On the Eve of the Millennium


166 pages
ISBN 0-88784-559-2
DDC 303.49'09'05




Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


On the Eve of the Millennium is a lament for the end of the
Enlightenment and an inauspicious prophecy about the dangers that will
confront the world in the next century. The opinions expressed in the
book are classically conservative (the author is a devotee of Edmund
Burke) and will likely frustrate readers attuned to the pluralist spirit
of postmodernism and cultural studies.

Through five authoritative but rambling chapters, O’Brien catalogues
the “enemies of the Enlightenment,” a list so extensive that it
includes the Anglo-Irish Peace Accord, the U.S. operation in Haiti, the
disintegration of the old Soviet bloc, fundamentalism, democracy,
Marxism, political correctness, and deconstruction. The most trenchant
criticism is reserved for Pope John Paul II, whose opposition to
abortion and birth control not only contributes to overpopulation but
also is leading to a consolidation of Catholicism and Islam. In
O’Brien’s alarmist prophecy, the Pope is “the greatest ayatollah
of the West,” who may well bring about the end of “the Christian
Millennium” and “the terrestrial and universal triumph of the House
of Islam.”

Most of the opinions in this book are underwritten by an antiquated
cultural paternalism. For example, O’Brien warns that “violent
attacks out of the Third World” against Western targets will increase
in the next century and complains that “Third World ghettoes” are
creating “a particularly ferocious criminal elite.” And in a rather
tasteless analogy intended to illustrate the problem with mass
immigration, he equates Westerners to survivors in a lifeboat who, in
order to save themselves and their posterity, cannot save those drowning
in the water around them.

O’Brien does make some apt observations, like his scattered charges
against the effects of technology on politics (e.g., “Democracy is
turning into a series of instant plebiscites, over which the spin doctor
is king,” and “flinching from reality [is] habitual in our
culture”). Unfortunately, he offers no real solution to the problems
he mentions. Though he defends sundry Enlightenment values and
traditions like respect for history, deference to one’s social
superiors, the canon of Western classics, the British royal family, and
American liberalism, he also concedes that humankind will never be able
to make a dent in “the great and growing mess of human misery.” It
is this conservative scepticism that makes O’Brien’s book less a
discourse on modernity than an energetic harangue against the present
state of affairs.


O'Brien, Conor Cruise., “On the Eve of the Millennium,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/6816.