The name of Adam Weishaupt first appeared (in 1772) on the roll of the faculty of the university as professor extraordinary of law. Weishaupt (born February 6, 1748; died November 18, 1830) entered upon his professional career at Ingolstadt after an educational experience which had made him a passionate enemy of clericalism. Accorded free range in the private library of his godfather, the boy's questioning spirit was deeply impressed by the brilliant though pretentious works of the French "philosophes " with which the shelves were plentifully stocked. His sense of personal worth as the leader of the liberal cause in the university quite outran his merit.
The Jesuits, observing with deep resentment Weishaupt's meteoric rise, together with a growing disposition on his part to voice unrestrained criticism of ecclesiastical intolerance and bigotry, entered into intrigues to checkmate his influence and undermine his position. The payment of his salary was protested and the notion that he was a dangerous free-thinker industriously disseminated.
Weishaupt arrived at the conclusion that a general offensive against the clerical party ought immediately to be undertaken. A secret association was needed which, growing more and more powerful through the increase of its members and their progress in enlightenment, should be able to outwit the manoeuvres of the enemies of reason not only in Ingolstadt but throughout the world. Only by a secret coalition of the friends of liberal thought and progress could the forces of superstition and error be overwhelmed. Over the scheme of such an association consecrated to the cause of truth and reason, the self-esteem of Weishaupt kindled anew as he contemplated none other than himself at its head.
The motives which led Weishaupt to consider the formation of a secret organization of the general character indicated were not all of a kind. In part they were creditable, in part discreditable. That he had a genuine interest in the cause of liberalism and progress, born largely of the personal discomfort and injury he had experienced at the hands of intolerance and bigotry, there can be no honest doubt. But a thirst for power was also a fundamental element in his nature. The despotic character of the order which he attempted to build up is in itself a sufficient proof of this. Besides, the cast of his personal affairs at the time the organization was launched smacks loudly of the man's over-weening vanity and yearning for personal conquest.
His imagination having taken heat from his reflections upon the attractive power of the Eleusinian mysteries and the influence exerted by the secret cult of the Pythagoreans, it was first in Weishaupt's thought to seek in the Masonic institutions of the day the opportunity he coveted for the propagation of his views. From this original intention, however, he was soon diverted, in part because of the difficulty he experienced in commanding sufficient funds to gain admission to a lodge of Masons, in part because his study of such Masonic books as came into his hands persuaded him that the "mysteries" of Freemasonry were too puerile and too readily accessible to the general public to make them worth while.
Weishaupt would form a model secret organization, comprising "schools of wisdom," concealed from the gaze of the world behind walls of seclusion and mystery, wherein those truths which the folly and egotism of the priests banned from the public chairs of education might be taught with perfect freedom to susceptible youths.
On May 1, 1776, the new organization was founded, under the name of the Order of the Illuminati, with a membership of five all told. The extremely modest beginning of the order in respect to its original membership was more than matched by the confusion which existed in Weishaupt's mind as to the precise form which the organization had best take. Only three elementary grades, or ranks, had been worked out by him, and these only in a crude and bungling fashion, when the enterprise was launched. A feverish regard for action had full possession of the founder of the order ; the working-out of his hazy ideas of organization might wait for quieter days. The recruiting of women, Jews, pagans, monks, and members of other secret organizations was forbidden.
Weishaupt did not scruple to employ outright deception with reference to the reputed age and power of the order to enhance in the minds of the members the sense of the value of these secret associations. The principle of espionage was an important element in the administration of the order. Weishaupt acknowledged his indebtedness to the ideal of organization which the Society of Jesus had set before him , and the principle of one member spying upon another was apparently borrowed from that source. It was Weishaupt's theory that dissimulation and hypocrisy could best be eradicated by proving to the members of the organization the inutility of such courses of life in view of the incessant surveillance under which all the members lived.
With the erection of the state had come the notions of the subjection of some men to the power and authority of others, the consequent loss of the unity of the race, and the replacement of the love of humanity with nationalism, or patriotism. But political revolutions were not needed to accomplish the emancipation of the race; such revolutions had always proved sterile because they touched nothing deeper than the constitutions of states. Man's nature needed to be reconstituted.
It was not until Baron Knigge came to his assistance, four years later, that Weishaupt was able to rescue the organization of the society from the mire of puerility into which his impractical nature had plunged it. The progress of the order from 1780 on was so rapid as to raise greatly the spirits of its leaders. The new method of spreading Uluminism by means of its affiliation with Masonic lodges promptly demonstrated its worth. Largely because of the fine strategy of seeking its recruits among the officers and other influential personages in the lodges of Freemasonry, one after another of the latter in quick succession went over to the new system.1 New prefectures were established, new provinces organized, and Provincials began to report a steady and copious stream of new recruits.
The power of appeal which the new system had for the members of rival Masonic systems was on the following grounds: (i) it at least pretended to take more seriously the doctrines of equality and liberty; (2) it emphasized the period of adolescence as the best of all ages for the winning of recruits; (3) it made appreciably less of financial considerations; and (4) it tended to turn attention away from such chimeras as the philosopher's stone, magic, and knight-templar chivalry, which filled with weak heads and visionary spirits the high grades of most of the other systems.
From Bavaria into the upper and lower Rhenish provinces the order spread into Suabia, Franconia, Westphalia, Upper and Lower Saxony, and outside of Germany into Austria and Switzerland. . Students, merchants, doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, judges, professors in gymnasia and universities, preceptors, civil officers, pastors, priests - all were generously represented among the new recruits.
In its efforts to obtain a decisive triumph over rival systems of Freemasonry, substantial progress had been made. At Vienna, Masons eagerly enrolled as Illuminati with a view to blocking the attempt of the Rosicrucians [a branch of Freemasonry notorious for the absurdity of its pretensions and its shameless pandering to the popular desire for occultism] to extend the hegemony of that branch. The Order of the Illuminati had apparently put itself on the high road to a complete victory in the Masonic world by securing the enlistment of the two most important personages in German Freemasonry, Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick and Prince Carl of Hesse. The full extent of the order's conquests among the various branches of Masonry is impossible of full and accurate statement.
A fatal discord arose between Weishaupt and Knigge. The spirit of humility that the former manifested in 1780, when in desperation he turned to Knigge for assistance, did not long continue. Aroused by the danger of seeing his personal control of the order set aside and himself treated as a negligible factor, Weishaupt sought opportunities of asserting his prerogatives, and the ambition of Knigge being scarcely less selfish than that of Weishaupt, the two men quarreled repeatedly and long.
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