Myths and Facts of Conspiracy Theories
While browsing through a local bookstore the other day I happened upon a copy of Robert Anton Wilson‘s book Everything is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults and Coverups. Wilson’s book is literally an encyclopedia of conspiracy theories and other speculative subjects. The book a way for readers to understand the foundation of his best-selling Illuminatus! trilogy which is still in print. The trilogy is centered on an ancient, secretive criminal organization, The Illuminati, bent on global domination.
As I skimmed through it, I happened upon the explanation of The Bavarian Illuminati. Wilson’s book states that they were a secretive organization founded in Bavaria, Germany by a gentleman named Adam Weishaupt. He goes on to say that Weishaupt delved into certain occult practices and ended up having ties with the Freemasons. Despite his encyclopedia of conspiracies being fiction too, unfortunately, Wilson’s description of The Illuminati is the same one seen in other conspiracy theory texts.
The definition is accurate in terms of pointing out where The Illuminati originated but the overall description of the group is wrong. Aside from his being schooled by Jesuits, I have not found any evidence that the group’s founder, Adam Weishaupt, delved into the occult.
The Order of the Illuminati was an actual organization but their purpose was not to take over Germany’s government by any means. They were a group of free thinkers founded in 18th century Bavaria, Germany to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment in reaction to the country’s ancien regime.
The term Illuminati is a pluralized version of illuminatus which is latin for to enlighten. The organization originally was able to legally operate for many years in which they attracted a number of high-profile German intellectuals. The most notable of them was classical liberal author and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who is known for his famous statement:
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
The Illuminati even went so far as to attract German nobles and, admittedly, support from some Masonic lodges. They thrived until internal conflicts occured and the Bavarian government simultaneously oultawed the group’s existence in 1784 which lead to it’s unfortunate demise. During their existence, the Illuminati did remain secretive. This was mainly due to their efforts to subvert the feudalistic system of rule and official sanction given to the Lutheran and Catholic Churches by the German monarchy that existed by educational means.
The group itself was the subject of a book published in 1797 by Scottish physicist John Robison titled Proofs of a Conspiracy. In his book, Robison alleged that The Illuminati had infiltrated the Freemasons and were conducting clandestine acts to subvert the religions and governments of all of Europe. Robison’s book also inspired a rumor started thanks to the publication of a book by French Catholic priest Abbé Augustin Barruel alleging The Illuminati were behind the French Revolution. No evidence has ever been found linking the Illuminists to the French uprising and one Illuminati leader denied any involvement.
In 1903, The Illuminati was resurrected but not for the enlightened purposes of its original founder(s). Supporters of the Czar in Russia resurrected a, then, little-known anti-Semitic pamphlet titled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion which they hoped to be able to link to the Communists in order to discredit them. The interpretation intended by The Protocols’ anonymous author is that if one removes the layers of the Masonic and Illuminati conspiracy, one finds Jews as the masterminds of it.
Interest in conspiracies as told by The Protocols came to Europe thanks to books authored by a woman named Nesta Helen Webster who built and expanded upon the document. She was an historian who authored a book on the French Revolution in which she claimed that the Illuminati was behind the French uprising after all. In the 1920’s Webster would later publish: World Revolution: The Plot Against Civilisation. This book and it’s sequels state that Communism was part of a much older and more secret, self-perpetuating conspiracy. She described three possible sources for this conspiracy: Zionism, Pan-Germanism, or the occult power.
In her writings, which were also inspired by Robison, Webster stated that the Illuminati falsified it’s demise and continued with the help of Freemasons. She alleged that The Illumninati was actually a vehicle for a Jewish plot to lay the groundwork for world domination.
In addition to being an avowed anti-Semite, Nesta Webster delved into occult practices herself. The granddaughter of an Anglican priest, Webster dumped Christianity for Asian and Hindu mysticism. While immersing herself in her new found faiths Webster became convinced that she lead a past life as a wealthy woman in 18th century France. Nesta Webster became active in British Fascist groups, such as the British Union of Fascists and The Link. She would also become the leading writer of an anti-Semitic paper The Patriot where she openly endorsed the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.
Though not intended as a chonology on international conspiracies, author Carol Quigley outlines what looks like one in his book Tragedy and Hope. Oddly enough Quigley’s book does not draw from Nesta Webster or John Robison’s writings. In his book Quigley outlines how the new world order had been partially accomplished by a series of front organizations known as Round Table Groups (such as the Council on Foreign Relations) starting in 1891 by diamond mogul Cecil Rhodes and English nobleman Alfred Milner.
The groups would be a confederation of numerous country’s central bank heads to form the Bank for International Settlements in order to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole.
Televangelist Pat Robertson cites Carol Quigley as his source in his book The New World Order while the John Birch Society cite Quigley and Nesta Webster as the sources of authority on the numerous conspiracy theories they have written about.
Author and conspiracist extraordinaire Jim Marrs would also cite Webster and Quigley (among other authors) in his book Rule By Secrecy. Marrs’ rant links the Milner Group with Skull and Bones, the Trilateral Commission, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Rothschild banks, the Knights Templar, and aliens who posed as the Sumerian gods thousands of years ago.
Spin Doctors of Speculation
When reading literature and websites about conspiracy theories, one need only look at Robison, Webster, and Quigley as the fountainheads of this contemporary speculation. Many people turn to religion to explain what they do not comprehend or events that happen in life. Likewise, people will subscribe to conspiracy theories to make sense of what they cannot comprehend or understand in politics or current events.
However, both are forms of mysticism if not outright irrationalism. And while not everyone who subcribes to or furthers conspiracy theories is an anti-Semite, one could embrace anti-Semitism if they are not mindful of it.
I admit it is tempting to think charlatans, quacks, and demagogues are in cahoots with like-minded politicians, bureaucrats, and academics who not only wish to dumb down the nation but also seek to rule the country and entire world via clandestine or Machiavellian means. Yet conspiracy theories still thrive despite the obvious evidence (such as Watergate, the affairs of President Bill Clinton, and now ex-military analyist Daniel Ellsberg disclosing The Pentagon Papers) that secret, clandestine plots in an open society like ours is nearly impossible.
Worst of all, like anyone suffering from paranoid delusions, speculative mythologians go so far as to allege they are victims of conspiracies against them. On the one hand they author books, articles, and host websites detailing various international conspiracies while describing the elite, all-powerful groups and the important people behind them. Then on the other hand claim they receive death threats or harassment alleging it is related to their activities.
If conspiracist gurus were on hit lists or subjected to persecution they would already be dead or imprisoned, and their books, websites, and articles would no longer be available. Aside from present-day spin doctors of speculation (like Jim Marrs, David Icke, Mark Dice, and Alex Jones) peddling their polytheistic, fusion paranoia which have translated into lucrative careers by applying the Argument from Design meme to events that occur in society, most conspiracists culminate power plots because they assume the people in power are always competent.
Economist Thomas Sowell said it best when he observed:
One of the reasons for conspiracy theories is an assumption that people in high places always know what they are doing. When they do something that makes no sense, devious reasons are imagined by conspiracy theorists, when in fact it may be due to plain old ignorance and incompetence.
The Power Behind the Thrones?
The fact that conspriatorialists still cling to the idea that groups like the Illuminati and Freemasons are the shadowy figures behind the thrones of power are indicative of the irrationalism they purport. Especially the lies about the Illuminati since the group and their members are people libertarians could appreciate or admire.
Reason and logic, not determinism or mysticism, is the best way to explain the events in one’s life and current events. Conspiracy theories are nothing more than subtle attacks on part of proponents on the ideas of the Enlightenment which translates into their hostility to people being able to think and reason for themselves.
The next time you come across books, websites, or periodicals purporting a conspiracy theory, think twice about giving your money since it will help the owners and authors perpetuate their primitive, childish, paranoid, long-winded mythology. All conspiracy theorists can do is culminate their fairy tales based on actual events and link them by speculative means. They can’t prove their simplistic, paranoid delusions any more than religionists can prove the existence of their god.
Conspiracy theories make for good movie and novel plots, but their proponent’s intent is abundantly obvious when one takes account the history of the groups they demonize and the sources of their speculation.