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The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957)

por Norman Cohn

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9741121,930 (4.2)23
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.… (mais)
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This important and original book relates the manifestations of medieval hysteria to the totalitarian movements of our own time. With impeccable scholarship and exhausting bibliographies and index, professor Cohn has explored these subterranean popular revolts which so often sent tremors through the massive structure of medieval society.
  PendleHillLibrary | Feb 1, 2024 |
Such an interesting book. If you take a look at the bibliography you’ll find a massive list of heavy-duty texts mostly in Latin, German, and French. I have no idea how Cohn has managed to transform this into such an enjoyable and easy read.

Anyway, he covers a huge range of millenarian groups. At one end of the scale you have the harmless Ranters who just want to have sex with each other and would probably be happy with a night out on the Bigg Market.

At the other end of the scale you have the real millenarian revolutionaries, and it’s here that Cohn flips the human psyche on its back and has a good poke around in its dark underside. These groups share eschatological beliefs that Cohn traces back to early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic works. You know the kind of thing: Anti-Christ and the Second Coming. A massive slaughter where the earth is purified of the followers of Anti-Christ followed by a thousand years of bliss on earth. These groups, mostly consisting of poor people, coalesce about someone thought to be a prophet or living God and rampage across the continent, killing whoever they think is evil. This is usually the Jews, clerics, or the rich. Sometimes all three. On the face of it, this looks to me like some form of human sacrifice.

I found the accounts quite disturbing, and I had to keep telling myself that these people were abnormal. Unfortunately I couldn’t convince myself that this was the case. Cohn draws some convincing parallels between them and the Nazi and Communists movements of the Twentieth Century. I see that various reviewers over on Goodreads see parallels with a whole range more recent groups. I suspect that people will be seeing parallels with their own times from now until Domesday.

Cohn identifies three things that underlie all outbreaks of the behaviour: an increase in population; rapid social change; rapid economic change. He also points out that outbreaks often follow famines and plagues. I couldn’t help noticing that those three requirements might be said to have held true for the United States since the beginning of the colonial period and that millenarian beliefs are really popular over there. Now let’s look at Trump. He targets two groups as evil. Immigrants (the very cause of population growth) and the political elite. He releases footage of himself being prayed over by pastors. He promises miracle cures involving injecting beach into the veins and bringing light inside the body. Q-Anon appears to have thought he was waging a secret war against a paedophile death cult. Plague strikes the US causing rapid economic change and BLM protests sweep the world causing rapid social change.

When they stormed the Capitol I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I just couldn’t understand why they would want to set up a monarchy. If I was going to storm the Capitol I’d want tanks, artillery and control of the air as an absolute minimum. These people were doing it with sticks and seemed surprised when they failed. Having read this book I think I understand them a bit better. I feel a bit sorry for them really. They honestly thought they were purifying the earth.

Well, I’m sure this was the last time people will getting up to that sort of thing and we can all rest easy in our beds. ( )
  Lukerik | May 25, 2021 |
A rigorous and informative history of millenarian ecstatic movements from the 800s through the 1500s including my favorite, the Anabaptist takeover of Muenster town. Mostly told in an episodic fashion, every 5th chapter or so steps back and provides a reset in socio-economic stimuli behind these movements. Told from a perspective on history that is obviously reacting to Marxist events in the authors own time, it concludes by tying medieval eschatological utopian movements with the Marxist drive for utopian end of history, which was a little too tidy for my tastes. The author also is devoid of humor, although is not averse to descriptive passages regarding the misery his subjects experience. ( )
1 vote billt568 | Aug 25, 2020 |
The Reformation had a wilder side, and Dr. Cohn tries to cover it for the student. The prose is clear, and the book was for a while the standard college text on the subject in North America. ( )
1 vote DinadansFriend | Jul 31, 2019 |
Like most people, I was shocked and intrigued by the enigma of ISIS, how it spread so quickly, how it attracted so wide a band of support and how easily it initially fared against the Kurds. Unlike a number of folks I turned consequently to Norman Cohn. Cohn qualifies the successes, however fleeting of Millennial cults by stressing how such always appeared in the wake of larger rebellions or movements. I find it fascinating that so many individuals appeared to be the reincarnations of lost leaders. I suppose I can understand someone hearing voices and believing they are a prophet or even the divine, but when a number of people claim to be Barbarossa so that a prophecy can be fulfilled, well, that sort of baffles me. I then think of Teddy Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace and all appears well again. Maybe “well” is a poor adjective in the wake of a pogrom or the sacking of a monastery. What is one to make of the phenomenon of the flagellants? This literal craze flashed across Europe and exacted a lethal response to Jews everywhere. Residing at the core of all is this a desire to return to the Natural State where all was communal and there was no crime or avarice. See John Gray[b:Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia|360648|Black Mass Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia|John N. Gray|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1390134668s/360648.jpg|1334977] for further examples of this lunacy. I should be careful with my descriptions. Lord knows there were sociological forces at play, the sense of dislocation after feudalism ended, thus limiting the ties with the extended family as well as towards the manor.

Cohn provides a fascinating account of the history of these movements in Northern Europe. Apparently the activity there was practically dwarfed by the resonance in the Mediterranean basin. Paul Bryant in his masterful review notes how common it is historically for cult/movement leaders to pronounce polygamy or a free love of sorts. This wasn't near as prolific as the killing of Jews in Cohn's survey. I suppose the more cynical would allude to a Lacanian blockage. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
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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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