Johann Adam Weishaupt (February 6, 1748 in Ingolstadt – November 18, 1830 in Gotha) was a German philosopher and founder of the Order of Illuminati, a secret society with origins in Bavaria.
Adam Weishaupt was born on February 6, 1748 in Ingolstadt
in the Electorate
. Weishaupt's father Johann Georg Weishaupt (1717–1753) died when he was five years old, and he then came under the tutelage of his godfather Johann Adam Freiherr von Ickstatt
who, like his father, was a professor of law at the University of Ingolstadt
. Ickstatt was a proponent of the philosophy of Christian Wolff
and of the Enlightenment
, and he influenced the young Weishaupt with his rationalism
. As a Bavarian, Adam learned Czech and Italiani as a child, and in school, he soon mastered Latin, Greek and, with his father's help, Hebrew. Weishaupt began his formal education at age seven at a school controlled by the Society of Jesus
). With his avid scholarship and knack for languages, his Jesuit superiors thought he would be a natural for overseas missionary work, perhaps in the Americas or in Asia. But Adam rebelled against Jesuit discipline, and resisted their overtures. He later enrolled at the University of Ingolstadt
, and graduated in 1768 at age 20 with a doctorate of law
. Also beginning around 1768, Adam began “the collection of a large library for the purpose of establishing an academy of scholars.” He read every ancient manuscript and text he and his associates could lay hands on. Adam grew interested in the occult, becoming obsessed with the Great Pyramid of Giza. He was convinced that the edifice was a prehistoric temple of initiation. In 1769, he married Afra Sausenhofer of Eichstätt
. In 1770, he made the acquaintance of Franz Kolmer, a Danish merchant who had lived for many years in Alexandria and had made several trips to Giza. The following year, 1771, Adam decided to found a secret society aimed at "transforming" the human race. He devoted five years to thinking out the plan, borrowing from many different occult sources. His first name for the proposed order, Perfectibilism, suggests that he borrowed from the Cathars, a gnostic religion that flourished in Europe for four hundred years. The Cathars, whose name means “perfect ones,” were decimated in the Albigensian Crusade of Pope Innocent III during the early Thirteenth Century. Adam fashioned his order in the form of a pyramid.
In 1772, Adam became a professor of canon law. After Pope Clement XIV’s suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773, Weishaupt was appointed professor of Natural and Canon Law at the University of Ingolstadt, which offended the Jesuits, since this was a position that had been held exclusively by the Jesuits until that time. In 1775 Weishaupt was introduced to the empirical philosophy of Johann Georg Heinrich Feder of the University of Göttingen. Both Feder and Weishaupt would later become opponents of Kantian idealism.
Founder of the Illuminati
At a time, however, when there was no end of making game of and abusing secret societies, I planned to make use of this human foible for a real and worthy goal, for the benefit of people. I wished to do what the heads of the ecclesiastical and secular authorities ought to have done by virtue of their offices...
On May 1, 1776 Weishaupt formed the "Order of Perfectibilists", which was later known as the Illuminati. He adopted the name of "Brother Spartacus" within the order. Though the Order was not egalitarian
or democratic, its mission was to establish a New World Order
, which meant the abolition of all monarchical governments and religions.
Weishaupt wrote: "the ends justified the means." The actual character of the society was modeled on one of its traditionalist enemies, the Jesuits, and was an elaborate network of spies and counter-spies. Each isolated cell of initiates reported to a superior, whom they did not know, a party structure that was effectively adopted by some later groups.
Weishaupt was initiated into the Masonic Lodge "Theodor zum guten Rath", at Munich in 1777. His project of "illumination, enlightening the understanding by the sun of reason, which will dispel the clouds of superstition and of prejudice" was an unwelcome reform. Soon however he had developed gnostic mysteries of his own, with the goal of "perfecting human" nature through re-education to achieve a communal state with nature, freed of government and organized religion. He began working towards incorporating his system of Illuminism with that of Masonry, with the aim of creating a New World Order.
He wrote: "I did not bring Deism into Bavaria more than into Rome. I found it here, in great vigour, more abounding than in any of the neighboring Protestant States. I am proud to be known to the world as the founder of the Illuminati."
Weishaupt's radical rationalism, sweeping away nations and religions, private property and marriage, with the vocabulary used by the French Revolution, was not likely to succeed, and did not. Writings that were intercepted in 1784 were interpreted as seditious, and the Society was banned by the government of Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria in 1784. Weishaupt lost his position at the University of Ingolstadt and fled Bavaria.
Activities in exile
He received the assistance of Duke Ernest II of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1745–1804), and lived in Gotha writing a series of works on Illuminism, including A Complete History of the Persecutions of the Illuminati in Bavaria (1785), A Picture of Illuminism (1786), An Apology for the Illuminati (1786), and An Improved System of Illuminism (1787). Adam Weishaupt died in Gotha on the 18th day of November in the year of our Lord 1830 and was survived by his second wife, Anna Maria (née Sausenhofer), and his children Nanette, Charlotte, Ernst, Karl, Eduard, and Alfred. Weishaupt was buried next to his son Wilhelm who preceded him in death in 1802.
John Robison, a professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh University in Scotland and a member of a Freemason Lodge there, said he had been asked to join the Illuminati. After consideration he concluded that the Illuminati were not for him. In 1798 he published a book called Proofs of a Conspiracy in which he wrote: “An association has been formed for the express purposes of rooting out all the religious establishments and overturning all existing governments... the leaders would rule the World with uncontrollable power, while all the rest would be employed as tools of the ambition of their unknown superiors”. “Proofs of a Conspiracy” was sent to George Washington who replied:
- "It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am. The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of seperation)."
Quotes about Weishaupt
- An enthusiastic philanthropist.
- --Thomas Jefferson
- Wishaupt believes that to promote this perfection of the human character was the object of Jesus Christ. That his intention was simply to reinstate natural religion, & by diffusing the light of his morality, to teach us to govern ourselves. His precepts are the love of god & love of our neighbor. And by teaching innocence of conduct, he expected to place men in their natural state of liberty & equality. He says, no one ever laid a surer foundation for liberty than our grand master, Jesus of Nazareth. He believes the Free masons were originally possessed of the true principles & objects of Christianity, & have still preserved some of them by tradition, but much disfigured. The means he proposes to effect this improvement of human nature are "to enlighten men, to correct their morals & inspire them with benevolence. Secure of our success, sais he, we abstain from violent commotions. To have foreseen, the happiness of posterity & to have prepared it by irreproachable means, suffices for our felicity. The tranquility of our consciences is not troubled by the reproach of aiming at the ruin or overthrow of states or thrones." As Wishaupt lived under the tyranny of a despot & priests, he knew that caution was necessary even in spreading information, & the principles of pure morality. He proposed therefore to lead the Free masons to adopt this object & to make the objects of their institution the diffusion of science & virtue. He proposed to initiate new members into his body by gradations proportioned to his fears of the thunderbolts of tyranny. This has given an air of mystery to his views, was the foundation of his banishment, the subversion of the masonic order, & is the colour for the ravings against him of Robinson, Barruel & Morse, whose real fears are that the craft would be endangered by the spreading of information, reason, & natural morality among men. This subject being new to me, I have imagined that if it be so to you also, you may receive the same satisfaction in seeing, which I have had in forming the analysis of it: & I believe you will think with me that if Wishaupt had written here, where no secrecy is necessary in our endeavors to render men wise & virtuous, he would not have thought of any secret machinery for that purpose.--Thomas Jefferson
References in pop culture
Adam Weishaupt is referred to repeatedly in The Illuminatus! Trilogy, written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, as the founder of the Bavarian Illuminati and as an imposter who killed George Washington and took his place as the first president of the United States. Washington's portrait on the one-dollar bill is said to actually be Weishaupt's.
Another version of Adam Weishaupt appears in the extensive comic book-cum-novel Cerebus the Aardvark by Dave Sim, as a combination of Weishaupt and George Washington. He appears primarily in the Cerebus and Church and State I volumes. His motives are republican confederalizing of city-states in Estarcion (a pseudo-Europe) and the accumulation of capital unencumbered by government or church.
Weishaupt is also mentioned among the mish-mash of complicated conspiracies in the PC game Deus Ex. During JC Denton's escape from Versalife labs in Hong Kong, he recovers a virus engineered with the molecular structure in multiples of 17 and 23. Tracer Tong notes "1723... the birthdate of Adam Weishaupt" Weishaupt was in fact born in 1748. However 1723 was the year that Weishaupt's freemasonry lodge, "Theodor zum guten Rath", was founded.
Adam Weishaupt is also mentioned ("Bush got a ouija to talk to Adam Weishaupt") by the New York rapper Cage in El-P's "Accidents Don't Happen", the 9th track on his album Fantastic Damage (2002).
Seclorum magazine, based out of Detroit, Michigan, cites Adam Weishaupt as its Patron Saint.
On the Illuminati
- (1786) Apologie der Illuminaten.
- (1786) Vollständige Geschichte der Verfolgung der Illuminaten in Bayern.
- (1786) Schilderung der Illuminaten.
- (1787) Einleitung zu meiner Apologie.
- (1787) [Einige Originalschriften des Illuminatenordens...]
- (1787) [Nachtrage von weitern Originalschriften...] Google Books
- (1787) Kurze Rechtfertigung meiner Absichten.
- (1787) Nachtrag zur Rechtfertigung meiner Absichten.
- (1787) Apologie des Mißvergnügens und des Übels.
- (1787) Das Verbesserte System der Illuminaten.
- (1788) Der ächte Illuminat, oder die wahren, unverbesserten Rituale der Illuminaten.
- (1795) Pythagoras, oder Betrachtungen über die geheime Welt- und Regierungskunst.
- (1775) De Lapsu Academiarum Commentatio Politica.
- (1786) Über die Schrecken des Todes – eine philosophische Rede.
- (French) Discours Philosophique sur les Frayeurs de la Mort (1788). Gallica
- (1786) Über Materialismus und Idealismus. Torino
- (1788) Geschichte der Vervollkommnung des menschlichen Geschlechts.
- (1788) Über die Gründe und Gewißheit der Menschlichen Erkenntniß.
- (1788) Über die Kantischen Anschauungen und Erscheinungen.
- (1788) Zweifel über die Kantischen Begriffe von Zeit und Raum.
- (1793) Über Wahrheit und sittliche Vollkommenheit.
- (1794) Über die Lehre von den Gründen und Ursachen aller Dinge.
- (1794) Über die Selbsterkenntnis, ihre Hindernisse und Vorteile.
- (1797) Über die Zwecke oder Finalursachen.
- (1802) Über die Hindernisse der baierischen Industrie und Bevölkerung.
- (1804) Die Leuchte des Diogenes.
- (English) The Lamp of Diogenes [unpublished]. (Tr. Amelia Gill)
- (1817) Über die Staats-Ausgaben und Auflagen. Google Books
- (1818) Über das Besteuerungs-System.