The Mythology of the Secret Societies by J.M. Roberts

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The subject of this series of lucid essays by historian J.M. Roberts (1928-2003) is the evanescent spectre of conspiracies, shadowy organisations and secret societies that has haunted Europe from the 18th century through to today’s ‘post-truth’ 21st century world of Fox News, President Donald J Trump, Stephen Bannon, et al — men, mostly, whose political and social Weltanschauung is shaped by irrationality and nonsense. Roberts’ examination of the collective nightmare of a particular culture, a nightmare that taps bogus but very deep and powerful fears, illuminates the role — and the danger — of myth in action.

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The ‘astute’ (Immanuel Kant’s description) German philosopher Count Joseph Ludwig Nicolaus Windisch-Grätz (1744-1802) had this to say about the danger of secret societies, and the Illuminati in particular:

‘Secret societies are likely to encourage habits of mind and behaviour destructive of attention to the ordinary moral and social duties. The danger of degeneration from the high ideals of a secret brotherhood will always be present because of the difficulty of reconciling the secret obligations to the society with those of the outside world. Claims to use the opportunities of secret organisation for the preparation of the regeneration of the world are always to be regarded as dubious, given men’s ordinary weaknesses. ‘

Windisch-Grätz felt it was unlikely that the directors of the Illuminati, men like Adam Weishaupt, could have been sure that the men they recruited would always themselves have sufficient strength of character not to abuse the techniques of control made available to them: ‘A man who sets himself up to govern the minds of others is hardly ever one whose own ideas are sensible and almost always one whose own mind is mediocre.’

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