Ghost dances and cargo cults, Martin Luther and Mao, the Mau Mau and Mohammed. In times of stress people look for the prophets of an earthly paradise and America is no exception. The United States may just be primed and ready for its own millennial cult, even in the Promised Land, the land of plenty…
Very few of the millenarian movements that have occurred around the globe have survived beyond the fourth step of stage four: adaptation. Usually, the movement is suppressed by people within its own ranks, as happened to many of the Jewish movements against the Romans, or it is crushed by the military intervention of the established powers such as the United States sending cavalry to end the Ghost Dance, or the execution of Black prophets in Africa by colonial powers. The Melanesian cargo cults have all been doomed to failure for the simple reason that no “secret” was being kept from them; however,out of this ferment new political movements emerged in places like Melanesia; movements attempting to correct deprivation more realistically, and thus more successfully.
Most of the millenarian movements in black Africa were ruthlessly suppressed by whites, but one that did succeed was the Mau Mau movement of the Kikuyu in Kenya; people who based their code largely on the Old Testament. Then there was the Peyote cult which spread widely and won the sympathy of professional anthropologists; but it barely escaped repressive measures by its own people and by the state and federal governments, and in the end, its prospects for transforming Indian society fell flat and the future, after passing through hippiedom, and Yuppiedom, is not really promising.
It appeared that during the later phase of Mao’s rule that the Chinese revolution against the Kuomintang was a successfully concluded millenarian movement, but it soon became apparent it was not so. Mao’s “cultural revolution” showed that it was really only able to reach the cultural transformation stage and that the victory against external and internal enemies was only later to attain an equilibrium, a “steady state” in F.C. Wallace’s analysis, through a routinization among the Chinese people themselves through an acceptance of what began as a new bureaucracy and the government policies it implemented that alleviated the deprivation that gave rise to the revolution and carefully evolved a new social order.