Norman Cohn’s classic The Pursuit of the Millennium catalogs the first appearances of Underpants Gnome chiliasm. First, kill all the sinners. And then…something. But after that, Utopia!
Whackadoodles like Peter Waldo are important because they’re the first social revolutionaries. Their utopias are backward- rather than forward-looking — a return to the Garden of Eden, not the Dictatorship of the Proletariat — but for the first time, reform movements sought to change things in this world, for this world. In ancient times, even philosophies that seem to us to obviously entail egalitarianism, didn’t — though Epictetus, the most famous Roman teacher of Stoicism, was himself a former slave, he said nothing about the institution of slavery. Similarly Spartacus, the most famous slave rebel, aimed only at personal freedom for himself and his followers, not the end of slavery itself.
But follow Waldo’s mumbo-jumbo, his followers promised, and we can enjoy Christ’s reign here on earth. Freedom and plenty for all!
Back when that rag was sort of worth reading, National Review types called this “immanentizing the eschaton.” I’m hardly the first guy to point out that you can find every canon of the SJW catechism in some medieval nutjob — Pelagius said we all have Original Virtue; Joachim of Fiore had a very Marx-sounding cyclical theory of history; Marcion‘s demiurge was to his followers what Whitey is to the Critical Race Theory crowd; etc.
The point of all this is that, from Jesus’s very first public utterance, there has been a type of person who wants to make any given kingdom into The Kingdom. All of Cohn’s millenniarian revolutionaries are moralizers. They see the world strictly in moral terms. Everything is either good or evil, and so no compromise, no matter how practical, can even be considered — one does not, after all, cut deals with Satan.
Since people don’t change, this type is eternal. Cohn’s lunatics are the first we have any comprehensive knowledge of, but if we had the records (historians call this a “source base” problem), we’d no doubt find mighty Pharaoh putting down weird chiliastic cults among his pyramid-builders. The SJWs ye have always with you, as I think Ramesses II once said.
The question is how best to deal with them. When I was young and easy beneath the apple boughs, I was a free-speech absolutist. I believed the answer to speech — even revolutionary SJW speech — was always more speech. I’m well past that now. I’m starting to think the Inquisition had the right idea all along. I forget what happened to Waldo himself, but it might be time for a second look at medieval methods of heretic suppression.Loading Likes...