Originally Published at Conspiracy Archive on 2009/05/19

Theirs and mine…

Many so called secret societies figure in conspiracy theories as bodies, secretly ruling the world. But do you think some of these societies accomplished something really significant in reality? Or are they only ordinary groups of people with common interests who maybe sometimes delight in being seen in mysterious way?

The heyday of secret societies occurred during the 18th Century. We see the birth of Freemasonry-proper along with its enumerable offshoots or extensions, as well as the more socio-political variety represented by the Bavarian Illuminati. But, all of them – without exception – as you say – “delight[ed] in being seen in [a] mysterious way.”

The Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Criticism also gave birth to the modern conspiracy theory. And this is due, in large measure, to the very real machinations of the Bavarian Illuminati. When John Robison wrote Proofs of a Conspiracy in 1797; a more apt title there was not. Through defectors from the secret society itself to the confiscation of internal correspondences by the government, it was learned that the Illuminati’s sole raison d’être was infiltration and subversion – a conspiracy through-and-through. One did not need further “theorizing,” for the Illuminati was a concrete manifestation of everyone’s worst fears.

On the political program of the Illuminati, the late great, German historian Reinhart Koselleck wrote (utilizing primary sources, of course):

Education, training, propaganda and enlightenment were in themselves not enough to achieve the moral objective. Its attainment called for political action, to make virtue triumph over evil. ‘Not words, deeds are what is required here.’ The ‘plan of operation’ for fighting the rule of evil was drawn up by the council of ‘regents’. The programme of political action called for the indirect, silent occupation of the State. ‘The princely dicasteries and councils’ were gradually to be staffed ‘by the zealous members of the order’, that is the State was to be absorbed from the inside. In this way the Illuminati would be able to accomplish ‘still more’, they said, ‘than if the prince himself were a member of the order’. Once the order held all key positions – in Bavaria they thought that six hundred members would suffice – than [sic] it would ‘have gained enough power…to be able, if it so chooses, in a given place, to become terribly dangerous to those who do not co-operate’. The State is run from the moral inner space, and the rule of freedom is thereby protected. At this point the order ‘no longer has to fear the government, but on the contrary it holds the government in its hands’ (Critique and Crises: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society, MIT Press, 1998, p. 93)

When you asked if these societies accomplished something real, the answer is yes. The Illuminati proved beyond doubt – perhaps for the first time in modern history – that cabals have indeed been conspiring behind the scenes; have been successful to varying degrees; have remained entirely secret for extended periods of time; and have had decidedly subversive goals of occupying or overturning the established order of the day. A present day equivalent to this phenomenon is the entire octopus of Propaganda Due and Gladio (even Ergenekon). (Dan Edelstein, your third respondent, rightly mentions the 19th Century Carbonari and the later Germanic cults that gave rise to Nazism such as the Thule Society. I would also include in this category the entire apparatus of 19th century revolutionary secret societies modelled upon, or inspired by, the Illuminati in one form or another: the Camorra and the Decisi; the Philadelphes, Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits and Monde; Young Italy, Young Europe, Young America, etc.; the Young Turks; the Decembrists; Speshnev and the Petrashevsky circle; the Society of the Seasons; the League of Outlaws and the League of the Just.)

Probably the most popular (if we can use the word popular) are Freemasons? Why?

Of all the secret societies during the Enlightenment, the Freemasons are (probably) the only group that has survived intact since then. It has millions of members worldwide; a closed system with its membership roster not available for inspection. Whether or not its professed aims are good or not, the Lodges of Freemasonry have been utilized, in some fashion or another, by revolutionaries since the 18th Century: the Illuminati; the Jacobins; the Carbonari; Buonarroti and his secret societies; Blanquists, socialists, communists, and anarchists; the Order of Mizraim and the Philadelphes; the Decembrists; the Young Turks; the Grand Orient of France and Italy and P2.

Secret societies are a necessary precondition to corruption. The ubiquity and inherent secrecy of Freemasonry lends itself to conspiracy, or at the very least, cronyism.

As a Mason wrote to me once:

In my lodge alone we have Mayors from three surrounding townships as well as several police chiefs and officers and other ‘notable’ members of the community…

And those other “’notable’ members of the community” are – I have no doubt – lawyers and prosecutors and judges and city councilman and business elite. And guess what? They are intimately aware of exactly who is or isn’t “on the square.” Joe-blow simply does not have such an advantage; to his own detriment and society at large. (In my city the most successful lawyers are Masons – one even had his office in the same building as the local lodge. Do you think that is accident? “Justice” is carried out according to how they see fit.)

Why do the people tend to believe that there is someone who is secretly ruling the world? Why is the idea of secret societies, comprised of rich / powerful / educated / religious people so popular?

You’d be a fool to dismiss history, human nature, and the old adage “…absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And while academia’s current agenda is to describe networks of power in terms of sociology or group psychology, and a concerted effort has been undertaken to diminish (to eradicate, even) the traditional meaning of conspiracy; it amounts to semantics.

Dictionaries do not include in their definitions of conspiracy the following snippet: “…in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, conspiracy theory is…” However, here’s a conspiracy “theory” for you: they soon will.