Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

“And since, in this manner, we ourselves are the Revolutionary Administration, all that is against the rights of the people must be overthrown, at our entry–We must display our principles by actually destroying all tyranny; and our generals, after having chased away the tyrants and their satellites, must proclaim to the people that they have brought them happiness; and then, on the spot, they must suppress tithes, feudal rights, and every species of servitude.”

“But we shall have done nothing if we stop here. Aristocracy still domineers–we must therefore suppress all authorities existing in the hands of the upper classes.–When the Revolutionary Authority appears, there must nothing of the old establishment remain.–A popular system must be introduced–every office must be occupied by new functionaries–and the Sansculottes must every where have a share in the Administration.

“Still nothing is done, till we declare aloud the precision of our principles to such as want only a half freedom.–We must say to them–if you think of compromising with the privileged casts, we cannot suffer such dealing with tyrants–They are our enemies, and we must treat them as enemies, because they are neither for Liberty nor Equality.–Show yourselves disposed to receive a free constitution–and the Convention will not only stand by you, but will give you permanent support; we will defend you against the vengeance of your tyrants, against their attacks, and against their return.–Therefore abolish from among you the Nobles–and every ecclesiastical and military incorporation. They are incompatible with Equality.–Henceforward you are citizens, all equal in rights–equally called upon to rule, to defend, and to serve your country.–The agents of the French Republic will instruct and assist you in forming a free constitution, and assure you of happiness and fraternity.”

This Report was loudly applauded, and a decree formed in precise conformity to its principles.–Both were ordered to be translated into all languages, and copies to be furnished to their generals, with orders to have them carefully dispersed in the countries which they invaded.

And, in completion of these decrees, their armies found it easy to collect as many discontented or worthless persons in any country as sufficed for setting up a tree of liberty. This they held as a sufficient call for their interference.–Sometimes they performed this ceremony themselves–a representation was easily made up in the same way–and then, under the name of a free constitution, the nation was forced to acquiesce in a form dictated at the point of the bayonet, in which they had not the smallest liberty to choose–and they were plundered of all they had, by way of compensating to France for the trouble she had taken.–And this they call Liberty.–It needs no comment.–

Thus I have attempted to prove that the present awful situation of Europe, and the general fermentation of the public mind in all nations, have not been altogether the natural operations of discontent, oppression, and moral corruption, although these have been great, and have operated with fatal energy; but that this political fever has been carefully and systematically heightened by bodies of men, who professed to be the physicians of the State, and, while their open practice employed cooling medicines, and a treatment which all approved, administered in secret the most inflammatory poisons, which they made up so as to flatter the diseased fancy of the patient. Although this was not a plan begun, carried on, and completed by the same persons, it was undoubtedly an uniform and consistent scheme, proceeding on the same unvaried principle, and France undoubtedly now smarts under all the woes of German Illumination.

I beg leave to suggest a few thoughts, which may enable us to draw some advantage from this shocking mass of information.

General Reflections.

I. I may observe, in the first place, and I beg it may be particularly attended to, that in all those villainous machinations against the peace of the world, the attack has been first made on the principles of Morality and Religion. The conspirators saw that till these are extirpated, they have no chance of success; and their manner of proceeding chews that they consider Religion and Morality as inseparably connected together. We learn much from this–Fas est et ab hoste doceri.–They endeavour to destroy our religious sentiments, by first corrupting our morals. They try to inflame our passions, that when the demands from this quarter become urgent, the restraints of Religion may immediately come in sight, and stand in the way. They are careful, on this occasion, to give such a view of those restraints, that the real origin of them does not appear.–We are made to believe that they have been altogether the contrivance of Priests and despots, in order to get the command of us. They take care to support these assertions by facts, which, to our great shame, and greater misfortune, are but too numerous.–Having now the passions on their side, they find no difficulty in persuading the voluptuary, or the discontented, that tyranny actually exerted, or resolved on in future, is the sole origin of religious restraint. He seeks no further argument, and gives himself no trouble to find any. Had he examined the matter with any care, he would find himself just brought back to those very feelings of moral excellence and moral depravity that he wishes to get rid of altogether; and these would tell him that pure Religion does not lay a single restraint on us that a noble nature would not have laid on itself–nor enjoins a single duty which an ingenuous and warm heart would not be ashamed to find itself deficient in. He would then see that all the sanctions of Religion are fitted to his high rank in the scale of existence. And the more he contemplates his future prospects, the more they brighten upon his view, the more attainable they appear, and the more he is able to know what they may probably be. Having attained this happy state of mind (an attainment in the power of any kind heart that is in earnest in the enquiry) he will think that no punishment is too great for the unthankful and groveling soul which can forego such hopes, and reject these noble proffers, for the comparatively frivolous and transitory gratifications of life. He is not frightened into worthy and virtuous conduct by fears of such merited punishment; but, if not enticed into it by his high expectations, he is, at least, retained in the paths of virtue by a kind of manly shame.

But all this is overlooked, or is kept out of sight, in the instructions of Illuminatism. In these the eye must be kept always directed to the Despot. This is the bugbear, and every thing is made to connect with present or future tyranny and oppression–Therefore Religion is held out as a combination of terrors–the invention of the state-tools, the priests. But it is not easy to stifle the suggestions of Nature–therefore no pains are spared to keep them down, by encreasing the uncertainty and doubts which arise in the course of all speculations on such subjects. Such difficulties occur in all scientific discussions.–Here they must be numerous and embarrassing–for in this enquiry we come near the first principles of things, and the first principles of human knowledge. The geometer does not wonder at mistakes even in his science, the most simple of all others. Nor does the mechanic or the chemist reject all his science, because he cannot attain clear conceptions of some Of the natural relations which operate in the phenomena under his consideration. Nor do any of these students of nature brand with the name of fool, or knave, or bigot, another person who has drawn a different conclusion from the phenomenon. In one point they all agree–they find themselves possessed of faculties which enable them to speculate, and to discover; and they find, that the operation of those faculties is quite unlike the things which they contemplate by their means–and they feel a satisfaction in the possession of them, and in this distinction. But this seems a misfortune to our Illuminators. I have long been struck with this. If by deep meditation I have solved a problem which has baffled the endeavours of others, I should hardly thank the person who convinced me that my success was entirely owing to the particular state of my health, by which my brain was kept free from many irritations to which other persons are exposed. Yet this is the conduct of the Illuminated–They are abundantly self-conceited; and yet they continually endeavour to destroy all grounds of self-estimation.—They rejoice in every discovery that is reported to them of some resemblance, unnoticed before, between mankind and the inferior creation, and would be happy to find that the resemblance is complete. It is very true, Mr. Pope’s “Poor Indian, with untutor’d mind,” had no objection to his dog’s going to heaven with him;

“And thinks, admitted to that equal sky,

“His faithful dog shall bear his company.”

This is not an abject, but it is a modest sentiment. But our high-minded philosophers, who, with Beatrice in the play, “cannot brook obedience to a wayward piece of marl,” if it be in the shape of a Prince, have far other notions of the matter. Indeed they are not yet agreed about it. Mr. de la Metherie hopes, that before the enlightened Republic of France has got into its teens, he shall be able to tell his fellow-citizens, in his Journal de Physique, that particular form of crystallization which men have been accustomed to call God.–Dr. Priestly again deduces all intelligence from elastic undulations, and will probably think, that his own great discoveries have been the quiverings of some fiery marsh miasma. While Pope’s poor Indian hopes to take his dog to heaven with him, these Illuminators hope to die like dogs, and that both soul and body shall be as if they never had been.

Is not this a melancholy result of all our Illumination? It is of a piece with the termination of the ideal Philosophy, viz. professed and total ignorance. Should not this make us start back and hesitate, before we pout like wayward children at the rubs of civil subordination, and before we make a sacrifice to our ill humour of all that we value ourselves for? Does it not carry ridicule and absurdity in its forehead?–Such assertion of personal worth and dignity (always excepting Princes and priests) and such abject acknowledgements of worthlessness.–Does not this, of itself, show that there is some radical fault in the whole? It has all arisen from what they have called illumination, and this turns out to be worse than darkness–But we also know that it has all arisen from self-conceited discontent, and that it has been brought to its present state by the rage of speculation. We may venture to put the question to any man’s conscience–whether discontent did not precede his doubts about his own nature, and whether he has not encouraged the train of argument that tended to degrade him. “Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.”–Should not this make us distrust, at least, the operations of this faculty of our mind, and try to moderate and check this darling propensity? It seems a misfortune of the age–for we see that it is a natural source of disturbance and revolution. But here it will be immediately said, “What, must we give over thinking–be no longer rational creatures, and believe every lie that is told us?” By no means. Let us be really rational creatures–and, taught by experience, let us, in all our speculations on subjects which engage the passions, guard ourselves with the most anxious care against the risk of having our judgments warped by our desires. There is no propensity of our nature of which the proper and modest indulgence is not beneficial to man, and which is not hurtful, when this indulgence is carried too far. And if we candidly peruse the page of history, we shall be convinced that the abuse is great in proportion as the subject is important. What has been so ruinously perverted as the religious principle? What horrid superstition has it not produced? The Reader will not, I hope, take it amiss that I presume to direct his attention to some maxims which ought to conduct a prudent man in his indulgence of a speculative disposition, and apply them to the case in hand.

Whoever will for a while cast off his attention from the common affairs of life, the Curae hominum, et rerum pondus inane, and will but reflect a little on that wonderful principle within him, which carries him over the whole universe, and shows him its various relations–Whoever also remarks what a less than nothing he is, when compared with this unmeasurable scene–Whoever does this, cannot but feel an inexpressible pleasure in the contemplation.–He must rise in his own estimation, and be disposed to cherish with fondness this principle which so eminently raises him above all around him. Of all the sources of human vanity this is surely the most manly, the most excusable, and the most likely to be extravagantly indulged.–We may be certain that it will be so indulged, and that men will frequently speculate for the sake of speculation alone, and that they will have too much confidence in the results of this favorite occupation.–As there have been ages of indolent and abject credulity and superstition, it is next to certain that there are also times of wild and extravagant speculation–and when we see it becoming a sort of general passion, we may be certain that this is a case in point.

This can hardly be denied to be the character of the present day. It is not denied. On the contrary it is gloried in, as the prerogative of the 18th century. All the speculations of antiquity are considered as glimmerings (with the exceptions of a few brighter flashes) when compared with our present meridian splendor. We should therefore listen with caution to the inferences from this boasted Illumination. Also, when we reflect on what passes in our own minds, and on what we observe in the world, of the mighty influence of our desires and passions on our judgments, we should carefully notice whether any such warping of the belief is probable in the present case. That it is so is almost certain–for the general and immediate effect of this Illumination is to lessen or remove many restraints which the sanctions of religion lay on the indulgence of very strong passions, and to diminish our regard for a certain purity or correctness of manners, which religion recommends, as the only conduct suited to our noble natures, and as absolutely necessary for attaining that perfection and happiness of which we are capable.–For surely if we take away religion, it will be wisdom “to eat and to drink, since tomorrow we die.” If moreover, we see this Illumination extolled above all science, as friendly to virtue as improving the heart, and as producing a just morality, which will lead to happiness, both for ourselves and others, but perceive at the same time that these assertions are made at the ex-pence of principles, which our natural feelings force us to venerate as supreme and paramount to all others, we may then be certain that our informer is trying to mislead and deceive us.–For all virtue and goodness, both of heart and conduct, is in perfect harmony, and there is no jarring or inconsistency. But we must pass this sentence on the doctrines of this Illumination. For it is a melancholy truth that they have been preached and recommended, for the most part, by clergymen, parish-ministers, who, in the presence of invoked Deity, and in the face of the world, have set their solemn seal to a system of doctrines directly opposite to those recommended in their writings; which doctrines they solemnly profess to believe, and solemnly swear to inculcate.–Surely the informations and instructions of such men should be rejected.–Where shall we find their real opinions? In their solemn oaths?–or in these infidel dissertations?–In either case, they are deceivers, whether mislead by vanity, or by the mean desire of church-emoluments; or they are prostitutes, courting the society of the wealthy and sensual. Honesty, like justice, admits of no degrees. A man is honest, or he is a knave–and who would trust a knave? But such men are unsuitable instructors for another reason–they are unwise; for, whatever they may think, they are not respected as men of worth, but are inwardly despised as parasites, by the rich, who admit them into their company, and treat them with civility, for their own reasons. We take instructions not merely from the knowing–the learned–but from the wise–not therefore from men who give such evidences of weakness.

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Methinks I am a conspiracy theorist. Art thou? Thou block, thou stone, thou worse than senseless thing, for whilst thou slept didst this become a badge of honor. Informed dissent shall always prevail, wherefore art thou worthy, or art thou this unwholesome fool in the group conformity experiment herein?

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