Revolution and the Millennium: China, Mexico, and Iran

By James F. Rinehart | Go to book overview

anic imagery of Christianity imported to these regions. 93 Citing examples among Kikuyu, Maoris, and Bantu, Vittorio Lanternari identifies how the people of these tribes "found their sufferings reflected in the biblical history of the Hebrew people." Perhaps just as important, they discovered a "powerful inspiration in both the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ that could be effectively compared to their own struggle for political independence and promise of salvation." 94 Revolutions in these colonial societies were frequently injected with the images and ideas of popular religion. The two were most powerfully and effectively combined into a doctrine of millenarian promise; a hope of spiritual and earthly salvation.

Internal factors engendering stress include the transformation of a society's socioeconomic order resulting from rapid industrialization and modernization, severe hardship caused by natural disasters, or oppression at the hands of a native ruling class. Like external sources of severe social stress, internal sources may also cause a violent millenarian response. 95

A critical third condition necessary for the advent of revolutionary millenarianism is the emergence of a charismatic leader who exerts a profound influence on a large segment of society by shaping a reaction to recent experiences of catastrophe and social stress. This response takes the form of a call for a total, collective, this-worldly revitalization of society. Tactically, the charismatic leader facilitates this summons by appealing to the pervasive religious millenarian beliefs that exist in society. 96 Such leaders consciously fashion a millenarian ideology that is widely accepted and refined in great detail by adherents. Thus, the potential for the emergence of a charismatic leader is grounded in the acute problems and stresses of the society -- a notion we shall explore later in much greater detail.

It is an important thesis of this study that, in varying degrees and forms, all three of these conditions that I have identified as necessary for the emergence of revolutionary millenarianism were present in twentieth-century China, Mexico, and Iran, and as a result, they became important components of the stages and process of revolutionary upheavals in these non-Western societies. External factors, principally the forces of Western imperialism, combined with internal factors, created conditions of extreme stress in all three cases in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This collective social stress engendered violent outbursts of millenarian rebellion and ultimately revolution, led by a charismatic cult figure who sought to transform and revitalize society.

Logically, a study of the functional role performed by millenarianism in these three cases must include an analysis of the circumstances accounting for the emergence of the three critical conditions in each case.


NOTES
1.
Cohn, Revolutionary Millenarians, 19-20. See also Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 163-75. Until around 1500 B.C., most people in the world ( Cohn specifically points to the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, and the Vedic Indians) generally believed that

-33-

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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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