IntroductionYou probably know the Illuminati from one of the Tomb Raider or DaVinci Code films, or from that 1970's series of science fiction novels, but those works aren't a history lesson; they're fiction. There actually really was once a group called the Order of the Illuminati. They existed in Bavaria in the 18th century. That's what this book is about.John Robison's 1798 book Proofs of a Conspiracy tells the history of the Illuminati as he learned it through correspondence with Baron Knigge, an original member, who became disillusioned with the Order and ultimately left it. Origins and Structure of the Bavarian IlluminatiThe Order of the Illuminati was a splinter group of the Theodor zum guten Rath ("Theodore of Good Council") Freemasonic lodge in Munich, so let's cover a few basics about the Masons first.The Freemasons started as a trade guild and fraternal organization of stonecutters and builders in the 12- or 1300's... something like the Rotary Club, except with more secrecy and mysticism. The traditional symbol of Freemasonry includes the square and compass -traditional tools of the architects- as well as the all-seeing eye at the top. There's some controversy as to what the "G" stands for.Their original function was to share trade secrets among their members- to improve the quality of the guild- but to keep the same from non-guild members. Thus, a lot of their rituals involved demonstrating an ability to keep secrets.As Europe emerged from the Middle Ages, the power of most guilds diminished, but the Masonic lodges persisted, because their secrecy provided a safe place to discuss the new philosophies of the Enlightenment, which dared question the Church and other established institutions. Over time, the Masons opened up membership to men outside building professions.In 1776, Adam Weishaupt, a professor of Canon Law at the University of Ingolstadt, conceived that he could use the clandestine environment of his local lodge to start his own covert group: the Order of Illuminati. Adam WeishauptHe hand-selected a few trusted, like-minded friends from his lodge to be his lieutenants. In an overzealous spirit of the Enlightenment, his grand purpose was the destruction of the Catholic church and all existing European monarchies- the two great evils which kept mankind from realizing its full potential. In his new order, men illuminated by reason and science would prevail over old superstitions.The general plan was to install a secret network of Illuminati officers in the highest possible positions throughout Europe, while simultaneously sabotaging activities of Church and princes. Baron Knigge was one of the top leiutenants until he got cold feet upon learning Weishaupt's baser character, which was hidden from most of his co-conspirators. Despite all his rosy words about Reason, Weishaupt was just a garden variety narcissistic megalomaniac. His real plan was to rule as despot over all the Earth, with the rest of mankind reduced to his slaves. Who’d a thunk it, huh? The middle part of the book gets into a lot of nitty gritty about how the Illuminati was to grow and spread, while keeping its true purpose hidden. It's all very Machiavellian. A lot of it reminded me of the mafia. As lower ranking members proved themselves, the Order gained incriminating information about them, until eventually they graduated to become "made men", whom the Order had so much dirt on, they couldn’t possibly leave without destroying themselves and their families.Here's a schematic of the basic idea:That pyramid with the All-Seeing Eye at the top is a favorite symbol of the Illuminati. Another favorite is the owl Glaucus, the Owl of Minerva. He stands for wisdom or secret knowledge, and sees in the dark, as if illuminated with a special light only he can see. Initiate Illuminati are called "Minervals".Naturally, when other secretive groups use owls, like the exclusive Bohemian Grove, it always invites speculation of Illuminati ties. More on that later.And then there's this:More on that later, too.It's ironic that an order ostensibly determined to rid the world of superstition would dabble in so much mystical hoodoo, but there you go. The Illuminati 1776-1798The early history of the Order is a succession of stunning successes. Illuminism quickly spread to Freemasonic lodges throughout Europe and America, providing Weishaupt with a spy network which allowed him to enrich himself and the Order with insider information. The whole scheme had a major setback in 1786, when a high-ranking Illuminus named Zwack made a powerful enemy of the Elector of Bavaria (a sort of magistrate acting on behalf of the prince, I gather). Zwack's home was raided by authorities, and enough incriminating documents were found to expose the general plan of the Illuminati and some of its members. The group was banned, and Masonic lodges came under careful police scrutiny, greatly impeding Weishaupt's plans, especially his ability to recruit new members. He delt with the setback by expanding activities into to the popular "reading societies" of the day. These were essentially coffeehouse book clubs and philosophical discussion groups. The last portion of the book is the most detailed, and if any of this book can be said to contain proofs of a conspiracy, it is this section. It covers Illuminati activites during the French Revolution. There are a lot of citations here to other writings, and a lot of specific collaborators named, which some historian should be able to corroborate or disprove. Mark Booth's [b:The Secret History of the World|2016466|The Secret History of the World As Laid Down by the Secret Societies|Mark Booth|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1303773849s/2016466.jpg|2020760] discusses the role of Freemasonry during the French Revolution. Their lodges were the site of a lot of seditious activity, again because of the secrecy they enjoyed. According to Knigge, the Duke of Orleans- already a high-level Mason in his own right- was initiated as a Minerval. He seemed to be scheming to use the Illuminati to depose Louis XVI and take the French throne for himself. In retrospect, he was duped; Weishaupt’s agents used his money and influence to incite upheaval, but then turned the crowd on him when they were done with him. He was guillotined on November 6, 1793.So What?If this story is true, it raises the question of whether the Illuminati are still around today. I have a few thoughts on that, but let’s just be clear: I’m done reviewing the book now, and the rest of this is my own speculation.Looking around at the world we live in today, I think it is fair to say that it’s dominated by a few power blocks: China, Russia, the Muslim World, "the West" (really a social/cultural/political term, not a geographic one), and the Developing World. We can bicker about those categories, but let’s let it be for now. If there is an Illuminati around today, I don’t see evidence of them running China, Russia, or the Muslim World. Do they run The West? If you look at where power and wealth are concentrated in the West, you will come across groups of powerful individuals who operate in semi-secrecy (because plausible deniability is easier to maintain than absolute secrecy), and who seem to share Weishaupt's dream of an integrated global government. I’m talking about the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the Club of Rome, the Council on Foreign Relations, and a few others. Are these guys the Illuminati? If they are, then the Illuminati has made some changes since 1798. For one thing, as mentioned above, they’ve stopped trying to maintain absolute secrecy, and settled for plausible deniability. For another thing, they’ve started admitting women into their ranks, and they’ve outgrown the confines of Freemasonry. Well, times change; maybe today's Bilderbergs are the Illuminati. After all, look at all the Illuminati imagery on the dollar bill...(is the 1776 at the base of the pyramid a reference to our Declaration of Independence, or Weishaupt founding his Order of the Illuminati?)In our government...on corporate logos...in pop culture...and assorted other places...It's easy to find a lot of Illuminati symbolism in our modern world. Here's a good link to check out if you want to find even more.Does this prove the Bavarian Illuminati lived on into present day? Not really, but I don't think use of all those symbols is just random coincidence; it seems like somebody somewhere is probably using them with intent, as in homage. That's what I think is going on: modern would-be oligarchs pepper our world with pyramids and owls as a sort of wink-and-nod to their fellows in crime, who share a snicker at the country club, at all the serfs out there who aren't in on the joke. Ultimately, it doesn't matter much to me whether modern-day Illuminati exist, or people in high places today just draw inspiration from their memory. Either way, there’s evidence enough that Bilderbergers, Trilaterals, and the rest share Weishaupt’s old dream of global oligarchical rule. That’s the real issue to me. Even if they burned out long ago, the old Bavarian Illuminati are still with us in spirit. Pop culture may misuse the term "Illuminati" as shorthand for generic secretive powerful people who want to rule the world, but that's okay; our modern-day Bilderbergers (etc) are their philosophical if not literal heirs.