Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience

Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience

Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience

Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience

Synopsis

Millennialists through the ages have looked forward to the apocalyptic moment that will radically transform society into heaven on earth. They have delivered withering critiques of their own civilizations and promised both the impending annihilation of the forces of evil and the advent of a perfect society. And all their promises have invariably failed. We tend, therefore, to dismiss these prophets of doom and salvation as crackpots and madmen, and not surprisingly historians of our secular era have tended to underestimate their impact on our modern world. Now, Richard Landes offers a lucid and ground-breaking analysis of this widely misunderstood phenomenon. This long-awaited study shows that many events typically regarded as secular - including the French Revolution, Marxism, Bolshevism, Nazism-not only contain key millennialist elements, but follow the apocalyptic curve of enthusiastic launch, disappointment and (often catastrophic) re-entry into "normal time."Indeed, as Landes examines the explicit millennialism behind such recent events as the emergence of Global Jihad since 1979, he challenges the common notion that modern history is largely driven by secular interests. By focusing on ten widely different case studies, none of which come from Judaism or Christianity, he shows that millennialism is not only a cultural universal, but also an extremely adaptive social phenomenon that persists across the modern and post-modern divides. At the same time, he alsooffers valuable insight into the social and psychological factors that drive such beliefs. Ranging from ancient Egypt to modern-day UFO cults and global Jihad, Heaven on Earth both delivers an eye-opening revisionist argument for the significance of millennialism throughout history and alerts the reader to the alarming spread of these ideologies in our world today.

Excerpt

The work on this book has, with multiple interruptions, taken place over more than a decade. in the process it has changed shape numerous times, and relegated many completed chapters to subsequent volumes. the idea for this particular assembly of studies of millennial movements first occurred to me in the years around 2000 when I was struggling with both the (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to launch the Center for Millennial Studies in the pseudo-apocalyptic time of millennium’s turn, and my own partially incorrect and unfortunately too-correct predictions of what might happen in the new millennium.

At the time, the first three (originally four) chapters of introduction led to a discussion of demotic millennialism from its Jewish origins to the Peace Movements of the turn of the first Christian millennium. These historical chapters, now awaiting revision, will hopefully appear in shorter order under the provisional title of While God Tarried: Millennialism from Jesus to the Peace of God (33–1033). in the meantime, I wanted to write a more introductory and general work on millennialism that would take my conceptual chapters as an introduction to a series of studies of millennial movements the world over. I selected them to illustrate the varieties of the phenomenon as it manifests in tribal, agrarian, industrial, and (post-) modern societies. the idea was to take two examples of each type.

Guiding my specific choices was a conceptual conceit borrowed loosely from Georges Perec. Perec, whose parents “disappeared” in the Holocaust, wrote an entire book, La Disparition, without using the letter e, a letter even more common in French than in English. To illustrate the near universality of millennialism, to cut against the grain that assumes a Judeo-Christian origin for all millennialism, I selected for treatment here only non -Jewish and non-Christian movements.

My two tribal cases constitute classic examples of a widespread phenomenon: the apocalyptic millennial response of tribal cultures to the advent of imperialist conquest. Here the choices were almost limitless: the native Indian Ghost Dance, the Mau Mau, the Rastafarians. in the specific case of the Xhosa, the Cattle-Slaying came after several military messianic uprisings; in the case of the cargo cults, various individual cargo movements came and went for nearly a century. I chose the Xhosa specifically because it illustrates a case of cataclysmic

Georges Perec, La Disparition (Paris: Gallimard, 1990). the letter “e” appears 12.7 percent of the time in English versus 14.7 percent in French: M. S. Mayzner and M.E. Tresselt, Tables of Single-Letter and Diagram Frequency Counts for Various Word-Length and Letter-Position Combinations, Psychonomic Monograph Supplements 1(1965): 13–32.

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