Sunday, February 8, 2009

‘Diogenes’ Lamp’

It’s been months since the Magpie Mason reviewed a book, and now that the 2008 offering from the Masonic Book Club is out, what better opportunity?

“Diogenes’ Lamp” by Adam Weishaupt is subtitled “Or, an Examination of Our Present-Day Morality and Enlightenment.”

If you know who Weishaupt was, you realize his present day was the late 18th and early 19th centuries – the Enlightenment – and that he founded the storied and feared Illuminati. But it would be wrong to view this as an Illuminati book. This originally was published near the end of Weishaupt’s life, several decades after the Illuminati was suppressed by the state, and the author renounced his affiliation with the order.

Diogenes of course was the Greek philospher of the Cynic school who carried a lamp in broad daylight in his search for an honest man.

“When I compare our world of today with the worlds of older times – the worlds of the Greeks and the Romans, or even just the Middle Ages – the differences appear so great to me that, by my way of thinking, people from those distant eras would have trouble recognizing themselves in us or convincing themselves that the scene of their former activities is still the same place and that we are their descendants,” Weishaupt begins his book. “Not just people and actors have changed, but also objects and things. Both Heaven and Earth have expanded since that time, and entirely new peoples have shared in the ruling of this earthly globe. Where, in the older world, nomadic tribes wandered with their flocks through the wilderness, states have now arisen that, like so many powers of the first water, have advanced the direction of European political knowledge.”

If only the man could have seen how his own name and his Illuminati would fuel the minds of paranoid, benighted kooks and opportunist authoritarians alike in generations to come.

“Diogenes’ Lamp” is a discourse in the first person. Not divided into chapters or subjects (he really could have benefitted from an editor), this book is a clarion in Weishaupt’s voice calling for man to arise to right thinking and right action. It is a philosophical treatise, and reading it, one cannot help but wonder why he continues to inspire so many conspiracy theorists. Not only is his philosophy non-threatening to decent people and just societies, but there isn’t even anything “new” in his thinking.

“For about four thousand years, as far back as our history goes, we humans have, on this earth, thought, acted, believed, taught, and governed. Despite all this, it is widely and generally believed that we remain unchanged, and not one iota better than before. If this belief has grounds, then thinking, believing, teaching, and governing are the most unnecessary things in the world, and it would be impossible to make their disgrace and disparagement more plain.”

Here he seems to reject Rousseau’s grim view of human nature and culture. He continues:

“Our assessment of humanity’s moral behavior does not look much better. In this area as well, all human beings hold very high opinions of themselves. Humanity’s finer side conceals such opinions behind the veil of modesty. But this so-pleasant virtue is for the most part just a facial expression we assume... As a result, everyone has the greatest difficulty suspecting themselves capable of flaws and afflictions.”

I’m reminded of Decartes and his “Discourse on Method,” in which his wit and candor are set to labor, very effectively, to make the reader laugh at human foibles. Weishaupt however is more blunt than witty.

“I am malicious, if this way of being different deserves to be called malicious, because I am neither a flatterer nor blind; because I distinguish between the better driving forces and the worse ones; because no one could wish more for things to be better than they are; and because at the same time I am convinced that things cannot be better until people stop failing to recognize the true forces driving their actions. If using a higher standard to determine people’s true value indicates maliciousness, then I cannot deny that I am malicious, and I believe I would be the loser if I were any other way.”

Contrary to resembling the architect of a godless, totalitarian “New World Order,” Weishaupt reveals himself in these pages as an optimistic thinker with highly Catholic tastes. (He was Jesuit educated.)

“Our men of the world are completely correct when they claim that a person can act morally, be a very upright, generally respected, and beloved man, and still be able to deny the future. People certainly have sufficient other reasons for behaving justly and correctly. They do not require the gallows or the wheel to do so. A certain moral behavior results from the nature of the relationships under which we live. Our needs force us to fulfill certain obligations. Some of the ends we pursue with themost yearning cannot be achieved without our suppression of our own demands and self-interest. It is in every man’s interest to be just and moderate… There is also no lack of examples of men who denied the future and yet lived as philanthropists.

“This may well all be probably perfectly true. A morality built on unbelief may be completely adequate for humans to become the way they currently are, but it is not adequate if people want to become more than they currently are; it is not adequate if the source of our lamentations is to be lifted. it does not suffice for making people into what they are capable of becoming, or ennobling the mind itself as the source of all behavior. it does not suffice for people to act uniformly and always in this same manner. It does not raise the mind up above all temptations and attractions, to do the opposite. there are situations in which the usual reasons for correct behavior do not pass the test. There are situations that raise people up above the usual considerations...

“Therefore, if men of the world call upon the philanthropy and goodness of their actions as evidence of higher morality, they may indeed be very good, when judged by their effects, but this does not prevent the source from being dishonest and the foundation from being shaky. What is truly good is found not in the actions but in the convictions. The virtue exists not in individual deeds, because virtue is a Whole, and where it is not, there can be good deeds that are not good, and there are only too many of those.”

For Weishaupt, the perfect society is a busy place. Its citizens are striving for happiness, each by bringing his strengths and weaknesses into balance. In Masonic history, Operative Masonry was the laborious construction of physical buildings, which gave way to Speculative Masonry, as in the improvement of the self through gradual embracing of high minded ideals. Adam Weishaupt takes us full circle. His Operatives would metabolize the Speculative teachings, making them second nature, and then resume their labors in constructing, not stone cathedrals, but societies founded on virtues.

Of course that is what agitates the manipulators of religion and politics. In short, his thesis is the twin of that of the 32° of Scottish Rite Masonry, which came to light almost simultaneously to the publication of this book.

Drawing his conclusion, Weishaupt says “...we would be very much in error if we wanted to believe that this insight and conviction are for everyone. Convincing oneself that such a way of acting is the only way and the best way requires, if you do not want to fool and undermine yourself with empty words, great understanding of the overall situation, and thus a very highly developed mind. It presupposes that you first know how many ways of acting exist, which effect result from each of them, how every deed, emotion, and idea behaves in relation to what has already happened. It requires you to be able to prove the agreement and the contradictions of yourself and others, and to be able to distinguish the apparent agreement or contradiction from the real. All of these are great and unusual prerequisites and characteristics.

“In general, acting in accordance with the purest of motivations and highest principles is such an equivocal thing, associated with so many difficulties, that in reality it is one of the rarest of occurrences.”

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It is essential reading, but there are big problems with this book. Masonic Book Club publications often are facsimiles of original and rare titles, allowing the modern eye to see the books as they were intended for the first readers. Because Weishaupt’s original is in German, a direct reproduction is impossible. The typeface chosen for this printing makes an already challenging content a little more difficult to read for comprehension. I don’t know the name of this font, but it is italicized and has exaggerated serifs. The accumulated effect of hundreds of pages of this is not kind to the eyes.

Also, Weishaupt, a native of Bavaria, obviously composed his teachings in German, so this publication is an English translation. (The text is translated by Amelia Gill.) Nevertheless, the text includes numerous quotations of Greek, Latin and French sources, and there is extensive use of German; none of these are translated into English. Footnotes could have been used, or even an appendix, but no such luck. A rotten editorial judgment that detracts from this book’s usefulness because Weishaupt uses these quotations for direction before expanding on their meanings.

Even worse, frankly, is the 20-page, two-part introduction authored by Mark Bruback, who inexplicably is credited as a Knight Templar. What that affiliation has to do with this book or with the MBC is lost on me. He also is listed as the project coordinator, a mysterious appellation requiring a visit to his MySpace page for clarification. As it appears on February 8:

“I acquired the dusty old volume, Lara Croft style, in an old Masonic Library where I instantaneously recognized the author’s name and proceeded to carefully flip through the aged manuscript. Printed in Austria in 1804, its brittle 368 pages stirred in me a wonder.”

And then:

“Even though I have been offered thousands of Dollars by various private individuals and churches to sell the original book, I felt it so important to continue this project I had to turn them down. Afraid they might try and destroy it and/or slant it in their own unknown agendas, I declined their offers when the prospect (and need) for money in my life was very strong.

“In order to safe guard the book, I heavily insured it and mailed it to the Masonic Temple in Evanston, Illinois. I let my contact, (the Knight Templar commander who knighted me there in 2001) know the importance (and financial value) of safeguarding the book and suggested it be put in the large vault within the sanctified walls of the temple.”

There is no explanation of how this rare and valuable book, once the property of a Masonic library, came to be owned by Sir Knight Bruback for his disposal. (If SK Bruback is reading this, he is cordially invited to post a comment to explain. The lamp Diogenes carried, after all, was to help him find on honest man.)

He goes on to say he intends to publish this commercially.

“I am relieved now as the Masonic Book Club of America is releasing this gem in December of this year, slated as their book for 2008… This is by no means the stopping point of this project. My literary agent J. Joyce is working hard, as we speak, to find a major publishing house to release this book to the masses.”

I would direct his attention to page iv, where the MBC’s copyright is printed.

Anyway, his introduction to “Diogenes’ Lamp” rambles in a juvenile voice, displays a variety of style inconsistencies, and distracts the reader with countless errors in punctuation and grammar. Note to the editor: The ampersand (&) is not universally interchangeable with “and,” the proper conjunction that eluded you. Albert Mackey’s name has become MacKey. And on, and on. These transgressions are so numerous and so damaging to the book that longtime members of the MBC are in for a staggering shock. Perhaps the patrician reliability of the Club is being dropped in an appeal to the My Space generation. (If you do not know, the Masonic Book Club has begun a new era under new management upon the recent retirement of Robin Carr. I hope the new management gets the help it needs. Today.)

As one popular Masonic author phrased it yesterday, “The good news is that we at last have the first book of authentic Illuminati writings translated into English. The bad news is it's this one.”

This misstep aside, the MBC is worthy of the brethren’s support. I think. Membership is limited to 1,500 and vacancies exist. There is a new website.

1 comment:

OwenKL said...

I just got my copy in the mail last week (January, 2010 !, and I'm a long-time subscriber) and was planning on posting a review to a forum blasting it, but you said most everything I planned, and said it better! The italic print (with emphasis added by spreading the letter spacing, instead of bold or non-italic), the &s, the grammatical errors, and all.

"Juvenile voice" is an excellent term for the Introductory material. There was a fair amount of good background material in part 1, once it got past the irrelevant paean to RA Wilson's entirely fictional Illuminati sci-fi novels, but that and the rant in part 2 were poorly written material that belonged somewheres else other than a fine edition book.

I also missed having any table of contents, index (not that there was much to index - see below) or other such material, other than a title page and Weishaupt's dedication. The lengthy quotations in various languages (probably known well enough by educated readers in 19th century Europe, but certainly not 21st century Americans) were a significant block to understanding. The footnotes were also a puzzle. Were they Weishaupt's, or was the translator reporting the actual German text of sections of the book? Since they were entirely in German, I have no way of knowing. But when one footnote covers 4 entire pages, one would expect them to be included in the translation!

And BTW, thanks for the information on the translator. While she is obviously fluent in both English and German, one wonders why Bruback chose a non-Mason as translator -- aren't there any Masons who know both languages? -- and also one who specializes in science generally, and pharmaceuticals specifically. She seems to have done a good job, and her extra effort to add paragraphing was a blessing, but I wish she had gone a step further and also divided it into chapters.

And that brings me to one aspect I disagree mildly with you on. The text itself, like most German philosophy, is turgid. And what most makes it so is that there is nothing humanizing about. He writes (and I admit I haven't finished it yet) entirely in the abstract. There is not one real-life example, nothing concrete for the reader to grasp on to; not one name, famous person, or specific place mentioned, except for the sources of the numerous quotations (which were, AFAIK, also written entirely in the abstract). There was no index because there was nothing to index!

I'm struggling to read it, because I think it's a book I need to have read. It's an excellent example of the book binder's art, and will look impressive sitting on any shelf. It's just a shame that the pages were messed up by having this printed on them.

Owen Lorion,
Cerrillos Lodge #19,
Santa Fe, NM