Leon Aron, a resident scholar and the director of Russian studies at American Enterprise Institute, is the author, most recently, of Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987–1991 (2012). (February 2018)

Follow Leon Aron on Twitter: @AronRTTT.


Kingdom Come: Millenarianism’s Deadly Allure, from Lenin to ISIS

Smoke from fires at the oil fields around Qayyarah, a city southeast of Mosul, set alight by ISIS fighters in an effort to prevent coalition airstrikes, 2016

A belief in predestination animated both the Bolsheviks and ISIS: the inexorability of the future, and thus of victory, as foretold in the sacred prophesies of Marx or Mohammad. They could not fail. Alive or dead, they won. Napoleon used to say that a battle was won or lost in the minds of the combatants before the first shot was fired. Is there an energy more powerful or a cause more mesmerizing and irresistible, or confidence in the inevitability of victory greater than the one generated by the ecstatic hope of liberating humanity from the miseries of daily life and ushering it into a conflictless Eden?