Proofs of a Conspiracy discusses the rôle of Continental-style Freemasonry, Adam Weishaupt’s Illuminati, and Karl Friedrich Bahrdt’s German Union in disseminating the ‘Enlightenment’ ideas that led to the French Revolution, and is also the founding text of the modern conspiracy theory of history in the English language. Whatever criticisms may be made in relation to Robison’s methodology, Proofs . . . remains valuable today for several reasons: firstly, it provides a snapshot of Continental-style Freemasonry and secret societies in the 18th century; secondly, it is the earliest attempt, along with Barruel’s, to examine the rôle of conspiracies in a revolution; thirdly, it supplies insights into what we may call the ‘lowlands’ of the ‘Enlightenment’-not its eminent thinkers, but the odd and peculiar characters that were also active in this movement; and, finally, it presents a systematic critique of the ideals that in France led eventually to the Terror, thereby serving as a primary source for understanding opposition to the French Revolution and its core ideal of equality as a moral absolute. The Counter-Enlightenment arguments of authors like Robison are today more relevant than ever, since the politics of the West remain a legacy of his era, to the extent that even conservatives ultimately derive their political philosophy from Locke and rely on terminology based on the seating arrangements of the French National Assembly. Though it was soon forgotten, Proofs . . . has had a lasting impact; indeed, we live in times awash with conspiracy theories. Be it about the Illuminati, the Freemasons, the New World Order, 9/11, or master conspiracies involving all of the above, could the growth of conspiratology tell us something about democratic societies in liberal modernity?
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