The Pursuit of the Millennium  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957, revised and expanded in 1970) is Norman Cohn's study of millenarian cult movements.

Covering a wide span of time, Cohn's book discusses topics such as anti-Semitism and the Crusades, in addition to such sects as the Brethren of the Free Spirit, flagellants, the Anabaptists, and the Ranters. The Pursuit of the Millennium concludes with a discussion of the theocratic king John of Leiden, who took over the city of Münster in 1534.


People influenced by The Pursuit of the Millennium include French Marxist Guy Debord, who considered the chiliastic cults discussed by Cohn something of a model for the Situationist International, (Debord, however, refuted the thesis of Cohn's book thus: "Modern revolutionary hopes were not, as Norman Cohn thinks he shows in The Pursuit of the Millennium, the irrational consequences of the religious passion of millenarianism. Quite the contrary: it is millenarianism, a revolutionary class struggle speaking for the first time the language of religion, that is already a modern revolutionary tendency, but still lacking the awareness that it is historical alone. " (La Société du spectacle, §138[1]; emphasis in original)) and British author Richard Webster. Webster wrote that he was impressed by the book, and that it led him to read Cohn's other works, including Warrant for Genocide and Europe's Inner Demons. Reading those books helped convince Webster that "the principle reason why we should study the witch-hunts of the past is to enable us the better to recognise and oppose the witch-hunts of the present and the future", and led to his interest in the problem of false abuse allegations.

See also

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