The Year 2000
On the verge of the year 2000, many people are filled with hope and trepidation. New technologies, and new social and political arrangements offer mankind both the promise of higher standards of living and expanded human freedom, and the threat of even more powerful central government.
For many, the year 2000 is to be a year of jubilee, the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and a time to proclaim liberty throughout the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof. For many, including an overlap, it is a time to take prudential steps to prepare for the worst.
But for a few, the year 2000 evokes fears of world-wide outbreaks of disease, meteor impacts, nuclear war and other catastrophes that will usher-in a new age, fears that dispose people with tiny minds to seek a messiah with dictatorial powers, to whom they will enslave themselves and through whom they will exact their revenge against their enemies. It's not the first time.
While millennialists have apparently surfaced in every period of human history, it is convenient for us to begin, as Murray Rothbard does in
Economic Thought Before Adam Smith, with the 12th century Italian monk Joachim of Fiore. Joachim divined three stages of history, each ruled by a different member of the Holy Trinity.
The first stage, the age of the Old Testament, was the age of law, and was governed by God the Father. The second stage, the age of the New Testament, was the age of forgiveness, and was governed by God the Son. And, the third stage, the age of perfect joy, love and freedom, would be governed by God the Holy Spirit. During the third stage, the entire world would be one vast monastery, and mankind would live in continuous ecstasy. There would no longer be concern for work or private property or marriage, as all of mankind would live in voluntary poverty and complete communism and be totally liberated from their physical bodies.
Such doctrines were condemned by the Pope, not so much because fantasy is inherently wrong, but because of the danger when these doctrines are considered to be serious political economy. In spite of the condemnation, these doctrines continued to surface from time to time, especially following the Reformation, and especially among the Germanic peoples of central Europe. During the 14th century, for example, the "Brethren of the Free Spirit" taught that, while most people had to go through the process of dying to be united with God, a few people could be united with God in this life and, thus, become gods themselves and free of the normal restrictions of law, private property and marriage. One of their leaders, Nicholas of Basle, claimed to be the new Christ, and taught that the only way to salvation was total submission to his authority. Another, Johann Hartmann of Erfurt, said "The truly free man is king and lord of all creatures. All things belong to him, and he has the right to use whatever pleases him. If anyone tries to prevent him, the free man may kill him and take his goods."
During the 15th century, in Bohemia, the "Taborites" (Tabor or the Mount of Olives being where Jesus ascended to Heaven and where he was expected to reappear) proceeded to impose their idea of communism onto a village that they took over. Husbands and wives in individualistic marriages were executed, and peasants who did not join their commune were reduced to bondage. During the 16th century, Thomas Muntzer of Thuringia claimed the living Christ had entered his soul and spoke of himself as becoming God. Proclaiming the kingdom of God to be at hand, he preached "At the harvest time, one must pluck the weeds out of God's vineyard...," and fomented a revolt that ended in disaster.
Starting in the late 17th century, millennialist sects began making their way to America to establish their colonies and await the coming new age. In 1694, a German anabaptist sect established a commune known as "The Woman in the Wilderness" in Pennsylvania that featured an observatory so as to better observe the first signs of the second coming. In 1732, another German anabaptist sect organized Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Today, this town, partially reconstructed, is a popular tourist stop.
In 1805, yet another German anabaptist sect made their way to Pennsylvania, this one under the leadership of George Rapp. Rapp taught that property was to be held in common, and that intercourse was wrong even between husband and wife. While initially successful, this community slowly shrank in size as its members grew old and died. When, at the age of ninety, he passed away, Rapp said, "If I did not know that the dear Lord meant I should present you to him, I should think my last moment's come."
In 1844, another German anabaptist sect established a commune at Ebenezer, New York, near Buffalo, under the leadership of Christian Metz who, being a prophet, was its absolute dictator. After relocating to Amana, Iowa, in 1855, and after Metz's death, leadership passed to a committee of elected trustees. The commune was eventually reorganized as a traditional church and private property-based community. Thus it is that the Amana corporation, today known for its refrigerators and microwave ovens, and a subsidiary of a yet larger corporation, was born of an attempt to form a community-owned cooperative.
At the end of the 18th century, the first communes were being formed by pietist sects originating in this country, mostly in New England and New York, fertile ground at the time for revival and schism. Experimentation in property was paralleled by experimentation in sexual relations, with polygamy and free-love joining with celibacy as alternatives to traditional marriage. And, with the prohibitionist sentiments of the time, bans against alcohol, tobacco and meat were often incorporated into doctrine.
In 1788, Jemima Wilkinson formed Jerusalem, New York, in the Genesee region of that state. Raised as a Quaker in Rhode Island, Wilkinson claimed to have had a vision when she appeared to have risen from the dead after lying unconscious for four days. She declared she was commissioned to raise up a "holy and elect church on the earth," in which there would be "neither marrying nor giving in marriage," and "in which all things should be held in common." Hounded from Rhode Island for her blasphemies, she made her way to Philadelphia. But, even the city of brotherly love could not tolerate her, and she and her followers made their way to New York. Wilkinson apparently was a very resolute and forceful person. When she would calmly say "The lord hath need of it," she was obeyed by her followers merely on the basis of her charisma.
In 1843, John Humphrey Noyes started a commune from among his followers in Putney, Vermont, and five years later relocated his commune to Oneida, New York, where the commune enjoyed economic success first in the manufacture of animal traps and then in silverware. Noyes taught that man was perfectible through grace, and that once perfected was freed from the usual restriction on behavior imposed by private property and marriage. Freed of selfishness, he argued, exclusivity would no longer be appropriate. In practice, Noyes instituted strict controls over access to property and sexual relations and he, himself, was "first husband" of the female members of the commune and father of most of the children to whom they gave birth. In 1880, the commune was converted into a traditional stock-holding corporation. Many people have heard of "Oneida" in conjunction with bridal registries at up-scale department stores.
During the 19th century, a number of communities were formed by sects following the prophecy of William Miller of New York that Christ would return during the 1840s. When that decade came and went, the time of his return was recalculated as 1873 or -74. Then, the time was re-calculated as soon after the turn of the century. One of the first of these communities was established by Frederick T. Howland in 1861, near Boston, Massachusetts, and was known as Adonai-Shomo. At the turn of the century, a new wave of adventist communities got off the ground, including the House of Israel in Texas, and Shiloh Hill in Maine. None of these could compare, however, with what was taking place in Michigan.
In 1903, Benjamin Purnell and his wife Mary, the Dual Shiloh of the in-gathering of Israel, began their commune at Benton Harbor, Michigan. King Ben, the Seventh Messenger and Younger Brother of Jesus, and his followers awaited the ending of the current dispensation which was to occur in August 1906 (later changed to 1916 when a stenographer's error was corrected). Informed by "The Holy Graph," Purnell's colony prohibited alcohol and tobacco, and was vegetarian and celibate. (However, it became known that Purnell kept a harem of young girls, and married them off to the men of the commune when they got pregnant.) When Purnell died, his wife and her followers with their half of the estate founded King David Hospital and other humanitarian endeavors. The others lifted the bans on alcohol and tobacco, continued to run the commune's commercial enterprises, including an amusement park, and made millions.
In 1851, Thomas L. Harris was directed by St. Paul to locate a commune at Mountain Cove in what is now West Virginia, since this is where the Garden of Eden had been located. His group was known as "respirationist" because of his doctrine of internal respiration, part of his wider vision encompassing material and spiritual reality, and the great battle between the forces of good and evil in which he played the crucial role. When the commune at Mountain Cove failed, he started another, at Wassiac, New York, and then another, at Brocton, Ohio, and then another, at Fountain Grove, California. Among his followers were many women of high social position, including several Japanese women and Lady Oliphant of England. In fact, it was with the money of these women that Harris was able to organize one after another commune. Harris's communes were officially celibate since he advocated only "spiritual sex," with fairies and lovers from other planets. Harris himself Platonically cohabitated in his commune, separated from the working members, with only the most holy of his followers, who happened to all be young women. Among these were Queen Lily, love goddess of the spirit world, and Lady Pink Ears, queen of the rabbit fairies.
In 1894, the "vilellus of the alchemico-organic cosmos" directed Cyrus R. Teed, founder of Koreshanity -- "Koresh" being the way God pronounces his first name -- to locate the soon-to-be capital of the world in a swamp in Florida that he named Estero. There, he was joined by his followers, most of whom were women. His colony was celibate since, in the year of Koresh 52 (1891) Teed had freed women from the "desecration of maternity." (Nevertheless, he was often observed in the company of young women, as when he traveled to Ft. Myers with as many as three at a time in his flashy car.) Teed made a variety of fantastic claims, such as that the earth was a hollow sphere, and that we were on its inside with our feet pointing outward. He had charts and instruments to prove this, including a "rectilineator" that showed that the earth tilted inward at the rate of 8 inches to a mile.
Since the 19th century, there have be many non-religious or secular millennialist movements. The first of these was started by the Scottish businessman Robert Owen. Owen rejected all religions, "Christian, Jew, Mahomedan, Hindoo, Chinese, and Pagan," and instead desired a "spirit of universal charity." He sought a "more perfect system of liberty and equality," ending the system "of buying cheap and selling dear." In 1825, following a lecture tour in America, Owen put his idea to the test, forming a commune at New Harmony, Indiana. The community was beset with difficulties from the start, including constant bickering over its form of government, too high a ratio of intellectuals to workers, and failed in less than three years.
In 1808, Charles Fourier of France announced a new ordering of science, including a cosmology in which the stars, anointed by love, reproduce their kind, and go through stages. The earth itself was in the fifth of thirty-two stages, in which mankind was on the threshold of true civilization. In the eighth stage, men were to grow tails with eyes, six moons were to replace our current one, and the oceans were to turn into lemonade. He later expounded on his idea of small-scale, self-sufficient communities which he called phalanxes, that were to replace the capitalistic system. There were to be exactly 2,985,984 of these phalanxes, with the capital of the world being at Constantinople, from which the world would be ruled by 576 sultans, 144 kalifs, 48 empresses, 12 caesarinas, 3 augusts and one "omniarch."
Within the phalanxes, the wage system was to be replaced by a guaranteed minimum income. While there would be special incentives for work nobody wanted to do, Fourier believed that there would be a natural supply equal to every demand. For example, children could be used for cleaning sewers because they "love to wallow in the muck and play with dirty things." For a long time, his thinking on sex was only implicit in his writing, but recently his manuscript on the subject was published. In addition to being guaranteed a minimum income, members of the phalanxes were to be guaranteed a sexual minimum thanks to an "angelic group" within the commune. Fourier did not think of his proposals as entertainment, but as serious political economy. This is because he was mad. When philanthropists failed to arrive to underwrite his phalanxes, he shot himself in the head. During the 1840s, ignorant followers in America made several dozen attempts to organize phalanxes, every one of which failed within a few years.
Of course, the worst ever millennialist movement of all time was that of Karl Marx. This disgruntled man, raised as a Christian, and a grandson of Jewish rabbis on both his father's and mother's sides, essentially replaced the millennialist eschatology of Christianity with dialectical materialism. According to Marx, historical forces were to usher in the new age of communism from the old age of capitalism, obliterating the evils of private property and specialization and trade. And, the earth-shattering Armageddon of this transformation was to be an authoritarian state. "The Great Leap Forward" in China, and the holocaust in Cambodia perpetrated by Pol Pot were not deviations from the teachings of Marx, but--just the opposite--they were faithful follow-throughs of them.
The most mysterious aspect of the Marxist new age was how the authoritarian state was to be followed by a "withering away" of the state. Somehow, upon the appearance of the new socialist man, there was to be simultaneously no work and yet super-abundance, no specialization and yet each person expert in everything, no private property and yet perfect harmony in the use of resources.
Those who believe in a transcendent spiritual reality can, logically, believe this can happen in heaven, but it is beyond ridiculous to believe this can happen in our present physical reality. It is also possible to believe that, through the grace of God, individual men can be transformed in this life, and can, out of the abundance provided by private property and specialization and trade within the capitalist system give in charity to those who are in need. But it is not possible to believe that men who are merely materialistic will ever eliminate the motivation of greed.
The 20th century has seen a continuing germination of millenialist movements. Early in the century, the 7th Day Adventists, after several failures of Jesus to return at the appointed time, resolved that Jesus came in spirit during WWI and will come again in the flesh during the lifetime of at least one person who had witnessed that catastrophic event. At the time, this resolution conveniently put off the prediction for many years, but with each passing year the revised prediction becomes ever more tenuous.
In mid-century, Father Divine gained a large following, mostly of black women, celibate, hardworking and upright, when his conviction for his sect's "disturbing the peace," was overturned for being based on racial prejudice, and the prejudiced lower court judge died after a heart attack. A second black sect, known as the Black Hebrews, in 1966 left Chicago to go first to Liberia, and then to Israel. They believe they are the true Jewish people, and that their leader Ben Ami is the Messiah who will reign over the world following WWIII. That they are not immediately recognized to be Jews is the work of the Devil. For example, the Suez Canal is a demonic plot so people will not see that Israel is really part of Africa.
During the 1960s, and the dawning of the age of Aquarius, there came an outpouring of Hippie communes, based on drugs, mysticism, techno-babble and draft-dodging. Among these were "Liberation," which was supposed to be the base camp of a Cuban-style communist revolution. This commune disintegrated when, trying to suppress sexual stereotypes in work, and force men to share in the chores traditionally performed by women, a majority of the men left. Another commune, "Earth Mother," was a so-called matriarchy, that is, dominated by its female members, who assumed almost all the work of the commune. This freed the men for their own pursuits, and led the women to "question whether they had, after all, been duped again."
The most famous of these Hippie communes was "Drop City," which came into national prominence in 1967 with its "Joy Festival." The commune was dedicated to the principle that its members were owed a living. As one newspaper headline put it: "Work kills the human spirit -- Why not quit today?" Since nobody had to do any work, the men did absolutely nothing, and the work that was done by the women went unacknowledged. The place was characterized by filth, recurrent outbreaks of hepatitis, and violence, and was closed in 1973 when its benefactor sold the property and evicted the residents.
During recent years, strange cults have continued to appear, including Jim Jones' socialist sect and the Heaven's Gate group, both of which were ended in mass suicide and murder, and David Koresh's Branch Davidians, which was wiped-out by a military-style assault by the federal government. And watch out for groups that are formed on the eve of a particular year or an alignment of the stars, or upon some other auspicious event. Our hope is that the year 2000 marks the end of the century of sorrows, the end of such things as the "thousand year Reich," the "dictatorship of the proletariat," and the leviathan state, and a new beginning of freedom in our country and throughout the world.
* * * * *
Clifford F. Thies is a professor of economics and finance at Shenandoah University in Winchester VA.
Also see, in .PDF format:
"The Development of Keynes's Economics: From Marshall to Millennialism" by Joseph T. Salerno
"Karl Marx as Religious Eschatologist" by Murray N. Rothbard.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.