Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Robison’s Proof

Proof, N. Evidence having a shade more of plausibility than of unlikelihood. The testimony of two credible witnessses as opposed to that of only one.
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Secret societies develop when the forces of change disrupt the old ways of life, or when people are themselves in rebellion with the existing order, and find underground secrecy necessary as a cover for their activities. An enomous amount of literature, from both right and left, has been devoted to prove or disprove the supposed connection between the Revolution and Freemasonry. According to one version of the anti-revollution conspiracy theory, the entire social upheaval was planned and directed by the Bavarian Illuminati. This theory is put forth in Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All Religions and Governments of Europe by John Robison.
Robison’s unusal expose, first published in 1798, is not the first of its type, nor the last. It is but a segment of a long line of polemic literature about the Order of the Bavarian Illuminati, headed by Dr. Adam Weishaupt, a Jesuit trained professor of Canon law at Ingolstadt University. The publisher of my copy, Americanist Classics, in the introduction, claims that Weishaupt’s organization embodied all the goals, aims, and methods of communism. Actually, communism was never mentioned in Robison’s book, but the underlying plan for world domination was a major object of the Illuminati. In works similar to Robison’s, the notorious Illuminati have been credited with managing every revolution since 1776 behind the scenes, taking over the world, being the brains behind communism, capitalism, authoritarianism, continuing underground to the present day, secretly worshipping the devil, and causing everyt
hing that is wrong on planet earth. In all of this paranoia and hysteria, it would seem certain that Weishaupt’s intent to maintain secrecy has worked; no two students of “Illuminology” have ever agreed on what the main purpose, or inner secret, of the order actually is, if any. Vernon Stauffer, critic of all Illuminati hysteria, believes such paranoia to be “miserable mixtures of falsehood and folly.”
According to Robison, the Illuminati were framed in the same mode of organization as the Jesuits, adopting the same system of espionage, and adopted the maxim that the end justifies the means. He used the lower grades of the order as a front, using mystic principles of Christianity as a mask in order to gain recruits for the next stage of illumination. Holding out the hope of higher mysteries in the higher ranks, Weishaupt gradually illuminated his recruits into substituting Reason for Christ. Most Illuminati theorists agree that his intent was to undermine Christianity and replace this superstition with a morality of Reason, and for his system, in some point in the future, to rule the world. In Weishaupt’s secret documents, as reported by Robison, the expressed aim of this society was to combat ignorance, superstition, religious restraint and tyranny in various forms.
When the Order of the Illuminati was founded on May 1, 1776, “Weishaupt took the name of Sparacus, the man who headed the insurrection of slaves, which in Pompey’s time kept Rome in terror and uproar for three years. Nicholai, an eminent and learned bookseller in Berlin, and author of several works of reputation, took the name of Lucien, the great scoffer of all religion.” The adoption of Roman names is interesting because Gracchus Babeuf, of the Society of Equals, was a left wing communist. There is a great mystery as to where he learned his ideas. It’s curious that there is such a lack of documentation about his society or his principles. Perhaps he, too, was illuminated into Weishaupt’s system.
In Robison’s Proofs, he used the actual secret communications of the order that were published after it was suppressed by the Elector of Bavaria after a vast Illuminati scare. Robison often used Weishaupt quotes to prove his point, for instance: “The great strength of our order lies in its concealment; let it never appear in any place in its own name, and another occupation. None is fitter than the three lower degrees of Freemasonry; the public is accustomed to it . . . and it maybe much more than a cover, it may be a powerful engine in our hands . . . and taking these in our direction and supplying them through our labours, we may turn the public mind which way we will.” Robison’s use of Weishaupt’s quotes is his best weapon to prove his argument, for here we find a group whose intent was to manipulate events to cause radical change in society, whose ideas were to spread in an underground current t
hroughout Europe. “By this plan,” says Weishaupt, “We shall direct all mankind. In this manner, and by the simplest means, we shall set all in motion and in flames.”
From here, according to Robison, there is no doubt that the Illuminati intended to set Europe aflame with Revolution. My question is whether or not they succeeded. When the Illuminati were suppressed in 1784 by Bavarian authorities, the measures, according to critic Stauffer, proved decisive. “All efforts,” said Stauffer in New England and the Bavarian Illuminati, “were made to galvanize the expiring spirit of the order, but wholly without result. The emergence of the order had attracted public attention so abruptly and sharply, and its downfall had been so violent and so swift, that public opinion lacked time to adjust itself to the facts of the case. In Bavaria, particularly, the enemies of the order were unable to persuade themselves that the machinations of the Illuminati could safely be regarded as past.”
Robison claimed that the suppression of the order in the early 1780s had failed, and the organization continued to thrive in the form of a reading society known as the German Union. Weishaupt, being exposed, was no longer able to continue as leader, and was succeeded by Bode. It was here that Robison went into a lengthy moral condemnation of the Illuminators, trying to show that they were not, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “enthusiastic philantropists,” but instead wolves in sheep’s clothing.
According to Robison, Bode traveled to France and illuminated the Lodges of Paris. This is the most important part of Robison’s proof, and in my opinion, the most interesting.
Eager to adopt revolutionary ideas now that the Assembly of Notables was faililng to correct problems that the monarchy created, the Amnis Reunis and other Lodges opened their arms to their German visitors and Illuminism quickly spread throughout France. As Robison wrote, “Not only was the arch rebel the Duke of Orleans the Grand Master, but the chief actors in the Revoltuion, Mirabeau, Condorcet, Sieyes, Rochefoucault, and others, were distinguised office-bearers in the great Lodges.”
Although these allegations were disputed by Stauffer, I find this link to the doctrines taught in Paris interesting. Sieyes, one of the main contributors during the entire period, who manipulated behind the scenes, was very enthusiastic about the higher mysteries of Free Masonry. Mirabeau, according to Robison, was personally illuminated by Weishaupt during his travels to Berlin. Condorcet, one of the main contributors to modern education, is significant because he proposed to create a society of higher, illuminated elite. I am much more likely to believe that the Revolution was intentionally instigated by an illuminated few than believe that it was accidentally created by the ideas of Rousseau and Voltaire put into action.
Also, I think it is strange the way the great fear spread in the provinces. Surely, ridiculous rumors do not spread identically across the countryside. Robison was very convincing when he wrote, “. . . the rapidity with which one opinion was declared in every corner, and that opinion as quickly changed, and that change announced everywhere, and the perfect conformity of the principles, and the sameness of language, even in arbitrary trifles, can hardly be explained in any other way.” This passage reminds me of the Great Fear that took place out in the provinces among the peasants, which was the one incident of mass lower class activity. It is indeed unusual how rumors were uniformly spread, that the king had gives orders for the army and the nobles to run through and kill peasants. A competent conspirator surely knows tha tfear is the mother of violence.
From here it seems that there are two ways to view the Revolution. One is the methodical, where proof must overcome allegation, where personal political views become the starting point for interpretation, where history is an accident to be observed, where events are dominated by a social and economic mesh. On the other hand is the conspiracy attitude, where proof is allusive, where events are manipulated by some unseen enemy, where history achieves symbolic meaning, where purpose overcomes the scientist as he tries to observe the accident. Robison’s expose is representative of conservative religious morality clinging to the ways of old. For him, the Illuminati provided a real demon with which to point an accusing finger at. Admittedly, his “prrofs” are overly judgemental, and his method of argument is often tiresome, but hwo can deny that the strength of the Jacobian existed in the fact that they w
ere organized, with tentacles spreading all over France, and with a network quite centralized. When the committee of Public Safety was formed, who can deny the hideous strength of a centralized hierarchy based on the principles of fear and obedience, based on circles of leadership inside wider circles. And finally, Napoleon’s University of France is quite like the Illuminati system, with authoritarian rules of absolute obedience to all members, and a highly centralized system of propaganda. According to Milton, Bureaucracy is, after all, the gift of Satan.
Stauffer, Vernon, New England and the Bavarian Illuminati, New York, Russell and Russell, 1967, p. 228.
Stauffer, Bavarian Illuminati, p. 208.