Millenarianism is basically the intense and absolute conviction that the world will undergo an apocalyptic transformation (many such beliefs linked to utopianism), usually framed Revelation style against a cosmic backdrop of prophecy with a call to fight dread powers in the ultimate fight against the forces of evil. The outcome of such a struggle will be a world where the rule of light prevails and a new dawn awakens those who held true. Many movements come under the millenarian (or millennial and chiliastic) rubric, coloured heavily with religious and fundamentalist tones. Radical environmentalism, conspiracy theory, the 2012 end of days phenomenon, revolutionary movements, UFO cults, and the more obvious overtly religious movements as well of course.
A must read on the subject is Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium - Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages. Read that book and consider then the events of the French Revolution, the Rise of Marxism, Hitler's Third Reich, the call for a global epistemological reform from the Rosicrucian Manifestos and many other esoteric movements, etc, etc; and their implications. It's well worth thinking about just how many conspiracy movement figureheads frame their worldview, and that of their audience, in classic biblical apocalyptic terms. And how many strongly resemble preachers in style, even taking on the call to prophecy.
I'll post some relevant excerpts from books and articles of interest starting with this from Stefan Rossbach's Gnostic Wars: the Cold War in the context of a history of Western spirituality, pp.176 - 183:
PROPHETIC EVENTS IN AMERICAN HISTORY
The self-understanding of Americans as the 'redeemer nation' surfaced, developed and gained influence in response to key events in the development of the American republic. Among those events are often mentioned the Great Awakening, the Anglo-French War, the Revolution and subsequent independence, the Civil War, the Spanish–American War, the two World Wars, and the Cold War.
Many scholars have argued that the religious enthusiasm of the Awakening during the 1730s and 1740s led directly to the political enthusiasm of the Revolution. 23 The religious revivals are said to have prepared and ultimately provoked the Revolution in at least three ways. First the revivalists, primarily concerned with the conversion of individual sinners into children of God and thus with the restoration of a close relationship between individuals and God, democratised America's religion before the Revolution democratised its government. The ability of the itinerant preacher to persuade his listener to act upon his own individual free will transformed the colonists into citizens who acted out of their own conscience. Moreover, itinerancy itself, as a form of communication, had an impact on authority relationships. It provided an alternative to the official dogma of the parish, tax-supported, Church. The itinerant spoke as one individual to another, outside of any temporal or territorial location."
Second, it is argued that the Awakening transformed the colonists' conservative 'premillenarian' into a 'postmillenarian' outlook. While earlier the Second Coming was thought to be necessary prior to the instauration of the Millennium because humans were held to be too wicked, postmillenarian optimism assigned them an active role in the preparation of the new realm. In this latter view, humanity played an active role in bringing about the transfiguration of the world. Christ would return, then, once human effort had effectively set the stage for the reign of Christ. The activism of the later outlook implied an urgent need to fight the corruption of the Old World in open rebellion.
Finally, as America's first truly national event, the Great Awakening evoked a new kind of intercolonial unity, and thereby prepared the country for the Revolution. The movement's scope and success affected even the revolutionary struggle and its outcome. By 1765 the New Light revivalists had come to predominate in most of the Protestant denominations. As a consequence, the anticlericalism of the French and Russian Revolution where the clergy allied themselves with the old order could be avoided in America. Usually, only the parish priests of the Anglican Church, who were appointed directly by the King's authority, sided with the old regime. The Great Awakening was thus the precondition and beginning of the convergence of millenarian and republican thought which nurtured the Revolution.
However, the view that the Great Awakening was the key to America's 'civil millenarianism' must be approached with caution. In an important sense, the piety of the Great Awakening was opposed to the millenarian excitement of the Revolution. Indeed, the late 1740s witnessed a significant decline of apocalyptic hope. In 1742, Jonathan Edwards still understood the Awakening as an extraordinary work of God.
[W]hat is now seen in America, and especially in New England, may prove the dawn of that glorious day; and the very uncommon and wonderful circumstances and events of this work seem to me strongly to argue that God intends it as the beginning or forerunner of something vastly great.21
Five years later, Edwards was complaining about the woeful decay of religion in America. He included America – 'at present very sorrowful and dark' – in his pessimism about the spiritual decadence of the whole British Empire."
It is true that Jonathan Edwards had a postmillenarian view of the future. But, for him, the progressive course of history depended on the spread of piety, individual repentance, conversion, and, in general, spiritual introspection. The perceived need for religious regeneration grew out of an intense feeling of guilt. Earlier generations of settlers –who still had to struggle to win a beachhead on the stern frontier along the coast – had enjoyed a particularly close relationship with God and had, therefore, felt close to each other. This proximity to God now seemed lost. Instead, in all the colonies people began to argue and fight over questions of mercantile and land development. The many opportunities to grow rich tempted normally decent people to pursue their private profits in aggressive, competitive ways, often cutting moral corners in their anxiety. For those who became aware of the change of attitude and behaviour, the tyrant on the horizon was sin, and not the English Parliament. When revivalists spoke of the Millennium, they mostly had in mind the advance of Christ's Kingdom through the effusion of God's spirit in widespread and genuine revivals. What was at stake in this movement was not the externalisation of evil but, on the contrary, the acknowledgement of sin, repentance and reform from within.
The event which transformed spiritual introspection into its opposite, the externalisation of evil, was the Anglo-French War. The French Wars provided New Englanders with an opportunity to underscore their collective role in the last decisive struggle with Satan. Their ministers began to glorify a British past which they constructed from their understanding of providential history. History was a continuous battle between liberty and tyranny in which the British constitution, `the admiration and envy of the world', represented the forces of liberty and French Catholicism the tyranny of Antichrist. For Jonathan Edwards, military victories against the French Catholics were 'temporal mercies', mere incentives to the more important works of repentance and revival," but for the New England clergymen of the 1760s they came to represent the inevitable progress towards a Millennium of both civil and religious liberty. The distinction between the Kingdom of God and the New England political community became blurred.
The millenarianism of the American Revolution resulted from the consolidation of the religious-political framework established during the Anglo-French Wars. While in the French Wars, millenarian hope followed military success, the conflict with Britain was fought in cosmic terms from the outset. Expectations of a new age appeared even when the war was still in its darkest hour. Animated by the expulsion of France from North America, New Englanders expected the total destruction of the forces of Antichrist. It was not too difficult, then, to interpret the struggle with Britain along those lines. However, as the enemy was no longer Catholic, millenarian hopes tended to be expressed in civic rather than religious terms. The primary enemy was the Antichrist of civil oppression rather than that of religious dogma; freedom, not Protestantism, was the cause of God.
Once it was felt that liberty was 'expiring and gasping for life' in Britain, the struggle for American independence was no longer a fight Americans fought for themselves. They fought for the well-being of the whole world because America was to be the permanent sanctuary of liberty, the cause of God. As such, America was to be the permanent source and centre of the unfolding of the divine plan. The country was the divine agent to initiate the Millennium, and its ability to live up to its prophetic role depended on the outcome of the war against Britain. The conflict was fought, then, as a crusade of heaven against hell. 28
American attitudes towards Britain changed surprisingly late. Right up to the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765, Britain continued to be idealised as the `favourite nation' of divine providence. For many revolutionaries, the American Revolution was not directed against English political ideas but against a tyrannical and despotic monarch. For a long time Americans believed that in taking up arms they were defending the true rights of Englishmen and that they were acting as legitimate heirs of a proud tradition which went back to the Magna Charta. However, almost overnight the Stamp Act Crisis turned British Israel into Assyria and the servants of God into the offspring of 'their father the Devil'. During the war, it was common for ministers to preach sermons explaining how closely British oppression resembled the beast described in the Book of Revelation, 13:1-18. America was compared to the stone from the Book of Daniel 2:31-45 that strikes 'the image of the beast', becomes a 'great mountain' filling all the earth, and leads to the time when 'discord shall cease, and tyrants be no more'.29
The Civil War too was a period of heightened millenarian expectations .3" The evangelism of both sides, North and South, can in part be traced back to the revivalism of the so-called 'Second Great Awakening' of the early nineteenth century." Unlike the millenarian hope of the revivals of the 1730s and 1740s, the millenarianism of the Second Great Awakening was political from the outset. National union had fostered the conflation of biblical and secular historical worlds because, under conditions of religious pluralism, no single American denomination could maintain exclusive claims to truth. Instead, the nation itself had to develop 'the soul of a church'.32 Numerous publications with titles such as 'Armageddon, or the overthrow of Romanism and Monarchy; the existence of the United States foretold in the Bible, its future greatness, [ ... ] its expansion into the millenial republic, and its dominion over the whole world [ ... ]'(Samuel Davies Baldwin, 1854) show that, by the mid-nineteenth century, the identification of the United States as 'God's New Israel' had become a commonplace in the country.33 The famous catchphrase of 'manifest destiny', which reflected the assumption that divine providence had intended the United States to control the entire American continent, was coined in 1845 by a New York editor.
However, the two Awakenings in American history are not only separated by the different natures of their millenarian visions. There are also differences in their theologies. Revivalists of the colonial period stressed the inability of sinners to save themselves. God's sovereignty in all things and thus the need for renewal through repentance was at the centre of the message of itinerists like Edwards and Whitefield. In contrast, leading revivalists of the early nineteenth century in both the North and South came to emphasise the individual's capacity to work out his own salvation. They suggested that God had bestowed on all people the ability to come to Christ. With the nation as the reinforced carrier and focus of divine truth, and with the more activist stance of the Second Great Awakening, the Civil War was in effect fought in defence of the 'sacred aura of the fabric of national civilisation' (Noll, 1992) that, from Northern perspectives, was threatened by the South and, from Southern perspectives, imperilled by the North.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are commonly regarded as a turning-point in the way in which American elites understood their country's relationship to the outside world.34 By 1890 there was for the first time a continuous band of states stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. A 'new' United States seemed to have miraculously appeared as the true legacy of the Civil War. The word 'nation' referred henceforth to a continent conquered and tamed. Internal consolidation and the external assertion of American values were on the agenda after the completion of the Western settlement. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, the rise of Protestant missions from America was very much part of the actual expansion of the United States. American imperialism understood itself as an `imperialism of righteousness', as a means for the enterprise of universal evangelisation." President McKinley described his decision to annex the Philippines as resulting from a religious experience. After he had unsuccessfully sought counsel from all sides, he prayed for guidance and received the answer that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died."
American expansionism at the turn of the century was nurtured by a widespread feeling that the time was ripe for a great Christian advance. The war with Spain, for some still the representative of that home of Antichrist, the papacy, as well as the impending collapse of the old Chinese order seemed to offer supreme missionary and crusading opportunities. Prophets of expansion such as Josiah Strong easily combined Darwinian biology and Spencer's sociology with the divine will. `If human progress follows a law of development ..., our civilisation should be the noblest, ' he wrote in 1885. In his New Era (1893), Strong advocated that the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans had separately developed humanity's qualities, and that now, for the first time in the history of mankind, the three great strands pass through the fingers of one predominant race to be braided into a single supreme civilisation in the new era, the perfection of which will be the Kingdom fully come. ... All unite in the one Anglo-Saxon race, indicating that this race is pre-eminently fitted, and therefore chosen of God, to prepare the way for the full coming of His Kingdom on earth. Convinced that 'Anglo-Saxondom' would spread itself over the earth, he asked the rhetorical question: 'can anyone doubt that the result of this competition of races will be the "survival of the fittest"? 37
The rise of such attitudes, however, was also made possible by the increasing influence of evangelical Protestantism in American government and administration leading right up to the puritanism of the Progressive Movement. Josiah Strong was also one of the leading figures in the crusade for social justice at home which inspired the municipal reformers of the Progressive Era." For a long time, Strong was head of the American Institute of Social Service, the religious agency devoted to collecting sociological data for reform purposes. Indeed, the administrative and political reforms of the early twentieth century, their positivist governmentality, the 'Dry Utopia' of the Prohibition years, " as well as Wilson's missionary diplomacy were to a large extent driven and supported by a postmillenarian activism
similar to the one advocated by Strong." Wilson wanted the United States to show people 'the way to liberty'. `We are a sort of pure air blowing in world politics,' he declared, 'destroying illusions and cleaning places of morbid miasmatic gases.' In a sense, he intended to continue the reform begun by the Puritans in England:
'The Anglo-Saxon people have undertaken to reconstruct the affairs of the world, and it would be a shame upon them to withdraw their hand.' He believed that 'we are chosen and prominently chosen to show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty'. Knock writes that Wilson's League of Nations was to be the 'supreme covenant between God and the United States'."
Before and during the wars, American activist mysticism surfaced in Wilson's 'war to end all wars', fought to make the world 'safe for democracy', as well as in Franklin D. Roosevelt's insistence on 'unconditional surrender' as the only acceptable way of ending the Second World War. The very effort of fighting the war could only be justified by promising the ultimate defeat and eradication of the forces of evil.
Because such an attitude rejected considerations of costs as well as limitations of violence short of the destruction of the enemy, it implicitly presumed that the American cause was 'holy'.
The Cold War, finally, provided another arena where the crusading impulse of American civil millenarianism could be lived out. The crusade was fought at home as much as abroad. In his play The Crucible (1953), Arthur Miller aptly compared the anti-Communist witch-hunting of the early 1950s with the Salem witch trials of 1692.
In the external realm, 1950 saw the drafting of NSC-68, the first document of the Policy Planing Staff prepared under George F. Kennan's successor as director, Paul H. Nitze. NSC-68 offered the first systemic approach to the Cold War and as such was capable of being communicated throughout the bureaucracy." According to its authors, the Soviet Union posed an entirely new kind of threat because it was 'animated by a new fanatic faith' which was 'antithetical' to the American faith. The conflict amounted to a 'polarisation' of the world into the forces of 'slavery' and 'liberty' which were represented by the Soviet 'design' and the American 'purpose' respectively. 43 The Soviet `design' was absolute in the sense that it 'seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.' It 'calls for the complete subversion or forcible destruction of the machinery of government and structure of society in the countries of the non-Soviet world and their replacement by an apparatus and structure subservient to and controlled from the Kremlin'.
At the same time, it was clear to the authors of NSC-68 that the idea of liberty was 'the most contagious idea in history'. The existence of the idea of liberty posed a permanent threat to the 'foundation of the slave society'. The Soviet Union's design must be expected, therefore, to include the complete eradication of liberty from the earth. The 'assault on free institutions is world-wide now, and in the context of the present polarization of power a defeat of free institutions anywhere is a defeat everywhere'. In this situation, it was impossible for the United States to remain passive. At stake was – once again – the very survival of the principle of liberty among mankind. Thus, holding out was not enough. `[b]eyond affirming our values our policy and actions must be such as to foster a fundamental change in the nature of the Soviet system.' Because it was not `an adequate objective merely to seek to check the Kremlin design', the United States had to accept, in its own interest, `the responsibility of world leadership' in order to 'bring about justice and order by means consistent with the principles of freedom and democracy'. Although the conflict was ultimately a struggle for the minds and personal convictions of human beings, meeting the Soviet challenge necessitated above all 'a build-up of military strength by the United States and its allies to a point at which the combined strength will be superior to the forces that can be brought to bear by the Soviet Union and its allies'.
Other sections of the document are less sweeping. The text acknowledged, for example, that the principle of liberty imposes limitations on the means used to defend the American 'purpose' against the Soviet 'design'. The importance of leadership by example –a principle passionately upheld by Nitze's predecessor, Kennan – is emphasised. In fact, although Kennan played no direct role in the formulation of NSC-68, he had some indirect influence. In preparing the report, Nitze drew on an earlier NSC document — NSC-20/4 —which was based on a draft — PPS-38 — written by Kennan. However, as will be explained in the next chapter, NSC-68's activist stance, its implied universal commitment to the cause of liberty, and in particular the overwhelming weight it assigned to military measures marked a significant departure from Kerman's conception of United States interests.
The extent to which the universalism of the document marks a turning-point in American attitudes towards the Communist challenge is controversial among Cold War historians. Arguably, the Truman Doctrine had pointed already in this direction. But, at least on the part of President Truman, the actual shift in attitude — not to mention its implementation — was still to come. Indeed, the American defence budget decreased sharply after the Second World War and remained nearly constant from 1947 to 1950. Even after reading the document in April 1950, Truman did not revise his commitment to a constant if not decreasing budget. However, NSC-68 became a plan of action in response to the Korean War.44
Of massive interest to the conspiracy minded is the juicy, neurotic nexus provided by the conjunction of conspiracy theory, the 2012 phenomenon, and UFOlogy. The following M.A. thesis by Sacha Defesche critically analyses this superbly:
‘The 2012 Phenomenon’: A historical and typological approach to a modern apocalyptic mythology. - M.A. Thesis by Sacha Defesche
The following excerpt is of interest:
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(3) Conspiracy-based 2012 speculation: David Icke’s Reptilian Conspiracy
In the next chapter I will have a word or two to say about the interesting connection that appears to exist generally between millennialism and conspiracism as it seems that in most, if not all 2012 theories there is an element of conspiracy theory, varying in scope of course. Nevertheless there can be distinguished a definite type of 2012 speculation that is fundamentally concerned with the existence of a global (and sometimes even cosmic) conspiracy in connection with the year 2012.
A prime example of this type of speculation is the work of the British author David Icke, (1952- ) who is well known in certain conspiracist circles and wrote titles such as The Robots’ Rebellion (1994), …And the Truth Shall Set You Free (1995), and The Children of the Matrix (2001) Although some of his theories are quite bizarre, especially his notion that the world’s royal families and top politicians are not human but an interplanetary race of evil shape shifting reptilians conspiring to dominate humanity, he represents a small but in many ways vocal portion of the 2012 phenomenon. In A Culture of Conspiracy, Michael Barkun summarizes the basic theory of Icke as:
a generic New World Order concept: humanity is in thrall to “manipulators” who keep us from reaching a condition of full freedom. Icke refers to these plotters as ‘the Brotherhood”. The Brotherhood consists of “an enormous network of secret societies” at whose apex stand the Illuminati. This set of nested conspiracies achieves its goals through control of the “world financial system” and its mastery of “mind control” techniques. Its goal is “a world government to which every continent would be subordinate”
It is interesting to note that in earlier publications, Icke did not consider the year 2012 to be of any special significance in his own particular system of thought, as a citation from his 1994 book The Robot’s Rebellion will show. According to Icke, the year 2012
is when those who follow the Mayan calculations believe that Planet Earth will be re-synchronized. Different people put different time scales on these things, but they all agree on the basic period. My feeling is that the ‘window’ of time in which we will see the most dramatic change is between the 1990s and circa 2030.
Where Icke derived this information from is difficult to say, as in neither this text nor its bibliography any reference is made to sources that established 2012 as ‘the end of the Mayan calendar’, Although in 1994 both Argüelles and McKenna were available, judging by Icke’s (erroneous) identification of the ‘end-date’ of the Long Count as 12.12.2012, and the interpretation he gives of it, it is likely that he derived it from a secondary mention of alternative archaeological research into Mayan calendrics.
In any case, it is clear that in 1994, Icke saw no reason to jump on the 2012 bandwagon as of yet. Then somehow, five years later the status of the year 2012, with the exact date adjusted to December 21st, gained a promotion in Icke’s work, finally coming to play an essential part in his conspiracy theory:
With fear as the reptilians’ greatest weapon, the plan is to engineer events, real and staged, that will create enormous fear in the countdown years to 2012. This includes a plan to start a third world war either by stimulating the Muslim world into a ‘holy war’ against the West or by using the Chinese to cause global conflict. Maybe both.
Either Icke became aware of an updated plot in the global conspiracy, or (and this is much more likely) he must have noticed the growing number of books and websites referring to the importance of 2012, especially the new edition of the 1975 work of the brothers McKenna and their mathematical manipulation of the I Ching, which he mentions explicitly.
Following their notion of the rapid acceleration of the Timewave and its “end” in 2012, Icke appears to recognize the notion that this year will bring about the single most important transformation in human consciousness in history. “The Brotherhood”, aware of the coming shift “are seeking desperately to hide these facts by blaming the weather changes on ‘the Greenhouse Effect’ or ‘El Nino’. They know that once people realize that something very different is happening the dominoes will fall and the game will be up“. In this framework, the year 2012 represents a chance for humanity to avoid total domination by an extraterrestrial, malevolent conspiracy and “see freedom return to this planet for the first time in so, so long“.
Another 2012 theorists that falls within this category worth mention here is the Irish born Michael Tsarion (1969- ), author of a number of books on ancient civilizations, divination and most importantly a very vocal advocate of a cosmic conspiracy against consciousness His work in many ways echoes that of David Icke, although he is perhaps wider in scope. Apart from developing a complex worldview in which conspirism, occultism and “alternative history” (as Tsarion calls it) are interwoven, he is very clear about the significance of 2012 in the future development of humanity.
In Tsarion’s view, the “war on terror” that ensued after the event of 9/11 actually represent a deepening of an ancient “war on consciousness” of a global conspiracy aimed at the total domination of humanity. In this picture, the 21st of December 2012 is “the Zero Year” in which the sun will be in conjunction with the galactic center and the dawn of a “New Age”, an “age of awakening”. The three-and-a-half hour lecture he gave on the Granada Forum in Los Angeles in 2006 titled 2012- The Future of Mankind reflects his sense of urgency in getting his message across before the year 2012 actually arrives and nicely illustrates the immensity of the scope of 2012 speculation and the rhetorical ‘fire’ that characterizes many of the authors and speakers in this genre.