Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Illuminati, Rothbardian Natural Law, and Misesian Philosophies of History: Potential Areas for Future Research

Today, November 20, 2012, I received four new books in the mail. One of them is called Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati  by Terry Melanson. As I normally do, I was flipping through my new books in order to get a "flavor" of what they are all about. In Melanson's book, I came across this fascinating quote that reminded me of two things right away:
  1. Ludwig von Mises's book Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution, particularly his Chapter 8 called "Philosophy of History"
  2. Murray N. Rothbard's book The Ethics of Liberty.
 At this point, I am not going to draw any definitive conclusions for the simple reason that I do not know what all of this implies. However, I just want to write this down so that I can keep track of the ideas that popped into my head about 10 minutes.

Let me begin with the quotation from Melanson (he is quoting from Sabine Roehr, A Primer on German Enlightenment: With a translation of Karl Leonhard Reinhold's The Fundamental Concepts of Ethics):
Weishaupt, the founder of the order [of the Illuminati], developed a philosophy of history that postulated three steps: the original state of nature, despotism, and the kingdom of reason and virtue. He thought that secret societies were the necessary means to that ultimate end of nature, the state in which reason alone would prescribe the laws to humankind. (196, bold emphasis is mine)
 The Pattern of 3-Stage Philosophies of History

Maybe, at the risk of sounding cliche, the most obvious illustration of a 3-Stage Philosophy of History is Marx's famous idea that societies pass through the stages of feudalism, capitalism, and inevitably socialism. Mises mentions that this "setup" is typical of most philosophies of history. Mises writes that
most philosophies of history not only indicate the final end of historical evolution but also disclose the way mankind is bound to wander in order to reach the goal. They enumerate and describe successive states or stages, intermediary stations on the way from the early beginnings to the final end. The systems of Hegel, Comte, and Marx belong to this class. (Theory and History, 108-9)
I also want to emphasize the popularity of having three stages in these philosophies of history. Obviously the Marxist example consists of three stages: (1) feudalism, (2) capitalism, and (3) the coming future socialism. Notice that some of the examples given by Mises in Theory and History also follow this three stage pattern. For example, Mises mentions how Christian theology is based on a three-stage process. Then, Mises points out that the Enlightenment thinkers modified the Christian approach in order to make it fit into their more scientific outlook on the world:
Christian theology discerns three stages in human history: the bliss of the age preceding the fall of man, the age of secular depravity, and finally the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven....The Enlightenment altered this scheme in order to make it agree with its scientific outlook. God endowed man with reason that leads him on the road toward perfection. In the dark past superstition and sinister machinations of tyrants and priests restrained the exercise of this most precious gift bestowed upon man. But at last reason has burst its chains and a new age has been inaugurated. (Theory and History, 114)
  Maybe there is a parallel between the three-stages of Christian theology and the three stages suggested by the founder of the Illuminati.

  1. Christianity = the bliss of the age preceding the fall of man; Illuminati = the original state of nature. In the Illuminati book, we see that the "original state of nature" is painted in rosy terms. Melanson writes about the Illuminati: "It is worth noting that Weishaupt's concept of virtue stems from his Rousseauian influences. Jean-Jacques Rousseau equated true virtue with the purity of mankind in its infancy BEFORE IT WAS CORRUPTED BY CIVILIZATION" (100, bold emphasis mine, italics in the original). On the same page he adds the point that the next stage, "civilization," was viewed as a "despotism" and "inferior" to the previous state of nature. "By comparison, the despotism of western culture, with its class structures and inherent inequality, was considered inferior and contemptible" (ibid, bold emphasis mine).
  2. Christianity = the age of secular depravity; Illuminati = Despotism. This middle stage sounds like the "fall of man" in both case. In both systems, stage one seems to be the "bliss stage" or the "pure mankind" stage. Stage two seems to be the "hell on earth stage" in both systems.
  3. Christianity = Salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven; Illuminati = the Kingdom of Reason and Virtue. I found that language very suggestive. Notice how it is called the "Kingdom of Reason and Virtue," as though reason and virtue are standing in for "heaven." It seems like Stage 3 in both systems is a return to some blissful utopia. Or maybe we are supposed to think of the final stage (stage 3) as the "perfection" state of man. In the Christian system this final state is when man is now free from sin. He is no longer "corrupted" by his sinful body but is now "perfect" because he is sinless and living in a state of eternal life in heaven. Similarly, in the Illuminati version, man is now "perfect" because he is no longer "corrupted" by superstitions and tyrants from stage 2 but is now living in the "perfect" state of reason and virtue (stage 3).
 Rothbard's Views on Natural Law

Notice also that Stage 3 in the Illuminati scheme, mankind is now in the Kingdom of Reason and Virtue. This was defined as "the state in which reason alone would prescribe the laws to humankind." This reminds me of Rothbard's insistence in The Ethics of Liberty that mankind can find his laws solely by using reason. It shocked me how similar the line from the Illuminati sounds to Rothbard's version of "natural law."

 For example, Rothbard writes that
[Grotius's] definition of natural law has nothing revolutionary. When he maintains that natural law is that body of rules which Man is able to discover by the use of his reason, he does nothing but restate the Scholastic notion of a rational foundation of ethics. (The Ethics of Liberty, 5, bold emphasis mine)
 As another example of this "supremacy of reason," Rothbard notes that
even though God did not exist, or did not make use of His reason, or did not judge rightly of things, if there is in man such a dictate of right reason to guide him, it would have had the same nature of law as it now has. (The Ethics of Liberty, 4, bold emphasis mine)
 In conclusion, I am writing this blog more as a note to myself so that I can look into these ideas further in the future. I am in no way trying to claim (at this early point in my research I don't know where this is going) that either Mises or Rothbard have anything to do with the Illuminati. I am simply looking for points of congruence between them and the Illuminati at the level of ideas. Did either Mises or Rothbard borrow ideas that were held by the Illuminati back in the time of Adam Weishaupt? This is not a totally crazy question to ask. When I was looking through Melanson's book I also noticed very quickly that he mentioned Kant and the idea of the a priori. Obviously, this sounds like something Mises would talk about a lot! ("According to the empiricists, Kant was excessively rationalistic in assuming the existence of the a priori and in postulating a noumenal realm apart from experience" 194. There is also a mention of "Kant's categories" on page 195. I am thinking of maybe a link to Mises's book The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science). So right now I am just thinking about maybe some points of overlap in ideas. I am also looking for points of inconsistencies between Weishaupt on the one hand and Mises and Rothbard on the other hand. At this point I am unclear as to what the "political agenda" of the Illuminati was. Melanson describes it as follows: "Weishaupt preached to his disciples the restructuring of society along lines similar to socialism and communism [I am guessing state socialism? social engineering? because he mentions the infamous "one world government plot"], tinged with elements of nihilism and anarchism [which contradicts the idea of one world government]."