Breitbart’s Nightmare — The Mythology of the Secret Societies — Conclusion by J.M. Roberts (1928-2003)

Filippo Buonarroti (1761-1837)

Buonarroti’s last years blended the myth and the reality of the secret societies as never before. Each, too, was then at the peak of its strength. This book has been about the first; it has argued that though secret societies existed in large numbers in Western Europe between 1750 and 1830 and strove to influence events, their main importance was what people believed about them. This always mattered more than what they did and their numbers and practical effectiveness were in no way proportionate to the myth’s power. This is their true instrumental importance as well as their interest for the historian; what was believed about them was an important part of the information shaping men’s reactions to great events.

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If this is granted, then can we hope – ought we to try? – to understand any more about this fact than its historical context? The mythology is, after all, a historical artefact. It is one characteristic achievement and expression of a particular age, a collective dream of one particular culture. We feel able to understand quite a lot of the social context in which, over eighty years or so, it was born and grew to its full stature; we ought therefore to have a fair chance of discerning what there was in it that locks the mythology into that particular culture at that particular time. Most of what has gone before in this book perhaps expresses that view implicitly. Yet this does not seem to exhaust the matter. Although the mythology has its peculiar features it is also based on elements which recur in other historical situations and it has itself shown astonishing powers of survival and adaptation. Long after the years which saw its birth, these powers have renewed its life at many times and in many places.
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LESSONS OF THE SPANISH REVOLUTION (1936-1939) Vernon Richards — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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In this study the Spanish workers’ resistance to the military insurrection of July 1936 is viewed not as a struggle between Fascism and Democracy but as a heroic attempt to bring about a far-reaching Social Revolution. In this task the Spanish revolutionaries had to deal both with Franco’s armies and with the forces of counter-revolution in their midst. It is on this latter aspect of the struggle the author attempts to shed some light, drawing on the vast documentation available, most of which, however, is quite unknown to the English-speaking public.

In spite of the defeat of the Spanish Revolution it is nevertheless one of the most important landmarks in Man’s age-long struggle for his freedom and emancipation, and will eventually be so recognised, when the events, which to-day obscure our sense of proportion and capture the headlines, will have long been forgotten.

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POLITICAL PARTIES. A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracies by Robert Michels


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First published in German in 1911, Robert Michels’ ‘Political Parties’ is a classic of political and social science; it analyses the evolution of oligarchical power structures within political parties and trade unions, particularly those, ostensibly, most committed to egalitarian and democratic ideals — socialist parties, organisations and trade unions — including anarcho-syndicalist labour unions. Clearly and succinctly the libertarian syndicalist (at the time) Michels explains the emergence of elites and the process and dynamic by which radical parties lose sight of their radical objectives within representative parliamentary and electoral systems. His starting point is the hypothesis that in organizations committed to the realization of democratic values there inevitably arise strong oligarchic tendencies, which present a serious if not insuperable obstacle to the realization of those values. “It is organization which gives birth to the domination of the elected over the electors, of the mandatories over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization says oligarchy”. Thus Michels summed up his famous “iron law of oligarchy.”

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JOSEPH FOUCHÉ: The Portrait of a Politician by Stefan Zweig

Fouchecover2Joseph Fouché, one of the most powerful men of his day, and one of the most remarkable men of all time, was little loved by his contemporaries and has received even less justice from posterity. Napoleon in St. Helena; Robespierre at the Jacobin Club; Carnot, Barras, and Talleyrand in their memoirs; the French historians, no matter whether royalist, republican, or Bonapartist—one and all spit venom as soon as his name comes up for discussion. He is a “born traitor,” a “pitiful intriguer,” a “man with a slimy reptilian nature,” a “professional turncoat,” a “creature with the base spirit of a policeman,” a “contemptible immoralist.” No term of abuse is spared him; and neither Lamartine nor Michelet nor Louis Blanc makes any serious endeavour to throw light on his character, or (which would be more to the point) to analyse the springs of his amazingly persistent lack of character—his unfailing want of principle. The first effective presentation of his personality is to be found in Louis Madelin’s monumental biography, from which I myself like most other writers on Fouché have mainly drawn for my facts. In general, however, we find that this man who during one of the most salient periods in history was a leader of every party in turn and was unique in surviving the destruction of them all, this man who in duels upon the psychological plane was able to get the better of a Napoleon and a Robespierre, is tacitly relegated to the back rows among the supers instead of being given his proper place in the centre of the stage.

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Some thoughts on Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince and The Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius by Stuart Christie

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527)

The Renaissance consigliere and political thinker Niccolò Machiavelli has for centuries been portrayed, indeed demonised, as the ideological father of political duplicity, manipulation, amorality and cold selfishness. All of these are identifiable traits common not only among the “political” and mandarin classes but also among those individuals and institutions who pursue their interests, i.e. money, power, market-share, sex, etc., as though in a “society in which the individual stands alone, with no motives and no interests except those supplied by his own egoism”.

The view that Machiavelli’s analysis of the nature and mechanics of political power reflects the values of an individual motivated by a self-interest that overrides all other considerations is not, I believe, one that can be sustained by a careful consideration of his writings. In fact, the very opposite can be said to be the case … Machiavelli argues in both The Prince and The Discourses that all well-ordered principalities and republics are based on mutual understanding between rulers and ruled, and that the state is no more than the sum of the individuals who comprise it. In addition, the state has characteristics and responsibilities that cannot be explained in terms of the properties and ethical relationships to one another of the individuals within society.

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