Troublemakers both. Wikimedia Commons
2017 marks the anniversaries of two revolutions that tore Europe apart. They both shredded existing structures of authority and unleashed mass fervour, ideological zeal, passion and popular agitation for greater self-rule. These revolts resulted in civil war, sectarian bloodshed, revolutionary violence and counter-revolutionary oppression.
The first was the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther, who inaugurated the West’s modern age when – according to myth – he hammered his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31 1517. The second was the 1917 October Revolution, led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, usually known as Lenin. As did Luther’s protest against Catholic dogma and church authority, Lenin’s revolution unleashed upheaval on a massive and often bloody scale.
Yet while Lenin is widely reviled as the founding father of modern totalitarianism, Luther is celebrated not as a fanatic and rebel but as the founding father of a new era that would come to be based on freedom of conscience and individual autonomy. What explains this historical discrepancy?