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Old 01-22-2008, 09:24 AM
mizfish mizfish is offline
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Default Fire in the Minds of Men


Fire in the Minds of Men
Origins of the revolutionary Faith

By

James H. Billington
(Librarian of Congress, member of CFR)

Basic Books, Inc., Publishers
New York, 1980


This is a story not of revolutions, but of revolutionaries : the innovative creators of a new tradition. The historical frame is the century and a quarter that extends from the waning of the French Revolution in the late eighteen century to the beginnings of the Russian Revolution in the early twentieth. The theater was Europe of the industrial era : the main stage, journalistic offices within great European cities. The dialogue of imaginative symbols and theoretical disputes produced much of the language of modern politics.


The revolutionary faith was shaped not so much by the critical rationalism of the French Enlightenment (as is generally believed) as by the occultism and proto-romanticism of Germany. This faith was incubated in France during the revolutionary era within a small sub-culture of literary intellectuals who were immersed in journalism, fascinated by secret societies, and subsequently infatuated with "ideologies" as a secular surrogate for religious belief.


The heart of revolutionary faith, like any faith, is fire : ordinary material transformed into extraordinary form, quantities of warmth suddenly changing the quality of substance. If we do not know what fire is, we know what it does. It burns. It destroys life ; but it also supports it as a source of heat, light, and - above all - fascination. Man, who works with fire as homo faber, also seems foredoomed in his freedom to play with it as homo ludens.


The flame of faith had begun its migrations a century earlier, when some European aristocrats transferred their lighted candles from Christian altars to Masonic lodges. The flame of occult alchemists, which had promised to turn dross into gold, reappeared at the center of new "circles" seeking to recreate golden age : Bavarian Illuminists conspiring against the Jesuits, French Philadelphians against Napoleon, Italian charcoal burners against the Hapsburgs.


With a match one has no need of a lever; one does not lift up the world, one burns it.

The rays of the sun have vanquished the night,
The powers of darkness have yielded to light.

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