Of Love for Meliorism and UpheavalsnJames H. Billington: Fire in thenMinds of Men; Basic Books; NewnYork.nby Paul GottfriednjDillington’s volume has elicitednharsh reviews from journals thatnChronicles of Culture has properly criticizednas mechanistically liberal. I, too,nmust line up with those who have beennunimpressed by this rambling study ofnalmost 700 pages. Dealing with majornrevolutionary movements over the lastntwo hundred and fifty years, the workncovers familiar ground without breakingnnew turf. An educated reader shouldnhave no difficulty after the first chapternin guessing who are the personalities andnevents about to be treated. The unifyingnthemes appear more often as afterthoughtsnthan as real points of departurenfor understanding the historical past.nThe factual material may simply be toonvast to be creatively or imaginatively organized.nWhatever the case, the text isnnot improved by having Billington pilenup truisms, a practice which he followsnthroughout. Thus we are informed, andnperiodically reminded, that Rosa Luxemburgnand other Jewish Marxists hadnyielded to a secularized form of Biblicalnmessianism. Supposedly Lenin and thenbuilders of the modern Soviet empirenwere latter-day representatives of millenariannRussian nationalism, while Hitlernconstructed his vision of an Aryannworld empire from the nationalist teachingsnembedded in Wagner’s operas.nSome platitudes of this sort may seemnmore plausible than others. But theynhave all been said before, historians continuento assert them as universal truthsnand often they are allowed to becomensubstitutes for original investigation.nPerhaps, however, liberal publicistsnhave been irritated less by the platitudesnDr. Gottfried is professor of history atnRockford College.n32inChronicles of Culturenthan by something else in Billington’snwork. I refer to his emphasis on the irrationalnand mythological elements innrevolutionary movements. He nevernstrays far from the view that revolutionnis “a fire on men’s minds” and that, bynand large, it has released far more destructionnthan good. Unlike such secularnhumanists as Peter Gay, he does notnview the revolutionary tide that firstnswept Europe in the late 18th century asnbeing either pagan or rational in inspiration.nHe links the phenomenon to thenpowerful impact of the Biblical promisenof cosmic redemption. He sees in thensuccession of modern revolutionary doctrinesnvarious attempts to wed the Biblically-foundednfaith in a future goldennage, to be introduced through violence,nwith the scientific models and social valuesnprevalent at particular times. LikenEric Voegelin, he accuses revolutionaries,nby indirection, of “immanentizingnthe eschaton,” although, unlike Voegelin,nhe loses sight of the conceptual treesnfor the factual forests. Also, unlikenVoegelin, Molnar and other critical analystsnof revolution, Billington seems tonbe looking anxiously to his left flank.nThis may be the reason that he dwells onnthe moral virtues of Rosa Luxemburgnand other revolutionary activists. Thenimpression one gets is that the authorndislikes Russians and Germans (a commonnneoconservative prejudice), feelsnless strongly about Latins and deeply admiresnJews. These ethnic and biographicalnpreferences reveal much about Billingtonnbut little about revolution.nIhere is one provocative observationnin his book, however, that some ofnhis serious reviewers (like John Lukacs)nhave not sufficiently appreciated. It concernsnthe profound difference betweenn18th-century secret societies—like thenIlluminati and Freemasons —whichnaimed primarily at religious reform andnthe socialist movement which came outnof late 19th-century Germany. Billing­nnnton contrasts them architectonically:nwhile the Masons and Illuminati organizednthemselves pyramidically (the Masonsntraced back their doctrines to ancientnEgypt), the German socialists and,nlater, communists exalted the solidaritynof their membership and their massivenorganizational structure. The earliernmovements of change were still linked tonan aristocratic culture. Unconventionalnopinions were secretly expressed, notnproclaimed for the commonality. Thenrite de passage for Masonic applicantsntypically involved the mastery of esotericnlearning; entry into and advancement inna lodge depended both upon one’s socialnties and on one’s mental retentiveness.nBy contrast, the socialists and communistsnhave identified themselves as massnmovements and built programs basednon the idea of social leveling. They alsonpersonify the further secularization ofnan older faith in man’s redemptionnthrough history.nOnly a relatively small minority ofnthose in secret lodges worked for thenoverthrow of governments or for violentnsocial transformation. The Freemasonsnand, even more, that most mysterious ofn18th-century secret societies, thenRosicrucians, continued to view themselvesnas Christian. Throughout most ofnthe century, they spoke of changingnmen’s spirits in preparation for God’snreshaping of history. If many Masonsnmistook the French Revolution for thisnexpected turn, others, like the Catholicnconservative, Joseph de Maistre, opposednthe same upheaval as a distortionnof the Masonic vision. Of course not allnMasons were like Maistre, but as a groupnthey opposed secularism arid proclaimednthemselves a purified Christian Church.nMarxists and Marxist-Leninists wouldnhave no truck with either tenet. As thenproponents of philosophical materialismn(dialectic or otherwise), they have rejectedneven the reformed Christianityntaught by the Masons. The only changesnwhich they accept are quantitative; forn