Political Secret Societies: The Hidden Paths of Power
January 13, 2013
By JAMES WASSERMAN
Did Zanoni belong to this mystical Fraternity, who, in an earlier age, boasted of secrets of which the Philosopher’s Stone was but the least; who considered themselves the heirs of all that the Chaldeans, the Magi, the Gymnosophists, and the Platonists had taught; and who differed from all the darker Sons of Magic in the virtue of their lives, the purity of their doctrines, and their insist*ing, as the foundation of all wisdom, on the subjugation of the senses, and the intensity of Religious Faith?
– Zanoni, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton
The governments of the present day have to deal not merely with other govern*ments, with emperors, kings and ministers, but also with the secret societies which have everywhere their unscrupulous agents, and can at the last moment upset all the governments’ plans.
– British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, 1876
Two very different views of secret societies are revealed in the quotations above. The first describes a spiritual brotherhood pledged to Wisdom and guiding humanity toward the realm of the Infinite; the second seeks to expose the machinations of power-seekers who cloak their manipulative agendas in darkness. In addition to spiritual and political secret societies, one could add criminal secret societies such as the Mafia, or even clandestine elite military units – neither of which will be discussed here.
All secret societies share certain fundamental themes. Membership is restricted to those who have an abiding interest in the subject. Thus, a spiritual group will attract people seeking more knowledge of a particular teacher or type of practice. The student is aware of the subject matter in advance and will approach the group for further instruction. More rarely, an individual may be “tapped” by the group because of a perceived affinity to its purpose.
In a political secret society, membership is restricted to those who share an ideological affinity with the goals the group represents. At the furthest end of the political spectrum, the mission will be revolution. Such a society will go to great lengths to defend itself. Generally there will be small semiautonomous cells working in overall concert but with cut-outs introduced at all levels to pro*tect other members from exposure or betrayal. This type of society is represented by a contemporary group such as al-Qaeda. The infamous Weathermen of the 1960s and 1970s had a sim*ilar structure. The clandestine revolutionary model was developed and perfected by Hasan-i-Sabah, leader of the Nizari Ismaili Order of Assassins between the late 11th and early 12th centuries.
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