The Influence of the Illuminati and Freemasonry on German Student Orders (and Vice Versa)
by Terry Melanson (7/1/2010)
Not widely known is the fact that some of the key ideas behind the creation of the Bavarian Illuminati came from a member of a German Studentenorden.
In 1776 Adam Weishaupt confided to one of his students, eighteen year-old Franz Anton von Massenhausen, that he was thinking of creating a secret society (at the University of Ingolstadt) to combat the influence of both the Jesuits and the Rosicrucians. Massenhausen had told Weishaupt that this was a good idea, and that he already had some experience in this area. Before matriculating at Ingolstadt, Massenhausen informed his teacher, he had been a member of a student secret society in Göttingen; he went on to describe the manner in which they operated, its statutes, and the attire they wore. Taking this as a model, then, on May 1st 1776 Weishaupt, Massenhausen and three others, formed the Order of the Perfectibilists.1
It is ironic that such should be the case, for afterwards the Illuminati, in turn, had not only infiltrated various educational establishments but student societies as well. As Klaus Epstein explains it:
The famous Karlsschule in Stuttgart (Schiller’s alma mater) had several Illuminati on its staff. The educational movement headed by Basedow taught Illuminati principles, though Basedow himself apparently never joined the order. The University of Göttingen had several Illuminati among its professors, which led Weishaupt to exclaim with surprise that Ingolstadt was giving the law to its far more distinguished North German rival. Tutorial positions offered excellent leverage for working for the future triumph of the Aufklärung: the prominent Illuminat Leuchsenring served, for example, as tutor to the Prussian crown prince who became Frederick William III (though the later conduct of his pupil must have disappointed him).2 The two leading student societies (Studentenorden), the Konstantisten and the Schwarze Brüder, were both infiltrated by Illuminati. The actual influence of the order upon the education of Germany’s youth obviously cannot be quantitatively defined, and statistical calculations of the infiltration of the professorate are equally impossible to make.3 These examples suffice to explain, however, the fact that Conservatives called for a drastic purge of educational institutions.4
There’s a description of the German student orders, in an 1859 book by Karl von Raumer, which specifically mentions both the Konstantisten and the Black brothers (or the Black Order):
[The Students’ Orders] arose about the middle of the eighteenth century. The first prohibition of them appeared at Göttingen, in 1748, and was repeated in 1760 and 1762. In the latter year appears the first trace of the same at Erlangen, in 1765 at Tubingen; in the same year, 1765, appeared the first prohibition of them at Jena, and another in 1767. A third came out in 1795, in connection with an imperial edict against secret societies; and a similar one was then issued in the Prussian universities and at Altdorf. In 1802, Meiners announces, with satisfaction, of Gottingen, that “it is now some years since the strictest inquiry could detect any of the orders at our university;” although he naively adds, in a note, that “within a very short period traces of an order have been discovered.” An accident, as I myself remember, led to this discovery. A student was drowned, and in sealing up his effects, a list was found of names of members (Konstantisten). Thus the orders lasted until the first years of the nineteenth century. At the time of the rise of the Burschenschaft (1816), they seem to have disappeared. I find no record of any contest of the Burschenschaft with the orders, but only against the Landsmannschaften.
What distinction existed between these Orders and the Landsmannschaften or Nations? There must have been one, because they were always at enmity. Meiners says that they had much in common in their organization, and that the orders differed from the Landsmannschaften “only in that they admitted members without regard to their nationality.” This was, it is true, one distinction, but not the only one; a second was, the adoption by the orders of symbols analogous to those of the Free Masons. Thus, there were found, in 1765, “traces of a lodge of Free Masons among the students at Tübingen.” Klüpfel says, “most of the orders in the universities were off-shoots of Free Masonry.” In like manner, Englehardt says that the Order of the Cross, founded in 1762, was organized throughout in the forms of Free Masonry. “In the place of assembly of the order, there was a basin with water, whose symbolic meaning was explained to those initiated; a statue of friendship, and one of virtue, skulls, a cross of the order, with sun, moon, and stars, and a crucifix.” The university senate reported, in 1767, that it had taken away some insignia of an order from some students, and that the orders, in spite of prohibitions, were universal, both in Erlangen and the other German universities, and that scarcely a student could be found who did not belong to an order.
In 1770 the Order of Coopers was discovered, which held lodges, had degrees, and had a destructive influence. The Black Order, or Order of Harmony, arose in 1771, at Erlangen, and had members in Nuremberg and Coburg. Its grand lodge was in Brunswick. In 1797 were found in the papers of this order catechisms of the first, second, and third grades, with symbols having an ethical signification. “The ceremonies of admission were adopted from the Free Masons, with whom the Black Order seems to have maintained very friendly relations. The statutes of this order named Pythagoras as their first known master.” So much will serve to describe this order as such; and it also appears that they were not confined to the universities, nor to students. The same was the case with the Constantists, who existed at Halle in 1786, and had afterward (about 1798), members in civil and military stations at Berlin. Their laws seem to have included the reckless Jacobinical religious and political opinions; and the Prussian ministry believed “that the revolutionists sought to make use of the students in their designs.”
What I find interesting about the above account is not only had the student orders cribbed from the Masons for their initiation ceremonies, but in Tübingen there was even a Masonic lodge discovered at the University. The Black brothers, it was mentioned, were also said to have “maintained very friendly relations” with the Masons. This happens to coincide with what Illuminati historian René Le Forestier had written as well.
The four major student orders during the time of the Illuminati were the Amicisten (or Amizisten), Constantisten, Unitisten and the Harmonisten. According to Le Forestier, the Amicists were formed in 1771, at Jena, by a few members of an even earlier society called the Mosellaner (or Moselbund), and had formed lodges or cenacles in Giessen, Marburg, Göttingen, Erlangen, Erfurt, Tübingen, Leipzig, Wurzburg, Frankfurt an der Oder and Vienna. In 1779, the authorities in Jena had relegated a number of Amicists and dissolved their lodges. They reformed in 1784, but the dissolution of the Mosellaner in 1792 signalled the beginning of the end (though some Amicists were still operating in 1811 at Leipzig, Jena and Halle). The Constantists, founded at Halle in 1777, established themselves at Jena in 1783 and spread to Giessen, Erlangen, Leipzig, Heidelberg, Frankfurt an der Oder and Vienna. Their appearance at Jena, Wittenberg and Göttingen had caused strife with other already-established student orders; quarrels and duels quickly ensued. The Constantists, writes Le Forestier, had disappeared by 1803. In the same year the Unitists had gone extinct as well. They were formed in 1771 at Halle, had rites composed of three degrees, and founded lodges at Jena, Göttingen, Leipzig, Erlangen and Frankfurt an der Oder. The Order of the Black Brothers was created by former members of the Amicists in 1781. They had adopted the Scottish rite degrees in 1785, and thenceforth took the name of the Order of Harmony – thus it would seem that they maintained more than just “friendly relations” with the Freemasonry. One of their lodges, “Christian among the Seven Golden Stars” [Christian zu den sieben Goldenen Sternen], was suppressed in 1796, and they were the subject of an inquest in 1797. The Lodges of the Black Brothers/Harmonists still existed in 1799 at Heidelberg, Giessen, Marburg, and Göttingen; and in 1804 they had voluntarily dissolved.5
Perhaps Le Forestier was mistaken about the date, place and founding of the Constantists, for it seems there was a Constantisten Order at the University of Göttingen in 1770, where, according to Arnold Brügmann, none other than Illuminatus Baron von Knigge (1752-1796) was a member.6 Knigge had indeed been studying at the University of Göttingen from 1769-1771, and an account in Steven Luckert’s invaluable thesis lends further support to the notion.
During his years of study at Göttingen, Knigge had been a member of the so-called Constantists (one of the popular student secret societies). Right from the start, he exhibited great skills as well as his ambition to rule. Within a short time, he made himself known in the order, and even proposed a new plan, that was eventually accepted, which extended beyond one’s years of study – for one’s lifetime. This change in statutes, however, brought with it new responsibilities. Knigge expected that each member, following graduation, would continue to submit monthly reports detailing his circumstances as well as information taken from government cabinets. While his plan failed because many students, having attained a post, ceased to send in their reports, the article’s author emphasized that this example showed that a student order could even be manipulated to commit acts of espionage, if a “wily man” stood behind it. But failure in no way hindered Knigge – he continued his personal odyssey in search of the ideal clandestine organization, until he found in Weishaupt a worthy companion, equally determined to rule the world.7
Luckert’s source was the counter-revolutionary journal Eudämonia oder Deutsches Volksglück: Ein Journal für Freunde von Wahrheit und Recht [Eudämonia or the Happiness of Germany: A Journal for the Friends of Truth and Justice], extant from 1795 to 1798. (If Luckert had doubts, however, the paragraph cited above would have included cautionary prepositions such as “according to,” “it is claimed” or “we are led to believe,” etc.) The “Eudämonists” were reactionary ex-Illuminati/Masons-turned-conservatives. Authors such as L. A. C. von Grolmann (1741-1809), J. A. Starck (1741-1816), H. A. O. Reichard (1751-1828) and L. A. Hoffmann (1760-1806) – all former Illuminati except for Starck.8
One of Knigge’s friends and defenders, the revolutionary activist and widely-read liberal journalist, G.F. Rebmann (1768-1824) was known to also have been a member of a student order – the Black Brothers. (And he’s listed in Schuttler’s Die Mitglieder des Illuminatenordens, but with an asterisk i.e. not confirmed).9 Rebmann was a supporter of the French Revolution, once praised the Illuminati as the precursors of the Jacobins, and was a favourite target of the Eudämonists.
In 1792/93, apparently the Erlangen authorities were after Rebmann for incendiary writings. “According to one published report,” wrote Luckert:
during the course of his flight to asylum, he stopped off in Göttingen, where he was given a hearty reception by his “brothers,” the members of the Black order, as a “martyr for the order’s principles.” During the course of the festivities, Rebmann regaled the audience, which also included non-members, with the tale of his flight to freedom. He succeeded in escaping with the aid of two accomplices – a “black brother” and his wife who lived in a neighbouring city. The couple drove up in a carriage to his hideout in Erfurt and Rebmann was able to escape by concealing himself under the woman’s skirts.10
Another link between the student orders and the Illuminati concerns the activities of Illuminatus J. L. J. Greineisen (1751-1831).11 Greineisen was arrested for giving “Jacobin” speeches at the University of Giessen and for “participating in an illegal student order.” The Eudämonist Grolmann was directly involved in Greineisen’s persecution and subsequent conviction, and recounted that “the authorities found in his possession some papers that not only contained what they determined were many principles of Illuminatism, but a completed new grade for a student order. In addition, Grolman cited one of these confiscated documents, which urged members to seek out and make friendly contact with the Illuminati.”12
German idealist, philosopher J. G. Fichte (1762-1814) was another target of the counter-revolutionaries. He was accused of being an atheist, an Illuminatus (though he wasn’t),13 and a corruptor of youth. Fichte’s unwavering support for the French Revolution, even during the Great Terror, hardly helped the situation. (The Eudämonists didn’t know it at the time, but Fichte became a member of the Rudolstadt Masonic Lodge ‘Günther zum stehenden Löwen,’ in 1794. The Master of the Lodge was none other than F. W. L. von Beulwitz (1755-1829), the head of the Rudolstadt Illuminati since 1784.)14
Fichte was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Jena in 1794, where he was “a sensational lecturer, attracting streams of students who became his personal devotees. He eloquently preached the liberty and equality of all men, lectured on Sundays, became involved in the affairs of the student orders, and engaged in journalistic controversy on the nature of God.”15 This conforms to what the Eudämonists wrote, that Fichte “held secret meetings at night with students.”16 In addition, it is now known that Fichte, while a student at Leipzig, became a member of the Black brothers/Harmonists (c. 1781/82).17 They were still active at the University of Jena while he was there. In fact, the Harmonists’ Lodge ‘Christian among the Seven Golden Stars,’ mentioned above (which was suppressed in 1796), was in Jena.18 In 1795, however, Fichte criticized the student orders for “encouraging drunkenness, debauchery and duelling,” which resulted in a disruption of his lectures followed by insults and the stoning of his house.19
During the Napoleonic Wars German nationalism took hold and the old student orders were displaced with Burschenschaften.
The dream arose that the liberation of the fatherland would result in a spiritual revival and territorial unification of the German people. Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) provided the intellectual legitimacy for this cultural nationalism with political consequences in the winter of 1807-8, in his Reden an die Deutsche Nation (Speeches to the German Nation). And Ernst Moritz Arndt (1769-1860) continued the emotional tone in 1813 in the song he composed with the question ‘Where is my German Fatherland?’, with the reply ‘as far as the German tongue rings’. His article Über den deutschen Studentenstaat, in which he pinned great hopes on the student generation of that time, also found great resonance in the academic world.
Under the influence of this new spirit, student movements emerged in many cities. In Berlin, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778-1852) – the founder of the gymnastics movement – together with his friend, the philosophy professor much admired in student circles, Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), started in 1811 the secret student association Deutscher Bund which would prepare them for the coming war of liberation. Two years later, students from Jena with support of some professors founded a first Urburschenschaft under the motto ‘Ehre, Freiheit, Vaterland’. It was a fighting German national association, which aimed to promote the establishment of a liberal constitutional state for the whole of the fatherland.20
This helps put into perspective a curious and descriptive account, found in an 1813 official report from Mainz special police commissioner, auditor to the Council of State, intelligence bureau chief for Germany, François-Charles de Berckheim [Baron Franz Karl von Berckheim (1785-1836)]:
Monseigneur, they write to me from Heidelberg … that a great number of initiates into the mysteries of Illuminism are to be found there.
These gentlemen wear as a sign of recognition a gold ring on the third finger of the left hand; on the back of this ring there is a little rose, in the middle of this rose is an almost imperceptible dint; by pressing this with the point of a pin one touches a spring, by this means the two gold circles are detached. On the inside of the first of these circles is the device: “Be German as you ought to be”; on the inside of the second of these circles are engraved the words “Pro Patria.”21
There were more radical, conspiratorial, and revolutionary groups within the Urburschenschaft, such as the Unbedingten (Unconditionals) and the “Giessen Blacks” – Karl Follen (1796-1840) and his protégé, Karl Sand (1795-1820) were amongst its leaders. Sand would assassinate the conservative dramatist August von Kotzebue in 1819, which led to the Carlsbad Decrees and the repression known as the Demagogenverfolgung. Follen was suspected of being involved and he eventually fled to Chur, Switzerland. “None of Follen’s political associates in Jena had the slightest doubt that he was a ‘German devil’ and a ‘bloody revolutionary.’”22 Prussian historian Heinrich von Treitschke would famously describe Follen as a “petty Robespierre … endowed with great terroristic powers.”23
A recent remarkable biography of Karl Follen consolidates and assesses the scattered, but increasingly voluminous research into his life and times.24 Follen et al. – the Giessen Blacks and the Unconditionals – it turns out – were akin to terroristic nihilists. On July 1st in the same year as the Kotzebue assassination there was a failed attempt on the life of Karl von Ibell (1780-1834) by a Giessen Black and Follen associate, Karl Löning (1791-1819). Löning was arrested, imprisoned, and committed suicide by swallowing broken glass. Löning was practically brainwashed, much like Sand, by the rhetoric of the radicals in Jena and Giessen. Reminiscent of the all-too-familiar Muslim Jihadists, Löning was convinced he was doing “something good, which pleased God and humanity.” Friedrich Münch (1799-1881), a friend of both Karl and his brother Paul Follen, wrote that Karl Follen wished “to intimidate government authorities” and make them think “that his secret conspiracy of political murderers could strike anytime and anywhere they chose to.”25 Löning’s justification for the attempted assassination was in whole the doctrine of Karl Follen, Jakob Fries, the Giessen Blacks and the Unconditionals. “Follen may not have directly ordered Sand and Löning to murder specific individuals,” writes Spevack; “he did, however, explicitly recommend murder to them as a political tool as often as he could.”26
In Spevack’s book the doctrine espoused is described as the “principal of conviction,” while Treitschke calls it a “cult of personal conviction”:
It was bluntly declared that for the righteous man no law was of account. What the reason recognises as true must be realised by the moral will, at once, unconditionally, uncompromisingly, even to the point of annihilating all those who hold different opinions; there cannot be any talk of a conflict of duties, for the realisation of the reason is a moral necessity. This proposition was known simply as “the principle,” and it was on its account that Follen’s confidants termed themselves the “Unconditionals.” To the members of this sect it seemed that anything was permissible for the sake of popular freedom – lying, murder, or any other crime – for no one had the right to withhold freedom from the people.
Thus did the evangel of the overthrow of all moral and political order make its first appearance in Germany, that terrible theory which, under many different cloaks, was ever and again to disturb the century, and which was finally to receive its extremest development in the doctrine of the Russian nihilists. But Follen draped his nihilism in a Christian mantle: Jesus, the martyr of conviction, was the Unconditionals’ hero; their association-song declared “A Christ shalt thou become!”27
In 1819 the assassinations of the Duchess Dowager of Russia, as well as Czar Alexander I, were also contemplated by the Follen Unconditionals.28 Russia was, after all, integral to the Holy Alliance and the Metternichian suppression of real and imagined revolutionaries. Kotzebue was assassinated because of his ties to the court of Russia, as well as his vilification of various radical factions within Germany.
The Kotzebue assassination had an “electric effect on wavering revolutionaries,” wrote James H. Billington.29 Chief among them was the Filippo Buonarroti (1761-1837) accomplice – Mason and Carbonaro, Philadelphe and a Sublime Maître Parfait – Joachim Paul de Prati (1790-1863). To Prati, this was a striking example of the “power of fanaticism,” and an inspiring “signal for a general combat.”
…from that moment all my mind became as it were inflamed for political strife; from that moment I plunged headlong in a continual series of conspiracies and revolutionary commotions.30
It was while in exile in Chur that Karl Follen had met Prati,31 and, together with Wilhelm Snell (1789-1851) committed to forming a conspiratorial triumvirate-junta, in April 1820.
Twelve men, from different countries, should act as leaders. Each of the twelve were entitled to form as many secret societies as they thought proper, in order to associate the army, the nobility, the students, the craftsmen, and others, whilst the political creed was adapted according to their peculiar notions, but leaving them in the dark as to the first and more secret union. Thus the mysterious “Männerbund” was established with the aim to unite and republicanise Germany, whilst for the students the “Jünglingsbund” was organized. It was planned to recruit political associates in Italy, France and Germany. Snell left for Germany, Follen for Paris, Prati for Italy. Follen was in Paris from May-July 1820, where he met Voyer d’Argenson and Joseph Rey, who had founded in 1816 at Grenoble a secret society “Union”, of which in Paris Lafayette and Voyer d’Argenson were members. Implicated in the conspiracy of Nantil, 19th August 1820, Rey fled to Switzerland. There, at the end of that year, he met Prati and Wilhelm Snell, and then discussed plans to internationalize “Union” and the “Männerbund”. The “Männerbund” was dependent, as was stated in the “mémoire” for Metternich “on that secret centre which has secretly directed the greater part of the secret societies of Europe for years”. In other words: on Buonarroti.32
Follen’s Jünglingsbund (Youth League) seems to have been formed, but the directing body, Männerbund (League of Men) was not.
The 1820s were a prime time for secret societies of all stripes. Follen’s exploits and connections enabled him – however briefly – to rub shoulders with the “crème de la crème” of the European-wide revolutionary movement. He stayed in Switzerland until 1824, escaping the authorities in Germany and Prussia for five years. Finally, he realized it wasn’t safe any longer and fled for good to the United States. Through the aid Lafayette, Karl Follen was accepted into the faculty at Harvard, becoming the University’s first professor of German.
2 Referring, of course, to the fact that Frederick William became an initiate of the Golden and Rosy Cross and a determined adversary of the Illuminati and the Enlightenment (see Perfectibilists, pp. 19-20, 24-25 and notes).
3 Epstein was writing in 1966, before the membership studies of Richard van Dülmen and Hermann Schüttler. With the publication of Schüttler’s Die Mitglieder des Illuminatenordens 1776-1787/93 [The Members of the Order of the Illuminati 1776-1787/93] (Munich: Ars Una 1991), in particular, it seems very likely that the impossibility of the situation has definitely become feasible (should someone wish to undertake such a study).
4 The Genesis of German Conservatism, Princeton University Press, 1966, p. 84.
5 Le Forestier, op. cit., pp. 704-5.
6 Zucht und Leben der deutschen Studenten, 1648-1848 (Berlin: Limpert, 1941), p. 118.
7 Luckert, op. cit., pp. 589-90.
8 See Perfectibilists, op. cit., pp. 121-3 and notes.
9 In the Rebmann bio in Schüttler (p. 123), we read: “Mitglied der ‘Schwarzen Brüder’ in Göttingen” [Member of the ‘Black Brothers’ in Göttingen].
10 Luckert, op. cit., p. 594.
11 Listed as a member in Schüttler, op. cit., p. 63; it’s suspect, however, because there is only one citation for the claim, and though it is a reliable one, the work is far from a primary source: Manfred Agethen, Geheimbund und Utopie. Illuminaten, Freimaurer und deutsche Spätaufklärung (München 1987), p. 189.
12 Luckert, op. cit., p. 595.
13 A good many of Fichte’s friends were indeed Illuminati, and he was active as a Mason in the 1790s. For a meticulous look into Fichte’s association and correspondences with Masons and Illuminati, see the excellent work Radrizzani et al., J.G. Fichte: Philosophie de la maçonnerie et autres textes (Vrin: 1995).
14 See Ibid., p. 167 and Schüttler, op. cit., p. 23.
15 R.R. Palmer, The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 – II: The Struggle, Princeton University Press, 1970, pp. 449-50.
16 Luckert, op. cit., p. 591.
17 Bernhard Schroeter (ed.), Für Burschenschaft und Vaterland: Festschrift für den Burschenschafter und Studentenhistoriker Prof. Dr. Peter Kaupp, Jena 2006, p. 207.
18 Ibid., p. 206.
19 Immanuel Kant, Arnulf Zweig (ed.), Correspondence (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 527; cf. Luckert, op. cit., p. 592.
20 Gevers and Vos, “Student Movements,” in Walter Rüegg (ed.), A History of the University in Europe: Volume 3, Universities in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (1800-1945), Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 273.
21 Nesta H. Webster, Secret Societies and Subversive Movements, A & B Publishers Group, 1998, p. 259.
22 Jürgen Heideking, James A. Henretta (eds.), Republicanism and Liberalism in America and the German States, 1750-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 240.
23 Heinrich von Treitschke, Eden & Cedar Paul (trs.), Treitschke’s History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, v. 3, London: 1917, p. 606.
24 Edmund Spevack, Charles Follen’s Search for Nationality and Freedom: Germany and America, 1796-1840 (Harvard University Press, 1997).
25 Ibid., pp. 77-8.
26 Ibid., p. 79.
27 Treitschke, op. cit., p. 71.
28 Spevack, op. cit., p. 80.
29 James H. Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men (Basic Books, 1980), p. 138.
31 Curiously, Prati was for a time a teacher at Illuminatus Pestalozzi’s communitarian school at Yverdon, and had even become a practising Mesmerist: see, Richard Haven, “Dr. de’Prati: A Note and a Query,” in Victorian Periodicals Newsletter, No. 16, [Vol. 5, No. 2] (Jun., 1972), p. 47.
32 Arthur Lehning, “Buonarroti and His International Secret Societies” in International Review of Social History (1956), I, p. 125.