Theories of progress are often myths that fed into political religions. The human project to create a perfect society is an intellectual linkage that one finds within movements as diverse as the Bolsheviks, the Jacobins and the Nazis. But utopianism was a movement of withdrawal from the world before it was an attempt to remake the world by force as happened in the case of Soviet Russia, Hitler, Mao and others during the 20th century.
Luckily, visions of an ideal world are never realized. At the same time, the prospect of a life without conflict has a powerful appeal. In effect it is the idea of perfection attributed in some traditions to God. In religion the idea of perfection answers a need for individual salvation. In politics it expresses a similar yearning, but it soon runs up against other human needs.
Thus a project is utopian if there are no circumstances under which it can be realized. All the dreams of a society from which coercion and power have been for ever removed - Marxist or anarchist, liberal or technocratic - are utopian in the strong sense that they can never be achieved because they break down on the enduring contradictions of human needs. A project can also be utopian without being unrealizable under any circumstances - it is enough if it can be known to be impossible under any circumstances that can be brought about or foreseen.
In essence, as we have suggested, the modern world in Europe began with wars of religion. During the Thirty Years War, Europe was devastated by armed struggle between Catholics and Protestants, with around a third of the population in parts of Germany perishing as a result. Much of early modern thought is a response to these conflicts. The need to restrain the violence of faith is central in the writings of Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza early Enlightenment thinkers who speak to us about the nature of present conflicts more clearly than most of those who came later. But it was the French revolution that introduced the idea of terror as a tool of progress.
Hobbes's understanding of the dangers of anarchy resonates powerfully today. Liberal thinkers still see the unchecked power of the state as the chief danger to human freedom. In fact the sectarian death squads roaming Baghdad show that fundamentalism is itself a type of anarchy in which each prophet claims divine authority to rule. In well governed societies, the power of faith is curbed. The state and the churches temper the claims of revelation and enforce peace. Where this kind is impossible, tyranny is better than being ruled by warring prophets. Assuming that humans dread violent death more than anything, Hobbes however left out the most intractable sources 0f conflict. It is not always because human beings act irrationally that they fail to achieve peace. Sometimes it is because they do not want peace. They may want the victory of the One True Faith - whether a traditional religion or a secular successor such as Communism, Nazism, or - like the young people who joined far-Left terrorist groups in the 1970s, another generation of which is now joining Islamist networks - they may find in war a purpose that is lacking in peace. But these Religions for that’s what they all are, are not literally true, as their followers believe. They are myths that preserve in symbolic or metaphorical form truths that might otherwise be lost, and the mass of humankind will never be able to do without them.
Thus what is gained can always be lost, - in the blink of an eye; human knowledge tends to increase, but humans do not become any more civilized as a result. They remain prone to every kind of barbarism, and while the growth of knowledge allows them to improve their material conditions, it can, also increases the savagery of their conflicts.
If the political religions of the last century were renewed forms of Christian beliefs, secular humanism today is no different. Darwinist thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are militant opponents, whereby their atheism and humanism-- are versions of Christian concepts. As a defender of Darwinism, Dawkins is committed to the view that humans are like other animal species in being 'gene machines' ruled by the laws of natural selection. He asserts nevertheless that humans, uniquely, can defy these natural laws: 'We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.' In affirming human uniqueness in this way, Dawkins relies on a Christian world-view. The same is true of Dennett, who has spent much of his career laboring to show how scientific materialism can be reconciled with a form of free will - a project that would scarcely occur to someone from a culture not molded by Christianity.
Pre-Christian philosophers such as the Epicureans speculated about free will. But it only became a central issue in western philosophy with the rise of Christianity and has never been prominent in non-western philosophies that do not separate humans so radically from other animals. When secular thinkers ponder free will and consciousness they nearly always confine themselves to humans, but why assume these attributes are uniquely human? In taking for granted a categorical difference between humans and other animals these rationalists show their view of the world has been formed by faith. The comedy of militant unbelief is in the fact that the humanist creed it embodies is a by-product of Christianity.
Showing the origins of humanist beliefs in Christianity does not mean they are mistaken, but it is the whole framework of thought of Christianity, so when for example we have a claim that humans are radically different from other animals and it is wrenched from its theological roots it is not just indefensible but virtually incomprehensible. Modern humanists think they are naturalists, who view all forms of life - including the human animal - as part of the material universe; but a genuinely naturalistic philosophy would not start by assuming humans have attributes other animals do not. Its point of departure would be that the evolutionary laws that govern other animals also govern humans. What ground - other than revealed religion - could there be for believing anything else?
Contemporary atheism is a Christian heresy that differs from earlier heresies chiefly in its intellectual crudity--we leave aside atheism in Islamic cultures, though the same analysis applies. This is nowhere clearer than in its view of religion itself. Marx held to a reductive view in which religion was a by-product of oppression; but he was clear it expressed the deepest human aspirations - it was not only the opiate of the masses but also 'the heart of a heartless world'. The French Positivists wanted to replace Christianity by a ridiculous Religion of Humanity; but they understood that religion answered to universal human needs. Only a very credulous philosopher could believe that showing religion is an illusion will make it disappear. That assumes the human mind is an organ attuned to truth - a quasi-Platonic conception that is closer to religion than science and inconsistent with Darwinism. Yet such seems to be the view of contemporary unbelievers.
The chief significance of evangelical atheism is in demonstrating the unreality of secularization. Talk of secularism is meaningful when it refers to the weakness of traditional religious belief or the lack of power of churches and other religious bodies. That is what is meant when we say Britain is a more secular country than the United States, and in this sense secularism is an achievable condition. But if it means a type of society in which religion is absent, secularism is a kind of contradiction, for it is defined by what it excludes. Post-Christian secular societies are formed by the beliefs they reject, whereas a society that had truly left Christianity behind would lack the concepts that shaped secular thought.
Like other ideas, secularity has a history. Pre-Christian Europe lacked the distinction between the secular and the sacred in much the same way that other polytheist cultures do. The world itself was sacred, and there could be no question of confining religion to a private sphere - the very idea of religion as a set of practices distinct from the rest of life was lacking. A domain separate from the sacred was recognized only when Augustine distinguished between the City of Man and the City of God. In this sense secular thinking is a legacy of Christianity and has no meaning except in a context of monotheism. In East Asia, polytheism has lived side by side with mystical philosophies in much the same way that the two coexisted in pre-Christian Europe, and the clash between science and religion that has polarized western societies has not taken place. It is no accident that Darwinism has not triggered culture-war in China or Japan.
As used by many of its contemporary advocates secularism is not so much a view of the world as a political doctrine. In this sense a secular state is one that banishes religion from public life while leaving people free to believe what they like. Secularism of this kind is consistent with religious belief, but it is mainly defended nowadays by rationalists who lament the renewed strength of religion in politics. They seem to have forgotten the political religions of the twentieth century and cannot have reflected on the fact that in the United States, a model secular regime, religion and politics are intertwined more closely than in any other advanced country. The unreality of this secularist stance does not come only from an ignorance of history. Those who demand that religion be exorcized from politics think this can be achieved by excluding traditional faiths from public institutions; but secular creeds are formed from religious concepts, and suppressing religion does not mean it ceases to control thinking and behavior. Like repressed sexual desire, faith returns, often in grotesque forms, to govern the lives of those who deny it.
It would be comforting to think that the perversion of politics by repressed religion occurs only in totalitarian regimes. Yet democracies have displayed very similar tendencies. Even more than despotic regimes, liberal states have tended to see the violence they have inflicted as morally admirable. Tzvetan Todorov, the French historian who grew up in Stalinist Bulgaria and has written illuminatingly on the Nazi and Soviet concentration camps, has noted this tendency in the context of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Atomic bombs killed fewer people than the famine in the Ukraine, fewer than the Nazis slaughtered in the Ukraine and Poland. But what the bombs and the slaughters have in common is that their perpetrators all thought they were but a means to achieve a good. However, the bombs have another feature: they are a source of pride to those who made and dropped them ... whereas totalitarian crimes, even if they were considered by their perpetrators to be useful and even praiseworthy political acts, were kept secret ... Both the Soviet and the Nazi leadership knew that the world would damn them if it knew exactly what they had done. They were not wrong, because as soon as their crimes were revealed they were treated as the emblems of absolute evil. Things are quite different in the case of the atomic bombs, and for that very reason, even if the crime is less grave, the moral mistake of the people who killed in the name of democracy is greater. (See Tzvetan Todorov, Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2003, pp. 236-7.)
The loss of life inflicted in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not the largest in the Second World War - more civilians were killed in the fire bombing of Tokyo than in either of the cities on which atomic bombs were dropped, for example - but it illustrates Todorov's point. Liberal democracies are not only willing to commit acts that when perpetrated by despotic regimes are condemned as signs of barbarism - they are ready to praise these acts as heroic. It may be that such attacks on civilian populations can be justified if they shortened the war and contributed to the destruction of abhorrent regimes. Historians differ on their effects; the issue remains open. But if an attack of this kind can be defended it is only as a hideous necessity, not a triumphant display of higher virtue.
Liberalism is often described as a skeptical creed. The description hardly does justice to the missionary zeal with which it has been promoted. Liberalism is a lineal descendant from Christianity and shares the militancy of its parent faith. The ferocity with which liberal societies have treated their enemies cannot be accounted for in terms of self-defense alone. Liberal societies are worth defending, for they embody a type of civilized life in which rival beliefs can coexist in peace. When they become missionary regimes this achievement is put at risk. In waging war to promote their values actually existing liberal societies are corrupted. This is what happened when torture, whose prohibition was the result of an Enlightenment campaign that as we shall see, began in the eighteenth found its high point during the twentieth century, and was used at the start of the twenty first as a weapon in an Enlightenment crusade for universal democracy. Preserving the hard-won restraints of civilization is less exciting than throwing them away in order to realize impossible dreams. Barbarism has a certain charm, particularly when it comes clothed in virtue as we shall now proceed to explain.
To start with a simple fact, modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion. The greatest of the revolutionary upheavals that have shaped so much of the history of the past two centuries were episodes in the history of faith moments in the long dissolution of Christianity and the rise of modern political religion. The world in which we find ourselves at the start of the new millennium is littered with the debris of utopian projects, which though they were framed in secular terms that denied the truth of religion were in fact vehicles for religious myths.
Communism and Nazism claimed to be based on science - in the case of communism the cod-science of historical materialism, in Nazism the farrago of 'scientific racism'. These claims were fraudulent but the use of pseudo-science did not stop with the collapse of totalitarianism that culminated with the dissolution of the USSR in December 1991. It continued in neo-conservative theories that claimed the world is converging on a single type of government and economic system - universal democracy, or a global free market. Despite the fact that it was presented in the trappings of social science, this belief that humanity was on the brink of a new era was only the most recent version of apocalyptic beliefs that go back to the most ancient times.
Jesus and his followers believed they lived in an End-Time when the evils of the world were about to pass away. Sickness and death, famine and hunger, war and oppression would all cease to exist after a world-shaking battle in which the forces of evil would be utterly destroyed. Such was the faith that inspired the first Christians, and though the End-Time was re-interpreted by later Christian thinkers as a metaphor for a spiritual change, visions of Apocalypse have haunted western life ever since those early beginnings. In fact Norman Cohn is one of a number of writers that systematically uncovered the religious roots of modern revolutionary in his seminal study The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (London, Seeker and Warburg, 1957).
More then often I has been noted that for its followers communism had many of the functions of a religion - a fact reflected for example in the title of a famous collection of essays by disillusioned ex-communists, The God that Failed, which was published not long after the start of the Cold War. R. H. Crossman (ed.), The God that Failed, New York and Chichester, Sussex, Columbia University Press, 2001; first published by Hamish Hamilton, London, 1950. The book contained essays by Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Richard Wright, Andre Gide, Louis Fischer and Stephen Spender.
Of course Cohn showed the similarities went much further than had been realized before 1957. At its height twentieth-century communism replicated many of the features of the millenarian movements that rocked Europe in late medieval times. Soviet communism was a modern millenarian revolution, and so - though the vision of the future that animated many Nazis was in some ways more negative - was Nazism.
It may be worth clarifying some key terms. Sometimes called chiliasts - a chiliad is anything containing a thousand parts, and Christian millenarians believe Jesus will return to the Earth and rule over it in a new kingdom for a thousand years - millenarians hold to an apocalyptic view of history.
Born out of particularly Lutheran ant-Semitism, the Nazis adopted a Christian demonology like the anti-Jewish pogroms during the Spanish Inquisition to give an earlier example.(See Toby Green Inquisition: The Reign of Fear, London, 2007.) Negative eschatology of this kind was a strand in the Nazi’s ideology.
However, it was a positive version of apocalyptic belief that fuelled medieval and secular millenarian movements, which expected an End Time when the evils of the world would disappear for ever. (Millenarianism is sometimes distinguished from millennialism, with the former believing in the literal return of Christ and the latter looking forward to the arrival of some kind of holy kingdom. But there is no consistent pattern in the use of these terms, and except where otherwise indicated I will use them interchangeably.)
In the forms in which it has affected western societies millenarianism is a Christian inheritance. Most religions lack any conception of history as a story with a beginning and an end. Hindus and Buddhists view human life as a moment in a cosmic cycle; salvation means release from this unending round. Plato and his disciples in pre-Christian Europe viewed human life in much the same way. Ancient Judaism contained nothing resembling the idea that the world was about to come to an end. Christianity injected the belief that human history is a teleological process. The Greek word telos means 'end', a word that in English means both the terminus of a process and the goal or purpose that a process can serve. In thinking of history in teleological terms, Christians believed it had an end in both senses: history had a pre-determined purpose, and when that was achieved it would come to a close. Secular thinkers such as Marx and Fukuyama inherited this teleology, which underpins their talk of 'the end of history'. In that they view history as a movement, not necessarily inevitable but in the direction of a universal goal, theories of progress also rely on a teleological view. Standing behind all these conceptions is the belief that history must be understood not in terms of the causes of events but in terms of its purpose, which is the salvation of humanity.
But Millenarian movements may not be solely confined to the Christian West. In 1853 Hong Xiuquan, the leader of a movement called the Taiping Heavenly Army who believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus, founded a utopian community in Nanjing that lasted until it was destroyed eleven years later after a conflict in which over twenty million people died. The Taiping Rebellion is one of a number of Chinese uprisings moved by millenarian ideas, and while Christian missionaries may have brought these ideas to China, it may be the case that ideas of a similar kind were already present. Beliefs concerning an age of destruction followed by an era of peace guided by a celestial savior may have existed in the country from the third century onwards.
Whether or not they are uniquely western in origin, beliefs of this kind have had a formative influence on western life. Medieval chiliasm reflected beliefs that can be traced back to the beginnings of Christianity. Modern political religions such as Jacobinism, Bolshevism and Nazism reproduced millenarian beliefs in the terms of science. If a simple definition of western civilization could be formulated it would have to be framed in terms of the central role of millenarian thinking.
Millenarian beliefs are one thing, millenarian movements another, and millenarian regimes something else again. Millenarian movements however develop only in definite historical circumstances. Sometimes these are conditions of large-scale social dislocation, as in Tsarist Russia and Weimar Germany after the First World War; sometimes a single traumatic event, as happened in the US with 9/11. Movements of this kind are often linked with disasters. Millenarian beliefs are symptoms of a type of cognitive dissonance in which normal links between perception and reality have broken down. See for example, Michael Barkun, Disaster and Millennium, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1974, for a study of millenarian movements as responses to a breakdown in normal patterns of perception. In Russia and Germany, war and economic collapse produced full-fledged millenarian regimes, while in America an unprecedented terrorist attack produced a millenarian outbreak that included an unnecessary war in Iraq.
Apocalyptic beliefs go back to the origins of Christianity and beyond. The recurrent appearance of these beliefs throughout the history of Christianity is not an incursion from outside the faith: it is a sign of something that was present from the start. The teaching of Jesus was grounded in the belief that humanity was in its final days. Eschatology was central to the movement he inspired. In this respect Jesus belonged in a Jewish apocalyptic tradition. but the radically dualistic view of the world that goes with apocalyptic beliefs is nowhere found in biblical Judaism. The central role of eschatology in the teaching of Jesus reflects the influence of other traditions. For this see for example the recent detailed study by Jonathan Kirch (2007) aptly titled; A History Of The End Of The World (2007).
But also in other cases, contemporary historical scholarship has shown beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus belonged in a heterodox current of charismatic Judaism. The term 'Christian' that came to be applied to Jesus' followers comes from the Greek word christos, or 'the anointed one', which is also the meaning of 'messiah' in Hebrew and Aramaic. The term 'messiah' is rarely found in the Hebrew Bible and when it appears, it is a title given to the king or a high priest. With the development of Christianity as a universal religion from the time of Paul onwards, 'the messiah' came to mean a divine figure sent by God to redeem all of humanity.
Originally a message directed only to other Jews, the teaching of Jesus was that the old world was about to come to an end and a new kingdom established. As we have seen in the previous case study, In the twelfth century Joachim of Flora (1132-1202) reversed Augustine's theology. Believing that he had gleaned an esoteric meaning from the scriptures (like in modern times occultists of Madame H.P.Blavatsky’s generation and later Rudolf Seiner wanted to think although they moved back from 3, to the previously already popular 7—intended as 2x 3 with a fourth in the middle to ensure a marker that represented the change from descend into ascend), Joachim - turned the Christian doctrine of the Trinity into a philosophy of history in which humanity ascended through three stages. From the Age of the Father via the Age of the Son it would move to the Age of the Spirit - a time of universal brotherhood that would continue until the Last Judgment. Each of these ages had a leader, with Abraham at the head of the First and Jesus the Second. A new and final leader who embodied the third person of the divine trinity would inaugurate the Third Age, which Joachim expected to arrive in 1260. Joachim's Trinitarian philosophy of history re-infused medieval Christianity with eschatological fervor, and versions of his three-phase scheme reappear in many later esoteric-Christian thinkers.
In fact not only the favorite of Christian Occult thinkers, the division of human history into three ages had a profound impact on secular thought. Hegel's view of the evolution of human freedom in three dialectical stages, Marx's theory of the movement from primitive communism through class society to global communism, Auguste Comte's Positivist vision of humankind's evolution from religious to metaphysical and scientific stages of development all reproduce the three-part scheme. The common division of history into three phases - ancient, medieval and modern - echoes the Joachite scheme. Even more strikingly, as will see next chapter, it was Joachim's prophecy of a third age that gave the Nazi state the name of the Third Reich.
But utopian projects as the above are by their nature unachievable. Or as Hume put it long ago: 'All plans of government which suppose great reformation in the manners of mankind are plainly imaginary’. However there is a school of thought that insists on the indispensable value of the utopian imagination. In this view, utopian thinking opens up vistas that would otherwise remain closed, expanding the range of human possibility. To remain within the boundaries of what is believed to be practicable is to abdicate hope and adopt an attitude of passive acceptance that amounts to complicity with oppression. According to many who accept this view, the disastrous consequences of utopian projects - in Soviet Russia and Maoist China, for example - do not flow from the projects themselves. Western utopian theories are guiltless; it is Russian or Chinese traditions that are at fault.
At this point it need only be pointed out that Lenin's readiness to use terror to bring about a new world was in no sense new. The use of inhumane methods to achieve impossible ends is the essence of revolutionary utopianism. The Bolshevik Revolution was the culmination of a European revolutionary tradition, that accepted systematic terror (“total war” a term already used by the German General staff at the start of WWI) as a legitimate means of transforming society which including unleashing what they termed ‘world revolution’ and ‘total war’.
Terror however have not been a feature of only Soviet - and Maoist regimes but also of more smaller (and more recent) communist movements such as the Shining Path in Peru, which killed tens of thousands of people in pursuit of a world better than any that has ever existed. This vision animated every twentieth-century communist movement, and sustaining it led inescapably to repression.
Today as in the twentieth century however, the dangers of utopianism are denied. Now as then it is believed that there is nothing to stop humans remaking themselves, and the world in which they live, as they please. This fantasy lies behind many aspects of contemporary culture, and in these circumstances it is dystopian thinking we most need. The question remains how utopia is to be recognized, how do we know when a project is unrealizable?
As we understand it today, utopianism began to develop along with the retreat of Christian belief. Yet the utopian faith in a condition of future harmony is a Christian inheritance, and so is the modern idea of progress. Though it may seem at odds with the belief that the world is irredeemably evil and about to come to an end, an idea of progress has been latent in Christianity from early times, and it may be in the last book of the Christian Bible - St John's Revelation - that it is first advanced but our second case study already has shown that this is not really so.
This brings us next to nineteenth-century anarchists such as Nechayev and Bakunin, Bolsheviks like Lenin and Trotsky, and the regimes of Mao the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Italian Red Guard in the 1980s, radical Islamic movements and neo-conservative groups mesmerized by fantasies of creative destruction - these highly disparate elements are at one in their faith in the liberating power of violence. Thus Christianities eschatological hopes only returned as projects of universalism.
Like many revolutionaries after them the Jacobins introduced a new calendar to mark the new era they had begun. They were not mistaken in believing it marked a turning point in history. The era of political mass murder had arrived indeed arrived.
But to come back to our actual subject, in the end, post-milenilalist Christians propagated beliefs mutated into the secular faith in progress; but so long as history was believed to be governed by providence there was no attempt to direct it by violence. While Christianity was unchallenged, Utopia was a dream pursued by marginal cults. The decline of Christianity and the rise of revolutionary utopianism however went together. When Christianity was rejected, its eschatological hopes did not disappear. They were repressed, only to return as projects of universal emancipation dictatorial regimes and now as one of the examples, rising Islamic militancy.
Let us be clear: this is no return to stability. The post-Cold War world was one in which the geo-political patterns set in place after the Second World War were breaking up, and American defeat in Iraq has set in motion a further reconfiguration of global politics. The result of the attempt to project American-style democracy worldwide has been a steep decline in American power. For the first time since the 1930s, undemocratic regimes are the rising stars in the international system, while the US has ceased to be the pivotal player in some of the system's most important conflicts. It is China not the US that is central in the crisis in North Korea, and without the engagement of Iran and Syria there can be no peace in Iraq. America has become a great power like others in history, and like them faces dilemmas that are only partly soluble.
Yet it would be wrong to dismiss Bush's talk of universal democracy as mere hypocrisy. For a time American power became a vehicle for an attempt to remake the world. The disaster that continues to unfold in Iraq is not the result of policy being shaped by corporate interests, or of any conspiracy.
In' fact terror was practiced during the last century on a scale unequalled at any other time in history, but unlike the terror that is most feared today much of it was done in the service of secular hopes. The totalitarian regimes of the last century embodied some of the Enlightenment's boldest dreams. Some of their worst crimes were done in the service of progressive ideals, while even regimes that viewed themselves as enemies of Enlightenment values attempted a project of transforming humanity by using the power of science, whose origins are in Enlightenment thinking.
The role of the Enlightenment in twentieth-century terror remains, a blind spot in western perception. Libraries are stocked with books insisting that mass repression in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China was a by-product of traditions of despotism. The implication is that it is the people of the countries that were subject to communist rule that are to blame, while the communist ideology is innocent of any role in the crimes these regimes committed. A similar lesson has been drawn from the catastrophe that has ensued as a result of the Bush administration's project of regime change in Iraq: it is not the responsibility of those who conceived and implemented the project, whose goals and intentions remain irreproachable. The fault lies with the Iraqis, a lesser breed that has spurned the freedom it was nobly offered.
There is more than a hint of racism in this way of thinking. During the last century mass repression was practiced in countries with vastly, different histories and traditions whose only common feature was the fact that they were subjects of a utopian experiment. The machinery of terror - show trials, mass imprisonment and state control of political and cultural life through a ubiquitous secret police - existed in every communist regime. Mongolia and East Germany, Cuba and Bulgaria, Romania and North Korea, Eastern Germany and Soviet Central Asia all suffered similar types of repression. The type of government these countries' had before they became subject to communist rule - democratic or otherwise - made very little difference. Czechoslovakia was a model democracy before the Second World War but that did not prevent it becoming a totalitarian dictatorship after the communist takeover. The strength of the Church in Poland may have prevented the imposition of full-scale totalitarianism, but like every other communist country it suffered periods of intense repression. If communist regimes had been established in France or Italy, Britain or Scandinavia the result would have been no different.
The apparent similarities between countries with communist regimes imposed on them stem from their shared fates rather than their earlier histories. While some communist regimes made advances in social welfare, all experienced mass repression along with endemic corruption and environmental devastation. Terror in these and other communist countries was partly a response to these failures and the resulting lack of popular legitimacy of the regimes, but it was also a continuation of a European revolutionary tradition. The communist regimes were established in pursuit of a utopian ideal whose origins lie in the heart of the Enlightenment. Though the fact is less widely recognized, the Nazis were also children of the Enlightenment. They had only scorn for Enlightenment ideals of human freedom and equality, but they continued a powerful illiberal strand in Enlightenment thinking and made use of an influential Enlightenment ideology of 'scientific racism'.
The Twentieth century of course also witnessed many atrocities that owed nothing to Enlightenment thinking. Though it was facilitated by the history of colonialism in the country and by the policies of France - the chief former colonial power - the genocide that claimed a million lives in Rwanda in 1994 was also a struggle for land and water. Rivalry for resources has often been a factor in genocide, as have national and tribal enmities. So has sheer predatory greed. The genocide committed in the Belgian Congo by agents of the various ‘King Leopold’s’ but most particularly Leopold II when he ruled part of Africa as his personal fiefdom between 1885 and 1908 eventually claimed somewhere between eight and ten million people, who perished from rhurder, exhaustion, starvation, disease and a collapsing birth rate. Though he justified his enterprise in terms of spreading progress and Christianity, Leopold's goal was not ideological. It was his personal enrichment and that of his business associates.
The pursuit of Utopia need not end in totalitarianism. So long as it is confined to voluntary communities it tends to be self-limiting though when combined with apocalyptic beliefs, as in the Jonestown Massacre in which around a thousand people committed mass suicide in Guyana in 1978, the end can be violent. It is when state power is used to remake society that the slide to totalitarianism begins.
Many criteria have been used to mark off totalitarianism from other kinds of repressive regime. One test is the extent of state control of the whole of society, which is a by-product of the attempt to remake human life. Bolshevism and Nazism were vehicles for such a project, while - despite the fact that the term 'totalitarian' first came into use in Italy during the Mussolini era - Italian fascism was not. Nor - despite being at times extremely violent - was the clerical fascism of central and eastern Europe between the two world wars. There are plenty of very nasty regimes that cannot be described as totalitarian. Pre-modern theocracies used fear to enforce religious orthodoxy, but they did not aim to remodel humanity any more than did traditional tyrannies. Leninism and Nazism aimed to achieve such a transformation. Describing these regimes as totalitarian reflects this.
From the start the Bolsheviks aimed to create a new type of human being. Unlike the Nazis they did not see this new humanity in racial terms, but like the Nazis they were ready to employ science and pseudo-science in an attempt to achieve their goal. Human nature was to be altered so that 'socialist man' could come into being. Such a project was impossible with the scientific knowledge that was available at the time, but the Bolsheviks were ready to use any method, no matter how inhuman, and adopt any theory however dubious that promised to deliver the transformation of which they dreamt. From the early twenties onwards the Soviet regime harassed genuine scientists. purposes of terror. By the late thirties human subjects - German and Japanese prisoners of war, soldiers and diplomats, Poles, Koreans and Chinese, political prisoners and 'nationalists' of all kinds (including Jews) - were being used in medical experiments in the Lubyanka prison in the centre of Moscow. Despite attempts to resist the process, science became an integral part of the totalitarian state. For an authoritative account of the assault on science in the USSR and Soviet experiments on human subjects, see Vadim J. Birstein, The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science, Cambridge MA, Westview Press, 2001, pp. 127-31.
It has become a commonplace that Russia's misfortune was that the Enlightenment never triumphed in the country. In this view the Soviet regime was a Slavic version of 'oriental despotism', and the unprecedented repression it practiced was a development of traditional Muscovite tyranny. In Europe Russia has long been seen as a semi-Asiatic country - a perception reinforced by the Marquis de Custine's famous journal recording his travels in Russia in 1839 in which he argued that Russians were predisposed to servility. (See Journey of Our Time: The Journal of the Marquis de Custine, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001.)
Theories of oriental despotism have long been current among Marxists seeking to explain why Marx's ideas had the disastrous results they did in Russia and China. The idea of oriental despotism goes back to Marx himself, who postulated the existence of an 'Asiatic mode of production'. Later Marxian scholars such as Karl Wittfogel applied it to Russia and China, arguing that totalitarianism in these countries was' a product of Asiatic traditions. (See Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, New York, Random House, 1981.)
It is true that Russia never belonged fully in what is now called, the West, that is in the metaphorical sense of the word, the way it tends to be ‘understood’ today. What is East or West ‘as such’ of course is always a matter of where in the world you point of view originates. Eastern Orthodoxy defined itself in opposition to western Christianity, and there was nothing in Russia akin to the Reformation or the Renaissance. From the time of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1543 the idea developed that Moscow was destined to be a 'third Rome' that would lead the Christian world from the east. In the nineteenth century an influential group of Slavophil thinkers argued on similar lines and suggested that Russia 's difference from the West was a virtue. Rejecting western individualism they maintained that Russian folk traditions embodied a superior form of life. This anti-western is easy to imagine that in this it is different from the one that has just ended.
So long as it is confined to voluntary communities it tends to be self-limiting though when combined with apocalyptic beliefs, as in the Jonestown Massacre in which around a thousand people committed mass suicide in Guyana in 1978, the end can be violent. It is when state power is used to remake society that the slide to totalitarianism begins.
Many criteria have been used to mark off totalitarianism from other kinds of repressive regime. One test is the extent of state control of the whole of society, which is a by-product of the attempt to remake human life. Bolshevism and Nazism were vehicles for such a project, while - despite the fact that the term 'totalitarian' first came into use in Italy during the Mussolini era - Italian fascism was not. Nor - despite being at times extremely violent - was the clerical fascism of central and eastern Europe between the two world wars. There are plenty of very nasty regimes that cannot be described as totalitarian. Pre-modern theocracies used fear to enforce religious orthodoxy, but they did not aim to remodel humanity any more than did traditional tyrannies. Leninism and Nazism aimed to achieve such a transformation. Describing these regimes as totalitarian reflects this.
From the start the Bolsheviks aimed to create a new type of human being. Unlike the Nazis they did not see this new humanity in racial terms, but like the Nazis they were ready to employ science and pseudo-science in an attempt to achieve their goal. Human nature was to be altered so that 'socialist man' could come into being. Such a project was impossible with the scientific knowledge that was available at the time, but the Bolsheviks were ready to use any method, no matter how inhuman, and adopt any theory however dubious that promised to deliver the transformation of which they dreamt. From the early twenties onwards the Soviet regime harassed genuine scientists. Contrary to the views of most western historians, there are few strands of continuity linking Tsarism with Bolshevism. Lenin came to power as a result of a conjunction of accidents. If Russia had withdrawn from the First World War, the Germans had not given Lenin their support, Kerensky's Menshevik provisional government had been more competent or the military coup attempted against the Mensheviks by General Kornilov in September 1917 had not failed, the Bolshevik Revolution would not have occurred. Terror of the -kind practiced by Lenin cannot be explained by Russian traditions, or by the conditions that prevailed at the time the Bolshevik regime came to power. Civil war and foreign military intervention created an environment in which the survival of the new regime was threatened from the start; but the brunt of the terror it unleashed was directed against popular rebellion. The aim was not only to remain in power. It was to alter and reshape Russia irreversibly. Starting with the Jacobins in late eighteenth-century France and continuing in the Paris Commune, terror has been used in this way wherever a revolutionary dictatorship has been bent on achieving utopian goals. The Bolsheviks aimed to make an Enlightenment project that had failed in France succeed in Russia. In believing that Russia had to be made over on a European model they were not unusual. Where they were distinctive was in their belief that this required terror, and here they were avowed disciples of the Jacobins. Whatever other purposes it may have served - such as the defense of Bolshevik power against foreign intervention and popular rebellion - Lenin's use of terror flowed from his commitment to this revolutionary project.
From 1918 onwards a rash of peasant revolts spread across much of Russia, and from 1920 to 1921 the civil war became a peasant insurgency. The Bolsheviks were determined to crush peasant resistance. Entire villages were deported to the Russian north. It is commonly believed that the Soviet security apparatus was inherited from late Tsarism. Certainly Peter the Great used the forced labour of convicts - not least in building St Petersburg, an enduring Russian symbol of modernity. Yet on the eve of revolution in 1916 only 28,600 convicts were serving sentences of forced labour. (See Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps, London and New York, Allen Lane, 2003, p. 17.)
There is a huge disparity between the size of the penal and security apparatus in Tsarist Russia and that established by the Bolsheviks. In 1895 the Okhrana (Department of Police) had only 161 full-time members. Including operatives working in other departments it may have reached around 15,000 by October 1916. In comparison, the Cheka had a minimum of 37,000 operatives in 1919 and in 1921 reached over a quarter of a million. There is a similar disparity between the numbers of executions. During the late Tsarist period from 1866 to 1917 there were around 14,000 executions, while in the early Soviet period from 1917 to 1923 the Cheka carried out around 200,000 executions. (See John J. Dziak, Chekisty: A History of the KGB, New York, Ivy Books, 1988, pp. 35-6. For numbers of executions in late Tsarist and early Soviet times, see ibid., pp. 191-3.)
The techniques of repression employed by the Bolsheviks owed more to recent western practice than to the Tsarist past. In creating the camps they were following a European colonial model. Concentration camps were used by Spain to quell insurgents in colonial Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century and by the British in South Africa during the Boer War. Around the same time they were established in German South-West Africa, when the German authorities committed genocide on the Herero tribe. (The first imperial commissioner of German South-West Africa was the father of Hermann Goering, and medical experiments were carried out on indigenous people by two of the teachers of Joseph Mengele. (On links between German South-West Africa and the Nazis, see Applebaum, Gulag, pp. 18-20.)
the methods of repression used by the Bolsheviks were not an inheritance
from Tsarism. They were new, and they were adopted in the pursuit of utopian
goals. The central role of the security apparatus _ in the new Soviet state was
required by its project of remaking society
- an aspiration no traditional tyranny has had, and which the Tsars certainly lacked. As has been correctly noted, 'Prior to the appearance of the Soviet party-state, history offered few, if any, precedents of a millenarian, security-focused system.' (Lenin's statement is quoted by Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A Study of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm 1870-1970, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2004, p. 251.)
To call the Soviet state a tyranny is to apply an antique typology to a system that was radically modern. Western opinion followed the Bolsheviks in seeing the Soviet regime as an attempt to realize the ideals of the French Revolution. It is a telling fact that Soviet communism was most popular in the West when terror was at its height. After visiting the Soviet Union in 1934 - when around five million people had perished in the Ukrainia famine - the British Labourite intellectual Harold Laski declared: 'Never in history has man attained the same level of perfection as in the Soviet regime.'
The methods of repression used by the Bolsheviks were not an inheritance from Tsarism. They were new, and they were adopted in the pursuit of utopian goals. The central role of the security apparatus in the new Soviet state was required by its project of remaking society - an aspiration no traditional tyranny has had, and which the Tsars certainly lacked. As has been correctly noted, 'Prior to the appearance of the Soviet party-state, history offered few, if any, precedents of a millenarian, security-focused system. ' To call the Soviet state a tyranny is to apply an antique typology to a system that was radically modern. Western opinion followed the Bolsheviks in seeing the Soviet regime as an attempt to realize the ideals of the French Revolution. It is a telling fact that Soviet communism was most popular in the West when terror was at its height. After visiting the Soviet Union in 1934-- when around five million people had perished in the Ukrainian famine - the British Labourite intellectual Harold Laski declared: 'Never in history has man attained the same level of perfection as in! the Soviet regime.' In much the same vein, in 1935 the renowned Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb published a book entitled Soviel Communism: A New Civilisation? (In later editions of the book the question mark was dropped.)
For these western enthusiasts Stalinism was the highest point in human progress. The American literary critic Edmund Wilson went still further. In the Soviet Union, he wrote, 'I felt as though I were in a moral sanctuary, where the light never stops shining.’ Western progressive intellectuals were never in any doubt that the USSR was a regime dedicated to Enlightenment ideals. They would have been horrified at the suggestion that the Soviet state was no more than Tsarist despotism in a new guise. It was only when it was clear that the Soviet system had failed to achieve any of its goals that its use of terror was explained as a Tsarist inheritance.
For the most part western opinion saw in the Stalinist Soviet Union an image of its utopian fantasies, and it projected the same image on to Maoist China, where the human cost of communism was even greater. Some thirty-eight million people perished between 1958 and 1961 in the Great Leap Forward. As Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have written: 'This was the greatest famine of the twentieth century - and of all recorded human history. Mao knowingly starved and worked these millions of people to death.'. On the human cost of the Great Leap Forward, see Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, London, Jonathan Cape, 2005, Chapter 40, especially pp. 456-7. See also Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine, London, John Murray, 1996, pp. 266-74.)
As they did in the Soviet Union, the peasants suffered most from a policy - alien to Chinese traditions - that aimed to subjugate the natural environment to human ends. Around a hundred million were coerced into working on irrigation projects. Often without proper tools, they used doors and planks taken from their homes to construct dams, reservoirs and canals - most of which collapsed or were abandoned. In a spectacular display of the Promethean spirit sparrows were deemed pests fit only for extermination. The peasants were ordered to wave sticks- and brooms so that the birds would fall exhausted from the sky and could be killed. The result was a plague of insects. A secret message had then to be sent to the Soviet embassy in Beijing requesting that hundreds of thousands of sparrows be sent as soon as possible from the Soviet Far East. (For Mao's campaign against sparrows, see Chang and Halliday, Mao, P449)
The cultural cost of the Maoist regime was evident in the Great Proletarian Revolution of 1966-7. Like the Bolsheviks, Mao saw the persistence of the past as the chief obstacle to building a new future. China 's ancient traditions had to be wiped from memory. In effect the Maoist regime declared war on Chinese civilization. Yet it was during the Cultural Revolution - a politically engineered mass frenzy that had an undeniable millenarian dimension - that the regime achieved its highest level of popularity in the west.
When Maoism was abandoned, western opinion interpreted its rejection as the beginning of a process of westernization, when in fact - as in the case of the collapse of the Soviet system - it was the opposite. Post Mao China rejected a western ideology not in order to adopt another one, but in order to carve out a path of development that owed little to any western model. Given China's worsening ecological problems and the social dislocation that has accompanied the phasing out of the 'iron rice bowl', which ensured lifetime employment and basic welfare for most of the population, the upshot remains in doubt; but the period in which China struggled to implement a western ideology IS over.
Wherever it has come to power communism has meant a radical break with the past. Late Tsarism had far more in common with fin de siecle Prussia than with the Soviet system. (For this see Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia.London, 2006.)
As Nekrich and -Heller have written: 'Lenin was obsessed with the historical precedents: first, the Jacobins, who were defeated because they did not guillotine enough people; and second, the Paris Commune, which was defeated because its leaders did not shoot enough people.'(Nekrich and Heller, Utopia in Power, p. 661.)
And a Kolalowski, authot of the definnetive study of the rise and fall Bolshevism, has put it, 'Stalinism was the natural and obvious continuation of the system of government established by Lenin and Trotsky.' (Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, London and New York, W. W. Norton, 2005, p. 962.)
The millions of deaths that accompanied Stalin's policies of agricultural collectivization were larger than anything contemplated by Lenin but they were a consequence of policies that Lenin began. In turn, Lenin's policies were genuine attempts to realize Marxian communism. Despite Marx's repudiation of utopian thinking, his vision of communism is itself thoroughly utopian. As we noted before, no one can ever know enough to plan the course of an advanced economy. But the utopian quality of Marx's ideal does not come only from the impossible demands it makes on the knowledge of the planners. It arises even more from the clash between the ideal of harmony and the diversity of human values. Central planning involves an enormous concentration of power, without - as Lenin made clear in his 'scientific' definition of proletarian dictatorship - any institutional checks. A system of arbitrary rule of this kind is bound to encounter resistance. The values of the regime will surely not be those of everyone or even the majority. Most people will continue to be attached to things - religion, nationality or family - the regime sees as atavistic. Others will cherish activities - such as aesthetic contemplation or romantic love - that make no contribution to social reconstruction. Whether they actively resist the new regime or - like Dr Zhivago in Boris Pasternak's novel- simply insist on going their own way, there will be many who do not share the regime's vision of the good life. While every Utopia claims to embody the best life for all of, humankind, it is never more than one ideal among many.
One difficulty of utopian social engineering is that it contains no method for correcting mistakes. The theory that guides the construction of Utopia is taken to be infallible; any deviation from it is treated as error or treason. There may be tactical retreats and switches of direction - as when in 1921 Lenin abandoned War Communism and adopted the New Economic Policy allowing peasants to keep their own grain - but the utopian model remains beyond criticism.
However, given the fact of human fallibility the model is sure to contain flaws, some of which may be fatal. The result of persisting in the attempt to realize it is bound to be a society very different from the one that was envisaged. It feeds on myths, which cannot be refuted. For Lenin and Trotsky, terror was a way of remaking society and shaping a new type of human being. And around 80 per cent of the people being held in camps were peasants or workers.
While it had apocalyptic consequences the Bolshevik revolution failed to usher in the Millennium. Tens of millions died for nothing. Even now the number of deaths resulting from forced collectivization cannot be known with certainty, but Stalin boasted to Churchill that it reached ten million. Robert Conquest has estimated the overall number of deaths in the Great Terror at around twice that figure an estimate that is likely to be fairly accurate. (Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.)
The toll in broken lives was incalculably larger. The land itself was scarred with manmade deserts and dead or dying lakes and rivers. The Stalinist Soviet Union became the site of the largest humanly induced ecological disasters - probably only surpassed by those in Maoist China. For an account of the Soviet ecological disaster, see Murray Fesbach and Alfred Friendly Jr, Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature Under Siege, London, Aurum Press, 1992.
The genealogy that traces Nazism back to Nietzsche is suspect, if only because it was promoted by his Nazi sister, Eliza beth Forster- Nietzsche (1846-1935) - who looked after Nietzsche in his last years and whose funeral Hitler attended. But a number of Enlightenment luminaries were explicit in expressing their belief in natural inequality, with some claiming that humanity actually comprised several different species. Voltaire subscribed to a secular version of the pre- Adamite theory advanced by some Christian theologians that suggested that Jews were pre-Adamites, remnants of an older species that existed before Adam was created. It was Immanuel Kant - after Voltaire the supreme Enlightenment figure and, unlike Voltaire, a great philosopher - who more than any other thinker gave intellectual legitimacy to the concept of race. Kant was in the forefront of the science of anthropology that was emerging in Europe and maintained that there are innate differences between the races. While he judged whites to have all the attributes required for progress towards perfection, he represents Africans as being predisposed to slavery, observing in his Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1764), 'The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling.’ For a discussion of Voltaire's political relativism, see my Voltaire and Enlightenment, London, Phoenix, 1998, pp. 36-47.
Beliefs of this kind are found in many Enlightenment thinkers. It is frequently argued on their behalf that they were creatures of their time, but it is hardly a compelling defense. These· Enlightenment thinkers not only voiced the prejudices of their age - a failing for which they might be forgiven were it not for the fact that they so often claimed to be much wiser than their contemporaries - they also claimed the authority of reason for them. Before the Enlightenment, racist attitudes rarely aspired to the dignity of theory. Even Aristotle, who defended slavery and the subordination of women as part of the natural order, did not develop a theory that maintained that humanity was composed of distinct and unequal racial groups. Racial prejudice may be immemorial, but racism is a product of the Enlightenment.
Many of those who subscribed to a belief in racial inequality believed that social reform could compensate for the innate disadvantages of inferior breeds. Ultimately all human beings could participate in the universal civilization of the future - but only by giving up their own ways of life and adopting European ways.
Thus Nazi policies of extermination did not come from nowhere. They, drew on powerful currents in the Enlightenment and used as models policies in operation in many countries, including the world's leading liberal democracy. Programmes aiming to sterilize the unfit were underway the United States. Hitler admired these programmes and also admired America's genocidal treatment of indigenous peoples: he 'often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America's extermination - by starvation and uneven combat - of the "Red Savages" who could not be tamed by captivity’. The Nazi leader was not unusual in holding these views. Ideas of 'racial hygiene' were by no means confined to the far Right. A belief in positive eugenics as a means to progress was widely accepted. As Richard Evans has put it: Seeing that Hitler offered them a unique opportunity to put their ideas into practice, leading racial hygienists began to bring their doctrines into line with those of the Nazis in areas where they had so far failed to conform. A sizeable majority, to be sure, were too closely associated with political ideas and organizations on the left to survive as members of the Racial Hygiene Society ... Writing personally to Hitler in April 1933, Alfred Ploetz, the moving spirit of the eugenics movement for the past forty years, explained that since he was now in his seventies, he was too old to take a leading part in the practical implementation of the principles of racial hygiene in the new Reich, but he gave his backing to the Reich Chancellor's policies all the same. (J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, London and New York, Allen Lane, 2005, pp. 506-7.)
There were many who shared the Nazi belief in 'racial science'. The Nazis were distinctive chiefly in the extremity of their ambitions. They wanted an overhaul of society in which traditional values were destroyed. Whatever the conservative groups that initially supported Hitler may have hoped, Nazism never aimed to restore a traditional social order. Defeatist European intellectuals who saw it as a revolutionary movement - such as Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, the French collaborator who praised the Nazis for what they had in common with the Jacobins. (See Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Chronique Politique, I934-I942, Paris, Gallimard, I943.) The Nazis wanted a permanent revolution in which different social groups and branches of government competed with one another in a parody of Darwinian natural selection. But - as with the Bolsheviks - Nazi goals went beyond any political transformation. They included the use of science to produce a mutation in the species.
The eighty thousand inmates of mental hospitals who were killed by gassing were murdered in the name of science. The thousands of gay men who ended up in concentration camps (where around half of them perished) were classified as incorrigible degenerates. 'Criminal biologists' had long categorized the quarter of a million Gypsies who perished during the Nazi period as belonging to a dangerous racial type. The belief that not only Jews but also Slavs also belonged to an inferior racial group allowed the Nazis to view with equanimity the vast loss of life they inflicted in Poland, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
Without the construction of race as a scientific category the project of annihilating European Jewry could scarcely have been formulated. Anti-Semitism is coeval with the appearance of Christianity as a distinct religion: Jews were persecuted from the time of Rome 's conversion from paganism and throughout the Christian Middle Ages, while medieval anti-Semitism was reproduced in the Reformation by Luther. However, while antiSemitism has ancient Christian roots, the project of exterminating Jews is modern. If the Holocaust required modern technology and the modern state in order to be executed, it also required the modern idea of race to be conceived.
If a historical comparison can be made, it is with the attribution of demonic power to Jews in medieval Europe. The drive to exterminate the Jews sprang from a quasi-demonological superstition. A belief in the diabolical powers of Jews was a major feature in the millenarian mass movements of the- late Middle Ages. Jews were shown in pictures as devils with the horns of a goat, while attempts were made by the Church to force Jews to wear horns on their hats. Satan was given what were considered to be Jewish features and described as 'the father of the Jews'. Synagogues were believed to be places where Satan was worshipped in the form of a cat or a toad. Jews were seen as agents of the Devil, whose goal was the destruction of Christendom, even of the world. Documents such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion - a hugely influential forgery. But even ideas of 'racial hygiene' were by no means confined to the far Right. A belief in positive eugenics as a means to progress was widely accepted.
The singularity of the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jews comes not only from the scale of the crime but also from the extremity of its goal. Jews were seen as the embodiment of evil and their extermination as a means of saving the world. Nazi anti-Semitism was a fusion of a modern racist ideology with a Christian tradition of demonology. The similarities between Nazism and medieval millenarianism were recognized by a number of observers at the time. Eva Klemperer, the wife of the philologist and diarist Victor Klemperer, compared Hitler with John of Leyden, and so did Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, the aristocratic author of an anti-Nazi book entitled History of a Mass Lunacy, published in 1937. (For another comparison of Hitler and John of Leyden by Klemperer and Reck-Malleczewen, see Burleigh, The Third Reich, pp. 4-5.)
James Rhodes has provided a systematic examination of Nazism as a modern millenarian movement. Like the Anabaptists and other medieval millenarians, the Nazis were possessed by a vision of disaster followed by a new world. Seeing themselves as victims of catastrophes, they experienced sudden revelations that explained their sufferings, which they believed were the work of evil forces. They believed they had been called to struggle against these forces, to defeat them and rid the world of them in short, titanic wars. (See James R. Rhodes, The Hitler Movement: A Moder Millenarian Revolution, Stanford, Hoover Institution Press,1I980).
This millenarian syndrome of impending catastrophe, the existential threat of evil, brief cataclysmic battles and an ensuing paradise can be seen in many modern political movements (including the Armageddonite wing of the American Right). It fits the Nazis closely and shows the poverty of any account of Hitler's movement that sees it simply as a reaction to social conditions. Nazism was a modern political religion, and while it made use of pseudo-science it also drew heavily on myth. The Yolk was not just the biological unit of racist 'deology. It was a mystical entity, which could confer immortality of those who participated in it. Using the Kantian term 'Ding-an-sich', which means ultimate reality or the thing-in-itself.
At the same time the Nazis mobilized a potent mix of beliefs. Nazi ideology differs from that of most other utopian and millenarian movements in that it was largely negative. The Nazis' eschatology may have been less important than their demonology, which came from Christian sources (not least the Lutheran tradition). The world was threatened by demonic forces, which were embodied in Jews. The present time and the recent past were evil beyond redemption. The one hope lay in catastrophe - only after an all-destroying event could the German Yolk ascend to a condition of mystical harmony.
The murder of thousands of civilians on II September 2001 brought apocalyptic thinking to the centre of American politics. At the same time it re-energized beliefs that form part of America 's myth. The Puritans who colonized the country in the seventeenth century viewed themselves as creating a society that would lack the evils of the Old World. Established on universal principles it would serve as a model to all of humankind. For these English colonists, America marked a new beginning in history.
Many impulses led to war in Iraq, not all of them conscious or rational. The invasion was meant to secure American energy supplies; at the same time it was intended to remake Iraq as a model of liberal democracy for the rest of the region. The first of these objectives was compromised by the war, while the second was unrealizable. A third - dismantling Saddam's WMD programme - was a pretext. In an attempt to legitimate an act of aggression the Bush administration, along with the Blair government, represented the attack on Iraq as a response to a threat posed by a developing weapons programme, but their argument was incoherent. If there was a weapons programme under development it could be dealt with without war by intrusive inspection procedures and other methods. If Sad dam already possessed biological or chemical weapons there was no reason to think they posed a danger to the United States - as analysis released by the CIA concluded, he was likely to use them against the US only in the context of an American invasion. A predictable effect of the war was to demonstrate to 'rogue states' around the world that they would be better off having the WMD that Saddam lacked - otherwise, like Iraq, they would be vulnerable to American attack. Rather than slowing it down the war accelerated the proliferation of WMD. There was, in fact, no cogent argument for the war in terms of American or global security.
The goals of the war lay elsewhere. Among the geo-political objectives advanced by neo-conservatives was the argument that the US must decouple from Saudi Arabia, which they viewed as complicit in terrorism. If it was to disengage in this way the US needed another secure source of oil in the Gulf and another platform for its military bases. Iraq seemed to fit these requirements. By controlling a crucial part of the Gulf's oil reserves, the US could detach itself from an ally it no longer trusted. At the same time it could ensure that it remained the dominant power in the region, with the capacity to limit the incursions of China, India and other energy-hungry states.
This was always an incredible scenario. Oil production in post-war Iraq has never achieved the level it did under Saddam, and the oil price has risen greatly. In the anarchy that prevails throughout much the country - the Kurdish region, where there are no American forces, remains peaceful- a return to previous levels of production is impossible. Over time, production will fall still further as a result of declining investment and the costs of protecting facilities. As a result of the Iraq war America 's oil supplies are more insecure than before. The notion that post-Saddam Iraq would accept the transfer of its oil reserves into American hands was anyhow delusional. Why should a democratic Iraq - if that had been possible - accept the expropriation of its resource base? Even as an exercise in realpolitik the war was a utopian venture.
Regime change in Iraq was part of a global resource war that began soon after the Soviet collapse. What is sometimes called the first Gulf War - a title that overlooks the savage conflict between Iraq and Iran that took place some years earlier - was a resource war and nothing else. None of the parties to it pretended that it had anything to do with spreading democracy or curbing terrorism. The objective was solely to secure oil supplies. Throughout the nineties this was a major objective of US policy, underpinning the establishment of military bases in Central Asia and spurring closer relation's with Russia. Throughout the twentieth century geo-politics - the struggle for control of natural resources - was a powerful factor shaping conflicts between states. Securing oil supplies was a major issue in the Second World War, helping to trigger Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It continued in the abortive attempt by Britain to seize the Suez Canal in 1956. The British- American overthrow of the secularist Iranian president Mohammed Mossadegh in the CIA-led 'Operation Ajax' in 1953 was mounted with the avowed aim of preventing Iran coming under increased influence. Its chief goal was to reassert western control of the country's oil.
The rivalries of the post-Cold War period have developed against a different background. The balance of power between producers and consumers of energy is shifting, with oil-producing states able to dictate the terms on which they do business with the world. Russia is using its position as a supplier of oil and natural gas to reassert itself in global politics, while Iran has emerged as a contender for hegemony in the Gulf. Underlying these shifts is the fact that global oil reserves are being depleted while global demand is rising. Oil is not running out in any simple sense; but the theory of 'peak oil' suggests that global production may be near its maximum. Peak oil is taken seriously by governments. A report by the US Department of Energy entitled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management, which was released in February 2005, concludes: 'The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.' When dwindling oil is combined with accelerating industrialization the result is bound to be intensifying rivalry for control of the world's remaining reserves. The geo-politics of peak oil is shaping the policies of great powers.
role of oil as the supreme asset was recognized by the Bush administration's
most powerful strategist. In a speech at the Institute of Petroleum 's autumn
lunch in 1999, when he was CEO of Haliburton, Dick Cheney observed: Producing
oil is obviously a self-depleting activity. Every year you've got to find and
develop reserves equal to your output just to stand still, just to stay even.
This is true for companies in the broader sense as it is for the world ... So
where is the oil going to come from? Oil is unique in that it is so strategic
in nature. We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is
truly fundamental to the world's economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that
reality. The degree of government involvement makes oil a unique commodity.
Governments and the national oil companies are obviously controlling about 90 per cent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. While many regions offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East with two thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies:' Cheney's remarks show a clear understanding of peak oil, which was reflected in the first Bush administration's decision to reclassify energy policy under the heading of national security. There can be little doubt that oil was a vital factor in the decision to launch the Iraq war. The US acted to install a regime that would secure America 's oil supplies and to signal its determination to control the reserves of the Gulf as a whole.
The adventure ran aground on the impossibility of establishing an effective state in place of the one that was demolished. It has become conventional wisdom to think that disaster could have been avoided by planning for post-war reconstruction. This view is supported by the fact that some planning did take place - in the US State Department's 2002 paper on the future of Iraq, for example - but was disregarded by Bush and Rumsfeld. Yet the belief that the chaos that followed the American invasion could have been averted is groundless. It assumes the goals of the war were achievable when in fact they were not. If there had been anything resembling realistic forethought, the war would never have been launched. Establishing liberal democracy in the country was impossible, while overthrowing the regime meant destroying the state.
None of this is hindsight. The insurgency that followed the initial military success was widely anticipated/ while the history of Iraq shows that the risks of majority rule in the country were well understood generations ago. First known as Mesopotamia, the state of Iraq is largely the work of the British diplomat Gertrude Bell, who - along with T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Harry St John Philby, the British colonial officer and father of the Soviet spy Kim Phil by constructed it from three provinces of the collapsed Ottoman Empire and established it as a Hashemite kingdom in 192I. With the fall of the Ottomans in 1919, Bell - the first woman to be appointed a political officer in the British colonial service - became secretary to the British high commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, and began building a new state. In 1920 Bell met Seyyid Hasan al-Sadr, the leading figure among Iraq 's Shias and great-grandfather of Moqtada aI-Sa dr, the commander of the Mahdi Army that rebelled against the American occupation in 2004. She recognized that democratic government would mean theocratic rule: 'I do not for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority, because otherwise we will have a theocratic state, which is the very devil.' One of her chief goals was to 'keep the Shia divines from taking charge of public affairs', which required rule by the Sunni elite. A British strategic interest was to retain control of the country's northern oilfields. By creating a new kingdom in which the Shias were kept from power and the Kurds denied a separate state these two objectives could be achieved together.
One reason Bell was able to construct the new kingdom was that she was deeply versed in the culture of the region. Fluent in Arabic and Persian, she translated the verses of the Sufi libertine-mystic Hafiz into English. She founded the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, later the National Museum of Antiquities, which after nearly eighty years of conservation of the country's treasures was looted in the aftermath of the American invasion. The looting - which occurred while the Oil Ministry alone among government institutions was under American guard - drew from Donald Rumsfeld the comment, 'Stuff happens.' From the early 1920’S onwards Bell was out of sympathy with British policy in the country. In 1926, sidelined by the colonial service and lacking influence over events, she took an overdose of sleeping pills in Baghdad, where she was buried in the British cemetery.
Bell knew the state she had created could never be democratic. In the Shia regions democracy would mean theocracy, in Sunni"areas sectarian conflict, and separatism in the Kurdish north. The kingdom Bell created lasted until Nasserite officers murdered the royal family in 1958 two years after the collapse of British power in the region that followed the ill-conceived Franco-British attempt to seize control of the Suez Canal. Saddam's despotism was based on the same realities of sectarian division and Sunni rule that sustained Bell 's kingdom. Overthrowing the regime meant destroying the state through which it operated and creating the theocracy Bell had warned against. While it was never as fully totalitarian, Saddam's Iraq was an Enlightenment regime on the lines of Soviet Russia. It was thoroughly secular, the only state in the Gulf not ruled by Islamic Sharia law but by a western-style legal code, and implacably hostile to Islamism - a fact accepted by the US in the 1980s when it supplied Saddam with weaponry and intelligence in the war with Iran.
Iraq has always been a composite state with deep internal divisions. Though it was more repressive, Saddam's regime was built on the same foundations as Bell 's kingdom. Saddam held Iraq together while repressing the Shia majority, the Kurds and others. Destroying Saddam's regime emancipated these groups and left the Iraqi state without power or legitimacy. Democracy was impossible, for it required a degree of trust among the communities that make up the underlying society that did not exist. Minorities need to be assured that they will not be permanent losers, or else they will secede to set up a state of their own. The Kurds were bound to follow this path, and the five million Sunnis were sure to resist majority rule by the Shias. The fissures between these groups were too deep for Iraq 's rickety structures to survive. Nearly everywhere, states that suddenly become democratic tend to break apart, as happened in the USSR and former Yugoslavia. There was never any reason to think Iraq would be different, and by the time of Saddam's sordid and chaotic execution in December 2006 the Iraqi state had ceased to exist.
Though at every stage it has been joined with a crazed version of realpolitik, the neo-conservative project of regime change in Iraq is a classic example of the utopian mind at work. For the neo-conservatives who masterminded the war democracy would come about simply through the overthrow of tyranny. If there were transitional difficulties they could be resolved by applying universal - that is to say, American - principles. Hence the construction of an imaginary structure of federalism that followed. The system that was devised for Iraq expressed a faith in paper constitutions that hardly squares with the history of the United States, which achieved national unity only via the route of civil war.
In practice the Bush administration was clueless. Weeks before the invasion, it had no idea how the country was to be governed. Opinion oscillated between installing a military-style governor on the model of post-war Japan and implementing an immediate transition to democracy. Donald Rumsfeld - a military bureaucrat and American nationalist rather than any kind of neo-conservative - never had any interest in bringing democracy to Iraq, but equally he had never proposed any strategy for governing the country once the Saddam regime had been overthrown. Replacing Saddam by a military governor - as some British officials suggested - was not a realistic option, for it meant setting up what would in effect be a colonial administration whose longer-term viability would be highly dubious and which the US was in any case predisposed to reject. For a powerful faction in the Bush administration, the war had always been a means of imposing American-style democracy on the country. This was notably true of Paul Wolfowitz. James Mann, author of a study of the self-styled 'Vulcans' - the circle of defence strategists who made up George W. Bush's war cabinet - has written that Wolfowitz became the administration official most closely associated with the invasion of Iraq. In the midst of the invasion Americans working in the war zone came up with the nickname Wolfowitz of Arabia for the deputy secretary of defence; the phrase captures the degree of intensity, passion and even, it sometimes seemed, romantic fervour with which he pursued the goals of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and bringing democracy to the Middle East.For Wolfowitz, the chief architect of the war, the invasion was a prelude to democratizing the entire region. In the event, the incompetence of Bush's proconsul in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, was so devastating that a sudden move to democracy in Iraq soon came to be accepted as the only way the American administration could pretend to any kind of legitimacy.
In his first communiques in May 2003 Bremer disbanded the Iraqi Army and sacked Baathist public officials, including university professors and primary school teachers, nurses and doctors. The Washington Post's Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks has described Bremer's decision: ... on May 23, Bremer issued CP A (Coalition Provisional Authority) Order Number 2, Dissolution of Iraqi Entities, formally doing away with several groups: the Iniqi armed forces, which accounted for 385,000 people; the staff of the Ministry of the Interior, which amounted to a surprisingly high 285,000 people because it included police and domestic security forces; and the presidential security units, a force of some 50,000 ... Many of these men were armed.
Disbanding Iraqi forces came after Bremer's Order Number 1 De- Baathification of Iraq Society - which had barred senior Baathist party members from public office. Taken together, the two orders which Ricks reports were strongly opposed by the CIA station chief in Baghdad -left over halta million people unemployed. In a country where families average around six people, this meant over two and a half million - about a tenth of the population - lost their income. Bremer appears to have issued the orders on the advice of Ahmed Chalabi, who aimed to install his allies in the positions left vacant.
The effect of Bremer's orders was to dismantle the Iraqi state. The police and security forces ceased to be national institutions and were captured by sectarian militias, which used them to kidnap, torture and murder. Outside the Green Zone - the high-security area in central Baghdad where the American and British embassies and the coalition-backed Iraq government are located - the country became a zone of anarchy. By the end of 2006 around a hundred people were being killed every day, and according to a UN estimate torture was worse than under Saddam.
The perception fostered by the Bush administration that Iraq has a fledging government that is rebuilding the country has no basis in reality. The American-backed government is a battleground of sectarian forces, while the Iraqi state has disappeared into, history's memory hole. If Saddam had been assassinated or had died of natural causes, the regime would most likely have survived. By imposing regime change, the Bush administration created a failed state, with a fragile government heavily dependent on the Shia militias - a fact ignored in Bush's buffoonish criticisms of its policies. The resulting chaos has left the declared goal of the invasion - finding and destroying Saddam's supposed WMD programme - beyond reach. If Saddam possessed any chemical or biological weapons - as he certainly did in the nineties they have disappeared along with the state of Iraq.
There are some who argue that the failure of American forces to pacify Iraq is due to their being deployed in insufficient numbers. Certainly the war plan that was drawn up by Donald Rumsfeld went badly wrong in not anticipating the insurgency that followed the collapse of Saddam's forces. Rumsfeld - who throughout his time in the administration was a forceful proponent of a 'revolution in military affairs' involving high levels of reliance on technology and the limited use of ground forces - was loathed by the military for imposing an unworkable strategy for the war and was first to be sacrificed when American voters rejected it. But a larger deployment would have made little difference. Despite having over 400,000 troops in the country in the aftermath of the First World War, Britain was unable to impose its will by military force; when a type of order was created it was by political means. The British invaded Mesopotamia in I9I4 partly in order to secure crude oil supplies for their warships, which Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty had switched from coal to more efficient oil-burning engines. The course of the occupation was far from smooth - between December I9I5 and April I9I6 the British Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force suffered over 20,000 casualties at the hands of Ottoman forces at Kut-al-Amara, resorting later to razing villages by air strikes (a tactic the British also used in Afghanistan in the I 9 20's).
The state of Iraq was constructed to achieve a condition of peace that could not be achieved by the use of military force. In contrast, American military operations in Iraq have not been accompanied by any achievable political objectives. By early 2007 over 3,000 Americans had been killed - more than died as a result of 9/I I - and over 20,000 wounded, for the sake of goals that, insofar as they were ever coherently formulated, were unrealizable. American forces have made mistakes and committed some crimes; but blame for American defeat cannot be attached to the soldiers who were sent to discharge an impossible mission. Responsibility lies with the political leaders who conceived the mission and ordered its execution.
It is true that US forces were badly equipped for counter-insurgency warfare of the kind that began after the occupation of Baghdad. In the aftermath of humiliating defeat in Vietnam and Somalia, US military doctrine has been based on 'force protection' and 'shock and awe'. In practice, this means killing any inhabitant of the occupied country that might conceivably pose any threat to US forces and overcoming the enemy through the use of overwhelming firepower. Effective in the early stages of the war when the enemy was Saddam's forces, these strategies are counter-productive when the enemy comprises most of the population, as is now the case. The current conflict is what General Sir Rupert Smith, who commanded the British 1st Armoured Division in the Gulf War, UN peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo and the British Army in Northern Ireland from 1996 to 1998, has called a 'war among the people'. In a conflict ofthis kind, superior numbers count for little and the heavy use of firepower is useless or counter-productive. Any initial sympathy sections of the population may have had for American occupying forces evaporated after the razing of the city of Fallujah in early 2004. Involving the use of cluster bombs and chemical weapons (a type of white phosphorus, or 'improved napalm'. The American use of chemical weapons in Fallujah has been confirmed in the US Army's Field Artillery Magazine, March/April 2005. See 'US Army article on Fallujah white phosphorus use', Scoop, I I November 2005, http://www.scoop.co.nz/storiesIHL05II/SooI73·htm
In 'shake and bake' operations against the city's population, this was an act that canalmost be compared with the destruction by Russian forces of the Chechen capital city of Grozny . In military terms it was a failure - a few days later the insurgents captured the bigger city of Mosul where they were able to seize large quantities of arms - and it demonstrated a disregard for Iraqi lives that fuelled the insurgency. A senior British officer, speaking anonymously in April 2004, commented: 'My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans' use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as Untermenschen. (See 'US tactics condemned by British officers', Daily Telegraph, 10 April 2004.)
Torture was used widely by the Russians in Chechnya, the French in Algeria and by the British in Kenya in the 1950s. Unlike these predecessors, who inflicted extremes of physical pain, however, American interrogators focused on the application of psychological pressure, particularly sexual humiliation. The methods of torture employed in Iraq targeted the culture of their victims, who were assaulted not only as human beings but also as Arabs and Muslims. In using these techniques the US imprinted an indelible image of American depravity on the population and ensured that no American-backed regime can have legitimacy in Iraq.
From the start of the 'war on terror' the Bush administration flouted international law on the treatment of detainees. It declared members of terrorist organizations to be illegal combatants who are not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. Since Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration has continued to defend the use of torture, while military judges, the CIA and the US military have continued to resist the practice. In February 2006 the CIA's chief counter-terrorism officer Robert Grenier was fired for opposing torture and 'extraordinary rendition'. (See 'CIA chief sacked for opposing torture', Sunday Times, 12 February 2006.)
As with the administration's use of unverified intelligence, its decision to employ torture was resisted in all the main institutions of American government, and, as before, the administration carried on with its policies. Disaster in Iraq was hastened by the willingness to use methods that were inhumane and counter-productive. Some of these errors may have been avoidable, but a pattern of arrogant incompetence was built into the Bush administration. It refused to accept advice from the branches of government where expertise existed, such as the uniformed military, the CIA and the StateDepartment. Instead it relied on the counsel of those in the administration whose views were shaped by a neo-conservative agenda, including the Office of Special Plans. But the picture of post-war Iraq that neo-conservatives disseminated was a tissue of disinformation and wishful thinking, while the willingness to use intolerable means to achieve impossible ends showed the utopian mind at its most deluded.
The ease with which a wildly unreal assessment of conditions in Iraq came to be accepted in America had several sources. Public opinion accepted the war only after a campaign of disinformation. It was persuaded of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda when it was known that none existed and informed that Saddam's regime was engaged in an active weapons programme of which there was no reliable evidence. The neo-conservatives who orchestrated the campaign were themselves blinded by illusions, some of them innate to their way of thinking. They believed the methods needed to achieve freedom were the same everywhere: the policies that were required in Iraq were no different from those that had been used to spread freedom in former communist countries. But what is feasible on the banks of the Danube may not be possible on the Euphrates - even supposing peace prevailed in Iraq as it did in most of post-communist Europe - and this ardent neo-conservative belief in a universal "model went with a deep indifference to the particular history of the country. If other cultures are stages on the way to a global civilization that already exists in the US, there is no need to understand them since they will soon be part of America. The effect of this adamant universalism is to raise an impassable barrier between America and the rest of humanity that precludes serious involvement in nation building. For a discussion of the cultural aspects of American foreign policy, see George Walden, God Won't Save America: Psychosis of a Nation, London, Gibson Square, 2006.
In Iraq this cultural default reached surreal extremes. In the shelter of the Green Zone, interns on short-term secondment from Washington - some from neo-conservative think tanks - plotted the future of Iraq insulated from any perception of the absurdity of their plans. Had the goals of the American administration been achievable at all, it would only be after many decades of occupation. Instead, the impossible was attempted in months. The armed missionaries who dispatched American forces to Iraq expected the instant conversion of the population, only for these forces to be repulsed as enemies. Robespierre's warning to his fellow Jacobins of the perils of Napoleon's programme of exporting revolution by force of arms throughout Europe was vindicated again, two centuries later, in the Middle East.
The humanitarian, like the missionary, is often an irreducible enemy of the people he seeks to befriend, because he has not imagination enough to sympathize with their proper needs nor humility enough to respect them as if they were his own. Arrogance, fanaticism, meddlesomeness, and imperialism may then masquerade as philanthropy. George Santayana (George Santayana, The Birth of Reason and Other Essays, New York, Columbia University Press, 1968, p. 87.)
The configuration of ideas and movements that led to America 's ruinous engagement in Iraq however included more than a fusion of the neo-conservative utopians, Armageddonite fundamentalists and Straussian seers. And in the end 9/11 was a further development of earlier types of unconventional warfare rather than a qualitative change in the nature of conflict. Aided by the internet, which enables violent jihadists who have never met to form virtual cells, al-Qaeda is extending its influence and reach. At the same time, developments in weaponry are improving the arsenal available to groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. But Islamist terrorism implements no coherent strategy and cannot command the resources of any great power. It is still far from being anything like a mortal threat to civilized life of the kinds that were confronted and defeated in the twentieth century.
This situation will change if terrorist groups gain access to the means of mass destruction. Not only al-Qaeda but also cults such as Aum have demonstrated an interest in biological warfare. Information technology enables types of cyber-war to be waged that can disrupt the infrastructure of modern societies - power stations and airports, for example - with the potential of causing large-scale casualties. The most catastrophic risk comes from nuclear terrorism. Using 'suitcase bombs' or 'dirty bombs' (conventional explosives salted with radioactive waste), terrorists could kill hundreds of thousands of people and paralyse social and economic life. No doubt the materials needed for such devices are heavily guarded, but if any of the world's nuclear states were destabilized the danger of these materials falling into terrorist hands would be high. In Pakistan - a semi-failed state in which fundamentalist forces are heavily entrenched - that risk fuay already be present. The murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence officer who died in London in November 2006 weeks after receiving a lethal dose of radiation, suggests that nuclear terrorism may already be a reality. The risk of proliferation has been accelerated by American policies.
North Korea acquired nuclear capability as a result of a transfer of know-how from Pakistan - a country whose role in the 'war on terror' insulated it from effective pressure to stop leakage of this kind. The risks have been increased by the Bush administration pulling out of arms control agreements and by a change in US nuclear doctrine that allows the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against countries believed to have WMD programmes. Above all, after Iraq everyone knows that the only way to be safe against American attack is to possess the WMD capability Saddam lacked. According to an announcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November 2006, six Islamic countries have indicated they wish to acquire nuclear technology. All of them - Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey - insist they want it for peaceful purposes, but a nuclear arms race may already have begun. Other countries that may be interested include Nigeria and Jordan. It is not beyond the realm of realistic possibility that the state of Iraq - if it still exists - might at some time in the future acquire a nuclear capability of the kind pre-emptive military action by the US was meant to prevent.
There seem to be some in the US who see an attack on Iran as a means of deterring proliferation, but, as in the case of Iraq, the effect would be to increase it. A large swathe of the Middle East and Asia, which at present contains three theatres of war - in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan - would become a zone of armed conflict, while the lesson of Iraq - that the only way to be safe from American attack is to possess nuclear weapons - would be reinforced. At the same time an attack could well fail to halt Iran 's nuclear programme. Though it is ethnically diverse, Iran is unlike most other countries in the region in being a fairly cohesive state. The home of an ancient and rich Persian civilization, it currently practises a type of democracy - in effect a more stable version of the system that is developing iq Iraq - that gives its present leadership a degree of legitimacy. An" American air assault could increase the legitimacy of this leadership, which has already gained in popularity from the nuclear programme. Even if a more liberal version of democracy were to develop, there is no guarantee that Iran would renounce nuclear ambitions. Worse, a bombing campaign could fail to destroy the nuclear programme while weakening the country's government to the point where it would no longer be able to control whatever nuclear facilities actually exist in the country. Worse still, an American attack could trigger upheaval in many Islamic states, including Pakistan - which is already a nuclear power and could easily become another failed state. From a standpoint of global security few things are more important than preventing the leakage of nuclear technology beyond the control of states. Mutual assured destruction (MAD) forestalled the use of nuclear weapons for over half a century. Deterrence of this kind may not give complete security against a nuclear state headed by an apocalyptic prophet; but since some among its leadership will want to go on living, it affords some protection. When the enemy is an elusive network whose branches can be based anywhere in the world deterrence breaks down completely. Agents of mass destruction cannot be threatened with annihilation if their identity is unknown. The American armscontrol analyst Fred Ikle has written, 'Military history offers no lessons that tell nations how to cope with a continuing global dispersion of cataclysmic means for destruction.'
A crucial part of the task is preventing state collapse. States have failed throughout history - we need only think of the centuries of anarchy that followed the fall of the Roman Empire or the era of Warring States in ancient China. It will not always be possible to prevent states failing in future. To encourage that failure is folly - especially at a time when the development of technology makes anarchy more threatening than ever before. Yet that is what overthrowing governments while lacking the ability to put anything in their place means in practice.
The 'war on terror' is a symptom of a mentality that anticipates an unprecedented change in human affairs - the end of history, the passing of the sovereign state, universal acceptance of democracy and the defeat of evil. This is the central myth of apocalyptic religion framed in political terms, and the common factor underlying the failed utopian projects of the past decade. The promise of an imminent transformation was not a cynical ploy attached to policies adopted on other grounds by leaders who did not themselves believe in it. Bush and Blair genuinely believed such a change was impending or could be brought about, as did the neo-conservatives and liberal interventionists who supported them in Iraq. Apocalypse failed to arrive, and history went on as before but with an added dash of blood.
Nazism and communism are products of the modern West. So to though the fact is denied by its followers and by western opinion - is radical Islam. In fact analyzing it from a socio-psychological point of view we have been able to show parallels with Fascism.
Radical Islam is a modern revolutionary ideology, but it is also a millenarian movement with Islamic roots. Like Christianity, Islam has always contained a powerful eschatological element. Both Sunni and Shia Islam contain a Mahdist tradition that anticipates the arrival of a divinely guided teacher who will re-order the world - a tradition that Bin Laden has exploited when projecting his image as a prophet leader. (See or example Timothy R. Furnish, 'Bin Ladin: The Man who would be Mahdi', The Middle East Review, vol. IX, no. 2, spring 2002.) Some scholars question the orthodoxy of Mahdist beliefs but they exemplify a conception of history that is clearly Islamic. As one contemporary Islamic scholar has written: 'The Mahdist "event" is History as eschatology, giving history a progressive nature.'(Kaveh L. Mrasiabi, 'Shiism as Mahdism: Reflections on a Doctrine of Hope', www.payvand.com/news/03/novIII26.html )