The Nature of Apocalyptic Religion and Modern Political Ideology
The religion and dominant philosophies that shaped the past predict the end of the world. Big statement. But, it essentially confirms a belief, or rather, an assumption that the overwhelming majority of Westerners still have. Nevertheless, one has to wonder what the end of the world means, and what parts of those philosophies predict it. Essentially, the end of the world means the end of the world as we know it, and the creation of utopia.
Think Christianity - The Book of Revelations predicts a new age, a time where Christ would rule utopia for a thousand years, and this would be attained by a purification, whereby all non-believers and wrong-doers (essentially all those who do not confirm to the ideals and values as set out by Christianity) would be left behind in the Rapture. All true believers are allowed to enjoy the kingdom of heaven, but being part of "the chosen few" seems to depend on whether you are the right denomination of Christian, (although no one really knows what that is yet). In essence the idea that we are interested in here is that, as it is implied, the modern world is plagued by evils and these things need to be destroyed, after which a new, better age will begin.
Modern 'political religions', whether extinct or not, share this view. Communism, Nazism and Jacobinism - these have all had a huge effect on the modern world. They had the notion that the world needed to be cleansed. But, what is the difference here? In Christianity, it was God who would bring about the end of the world, not man. This distinction, ironically, was brought about by something quite un-Christian - the enlightenment. As culture was detaching itself from the tenets and praxis of religion, and attempting to find itself in rational analysis and fact, it could not rid itself of this idea that had imprinted itself onto the collective consciousness of Europeans. And so - because, as Nietzsche famously stated, "God is Dead" - who would bring about the apocalypse, but man?
Revolutionary culture all began with the French Revolution. Here the evils in question were the very real ones created by a classist system and an ineffectual monarchy. The Reign of Terror, led by Robespierre and the Jacobins, led to the deaths of from 18 000 to 40 000 people. Violent repression was used to crush resistance to the government - after all, who was to stand in the way of utopia? Things needed to change, and if a perfect world was to be created, the exercise of violence was considered acceptable to ensure this. Thus, democracy was born.
Violent change has been inextricably associated with revolution. Another example is communism, where the perceived ills were inequality and modern culture. Twenty million died. Nazism held that the major cause of the problem was cultural inferiority - Jews chiefly. Eleven million died, six million of which were Jews. The Third Reich was to be ruled by a chosen few, and was meant to last for a thousand years - sound familiar?
As for perfect people, the story is similar. The Ubermensch (the super man) was a part of Nietzsche's philosophy - a goal towards which humanity should work. In National Socialism, it led to the idea of the Aryan Race, and attempts to create this super-race were made, attempts such as the SS (the idea was to build a force of physically and mentally superior Aryans representative of the Nazi ideology) and Nazi breeding programmes. Scientific racism and eugenics, although also spurred on by the European assumption of superiority upon finding supposedly inferior native inhabitants during the age of discovery, fit into the idea of the Ubermensch.
Even though they may have tried to escape the influence of religion, the idea that killed remained. All of these ideologies have several things in common. They all essentially believed that they could create utopia. A chosen few would be allowed to exist in this world. And most importantly, they held that the world needed to be rid of the "evils" that beset it. The problem, in Christianity, Communism and Nazism, is that they assume that these evils can be destroyed. It is always evil that stands in the way of transformation, and never the flaws inherent in human nature. It is this fact, that human nature doesn't change, that is the reason that all those ideologies in their purist form, failed. The exception being Christianity, because, in this case the instigator of change was God, not man.
However, the idea that killed, might also be called the idea that birthed. From both the wonderful and terrible results of its existence, we have important and workable concepts such as democracy, inalienable human rights and most importantly -freedom.