Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

V. Another good consequence that should result from the account that has been given of the proceedings of this conspiracy is, that since the fascinating picture of human life, by which men have been wheedled into immediate anarchy and rebellion, is insincere, and a mere artificial creature of the imagination, it can have no steadiness, but must be changed by every freak of fancy, or by every ingenious sophist, who can give an equal plausibility to whatever suits his present views. It is as much an airy phantom as any other whim of Free Masonry, and has no prototype, no original pattern in human nature, to which recourse may always be had, to correct mistakes, and keep things in a constant tenor. Has not France given the most unequivocal proofs of this? Was not the declaration of the Rights of Man, the production of their most brilliant Illuminators, a picture in abstracto, where man was placed at a distance from the eye, that no false light of local situation might pervert the judgment or engage the passions? Was it not declared to be the masterpiece of human wisdom? Did not the nation consider it at leisure? and having it continually before their eyes, did they not, step by step, give their assent to the different articles of their Constitution, derived from it, and fabricated by their most choice Illuminators? And did not this Constitution draw the applauses of the bright geniuses of other nations, who by this time were busy in persuading, each his countrymen, that they were ignoramuses in statistics, and patient slaves of oppression or of ancient prejudices? Did not panegyrics on it issue from every garret in London? Where is it now? where is its successor? Has any one plan of government subsisted, except while it was supported by the incontroulable and inexorable power of the guillotine? Is not the present administration of France as much as ever the object of discontent and of terror, and its coercions as like as ever to the summary justice of the Parisian mob? Is there any probability of its permanency in a state of peace, when the fears of a foreign enemy no longer give a consolidation to their measures, and oblige them either to agree among themselves, or immediately to perish?

VI. The above accounts evince in the most uncontrovertible manner the dangerous tendency of all mystical societies, and of all associations who hold secret meetings. We see that their uniform progress has been from frivolity and nonsense to wickedness and sedition. Weishaupt has been at great pains to show the good effects of secrecy in the Association, and the arguments are valid for his purpose.–But all his arguments are so many dissuasive ad-vices to every thinking and sober mind. The man who really wishes to discover an abstruse truth will place himself, if possible, in a calm situation, and will by no means expose himself to the impatient hankering for secrets and wonders–and he will always fear that a thing which resolutely conceals itself cannot bear the light. All who have seriously employed themselves in the discovery of truth have found the great advantages of open communication of sentiment. And it is against common sense to imagine that there is any thing of vast importance to mankind which is yet a secret, and which must be kept a secret in order to be useful. This is against the whole experience of mankind–And surely to hug in one’s breast a secret of such mighty importance, is to give the lie to all our professions of brotherly love. What a solecism! a secret to enlighten and reform the whole world.–We render all our endeavours impotent when we grasp at a thing beyond our power. Let an association be formed with a serious plan for reforming its own members, and let them extend their numbers in proportion as they succeed–this might do some good.–But must the way of doing this be a secret?–It may be to many–who will not look for it where it is to be found–It is this,

“Do good–seek peace–and pursue it.”

But it is almost affronting the reader to suppose arguments necessary on this point. If there be a necessity for secrecy, the purpose of the Association is either frivolous, or it is selfish.

Now, in either case, the danger of such secret assemblies is manifest.–Mere frivolity can never seriously occupy men come to age. And accordingly we see that in every quarter of Europe where Free Masonry has been established, the Lodges have become seedbeds of public mischief. I believe that no ordinary Brother will say, that the occupations in the Lodges are any thing better than frivolous, very frivolous indeed. The distribution of charity needs be no secret, and it is but a very small part of the employment of the meeting.–This being the case, it is in human nature that the greater we suppose the frivolity of such an association to be, the greater is the chance of its ceasing to give sufficient occupation to the mind, and the greater is the risk that the meetings may be employed to other purposes which require concealment. When this happens, self-interest alone must prompt and rule, and now there is no length that some men will not go, when they think themselves in no danger of detection and punishment. The whole proceedings of the secret societies of Free Masons on the Continent (and I am authorised to say, of some Lodges in Britain) have taken one turn, and this turn is perfectly natural. In all countries there are men of licentious morals. Such men wish to have a safe opportunity of indulging their wits in satire and sarcasm; and they are pleased with the support of others.–The desire of making proselytes is in every breast–and it is whetted by the restraints of society.–And all countries have discontented men, whose grumblings will raise discontent in others, who might not have attended to some of the trifling hardships and injuries they met with, had they not been reminded of them. To be discontented, and not to think of schemes of redress, is what we cannot think natural or manly;–and where can such sentiments and schemes find such safe utterance and such probable support as in a secret society? Free Masonry is innocent of all these things; but Free Masonry has been abused, and at last totally perverted–and so will and must any such secret association, as long as men are licentious in their opinions or wicked in their dispositions.

It were devoutly to be wished therefore that the whole Fraternity would imitate the truly benevolent conduct of those German Lodges who have formally broken up, and made a patriotic sacrifice of their amusement to the safety of the state. I cannot think the sacrifice great or costly. It can be no difficult matter to find as pleasant a way of passing a vacant hour–and the charitable deeds of the members need not diminish in the smallest degree. Every person’s little circle of acquaintance will give him opportunities of gratifying his kind dispositions, without the chance of being mistaken in the worth of the person on whom he bestows his favors. There is no occasion to go to St. Petersburg for a poor Brother, nor to India for a convert to Christianity, as long as we see so many sufferers and infidels among ourselves.

But not only are secret societies dangerous, but all societies whose object is mysterious. The whole history of man is a proof of this position. In no age or country has there ever appeared a mysterious association which did not in time become a public nuisance. Ingenious or designing men of letters have attempted to show that some of the ancient mysteries were useful to mankind, containing rational doctrines of natural religion. This was the strong hold of Weishaupt, and he quotes the Eleusinian, the Pythagorean, and other mysteries. But surely their external signs and tokens were every thing that is shocking to decency and civil order. It is uncommon presumption for the learned of the 18th century to pretend to know more about them than their contemporaries, the philosophers, the lawgivers of antiquity. These give no such account of them. I would desire any person who admires the ingenious dissertations of Dr. Warburton to read a dull German book, called Caracteristik der Mysterien der Altern, published at Frankfort in 1787. The author contents himself with a patient collection of every scrap of every ancient author who has said any thing about them. If the reader can see any thing in them but the most absurd and immoral polytheism and fable, he must take words in a sense that is useless in reading any other piece of ancient composition. I have a notion that the Dionysiacs of Ionia had some scientific secrets, viz. all the knowledge of practical mechanics which was employed by their architects and engineers, and that they were really a Masonic Fraternity. But, like the Illuminati, they tagged to the secrets of Masonry the secret of drunkenness and debauchery; they had their Sister Lodges, and at last became rebels, subverters of the States where they were protected, till aiming at the dominion of all Ionia, they were attacked by the neighbouring States and dispersed. They were Illuminators too, and wanted to introduce the worship of Bacchus over the whole country, as appears in the account of them given by Strabo.–Perhaps the Pythagoreans had also some scientific secrets! but they too were Illuminators, and thought it their duty to overset the State, and were themselves overset.

Nothing is so dangerous as a mystic Association. The object remaining a secret in the hands of the managers, the rest simply put a ring in their own noses, by which they may be led about at pleasure; and still panting after the secret, they are the better pleased the less they see of their way. A mystical object enables the leader to shift his ground as he pleases, and to accommodate himself to every current fashion or prejudice. This again gives him almost unlimited power; for he can make use of these prejudices to lead men by troops. He finds them already associated by their prejudices, and waiting for a leader to concentrate their strength and set them in motion. And when once great bodies of men are set in motion, with a creature of their fancy for a guide, even the engineer himself cannot say, “Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.”

VII. We may also gather from what we have seen, that all declamations on universal philanthropy are dangerous. Their natural and immediate effect on the mind is to increase the discontents of the unfortunate, and of those in the laborious ranks of life. No one, even of the Illuminators, will deny that these ranks must be filled, if society exists in any degree of cultivation whatever, and that there will always be a greater number of men who have no farther prospect. Surely it is unkind to put such men continually in mind of a state in which they might be at their ease; and it is unkindness unmixed, because all the change that they will produce will be, that James will serve John, who formerly was the servant of James. Such declamations naturally tend to cause men to make light of the obligations and duties of common patriotism, because these are represented as subordinate and inferior to the greater and more noble affection of universal benevolence. I do not pretend to say that patriotism is founded in a rationally-perceived pre-eminence or excellence of the society with which we are connected. But if it be a fact that society will not advance unless its members take an interest in it, and that human nature improves only in society, surely this interest should be cherished in every breast. Perhaps national union arises from national animosity;–but they are plainly distinguishable, and union is not necessarily productive of injustice. The same arguments that have any force against patriotism are equally good against the preference which natural instinct gives parents for their children; and surely no one can doubt of the propriety of maintaining this in its full force, subject however to the precise laws of justice.

But I am in the wrong to adduce paternal or filial affection in defence of patriotism and loyalty, since even those natural instincts are reprobated by the Illuminati, as hostile to the all-comprehending philanthropy. Mr. de la Metherie says, that among the memorials sent from the clubs in England to the National Assembly, he read two (printed) in which the Assembly was requested to establish a community of wives, and to take children from their parents, and educate them for the nation. In full compliance with this dictate of universal philanthropy, Weishaupt would have murdered his own child and his concubine–and Orleans voted the death of his near relation.

Indeed, of all the consequences of Illumination, the most melancholy is this revolution which it seems to operate in the heart of man–this forcible sacrifice of every affection of the heart to an ideal divinity, a mere creature of the imagination.–It seems a prodigy, yet it is a matter of experience, that the farther we advance, or vainly suppose that we do advance, in the knowledge of our mental powers, the more are our moral feelings flattened and done away. I remember reading, long ago, a dissertation on the nursing of infants by a French academician, Le Cointre of Versailles. He indelicately supports his theories by the case of his own son, a weak puny infant, whom his mother was obliged to keep continually applied to her bosom, so that she rarely could get two hours of sleep during the time of suckling him. Mr. Le Cointre says, that she contracted for this infant “une partialite tout-a-fait deraisonable.”–Plato, or Socrates, or Cicero, would probably have explained this by the habitual exercise of pity, a very endearing emotion.–But our Academician, better illuminated, solves it by stimuli on the papillae, and on the nerves of the skin, and by the meeting of the humifying aura, &c. and does not seem to think that young Le Cointre was much indebted to his mother. It would amuse me to learn that this was the wretch Le Cointre, Major of the National Guards of Versailles, who countenanced and encouraged the shocking treason and barbarity of those ruffians on the 5th and 6th of October 1789. Complete freezing of the heart would (I think) be the consequence of a theory which could perfectly explain the affections by vibrations or crystallizations.–Nay, any very perfect theory of moral sentiments must have something of this tendency.–Perhaps the ancient systems of moral philosophy, which were chiefly searches after the summum bonum, and systems of moral duties, tended more to form and strengthen the heart, and produce a worthy man, than the most perfect theory of modern times, which explains every phenomenon by means of a nice anatomy of our affections.

So far therefore as we are really more illuminated, it may chance to give us an easier victory over the natural or instinctive attachments of mankind, and make the sacrifice to universal philanthropy less costly to the heart. I do not however pretend to say that this is really the case: but I think myself fully warranted to say, that increase of virtuous affections in general has not been the fruit of modern Illumination. I will not again sicken the reader, by calling his attention to Weishaupt and his associates or successors. But let us candidly contemplate the world around us, and particularly the perpetual advocates of universal philanthropy. What have been the general effects of their continual declamations? Surely very melancholy; nor can it easily be otherwise.–An ideal standard is continually referred to. This is made gigantic, by being always seen indistinctly, as thro’ a mist, or rather a fluttering air. In comparison with this, every feeling that we have been accustomed to respect vanishes as insignificant; and, adopting the Jesuitical maxim, that “the great end sanctifies every mean,” this sum of Cosmo-political good is made to eclipse or cover all the present evils which must be endured for it. The fact now is, that we are become so familiarised with enormities, such as brutality to the weaker sex, cruelty to old age, wanton refinement on barbarity, that we now hear unmoved accounts of scenes, from which, a few years ago, we would have shrunk back with horror. With cold hearts, and a metaphysical scale, we measure the present miseries of our fellow-creatures, and compare them with the accumulated miseries of former times, occasioned through a course of ages, and ascribed to the ambition of Princes. In this artificial manner are the atrocities of France extenuated; and we struggle, and partly succeed, in reasoning ourselves out of all the feelings which link men together in society.–The ties of father, husband, brother, friend–all are abandoned for an emotion which we must even strive to excite–universal philanthropy. But this is sad perversion of nature. “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”–Still less can he love this ideal being, of which he labours to conjure up some indistinct and fleeting notion. It is also highly absurd; for, in trying to collect the circumstances which constitute the enjoyments of this Citizen of the World, we find ourselves just brought back to the very moral feelings which we are wantonly throwing away. Weishaupt allures us by the happiness of the patriarchal life as the summum bonum of man. But if it is any thing more than eating and sleeping, and bullying with the neighbouring patriarchs, it must consist in the domestic and neighbourly affections, and every other agreeable moral feeling, all which are to be had in our present state in greater abundance.

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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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