E. Michael Jones’ article on Adam Weisshaupt and the Illuminati (“A Room With a View: Debunking the Whig Theory of History,” Views, March) was extremely interesting and informative, but seriously flawed in some areas. Jones is hoisted on his own petard when he suggests that Weisshaupt was demoted at the University of Ingolstadt and subsequently indicted by the Bavarian government based on a “public hue and cry over secret societies” and an edict forbidding membership therein. This sounds like the very Whig theory of history that Jones derides. Why not instead consider the obvious—namely, the Catholic Church’s conspiratorial role in instigating the whole affair? Probably the Church viewed Weisshaupt as a budding heretic or troublemaker based on word of his activities and the “radical Enlightenment books” he ordered for the university library. My guess is that the books never made it into the stacks.
I agree with Jones that Weisshaupt and the Illuminati were immortalized inadvertently by Bavaria’s publication of their papers in 1786. He also makes a good case that the Orwellian system of organizational control and internal spying makes the Illuminati the precursor of the Soviet system of control. But the Catholic Church’s system for self-promotion and self-presentation is extreme, too, except that the public is not able to recognize the pervasiveness and oppressiveness of something they have seen, generation after generation, as a requisite part of their daily life, regardless of how inimical it might be to their well-being, compared with other models that are not allowed to see the light of day.
One might infer from Jones’ article that, because Weisshaupt et al., were enamored of Enlightenment thinkers, they would have been likewise enamored of him. I doubt it. Certainly, most of these thinkers would have rejected Weisshaupt’s notion that man, at some point, should be “no longer in need of government.” In fact, Jones’ article seems more of an attack on the Enlightenment than on the Illuminati per se: He speaks of the “crude materialism of most well-known Enlightenment thinkers.” He states that this type of thinking, because it emphasizes liberty and deemphasizes religion, leads necessarily to the loss of morals, the creation of social chaos, or—in an attempt to create order—the imposition of draconian social controls such as those initiated within Weisshaupt’s organization and implemented subsequently by the Jacobins, communists, and fascists.
Jones badly overreaches on this subject. Thinking people are tired of the incessant—albeit highly effective—propaganda of Catholics and Protestants alike, which insists that a person cannot have a pure naturalist/materialist view of the world and still be moral, or that, if a person is moral but does not believe in the divinity of Jesus, he will be sent straight to hell, there to burn eternally. It is moral for the naturalist/materialist to devise and live by laws, ethics, and mores for the purpose of harmonious interactions in a society with threats of jail, fines, or ostracization for infractions. It may come as a surprise to those steeped in Christian dogma, but virtually all naturalists/materialists desire this.
It is cynical and immoral for Christian priests and followers to continue to perpetuate the notion that a person can be good only because of the promise of heaven or the threat of hell.
As to the “social chaos” that Jones concludes to be the logical outcome of Enlightenment thinking, if everybody was on board the Christian ship and the priests ruled, there might be a certain order to living. But history shows that this is impossible short of using the terror tactics the Church has used in the past. It would (and could) not be any different from the means advocated by the Illuminati and used by the Jacobins, communists, and fascists. Christianity could, in fact, be said to be a major cause of the “social chaos” Jones worries about, in that the New Testament mandates that people “follow Jesus” at the expense of family, friends, community, and nations.
I do not subscribe to the view of Jones and other Christians that morality and social order would be restored if the Western world were rid of Illuminati and Enlightenment thinking. To the contrary, if the Western world were rid of religion, mankind would have more opportunity to cooperate on a large scale and to focus on the more serious problems facing it: overpopulation, pollution, disease, extinction, climate change, and asteroid impact.
—Ronald C. Corbyn
Dr. Jones Replies:
Mr. Corbyn faults me for failing to notice “the Catholic Church’s conspiratorial role in instigating” the Illuminati affair in Bavaria in the 1780’s. I failed to notice this conspiracy because it didn’t exist. The Illuminati manuscripts were discovered by accident. The campaign against the Illuminati was conducted by the Bavarian government, not by the Church, not because Weisshaupt was a “budding heretic” but because he advocated the overthrow of throne and altar in Bavaria and every other country in Europe. The Illuminati were a threat to public order and were treated as such by the Bavarian government. There is no dichotomy, as far as I can tell, between the actions of the Bavarian government and the public hue and cry that accompanied those actions. To say that the government of Catholic states often had the support of the Catholic populations of those states is not a tenet of the Whig theory of history. To state that such an agreement is a priori impossible, however, is precisely that. After 200 years of bad fruit, Mr. Corbyn wants to rescue the Enlightenment’s respectability by saying that, in spite of all the evil it did, it at least had the good sense to oppose Catholicism. Shorn of value judgments, that thesis is my thesis as well. The Enlightenment is finally being seen for what it was all along—not science, not liberation, but rather an ideologically motivated attack on Catholicism and, therefore, an attack on social, moral, and political order in Europe.
Mr. Corbyn tries to damn the Illuminati while praising the Enlightenment, but the distinction will not stand up to serious scrutiny. Just about ever}’ figure of note in the German Enlightenment, from Goethe to Pestalozzi, was a member of the Illuminati. There was no Enlightenment organization per se, but the Masons came close, and the Illuminati were successfully recruiting newly joined Masons precisely because they were able to deliver what the Masonic lodges only promised. Karl Marx, a later devotee of Enlightenment thought, believed that man, at some point in the future, would be “no longer in need of government.” So it’s not odd to think that his less rigorous Utopians might agree.
Apologists for the Enlightenment are always faced with the unenviable task of explaining how and where it went wrong. I am spared such exercises in futility because I believe it went wrong from the beginning. As St. Augustine has stated, and I restate in my book Libido Dominandi, there are only two options in this life—the City of God, which is based on love and service, and the Cit)’ of Man, which is based on the opposite of love and service—or, to use Augustine’s term, libido dominandi, the desire to dominate. Once a culture turns away from the City of Cod, there is only one other direction it can take, and that is the direction the Enlightenment took when it decided to crush the Catholic Church. The history of the Enlightenment is the history of increasingly sophisticated forms of political control, all of which had their source in the Illuminati. Any ideology which proclaims its desire to liberate man from the moral law can only be an instrument that is designed to enslave him. Morals, or practical reason, are the only thing that make a rational creature free.
Mr. Corbyn is free to believe that a man can be moral without the assistance of faith. This is theoretically possible: The moral law is a creation of God, not a creation of religion; all men, simply because they are men and must function as rational creatures, have it engraved on their hearts. That does not mean, however, that they are free from the desire to distort it. Let’s forget for a moment about fragile individuals and their penchant to rationalize their desires. Entire religions have done the same thing. The Jews rationalized divorce and polygamy, as did the Muslims and the Mormons. If entire religions, men of faith laboring under the threat of divine sanction, can succumb to this temptation, what mere individual can resist the same insistent urge to rationalize his own desires?
Mr. Corbyn’s position is even more extreme: He believes that “a person can have a pure naturalist/materialist view of the world and still be moral.” In a sense, this is also possible—just as it is possible that a skeptic will suddenly jump up in the middle of a conversation in which he is intent on showing that nothing is certain and announce that he has to leave because it is now 3:02 and he has to catch the train for Ealing, which departs at 3:14. He does so because he is a human being, not because he is a deep thinker. The same thing is true of materialism, which is a pseudoscientific justification for gratifying illicit sexual desires. Those who think it is something else should read the writings of the Marquis de Sade, the only Enlightenment thinker who is still being quoted today, and the only one Hollywood thinks important enough to make films about. Aldous Huxley, an astute reader of Sade, noticed the same connection between reason and appetite in his essay Means and Ends. He mentions there that Mettrie, Sade’s teacher in materialism, wrote his treatise on pleasure as his follow-up to his explanation of how man was a machine.
Finally, Mr. Corbyn refers to the “terror tactics the Church has used in the past,” claiming that they are no “different from the means. . . used by the Jacobins, communists, and fascists.” Where, I wonder, does he find the Catholic Gulag, with its millions of victims? Where was the Catholic Auschwitz? In what public place did the Catholic Church set up its guillotine until the streets ran red with the blood of her political opponents? Mr. Corbyn’s mind is haunted by myths that once flourished in English speaking countries but have now fallen on hard times—myths like the Whig view of history. Worse than that, he is still laboring under that most dangerous of all illusions, the belief that, “if the Western world were rid of religion, mankind would have more opportunity to cooperate with one another and to focus on more serious problems”—things like “asteroid impact.” Mr. Corbyn fails to understand that such phenomena as communism were the implementation of the Enlightenment, not its antithesis. The late and unlamented 20th century was riddled with attempts to rid the world of religion. That he can’t see this is a tribute to die hold that these myths can have over the human mind. If anyone wants to engage in body counts, I will gladly place my money on Catholic Bavaria over the workers’ paradise in the Soviet Union or China or Cambodia or any other genocidal heaven on earth that the Enlightenment has bequeathed to us. A world without God, as Cardinal Ratzinger—a Bavarian and head of the office that is the successor to the Inquisition—recently said, is another word for Hell.
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