Illuminati and the French Revolution
Outside of Bavaria numerous factors contributed to create the same general impression in the public mind. Among these were the efforts of the Rosicrucians to play upon the fears that the Illuminati had awakened, and the mistaken connections which, in the Protestant world, were commonly made between the members of the Order of the Illuminati and the representatives and promoters of the Aufklanmg.
Following the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, members of that order in considerable numbers, attracted by the rapid growth and the pretentious occultism of the Rosicrucians, had united with the latter system. The result was the infusion of a definite strain of clericalism into the order of the Rosicrucians and, in consequence, a renewal of the attack upon the Illuminati. In Prussia, where the Rosicrucians had firmly established themselves in Berlin, King Frederick William II was under the influence of Wollner, one of his ministers and a leading figure in the Rosicrucian system.
Through the latter's relations with Frank, who at the time stood at the head of the Rosicrucian order in Bavaria, the Prussian monarch was easily persuaded that the operations of the Illuminati had not only been extended to his own territories, but throughout all Germany. Encouraged by Wollner, Frederick William took it upon himself to warn neighboring monarchs respecting the peril which he believed threatened, a course which bore at least one definite result in the measures taken by the elector of Saxony to investigate the situation at Leipzig where, according to the king of Prussia, a meeting of the chiefs of the Illuminati had been effected.:1 Thus the notion that the order of the Illuminati was still in existence was accorded the sanction of influential monarchs.
The disposition of orthodox Protestants to confuse the advocates of rationalism with the membership of the Illuminati finds its suggestion of plausibility at a glance and stands in little need of specific historical proof. The general effect of the undermining of traditional faiths, for which the dominating influences of the period of the Aufklarung were responsible, was to create the impression among the more simple-minded and credulous elements in the Protestant world that a vast combination of forces was at work, all hostile to the Christian religion and all striving to supplant faith by reason. So vast and significant a movement of thought naturally enough tended to engender various suspicions, and among these is to be numbered the naive conviction that the order which the Bavarian government had felt compelled to stamp out, on account of its alleged impiety and its immoral and anarchical principles, was but a local expression of the prevailing opposition to the established systems and orthodox doctrines of the age.
By such means, and in such widely diverse and irrational ways, the popular belief in the survival of the defunct Order of the Illuminati was kept alive and supplied with definite points of attachment; but it remained for the French Revolution, in all the rapidity and vastness of its developments and in the terrifying effects which its more frightful aspects exercised upon its observers, to offer the most exciting suggestions and to stimulate to the freest play the imaginations of those who were already persuaded that the secret associations that plagued Bavaria still lived to trouble the earth.
The supposed points of connection between the Order of the Illuminati and the French Revolution were partly tangible, though decidedly elusive, but much more largely of the nature of theories framed to meet the necessities of a case which in the judgment of dilettante historians positively required the hypothesis of a diabolical conspiracy against thrones and altars (ie, the civil power and the church), though the labors of Hercules might have to be exceeded in putting the same to paper.
The public discussion of the affairs and principles of Weishaupt's organization, to which attention has already been called in various connections, continued with unabated zeal even beyond the close of the eighteenth century. At the very hour when the Revolution was shocking the world by its lapse from its orignal self-control into its horrible massacres, execution of monarchs, guillotine-lust, and ferocious struggles between parties, new pamphlets and reviews bearing on the demolished order's constitution and objects found their way into the channels of public communication.
As for contemporary historians who searched for specific evidence of an alliance between the Illuminati of Germany and the Revolutionists in France, their energies were chiefly employed in the development of a clue which had as its kernel the supposed introduction of Illuminism into France at the hands of the French revolutionary leader, Mirabeau, and the German savant, Bode.2 Unfolded, this view of the case may be stated briefly as follows: Mirabeau, during his residence at Berlin, in the years 1786 and 1787, came into touch with the Illuminati of that city and was received as an adept into the order. Upon his return to Paris he made the attempt to introduce Illuminism into that particular branch of Masonry of which he was also a member.
At every point this fantastic exposition suffered the fatal defect of a lack of historical proof. Even the specific assertions of its inventors which were most necessary to their hypothesis were disproved by the facts brought to light by more cautious and unbiased investigators who followed. E. g., the idea of Mirabeau's intimate connection with the program of the Order of the Illuminati and his profound faith in it as the best of all instruments for the work of social amelioration is rendered untenable the moment the rash and unrepublican temper of his spirit is called seriously to mind.
A more silly exposition of the relation of the Illuminati to the French Revolution is that found in the fabulous tale related by the notorious Sicilian impostor, Giuseppe Balsamo ("Count" Alessandro Cagliostro), who, in 1790, having been arrested at Rome and interrogated by officials respecting his revolutionary principles, attempted to divert suspicion by recounting experiences he claimed to have had with two chiefs of the Illuminati, at Mitau, near Frankfort, Germany. Revelations had been made to him at that time (1780), he alleged, to the effect that the Order of the Illuminati was able to number 20,000 lodges, scattered through Europe and America; that its agents were industriously operating in all European courts, particularly, being lavishly financed with funds drawn from the immense treasures of the order; and that the next great blow of the order was to be delivered against the government of France.
In the year 1797 there appeared at Edinburgh, Scotland, a volume bearing the following title: Proofs of a Conspiracy against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of the Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies. Its author, John Robison, was a mathematician, scientific writer, and lecturer in the field of natural philosophy, of considerable ability and distinction. The connections he enjoyed throughout his life were of the best.
Robison does not wholly miss the true point in his survey of the backgrounds of the French Revolution. He points out numerous " cooperating causes" which served to make the Revolution inevitable. " Perhaps there never was a nation where all these cooperating causes had acquired greater strength than in France. Oppressions of all kinds were at a height. The luxuries of life were enjoyed exclusively by the upper classes, and this in the highest degree of refinement; so that the desires of the rest were whetted to the utmost. Even religion appeared in an unwelcome form, and seemed chiefly calculated for procuring establishments for the younger sons of insolent and useless nobility. For numbers of men of letters were excluded, by their birth, from all hopes of advancement to the higher stations in the church. These men frequently vented their discontents by secretly joining the laics in their bitter satires on such in the higher orders of the clergy, as had scandalously departed from the purity and simplicity of manners which Christianity enjoins. Such examples were not unfrequent, and none was spared in those bitter invectives. Under the pressure imposed upon private and public discussion by the state and by the church, men of letters, avocats cut parlement, unbeneficed abbes, impecunious youths, and self-styled philosophers thronged the halls of the lodges, eager to take advantage of the opportunity their secret assemblies afforded to discuss the most intimate concerns of politics and religion. The faith of the nation was shaken.
These "cooperating causes" receive little emphasis, however, in Robison's zealous effort to trace the revolutionary spirit to its lair in the Masonic lodges of France. Thus the Masonic lodges in France were made " the hot-beds, where the seeds were sown, and tenderly reared, of all the pernicious doctrines which soon after choaked every moral or religious cultivation, and have made . . . Society worse than a waste. ..." Robison's account of this phase of the situation has little to commend it. Upon his own unsupported assertions many of the Revolutionary leaders, as, for example, Mirabeau, Sieves, Despremenil, Bailly, Fauchet, Maury, Mounier, and Talleyrand, are brought into direct connection with one or another of the French Masonic systems.
Augustin Barruel (1741-1820) was a French controversialist and publicist, whose zeal was aroused in the defence of traditional ecclesiastical institutions and doctrines, in opposition to rationalistic tendencies manifest in the eighteenth century. In 1794 Barruel published his well-known Histoire du clerge de France, pendant la revolution francaise, as a Jesuit, enjoying literary talents much superior to those of Robison and relying upon documentary evidence more copious if not more convincing.
"... we shall demonstrate that, even to the most horrid deeds perpetrated during the French Revolution, everything was foreseen and resolved on, was combined and premeditated: that they were the offspring of deepthought villainy, since they had been prepared and were produced by men, who alone held the clue of those plots and conspiracies, lurking in the secret meetings where they had been conceived, and only watching the favorable moment of bursting forth."
The sole proposition which Barruel proposed to maintain is thus made clear enough. All the developments of the French Revolution were to be explained on the basis of the following postulate: The Encyclopedists, Freemasons, and Bavarian Illuminati, working together, not unconsciously but with well-planned coordination, produced the Jacobins, and the Jacobins in turn produced the Revolution. Over all, embracing all, the word "conspiracy" must needs be written large. The first definite step in this campaign of the philosophers is declared to have been the publication of L'Encyclopedie; the second, the suppression of the Jesuits and the widespread elimination of religious houses; and the third, the capture of the French Academy by the philosophers and the diversion of its honors to impious writers.
Some powerful secret agency was needed, however, to promote this vast conspiracy. The lodges of Freemasonry suggested a tempting possibility. The members of the craft gave ample evidence that they were susceptible. The occult lodges, moreover, already had traveled far toward the goal of revolution. All their protests to the contrary, their one secret was: " Equality and Liberty; all men are equals and brothers; all men are free." The general idea that the Freemasons were responsible for the campaign against monarchy and the Catholic religion which, many believed, characterized the greater part of the eighteenth century, had already been made familiar to the French by the ecclesiastics Larudan and Lefranc.
An alliance was speedily consummated, and a fresh torrent of declamation and calumnies, all directed against the altar and the throne, began to pour through these newly discovered subterranean channels. The Grand Orient constituted a central committee which as early as 1776 instructed the deputies of the lodges throughout France to prepare the brethren for insurrection.3 Condorcet and Sieyes placed themselves at the head of another lodge, to which the Propaganda was to be traced. In addition, a secret association bearing the title Amis des Noirs created a regulating committee, composed of such men as Condorcet, the elder Mirabeau, Sieyes, Brissot, Carra, the Due de la Rochefoucauld, Claviere, Lepelletier de Saint-Fargeau, Valade, La Fayette, and Bergasse. This regulating committee was also in intimate correspondence with the French lodges of Freemasonry. Thus a powerful secret organization was at hand, composed of not less than six hundred thousand members all told, at least five hundred thousand of whom could be fully counted upon to do the bidding of the conspirators, " all zealous for the Revolution, all ready to rise at the first signal and to impart the shock to all other classes of the people."
However, all these machinations might have come to naught had it not been for the encouragement and direction supplied by the Illuminati. In the latter Barruel saw the apotheosis of infamy and corruption. With diabolical ingenuity the chiefs of the Illuminati succeeded in evolving an organization which put into the hands of the conspirators, i.e., the philosophers and Freemasons, the very instrument they needed to give full effect to their plans. The superiority of that organization was to be seen in its principles of general subordination and the gradation of superiors, in the minute instructions given to adepts and officers covering every conceivable responsibility and suggesting infinite opportunities to promote the order's welfare, and in the absolute power of its general. Thus was built up a hierarchy of savants, an association held under a most rigid discipline, a formidable machine capable of employing its maximum power as its governing hand might direct.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|