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.
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).
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).
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