Revolution and the Millennium: China, Mexico, and Iran

By James F. Rinehart | Go to book overview

Despite such transmutations, however, the millenarian paradigm remained essentially intact: a terrible vision of the present world as an evil one ruled by demonic forces that have to be destroyed through a cleansing violence, so that a new age of perfection may be ushered in. In this sense millenarianism paved the way for revolutionary transformation in each of these societies.

In the millenarian vision, the forces of justice and righteousness were led by divinely inspired leaders who derived their charismatic powers from the needs and chiliastic yearnings of the people. Millenarianism, thus, acted as a doctrinal platform awaiting the opportunity to elevate a prophet to revolutionary leadership.

Finally, millenarianism provided the basis for social healing to take place in these societies. New identities were established in place of those that had been either lost or destroyed in the process of abrupt social change, and an important social catharsis occurred that purged these societies of iniquity and the burdens of humiliation, frustration, and indignation.

The twentieth-century revolutions that emerged in these three cases owed more than has been generally acknowledged to their ability to draw these latent millenarian traditions to the surface and shape them in accordance with the exegeses of the moment. It is the goal of this study to shed a more significant light on this important and fascinating phenomenon.


NOTES
1.
The word revolution was originally used by Italians during the European Renaissance in the sixteenth century to describe the "revolving" triumphs of the popular and aristocratic political groups who were continually fighting for control of the Italian city-states. In this sense the term conveyed the idea of a displacement of political power and a restructuring of government. Prompted by the Enlightenment faith in scientific progress in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, revolution came to be increasingly seen as a tool of sociopolitical progress that was capable of moving a society toward a higher level of social purpose. Indeed, Karl Marx argued that revolutions were both progressive and necessary to dismantle sociopolitical institutions that benefitted from an outmoded and unjust social structure. Cf. John Dunn, Modern Revolutions: An Introduction to the Analysis of a Political Phenomenon, 2nd ed. ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).
2.
Ideology is a term that was brought into widespread usage in the early nineteenth century by the French philosopher Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy ( 1754-1836). He used it "in his systematic study of the Enlightenment" to identify the "science of ideas" that he believed had emerged during the period. Nonetheless, it was Karl Marx who, in the nineteenth century, laid the foundation for a different and more progressive notion of ideology. In the "Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" ( 1852) -- although he rarely used the word ideology -- Marx argued that ideas shape the ways in which individuals perceive the social world and their positions within it, thus profoundly influencing social and political change. Cf. Leon P. Baradat, Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impact, 5th ed. ( Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994) and John B. Thompson, Ideology and Modern Culture ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
3.
Crane Brinton used the term disequilibrium to characterize a society in a period of profound institutional adjustment. "A society in perfect equilibrium might be defined as a

-12-

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Revolution and the Millennium: China, Mexico, and Iran
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 12
  • 1 - Apocalyptic Prophecy to Millenarian Revolution 17
  • Notes 33
  • 2 - Imperialism and Upheaval: China, Mexico, and Iran 41
  • Notes 57
  • 3 - Preparatory Function 63
  • Notes 103
  • 4 - A Platforin for Leadership 117
  • Notes 144
  • 5 - The Therapeutic Function 151
  • Notes 168
  • Conclusion 173
  • Notes 178
  • Bibliography 179
  • Index 191
  • About the Author *
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