In Search of the Illuminati
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There's one interesting and noteworthy point about the Illuminati. They didn't actually do anything. They read certain literature and awarded each other membership levels. They had a lot of political and philosophical conversations. Mostly, they ranted to friends and prospective members about the evils of organized religion, and trawled Freemason lodges trying to recruit people.
As the historian Walter Utt wrote in Liberty magazine in I found no references to the Illuminati ever influencing politicians, bribing officials, or taking any physical actions at all. It was really just Weishaupt and Knigge discussing and sharing their philosophies. Indeed, even Weishaupt's own written description of the purpose of the Illuminati was almost uselessly vague and devoid of pragmatism:. A society, which by the finest and most secure means achieves the goal, to ensure the victory of virtue and wisdom over folly in the world, to achieve the most important discoveries in all areas of science, to mold its members into noble and great persons, and to ensure certain rewards even in this world for their perfection, to protect them from persecution, ill fate, and oppression, and tie the hands of any kind of despotism.
Given this vagueness of purpose, the Illuminati's lack of societal impact was virtually foreordained. The order attracted hundreds of men with its stated criticisms of cultural conventions, but neither prompted them to any action nor provided any mechanism for doing so. The Illuminati were surprisingly short-lived. As most members were not very engaged, many were inclined to talk about it, thus violating the edict of secrecy.
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Secularism was unpopular in Bavaria at that time, so the existence of a secular secret society raised a bit of public ire. Negative newspaper articles were published about the Illuminati, and as they were only one of many secret societies of various types that were popular, the conservative government took action. Karl Theodor, the prince-elector and duke of Bavaria, banned all secret societies with a series of edicts from through Knigge left the order in frustration with Weishaupt, Weishaupt fled Bavaria to exile, and the government seized all the Illuminati's documents and published them, thus destroying their secrecy.
The society of the Illuminati was no more. And it's at this point that the true history of the Illuminati ended, and the pseudohistory began. Some conspiracy theorists claim that the Illuminati continued in secret, and even today still control world affairs.
This began almost immediately, most notably at the outbreak of the French Revolution in However, today's national security analyst John Pike writes that these connections were tenuous at best:. The supposed points of connection between the Order of the Illuminati and the French Revolution were partly tangible, though decidedly elusive, but much more largely of the nature of theories framed to meet the necessities of a case which in the judgment of dilettante historians positively required the hypothesis of a diabolical conspiracy against thrones and altars.
Nevertheless, once made, conspiracy claims tend to stick; and from that moment on, the alternative literature has been liberally splattered with charges that the Illuminati have been behind just about every major world event.
This had been confined mainly to the fringes of European literature until the counterculture movement of the s added an unexpected twist to our story. A writer at Playboy magazine, Robert Anton Wilson, was friends with author Kerry Thornley, who had co-written a satirical book called the Principia Discordia , the parody text for a parody religion called Discordia, which advocated hoaxing and misinformation.
Wilson and Thornley began writing fake letters from Playboy readers talking about the Illuminati, and how they were behind this or that. Wilson himself would write the editor's reply, answering questions about the Illuminati and fanning the fires of suspicion that they were behind prominent assassinations and banking cartels, and confirming that the Aga Khan was their current leader.
These letters were so successful that Wilson took it a step further, co-writing a fanciful adventure novel called The Illuminatus!
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Trilogy in which the Illuminati were real and were behind just about everything. The book became a cult classic and was even turned into a stage play. It was the germinating seed from which the vast majority of modern mentions of the Illuminati in conspiracy theory culture have grown. And that brings us up to date; today's conspiracy theory videos on YouTube reflect an earnest belief whose believers are unaware that it was stoked by fake letters in Playboy.
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Somewhere, Robert Anton Wilson is still laughing. But all of this still fails to disprove the premise that the Illuminati did survive and do today control world events. And it's true, we can't prove they don't; but we have some pretty good tips. For one thing, the Illuminati were almost all really young.
Those who took any active role were mostly in their twenties. They weren't exactly the titans of Bavarian political influence. For another thing, the vast majority of those they recruited were ordinary people who generally agreed with their philosophy, said "Sure you can write my name on your list," and that was that. They simply weren't all that active.
And finally, a lot of historians have dug into this over the years, searching for evidence that the society did continue, and come up empty handed. They constantly feud among themselves and war with other groups and organizations.
Each group of Illuminati is constantly striving to increase its power base and undermine the competition. Their first means of dealing with opposition is to buy it off. To any group as rich as the Illuminati, a few million dollars are nothing. Next they try threats. Danger to possessions, status or loved ones has dissuaded many a would-be foe of Illuminati schemes. That video was misleading but likely harmless. But others may have played a part in recent tragedies.
The person who drove a car into pedestrians on London Bridge in June and stabbed patrons in nearby bars may have watched videos from a Salafist preacher on YouTube.
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Until the algorithm changed, the top five results for a search about "Las Vegas shooting" included a video claiming government agents were responsible for the attack. Addressing the problem is tricky because what constitutes a conspiracy isn't always clear, says YouTube. Do predictions for , including that Italy's Mount Vesuvius will erupt and kill hundreds of thousands of people, count? What about Shane Dawson, who routinely posts videos on his channel but doesn't necessarily endorse what he discusses? One video that posits, among other things, that aliens may be related to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight , began with the disclaimer that "these are all just theories," and "they're not meant to hurt or harm any company.
The difficulty of pinpointing whether or not a post qualifies as a baseless, fringe view is part of the issue.
References & Further Reading
Without a definition, YouTube's algorithm can't filter out such videos from its search results. That's a problem for Alphabet, which is afraid that the spread of conspiracy videos across YouTube could backfire. False information seeping into top recommended video lists could eventually drive customers—anyone who watches YouTube videos—away.
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Yet the site incentivizes content creators to wander close to the extreme-views edge because they entice users to click.