July 12, 2015


Understanding Tyranny and Terror: From the French Revolution to Modern Islamism (Waller R. Newell, PhD, 6/30/15, Heritage)

The third type of tyranny--and the one of most interest to us--is millenarian. These rulers are content neither to be mere garden-variety tyrants nor to be reforming tyrants who make constructive improvements. They are driven by the impulse to impose a millenarian blueprint on the world that will bring about a society of the future in which the individual is submerged in the collective and all privilege and alienation will forever be eradicated.

The French Revolution began in 1789 as a Lockean revolution patterned on the Glorious and American Revolutions. It was led by students of the Enlightenment like Lafayette and Talleyrand who were bent on establishing the rights of man, limited government, and economic opportunity. In 1793, however, the Jacobins, led by Robespierre, turned it into a Rousseauean revolution aiming to return to an alleged Golden Age of pure collective equality without private possessions or individual self-interest, to be achieved through the destruction of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie and anyone else who was loyal to them.

This was the first millenarian tyranny. After Robespierre, the league of millenarian tyrants includes Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, and today's Jihadists.

The gruesome paradox of their revolution is that the coming world of perfect harmony requires prodigious excesses of mass murder and warfare in the present. We can term it utopian genocide. As Robespierre put it: "We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with them.... Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue."[3] While garden-variety and reforming tyrants have existed from earliest times to the present, millenarian tyranny is strictly modern, with no precedents before the Jacobin Terror of 1793.

Millenarian tyrants sometimes do things for their countries that overlap with reforming tyranny--Stalin and Hitler both contributed to their respective countries' economic and technological modernization--and they are capable behind closed doors of some of the twisted excesses of the garden-variety tyrant. At bottom, however, their goal is beyond politics: They want to destroy today's world in order to bring about the nirvana of "Communism," "the thousand-year Reich," or "the worldwide Caliphate."

Millenarian tyranny is driven by a utopian vision in which society and human nature are to be completely transformed from being unjust, materialistic, and selfish in the present to being spiritually pure, selfless, and communal in the future. This transformation is a night-and-day difference: Virtually nothing can be salvaged from the corrupt present in order to bring about this spiritually cleansed new world. Foremost among its guiding ideals is the return of "the people" to the simplicity of its origins, a collective of pure duty, submission, and self-sacrifice that is stripped of all sources of alienation including individualism, class status, religious faith, and property rights.

Beginning with the Jacobins, this return to the origins is sparked by an intense loathing for the modern age of the Enlightenment and its alleged vulgarity, selfishness, and materialism. Paradoxically, returning to a past that is so distant requires a leap into the future that will destroy all intervening, ordinary, and received traditions, including those of patriotism and religious custom. As composer Richard Wagner said of anarchist Mikhail Bakhunin: "The annihilation of all civilization was the objective on which he had set his heart.... It was necessary, he said, to picture the whole European world ... transformed into a pile of rubble."[4]

All millenarian revolutionary movements have a common set of genocidal aims. They all envision a return to what the Jacobins called "the Year One," a grimly repressive collectivist utopia in which individual freedom is obliterated in the name of the commune, purging people of their vices, including property, freedom of thought, and the satisfactions of family and private life.

The second aim that all of these revolutionary movements share is the identification of a class or race enemy whose extermination is the crucial step needed to bring about the utopian community in which all alienation and vice will end forever. The class or race enemy becomes the embodiment of all human evil, whose destruction will cleanse the planet.

For the Jacobins, it was the bourgeoisie and the aristocrats.

For Stalin, it was the "kulaks," the so-called rich peasants.

For Hitler, it was the Jews.

For the Jihadists today, it is the "Great Satan" (America) and the "Little Satan" (Israel), along with Christians and those who are deemed insufficiently pure Muslims.

Needless to say, the demonology identifying these classes or peoples as the source of all evil in the world is a complete delusion that is required to justify genocide and endow its violence with a supposedly absolute moral justification.
A consistent paradox of millenarian tyranny is that the slate has to be wiped clean of all traditional authorities and customs in the future in order to recapture an alleged Golden Age of the most distant past: the return to the Year One (the Jacobins); "the community of destiny" (National Socialism); "the Year Zero" (the Khmer Rouge); or the alleged original community of Islam.

Revolutionary action reshapes the present in order to bring about a future guided by a past behind the past, behind all received tradition. However deeply rooted and long-established a people's past traditions might appear to be, they too are tainted by corruption and vice from the ground up and must be entirely jettisoned, along with more recent Enlightenment influences, in order to transport us back to the collective bliss and purity of our mythical and primeval origins. Hence, the Jacobins aimed to destroy not only the remnants of the ancien régime, but also the fledgling modern society of Lockean individualism that was beginning to displace it.

To get us there, a revolutionary Messiah is needed--Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Khomeini, al-Baghdadi--to lead a corrupt and fallen world, against its will if need be, into this shining new day. His absolutely tyrannical power in the present is justified as being necessary to end all tyranny and inequality forever.

Another way in which millenarian tyranny differs from even the most brutal of previous tyrannies, whether reforming or garden-variety, is the scale of the methodically applied violence needed to bring about the apocalyptic passage from today to the shining future. Before 1793, history was no stranger to violence, war, civil strife, bloodshed, torture, and mass murder, but not until then was murder used in a dispassionate and methodical way to surgically remove entire designated classes and races from existence--the forces who embody all vice and evil and who therefore stand in the way of the coming collectivist Golden Age.

As early as the Jacobins, the use of mass firing squads and cannons to mow down men and women was already established, anticipating the Nazis' Einsatzgruppen or the recent mass killings in the self-proclaimed Caliphate of ISIS. The numbers liquidated mounted from upwards of 250,000 across France during the Jacobin Terror to tens of millions under the 20th century's millenarian dictatorships with their vastly improved technology of "industrialized murder" in the Gulag and Auschwitz and in Mao's and the Khmer Rouge's re-education camps.

Whereas past tyrannies killed people for challenging their power through uprisings at home or military opposition from without, millenarian tyrannies commit genocide collectively against entire classes and races, whether they oppose them or not. Their victims must be annihilated to the last member before nirvana can come about. It is, so to speak, nothing personal.

Millenarian revolutionaries have no interest in the tangible, moderate aims of a liberal-democratic revolution like the Glorious or American Revolutions for establishing individual rights and enabling every citizen to improve his lot. For the millenarians, individual rights are a part of society's disease and must be purged to create a pure collective in which every individual is interchangeable with every other and submerged in a monolith ruled by the revolutionaries themselves--former terrorists now victorious as godlike masters.

It is all or nothing: As Lenin put it, "the worse, the better." The more oppressive the revolution's enemies are in the present, the more necessary it will be to sweep them away through annihilating violence. True millenarian revolutionaries do not want things to improve; they do not want concrete concessions like higher wages, economic development, or social welfare programs. Such reforms only threaten to corrupt "the people" further by turning them into petits bourgeois.

Their fatal flaw is that it doesn't take very long to realize that the Revolution not only didn't profuce Utopia but made matters worse.

Posted by at July 12, 2015 7:05 AM

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