Pierre-Andre Taguieff (CNRS research director, Paris): Interview on “La foire aux Illuminés. Esotericism, conspiration theories, extremism”, Paris, Fayard/Mille et une Nuits, 2005. This interview was published by “Le Nouvel Observateur”, n° 2138, October-2 27 November 2005, pp. 18-21, under the title "the tireless conspiracy myth" (interview by Laure Garcia and Claude Weill).
From the Bavarian Illuminati to 9/11: The tireless conspiracy myth.
The author of reference on “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, deconstructs, in La foire aux Illuminés, the widespread passion for conspiracy theories and other wild political and esoteric imaginings.
Le Nouvel Observateur (NO) – The "Protocols" are a century old. We have known for more than eighty years that they are a forgery. Yourself, in 2004, took them apart completely (1). But many people, particularly in the Muslim world, still persist in referring to it, quoting it, holding up to it. How do you explain this?
Pierre-Andre Taguieff. - By the force of prejudice and the need for simplistic explanations. Those who believe in the Protocols believe that the Jews want to dominate the world. This is their explanation for the chaos they believe the world to be in. The Protocols are a skilful forgery, and they belong to a long conspirationist tradition. They borrow not only from the "Dialogue in hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu" by Maurice Joly, a very consistent text, but also to all sorts of antisemitic writings, antitalmudic pamphlets and other forgeries, such as "the Rabbi’s speech", where a secret leader of the Jewish people addresses his pars and tells them how they will conquer the world. Same imaginary referent, same story. The "Protocols" are a forgery crafted out of other forgeries that validate each other. It does not matter in the end, for those who believe in them, that they are fake: what matters is that the "document" seems "instructive". The theory of the plot, like any paranoid construction, is irrefutable: any evidence put forward that the plot does not exist becomes evidence that it does. And, as suggested by Hitler in the fifteen lines devoted to the "Protocols" in "Mein Kampf": the evidence that they are authentic, is that the Jews never stop claiming that they are a forgery...
N O. - In " La foire aux Illuminés ", you suggest that the "Protocols" belong to a long genealogy that starts with the denunciation of the Bavarian Illuminati. Why do you give so much importance to these Illuminati that everyone had forgotten until Dan Brown exhumed them?
P.-A. Taguieff. - They are my starting point. The modern myth of a jewish-masonic conspiracy comes from there. As early as by the end of the 18th century, counter-revolutionary authors were denouncing the "conspiracy of the Illuminati": according to this theory the French Revolution was the result of a plot aiming to abolish both the Church and the monarchy. And this plot was led by the Illuminati, i.e. the freemasons, trying to spread the pernicious ideology of the Enlightenment. This was the thesis supported by Barruel in his "Memories to be used for the history of Jacobinism" (1797-1798). The Bavarian Illuminati order existed only for nine years, between 1776 and 1785, and only counted a few hundred members. But they became legendary, and the small "secret society" became the mother of all conspiracies.
N O. - What has this got to do with the Jews?
P.-A. Taguieff. - They come in only later. The expression "jewish-masonic plot" emerges at the end of the 19th century. The founding act, in the prehistory of the "Protocols", is a fake letter by Barruel, in 1806: a (fictional) Captain Simonini writes that a highly influential Jewish friend of his told him: the sect that secretly directs all the sects is the "Jewish sect". It is the "head of the snake", a theme constantly developed by the antisemitic right subsequently. The Vatican has a lot to do with it: for example the Vatican denounced the first Zionist congress in 1897 as a "secret meeting of the Jewish International", and this in the middle of the Dreyfus affair. This very effective propaganda helped to establish conspirationism into the Christian world.
N O. - Conspirationism, i.e. the belief that hidden powers handle the world, is timeless. Is this a political phenomenon or a natural disposition of the human mind?
P.-A. Taguieff. - I lean towards historicity. In a world governed by magic, or by Providence, the occult forces are not human, but either natural or supernatural. As soon as everything is brought back to a human dimension, "secret societies" replace the demons, and the invisible elites are believed to try and establish a satanic order. According to Lévi-Strauss, the characteristic of the myth is to re-create itself out of other myths. See the transformations of the world conspiracy myth: initially masonic, it became jewish-masonic, then jewish-bolshevik, jewish-capitalist or plutocratic, american-Zionist...
Since the 1950s, after the shock of the creation of Israel, radical “anti-Zionism” has reactivated the myth of the Jewish conspiracy for the domination of the world, of which Israel would be only the visible part. Just as the story, hawked in some Arab and Muslim media, according to which not a single Jew went to work in the World Trade Center on 9/11, feeds off the mythology of the "Protocols".
N O. – But isn’t this too centred on Jews? Not every single conspiracy theory is antisemitic!
P.-A. Taguieff. – This is not what I am saying. In my previous book, Preachers of Hatred, I focussed on the antisemitic dimension of the "megaconspiracy". In this book, I focus on the mythologisation of freemasonry, considered a subversive and criminal "secret society", supposedly embodied by the Bavarian Illuminati. I discovered that what we believed to be a mere feature of modern antisemitism is in fact made up as an alternative to the "masonic world conspiracy".
N O. - A characteristic of conspiracy theories is to create connections between events that have nothing to do with each other. Isn't this what you are doing? Let’s consider the rumour of Toulouse, or the theses of Thierry Meyssan: what have they got to do with the Illuminati?
P.-A. Taguieff. - Whether the diabolized figures are the "red", the Jew, the "international bankers", the American administration, or today the islamist terrorist, their role is to anchor the myth in social reality. There is no myth without anchoring. I’ll be more specific. In what is commonly called the "conspiracy theory", there are four levels.
1) A simple fear of conspiracies: a normal imaginary framework in our desacralized modern societies.
2) The assumption that this or the other more or less obscure event can be explained by the concerted action of a small group of "bad" people.
3) Ideological operation: conspirationists explain society’s evolution by the evil influence of "secret societies", or hidden powers.
4) The myth: the great pseudo-historical explanation according to which universal history is pre-determined by secret groups.
These four levels all share two postulates: "We are being misled" and "the truth is elsewhere".
N O. - You clearly identify the religious (Catholic) right, enemy of the Enlightenment, as the source of this conspirationist view. But you also make a rather daring link with the rhetoric of the far left, the anti-globalization left in particular, who denounce the domination of the world by a financial oligarchy...
P.-A. Taguieff. – Along with the theory of decline (or decadence), world conspiracy is modernity’s principal anti-modern myth. In the 19th century, Christian traditionalist milieux started denouncing the "plot against God"... Then revolutionary anti-capitalism emerged, new vector for the "hidden masters of the world"’s myth: the masters of finance. The first socialists were chiefly responsible for the "Rothschild myth". Alphonse Toussenel, a disciple of Charles Fourier, published "Jews, kings of the times" in 1845. Marx and Proudhon reduce Judaism to a sordid theology where money is the new god. The "space" of the conspiracy theory was already bipolar: On the far-right, the counter-Revolutionaries, and on the far-left, the anti-capitalists. Drumont reconciles both, with the Jew as the repulsive figure of the synthesis between the two poles.
N O. - But today, what is the relationship between the anti-globalization movement and the far right?
P.-A. Taguieff. – Their rhetoric is the same: an obsession with hidden masters that are cynical and predatory, the denunciation of the manipulators, moanings about the fate of the people being "crucified" on the altar of finance... The far right anti-globalization movement is still alive and kicking, particularly in the United States, and feeds off a well-established conspirationist literature. But anti-globalization movements of the left are also fond of conspiracy theories. The "true Masters of the world" are flushed out behind the "new world order" which they are supposed to be setting up. They handle and control everything. Read one of the leading intellectuals of the neo-conspirationist far-left, Noam Chomsky!
N O. - How do you explain that in our over-informed world, where knowledge was never so accessible, conspiracy theories continue to proliferate?
P.-A. Taguieff. - This is a paradoxical effect of democratic transparency: If it clarifies the role of the secret services, of the political and financial powers, of the mafia, it also feeds the conspirationist imagination. You contribute to it in your own way. The scoop is the little Graal of your trade. You always have to "reveal", to "unveil", to tell "the truth on...". By doing this, you feed the typically conspirationist idea that appearances are misleading, that "the truth is elsewhere", etc. Suspicion becomes the ordinary mode of perception of events. And is turned over against those who provide the information. One of the postulates of conspirationism is precisely that the press never tells the truth.
N O – Hence the conspirationists’ passion for the Internet...
P.-A. Taguieff. – The Internet is an ideal vector for the proliferation of hostile rumours and magic beliefs. Conspiracy theorists understand it well - I am thinking of Dieudonné’s friends, or Thierry Meyssan’s. The Internet makes it possible to spread, without any control, delirious theses that could never be published otherwise. And which, in this world of suspicion, acquire by their “immediate” nature a priceless status: if you receive an "important" piece of information in confidence, by word of mouth, computer to computer, you are an initiate. Here, there is no counter-power, no critical apparatus. Internet is the anti-Enlightenment.
N O. – You also say that Internet is the privileged medium of a rising far-right’s esoteric literature.
P.-A. Taguieff. - Links between esotericism and conspirationism have recently multiplied: under the cover of a vulgarised esotericism, a set of extremist themes is spread, making the most of a considerable audience. Some books have now moved from the specialized bookshops of the far right to the "esotericism" counters of ordinary bookshops. These links between skilful negationism, delirious ufology and jewish-masonic conspiracy theories are about twenty years old. The founding text of this new wave is a book by pseudo-historians Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, published in the UK in 1982, and a best-seller at once. "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" has found two ways to posterity. One is fictional: Dan Brown largely drew from it for his "Da Vinci Code". The other is political and conspirationist: it runs in the esoteric neo-nazi literature. The link is not fortuitous. During the 19th century, occultism, in the stride of romanticism, became normalised exactly at the time as world conspiracy theories emerged. In both cases, the main idea is that “nothing happens just by chance”. “Nothing is as it seems”. This is the source of the passion for decoding that Dan Brown exploits. People want to decipher, to unveil. And it is never over...
(1) « Les Protocoles des sages de Sion. Faux et usages d'un faux », new edition, Fayard-Berg International.
Pierre-Andre Taguieff, 59, philosopher, sociologist and historian of political ideas, is a research director at CNRS La foire aux Illuminés. Esotericism, conspiracy theories, extremism
Interview: Laure Garcia and Claude Weill
From the Bavarian Illuminati to 9/11: an interview with Pierre-Andre Taguieff
Added by Alexandra Simonon on December 12, 2005 04:33:42 PM.