Totalitarianism: Between Religion and Science" by Tzvetan Todorov, in Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions (Summer 2001). Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., Crown House, 47 Chase Side, London N14 5BP, England.
What keeps utopian dreamers dreaming (and scheming) is their certain belief that perfection can be attained in this world. Alas, it is this conviction that led in the past century to the enslavement and slaughter of millions upon millions, and to misery for countless others.
The totalitarianism of Hitler, Lenin, and others, writes Todorov, the research director of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, is a species of utopianism. "When seen in the perspective of European history, utopianism is in turn revealed as an atheistic millennialism."
The Christian millennial movements that sprang up beginning in the 13th century held, contrary to traditional Christian teaching, that the Messiah would appear imminently to establish his kingdom on earth and that believers would achieve salvation in this world. The totalitarian "isms" were millennial movements that replaced God with the doctrine of scientism--an "excrescence on the body of science" whose origins Todorov traces to Rene Descartes (1596-1650). "Scientism takes as its point of departure a hypothesis about the structure of the world--that it is entirely coherent. Thus, as though the world were transparent, it can be known …