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Meet The Man Who Started The Illuminati

The 18th-century German thinker Adam Weishaupt would have been stunned if he had known his ideas would one day fuel global conspiracy theories, and inspire best-selling novels and blockbuster films.Until he was 36, the vast majority of his compatriots would have been equally stunned to discover that this outwardly respectable professor was a dangerous enemy of the state, whose secret society, the Illuminati, was seen to threaten the very fabric of society.Born in 1748 in Ingolstadt, a city in the Electorate of Bavaria (now part of modern-day Germany), Weishaupt was a descendant of Jewish converts to Christianity. Orphaned at a young age, his scholarly uncle took care of his education, and enrolled him in a Jesuit school. After completing his studies, Weishaupt became a professor of natural and canon law at the University of Ingolstadt, married, and started a family. On the surface, it was a conventional enough career—until 1784 when the Bavarian state learned of his incendiary ideas.A closer look at his upbringing, however, reveals that Weishaupt always had a restless mind. As a boy he was an avid reader, consuming books by the latest French Enlightenment philosophers in his uncle’s library. Bavaria at that time was deeply conservative and Catholic. Weishaupt was not the only one who believed that the monarchy and the church were repressing freedom of thought.Convinced that religious ideas were no longer an adequate belief system to govern modern societies, he decided to find another form of “illumination,” a set of ideas and practices that could be applied to radically change the way European states were run.Freemasonry was steadily expanding throughout Europe in this period, offering attractive alternatives to freethinkers. Weishaupt initially thought of joining a lodge. Disillusioned with many of the Freemasons’ ideas, however, he became absorbed in books dealing with such esoteric themes as the Mysteries of the Seven Sages of Memphis and the Kabbala, and decided to found a new secret society of his own. The Kreuztor Gate stands in Ingolstadt, the Bavarian city whose religious and political conservatism Weishaupt sought to challenge. Photograph by Maria Breuer/ImageBroker/Age Fotostock Society of SecretsWeishaupt was not, he said, against religion itself, but rather the way in which it was practiced and imposed. His thinking, he wrote, offered freedom “from all religious prejudices; cultivates the social virtues; and animates them by a great, a feasible, and speedy prospect of universal happiness.” To achieve this, it was necessary to create “a state of liberty and moral equality, freed from the obstacles which subordination, rank, and riches, continually throw in our way.”On the night of May 1, 1776, the first Illuminati met to found the order in a forest near Ingolstadt. Bathed in torchlight, there were five men. There they established the rules that were to govern the order. All future candidates for admission required the members’ consent, a strong reputation with well-established familial and social connections, and wealth.In the beginning, the order’s membership had three levels: novices, minervals, and illuminated minervals. “Minerval” referred to the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, reflecting the order’s aim to spread true knowledge, or illumination, about how society, and the state, might be reshaped.Pull Quote> The Illuminati aimed to create “a state of liberty and moral equality.”Over the following years, Weishaupt’s secret order grew considerably in size and diversity, possibly numbering 600 members b ...Read more

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