The Pursuit of the Millenium

November 17, 2010

Reading N. Cohn’s book, The Pursuit of the Millenium , I was reminded of a couple of ideas that intriqued me and are reflected in the present economic downturn and its affect on people. There are 2 types of culture, one that operates in circular time and one that operates in linear time. The circular time cultures are usually agricultural, and primitive. What is important is the repetition of some golden past. Creativity, originality are either frownded upon or deemed irrelevant. Linear cultures (Judaeo-Christian) believe that there is a golden future. Enterprise, originality, initiative are highly regarded. Television (especially advertising) has brought a linear culture back to its circular routes. People (American culture more than European) have become nostalgic for some mythological past that they believe contained the good life. Every day life had become a repetition of some golden past. (Without slavery, the genocide of the native peoples and other uncomfortable historical events.) It is a past that never existed. And it is a past that is only decades old. The  economic collapse has woken people up from this dream. And abruptly awakened, they are angry. We are headed into a new world. It is unknown. People are frightened.

(‘The end of the millennium has always held the world in fear of earthquakes, plague, and the catastrophic destruction of the world. At the dawn of the 21st millennium the world is still experiencing these anxieties, as seen by the onslaught of fantasies of renewal, doomsday predictions, and New Age prophecies.
This fascinating book explores the millenarianism that flourished in western Europe between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. Covering the full range of revolutionary and anarchic sects and movements in medieval Europe, Cohn demonstrates how prophecies of a final struggle between the hosts of Christ and Antichrist melded with the rootless poor’s desire to improve their own material conditions, resulting in a flourishing of millenarian fantasies. The only overall study of medieval millenarian movements, The Pursuit of the Millennium offers an excellent interpretation of how, again and again, in situations of anxiety and unrest, traditional beliefs come to serve as vehicles for social aspirations and animosities.’)

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