From Chapter One. The Founding of the Order and the Man Who Founded It
The isolation in which young professor Adam Weishaupt found himself was the consequence of his errors in conduct, his foolhardy language, and his scheming. But he held too high an opinion of himself to acknowledge his own faults, and his pride found the most flattering explanation for the enmity he had inspired. In complete good faith Weishaupt considered himself as a martyr of free thought fighting at the University of Ingolstadt against the upholders of obscurantism. He believed he was persecuted by them because “it was dangerous to be a man who thinks and loves the truth of professing natural law and practical philosophy to their fullest extent.”39 His anxious mind exaggerated the power of the clerical faction and the importance of their hostility, which, although real, had yet failed to deliver any palpable blows against him.40 His vanity refused to recognize that it was his own ingratitude that had alienated the leader of the philosophical faction at Ingolstadt, and he convinced himself that Ickstatt had pusillanimously joined with his natural enemies to sacrifice the one man with the courage to profess true principles without any cowardly reservations. Thus the bold confessor of the truth found himself alone to battle, with visor raised, against the bigoted rabble. A less hardened will would have allowed this modest professor of a University of little prestige lost in a remote corner of Bavaria, who was poorly paid, poorly viewed by the majority of his colleagues, despised by his Trustee, and watched and suspected by all those scandalized at the radical nature of his opinions, flounder in inert resignation or drown in a persecution mania. But the soul of Weishaupt had two powerful motivating forces at its disposal: his thirst for proselytizing and his will to power. The vocation he once dreamed about in Ickstatt’s library now appeared to him more necessary than ever. To successfully fight the enemies of Reason, it would be necessary, he thought, to go on the offensive. By opening the eyes of others to the light, he would recruit a band of loyal followers, an increasingly powerful faction whose support he could rely upon and it would be his pleasure to educate attentive and respectful disciples whom he could guide and command, and be in his turn the teacher. While continuing to teach his classes, keeping an eye on the Jesuits’ maneuvers, fighting his colleagues and the Trustee, he formed the plan for an association that he would lead, which would create propaganda for Truth and Reason and with the growing number of his troops supporting free thought and progress he would oppose the coalition forces of lies and superstition.
He was the only person in Ingolstadt he could rely upon to lead such an undertaking to a successful conclusion, an undertaking he was convinced would bring him all that life had to offer such as security, satisfaction of his self-esteem, the pleasure of command, and the delight provided by helping truth to triumph. Where could he find allies to help him lead his struggle against the powerful factions that sought to keep the masses shackled to stupidity and superstition and who persecuted those who championed progress and reason, allies numerous enough to form a formidable army, but with enough discretion to avoid arousing the attention of an enemy too powerful to assail openly at first, allies skillful enough to undermine the foundations of the ramparts that could not be taken by brute force? History held the answers to this question. Didn’t history teach that the mysteries of Eleusis had gathered together all the higher minds of Greece who worshipped one God who demanded neither fatted heifers, or talents of silver or gold, while the ignorant mob, kept in its error by a self-interested clergy, made sacrifices to the countless gods of a vulgar polytheism? Hadn’t he also read that the powerful secret society of the Pythagorians of Crotona had been able to rule that city for a long span of years? Thus, it would be in secret societies where he should seek out the lever he required, for it was through such societies that progress had made its way through the world, and within them dwelled a power whose concealment made it yet more irresistible. Through a kind of brilliant premonition he had sensed this truth long before history and reflection had combined to reveal it to him. At the age of eighteen, while still on the benches of the University, “at the time when the assiduous reading of the Greek and Roman historians had inspired in him a precocious hatred of all baseness and oppression,” he had deduced how weak man was outside a group, and how a group gave him strength, and he had drawn up the “imperfect and puerile” statutes of an association whose purpose would be “to strengthen the ties that bind men together and gather together their scattered forces.”41
As chance would have it, at the same time Weishaupt reached this conclusion his attention was drawn to a contemporary secret society of which he had often heard others speak. Toward the end of 1774, a Protestant originally from Hanover arrived in Ingolstadt, with whom he became friendly. He asked this stranger for information concerning the organization of Protestant universities and about the student secret societies that flourished there. He saw mysterious papers in the Hanoverian’s possession and this latter let it be known that he was connected to the Freemasons. As he displayed great reserve on this subject, Weishaupt, whose curiosity was quickly aroused because of his reluctance, sought to get an idea of the nature and organization of this secret society by putting together the fragments of confidences torn from his interlocutor and charging his imagination with the task of filling in the gaps that the initiate’s discretion had left in his description. He was particularly struck by the profound difference between the true and the false Freemasonry and the ease with which a candidate poorly served by circumstance could be led astray on this major point. Following a rather peculiar line of reasoning, he concluded that the authentic Freemasonry must be something of infinitely rare and excellent quality, and he envisioned it in a way that fired his enthusiasm. He could conceive of nothing more perfect, more logical, or wiser than the constitution of this society. He imagined that it would have to use the most extreme prudence when selecting its members, and that it would subject these members constantly to severe tests. Completely consumed by this idea, he renounced the project he had been forming to found his own occult association and “deeming like many others that it was more convenient to sit down at a table that was already set than to set his own table,”42 he resolved to join, whatever the cost with the Freemasons, in order to find wherein “a haven for oppressed innocence.”43
As his initiator had left at this juncture without giving him any more precise clues, Weishaupt wrote to all the places he believed Freemasons might be found. He received an answer from Nuremberg that the brothers of that city were disposed to accept him into their lodge. This answer filled him with joy and, his imagination continuing to run wild, he concluded that the Freemasons of Ingolstadt had received an order to keep him under surveillance and provide a report of his conduct. He suspected all men living an austere and hermit-like existence of belonging to the Society and, certain that he was being meticulously observed by numerous strangers, and strongly convinced that not a single action escaped their notice, sought to fulfill his duties with the greatest sense of exactitude.44
However his exaltation deflated fairly quickly for two reasons. First, the costs of admission into the Nuremberg Lodge, coupled with those necessary for traveling and living expenses there exceeded the means of the young professor. The Nuremberg Freemasons, on being informed of his difficulties, referred him to Munich, where there was another Lodge of the same obedience and which had announced it was ready to accept him as a member, but here too the entrance fees were too steep for him. Furthermore, he found the books on Freemasonry he had procured deeply disappointing. He was very disheartened to find all the grades imprinted within them and then learning that they were in fact the authentic grades. As the mystery evaporated so did the charm that Freemasonry had exerted on his overheated imagination; moreover, the grades that he had the opportunity of reading responded in no way to the ideal he had formed of them. He therefore abandoned his plan to solicit admittance into the society but his disillusionment did not clip the wings of his fantasy. The idea of the utility that an association of this kind would possess and all that, from his own experience, he felt could be obtained from men through their attraction to mystery had rooted itself deeply in his mind.45 He returned to his original plan and resolved to found a model secret society himself.