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Secret Societies and Subversive Movements
By Nesta Webster London 1924
It is a matter of some regret to me that I have been so far unable to continue the series of studies on the French Revolution of which The Chevalier de Boufflers and The French Revolution, a Study in Democracy formed the first two volumes. But the state of the world at the end of the Great War seemed to demand an enquiry into the present phase of the revolutionary movement, hence my attempt to follow its course up to modern times in World Revolution. And now before returning to that first cataclysm I have felt impelled to devote one more book to the Revolution as a whole by going this time further back into the past and attempting to trace its origins from the first century of the Christian era. For it is only by taking a general survey of the movement that it is possible to understand the causes of any particular phase of its existence. The French Revolution did not arise merely out of conditions or ideas peculiar to the eighteenth century, nor the Bolshevist Revolution out of political and social conditions in Russia or the teaching of Karl Marx. Both these explosions were produced by forces which, making use of popular suffering and discontent had long been gathering strength for an onslaught not only on Christianity, but on all social and moral order.
It is of immense significance to notice with what resentment this point of view is met in certain quarters. When I first began to write on revolution a well-known London publisher said to me, "Remember that if you take an anti-revolutionary line you will have the whole literary world against you." This appeared to me extraordinary. Why would the literary world sympathize with a movement which from the French Revolution onwards has always been directed against literature, art, and science, and has openly proclaimed its aim to exalt the manual workers over the intelligentsia? "Writers must be proscribed as the most dangerous enemies of the people," said Robespierre; his colleague Dumas said all clever men should be guillotined. "The system of persecution against man of talents was organized. . . . They cried out in the sections [of Paris], 'Beware of that man for he has written a book! `"(1) precisely the same policy has been followed in Russia. Under Moderate Socialism in Germany the professors, not the "people," are starving in garrets. Yet the whole press of our country is permeated with subversive influences. Not merely in partisan works, but in manuals of history or literature for use in schools! Burke is reproached for warning us against the French Revolution and Carlyle's panegyric is applauded. And whilst every slip on the part of an anti-revolutionary writer is seized on by the critics and held up as an example of the whole, the most glaring errors not only of conclusions but of facts pass unchallenged if they happen to be committed by a partisan of the movement. The principle laid down by Collot d'Herbois still holds good: " Tout est. permis pour quiconque agit dans sens de la révolution."
All this was unknown to me when I first embarked on my work. I knew that French writers of the past had distorted facts to suit their own political views, that a conspiracy of history is still directed by certain influences in the Masonic lodges and the Sorbonne; I did not know that this conspiracy was being carried on in this country. Therefore the publisher's warning did not daunt me. If I was wrong either in my conclusions or facts I was prepared to be challenged. Should not years of laborious historical research meet either with recognition or with reasoned and scholarly refutation? But although my book received a great many generous and appreciative reviews in the press, criticisms which were hostile took a form which I had never anticipated. Not a single honest attempt was made to refute either my French Revolution or World Revolution by the usual methods of controversy; statements founded on documentary evidence were met with flat contradiction unsupported by a shred of counter evidence. In general the plan adopted was not to disprove, but to discredit by means of flagrant misquotations, by attributing me views I had never expressed, or even by means of offensive personalities. It will surely be admitted that this method of attack is unparalleled in any other sphere of literary controversy. It is interesting to notice that precisely the same line was adopted a hundred years ago with regard to Professor Robison and the Abbé Barruel, whose works on the secret causes of the French Revolution created an immense sensation in their day. The legitimate criticism that might have been made on their work find no place in the diatribes levelled against them; their enemies content themselves merely with calumnies and abuse, A contemporary American writer, Seth Payson, thus describes the methods employed to discredit them:
The testimony of Professor Robison and Abbé Barruel would doubtless have been considered as ample in any case which did not interest the prejudices and passions of men against them. The scurrility and odium with which they have been loaded is perfectly natural and what the nature of their testimony would have led one to expect. Men will endeavour to invalidate that evidence which tends to unveil their dark designs: and it cannot be expected that those who believe that "the end sanctifies the means" will be very scrupulous as to their measures. Certainly he was not who invented the following character and arbitrarily applied it to Dr. Robison, which might have been applied with as much propriety to any other person in Europe or America. The character here referred to, is taken from the American Mercury, and printed at Hartford, September 26, 1799, by E. Babcock. In this paper, on the pretended authority of professor Ebeling, we are told "that Robison had lived to fast for his income, and to supply deficiencies had undertaken to alter a bank bill, that he was detected and fled to France ; that having been expelled the Lodge in Edinburgh, he applied in France for a second grade, but was refused; that he made the same attempt in Germany and afterwards in Russia, but never succeeded ; and from this entertained the bitterest hatred to masonry ; that after wandering about Europe for two years, by writing to Secretary Dundas, and presenting a copy of his book which, it was judged, would answer certain purposes of the ministry, the prosecution against him was stopped, the Professor returned in triumph to his country, and now lives upon a handsome pension, instead of suffering the fate of his predecessor Dodd.(2) Payson goes on to quote a writer in The National Intelligencer of January 1801, who styles himself a "friend to truth " and speaks of Professor Robison as " a man distinguished by abject dependence on a party, by the base crimes of forgery and adultery, and by frequent paroxysms of insanity." Mounier goes further still, and in his pamphlet De l'influence attribuée aux Philosophes, . . . Francs-maçons et . . . Illuminés, etc., inspired by the Illuminatus Bode, quotes a story that Robison suffered from a form of insanity which consisted in his believing that the posterior portion of his body was made of glass !(3)
In support of all this farrago of nonsense there is of course no foundation of truth; Robison was a well-known savant who lived sane and respected to the end of his days. On his death Watt wrote of him: "He was a man of the clearest head and the most science of anybody I have ever known." (4) John Playfair, in a paper read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1815, whilst criticizing his Proofs of a Conspiracy --though at the same time admitting he had himself never had access to the documents Robison had consulted--paid the following tribute to his character and erudition: His range in science was most extensive; he was familiar with the whole circle of the accurate sciences. . . . Nothing can add to the esteem which they [i.e. " those who were personally acquainted with him "] felt for his talents and worth or to the respect in which they now hold his memory.(5)
Nevertheless, the lies circulated against both Robison and Barruel were not without effect. Thirteen years later we find another American, this time a Freemason, confessing " with shame and grief and indignation " that he had been carried away by " the flood of vituperation poured upon Barruel and Robison during the past thirty years," that the title pages of their works " were fearful to him," and that although " wishing calmly and candidly to investigate the character of Freemasonry he refused for months to open their books." Yet when in 1827 he read them for the first time he was astonished to find that they showed "a manifest tendency towards Freemasonry." Both Barruel and Robison, he now realized, were "learned men, candid men, lovers of their country, who had a reverence for truth and religion. They give the reasons for their opinions, they quote their authorities, naming the author and page, like honest people; they both had a wish to rescue British Masonry from the condemnation and fellowship of continental Masonry and appear to be sincerely actuated by the desire of doing good by giving their labours to the public."(6)
That the author was right in his description of Barruel's attitude to Freemasonry is shown by Barruel's own words on the subject:
England above all is full of those upright men, excellent citizens, men of every kind and in every condition of life, who count it an honour to be masons, and who are distinguished from other men only by ties which seem to strengthen those of benevolence and fraternal charity. It is not the fear of offending a nation amongst which I have found a refuge which prompts me to make this exception. Gratitude would prevail with me over all such terrors and I should say in the midst of London "England is lost; she will not escape the French Revolution if the Masonic lodges resemble those I have to unveil. I would even say more: government and all Christianity would long ago have been lost in England if one could suppose its Freemasons to be initiated into the last mysteries of the sect."(7)
In another passage Barruel observes that Masonry in England is "a society composed of good citizens in general whose chief object is to help each other by principles of equality which for them is nothing else but universal fraternity."(8) And again: " Let us admire it [the wisdom of England] for having known how to make a real source of benefit to the State out of those same mysteries which elsewhere conceal a profound conspiracy against the State and religion."(9)
The only criticism British Freemasons may make on this verdict is that Barruel regards Masonry as a system which originally contained an element of danger that has been eliminated in England whilst they regard it as a system originally innocuous into which a dangerous element was inserted on the Continent.
Thus according to the former conception Freemasonry might be compared to one of the brass shell-cases brought back from the battle-fields of France and converted into a flower-pot holder, whilst according to the latter it resembles an innocent brass flowerpot holder which has been used as a receptacle for explosives. The fact is that, as I shall endeavour to show in the course of this book, Freemasonry being a composite system there is some justification for both these theories. In either case it will be seen that Continental Masonry alone stands condemned.
The plan of representing Robison and Barruel as the enemies of British Masonry can therefore only be regarded as a method for discrediting them in the eyes of British Freemasons, and consequently for bringing the latter over to the side of their antagonists. Exactly the same method of attack has been directed against those of us who during the last few years have attempted to warn the world of the secret forces working to destroy civilization; in my own case even the plan of accusing me of having attacked British Masonry has been adopted without the shadow of a foundation. From the beginning I have always differentiated between British and Grand Orient Masonry, and have numbered high British Masons amongst my friends. But what is the main charge brought against us? Like Robison and Barruel, we are accused of raising a false alarm of creating a bogey, or of being the victims of an obsession. Up to a point this is comprehensible. Whilst on the Continent the importance of secret societies is taken as a matter of course and the libraries of foreign capitals teem with books on the question, people in this country really imagine that secret societies are things of the past--articles to this effect appeared quite recently in two leading London newspapers--whilst practically nothing of any value has been written about them in our language during the last hundred years. Hence ideas that are commonplaces on the Continent here appear sensational and extravagant. The mind of the Englishman does not readily accept anything he cannot see or even sometimes anything he can see which is unprecedented in his experience, that like the West American farmer, confronted for the first time by the sight of a giraffe, his impulse is to cry out angrily: "I don't believe it ! "
But whilst making all allowance for honest ignorance and incredulity, it is impossible not to recognize a certain method in the manner in which the cry of "obsession" or "bogey " is raised. For it will be noticed that people who specialize on other subjects are not described as "obsessed." We do not hear, for example, that Professor Einstein has Relativity " on the brain" because he writes and lectures exclusively an this question, nor do we hear it suggested that Mr. Howard Carter is obsessed with the idea of Tutankhamen and that it would be well if he were to set out for the South Pole by way of a change. Again, all those who warn the world concerning eventualities they conceive to be a danger is not accused of creating bogeys. Thus although Lord Roberts was denounced as a scaremonger for urging the country to prepare for defence against a design openly avowed by Germany both in speech and print, and the Duke of Northumberland was declared to be the victim of a delusion for believing in the existence of a plot against the British Empire which had been proclaimed in a thousand revolutionary harangues and pamphlets, people who, without bothering to produce a shred of documentary evidence, have recently sounded the alarm on the menace of " French Imperialism " and asserted that our late Allies are now engaged in building a vast fleet of aeroplanes in order to attack our coasts, are not held to be either scaremongers or insane. On the contrary, although some of these same people were proved by events to have been completely wrong in their prognostications at the beginning of the Great War, they are still regarded as oracles and sometimes even described as "thinking for half Europe."
Another instance of this kind may be cited in the case of Mr. John Spargo, author of a small book entitled The Jew and American Ideals. On page 37 of this work Mr. Spargo in refuting the accusations brought against the Jews observes:
Belief in widespread conspiracies directed at individuals or the state is probably the commonest form assumed by the human mind when it loses its balance and its sense of proportion.
Yet on page 6 Mr. Spargo declares that when visiting this country in September and October 1920:
I found in England great nation-wide organizations, obviously well financed, devoted to the sinister purpose of creating anti-Jewish feeling and sentiment. I found special articles in influential newspapers devoted to the same evil purpose. I found at least one journal, obviously well financed again, exclusively devoted to the fostering of suspicion, fear, and hatred against the Jew . . . and in the bookstores I discovered a whole library of books devoted to the same end.
It will be seen then that a belief in widespread conspiracies is not always to be regarded as a sign of loss of mental balance, even when these conspiracies remain completely invisible to the general public. For those of us who were in London during the period of Mr. Spargo's visit saw nothing of the things he here describes. Where, we ask, were these "great nation-wide organizations "striving to create anti-Jewish sentiments? What were their names? By who were they led? It is true, however, that there were nation-wide organizations in existence here at this date instituted for the purpose of combating Bolshevism. Is anti-Bolshevism then synonymous with "anti- Semitism "?(10) This is the conclusion to which one is inevitably led. For it will be noticed that anyone who attempts to expose the secret forces behind the revolutionary movement, whether he mentions Jews in this connexion or even if he goes out of his way to exonerate them, will incur the hostility of the Jews and their friends and will still be described as "anti-Semite." The realization of this fact has led me particularly to include the Jews in the study of secret societies.
The object of the present book is therefore to carry further the enquiry I began in World Revolution, by tracing the course of revolutionary ideas through secret societies from the earliest times, indicating the role of the Jews only where it is to be clearly detected, but not seeking to implicate them where good evidence is not forthcoming.
For this reason I shall not base assertions on merely "anti-Semite " works, but principally on the writings of the Jews themselves. In the same way with regard to secret societies I shall rely as far as possible on the documents and admissions of their members, on which point I have been able to collect a great deal of fresh data entirely corroborating my former thesis. It should be understood that I do not propose to give a complete history of secret societies, but only of secret societies in their relation to the revolutionary movement. I shall therefore not attempt to describe the theories of occultism nor to enquire into the secrets of Freemasonry, but simply to relate the history of these systems in order to show the manner in which they have been utilize for a subversive purpose. If I then fail to convince the incredulous that secret forces of revolution exist, it will not be for want of evidence.
NESTA H. WEBSTER.
- Moniteur for the 14th Fructidor, An II.
- Seth Payson, Proofs of the Real Existence and Dangerous Tendency of Illuminism (Charleston, 1802), pp. 5-7.
- Ibid., p. 5 note.
- Quoted in the Life of John Robison (1739-1805) by George Stronach in the Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XLIX. p. 58.
- Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Vol. VII, pp. 538, 539 (1815).
- Freemasonry, its Pretensions Exposed . . . by a Master Mason, p. 275 (New York, 1828).
- Mémoires sur la Jacobinisme, II. 195 (1818 edition).
- Barruel, op. cit., II. 208.
- Ibid., II. 311.
- I use the word " anti-Semitism " here in the sense in which it has come be used-- that is to say, anti-Jewry, but place it in inverted commas cause it is in reality a misnomer coined by the Jews in order to create a false impression. The word anti- Semite literally signifies a person who adopts a hostile attitude towards all the descendants of Shem--the Arabs, and the entire twelve tribes of Israel. To apply the term to a person who is merely antagonistic to that fraction of the Semitic race known as the Jews is therefore absurd, and leads to the ridiculous situation that one may be described as " anti-Semitic and pro-Arabian." This expression actually occurred in The New Palestine (New York), March 23, 1923. One might as well speak of being "anti-British and pro-English."
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