium (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986), ch. 1.

10. With apologies to Albert Camus, L'Homme révolté (Paris: Gallimard, 1951), p. 37.

11. Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932).

12. Henri de Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1950).

13. Cited in J.L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (New York: Praeger, 1960), p. 142

14. Cited in ibid., p. 134.

15. Ibid., p. 2

16. Thomas Flanagan, "The Politics of the Millennium," in Michael Barkun, ed., Millennialism and Violence (London: Frank Cass, 1996), pp. 164-175.

17. Alexander H. Harcourt and Frans B.M. de Waal, eds., Coalitions and Alliances in Humans and Other Animals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). Also by de Waal are Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982); Peacemaking among Primates (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989); and Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996).

18. Talmon, Origins, pp. 162-163.

19. John Anthony Scott, ed., The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf (New York: Schocken Books, 1972), p. 68.

20. Talmon, Origins, p. 187.

21. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party", in Marx and Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968), p. 35.

22. Ibid., p. 37.

23. Karl Marx, "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy", in Marx and Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed. Lewis S. Feuer (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959), p. 43.

24. Robert Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967).

25. Karl Marx, "Toward the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right", in Basic Writings, p. 262.

26. Ibid., p. 263.

27. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968), p. 45.

28. Friedrich Engels, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” (1892), in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, p. 432.

29. Friedrich Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society," American Economic Review No. 35 (September 1945).

30. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, new ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), chs. 10, 12.

31. James M. Rhodes, The Hitler Movement: A Modern Millenarian Revolution (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1980); Thomas Flanagan, "The Third Reich: Origins of a Millenarian Symbol," History of European Ideas 8 (1987), pp. 283-295.

32. Hitler's Secret Book, cited in Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), p. 186.

33. Cited in ibid., p. 187.

34. Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).

35. Andrew Macdonald (pseudonym of William L. Pierce), The Turner Diaries, 2nd ed. (Hillsboro, WV: National Vanguard Books, 1980), p. 210.

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid., p. 211.

38. Reprinted in Martha F. Lee, Earth First! Environmental Apocalypse (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995), p. 153.

39. Christopher Manes, Green Rage, cited in ibid., p. 11.

40. Dawkins, The Selfish Gene.

41. Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 274.

42. On radical feminism, see Josephine Donovan, Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions of American Feminism (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1985), and Allison Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature. (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983).

43. Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (New York: William Morrow, 1970), p. 12.

44. Ibid., p. 193.

45. Ibid., p. 195.

46. See the chart on ibid., pp. 180-181.

47. Doreen Kimura, "Sex Differences in the Brain," Scientific American (September 1992), pp. 119-123; Helen Fisher, The Anatomy of Love (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992); Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), chs. 2-3; James Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense (New York: Free Press, 1993), ch. 8.

48. Michael Levin, Feminism and Freedom (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1987), pp. 55-57.

49. Gerhart Niemeyer, Between Nothingness and Paradise (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1971).

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