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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
April 2022
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This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Book description

Apocalypse, it seems, is everywhere. Preachers with vast followings proclaim the world's end. Apocalyptic fears grip even the nonreligious amid climate change, pandemics, and threats of nuclear war. As these ideas pervade popular discourse, grasping their logic remains elusive. Ben Jones argues that we can gain insight into apocalyptic thought through secular thinkers. He starts with a puzzle: Why would secular thinkers draw on Christian apocalyptic beliefs – often dismissed as bizarre – to interpret politics? The apocalyptic tradition proves appealing in part because it theorizes a relation between crisis and utopia. Apocalyptic thought points to crisis as the vehicle to bring the previously impossible within reach, offering resources for navigating challenges in ideal theory, which involves imagining the best, most just society. By examining apocalyptic thought's appeal and risks, this study arrives at new insights on the limits of utopian hope. This title is available as open access on Cambridge Core.


'An important theme of several strands of political and theological reflection is that the line between religious thought and secular political thought is not bright. In many respects, secular political traditions draw heavily on religious ideas, often without realizing it. But by itself this thesis is familiar, glib, and often poorly defended. Apocalypse without God is anything but. The book is original, rich, and reflective. It carefully traces the idea of secular apocalyptic thought in important thinkers and ends with a critique of contemporary ideal theory along similar lines. Ben Jones not only reframes secular political theories from the past, but how much political philosophy operates today.'

Kevin Vallier - Bowling Green State University and author of Trust in a Polarized Age

'Visions of the ideal drive great plans and stoke great passions. But great plans rest on uncertain assumptions about the future, and great passions bring their own dangers. Ben Jones argues that embracing epistemic humility can temper the violent excesses of utopian hubris, and check ideal theory’s pretensions too. Yet this same epistemic humility makes space for utopian hope. A thoughtful, incisive, contemporary twist on a classic problem of enlightenment political thought.'

Nomi Claire Lazar - University of Ottawa and author of Out of Joint: Power, Crisis, and the Rhetoric of Time

'In this engaging book, Ben Jones revisits the long history of apocalyptic thought in order to explain its persistent appeal. Where some theorists separate religion and secular theory, Jones shows that religious traditions can enrich political reflection today. With lucidity and insight, he describes a circumspect hope that sustains the struggle for justice in an uncertain world.'

David Newheiser - Australian Catholic University and author of Hope in a Secular Age

‘… a convincing, concise, and source-based account of the apocalyptic hopes for a future Fifth Monarchy of Christ, which was to replace all other kingdoms.'

Matthias Riedl Source: The Review of Politics

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Full book PDF
  • Apocalypse without God
    pp i-ii
  • Copyright page
    pp iv-iv
  • Dedication
    pp v-vi
  • Contents
    pp vii-viii
  • Figures
    pp ix-x
  • Preface
    pp xi-xi
  • Acknowledgments
    pp xii-xiv
  • Introduction
    pp 1-18
  • Part I - Secular Apocalyptic Thought
    pp 19-58
  • 1 - The Hazards of Studying Secular Apocalyptic Thought
    pp 21-38
  • 2 - The Paradox of Secular Apocalyptic Thought
    pp 39-58
  • Part II - Historical Case Studies
    pp 59-142
  • 3 - Apocalyptic Hope’s Appeal: Machiavelli and Savonarola
    pp 61-91
  • 4 - Tempering Apocalyptic Ideals: Hobbes and Pretenders to God’s Kingdom
    pp 92-118
  • 5 - Reimagining God’s Kingdom: Engels and Müntzer
    pp 119-142
  • Part III - Implications for Ideal Theory
    pp 143-197
  • 6 - Ideal Theory as Faith
    pp 145-174
  • 7 - Limiting the Dangers of Utopian Hope
    pp 175-190
  • Conclusion
    pp 191-197
  • Appendix - Argument against Ideal Theory’s Plausibility
    pp 198-202
  • Bibliography
    pp 203-221
  • Index
    pp 222-226


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