There is much talk of “change” these days. Whether it’s Barrack Obama’s famous presidential campaign slogan, calls for radical socio-political and economic upheavals on behalf of environmental activists, or increasingly popular internet rumors about impending global doom, the world seems abuzz with the idea that some inevitable, cataclysmic shift is about to overtake us and thrust us into a new era. Has the collective unconscious finally had it with the status quo? Is there a desire, a need, even, bubbling beneath the surface of our consumer society, to witness the collapse of global capitalism as we know it? Or is there something more to this phenomenon – could we say, for example, that this growing feeling is being nurtured, encouraged in the populace – manufactured, perhaps, like all the rest of our opinions, in what Herbert Marcuse has so aptly named our “one-dimensional” society? Are we witnessing yet another moment of “containment of subversion,” another triumph of “the system,” or does real change await us – and if it does – what can we expect to find once we’ve crossed that dreaded threshold?
The majority of Westerners scoff at the apocalyptic predictions of their peers as so much sensationalist nonsense. The doomsayers have been wrong before, they say, and will be wrong again many times over before any real “end of the world” occurs. The eschaton, in their wishful, optimistic minds, has been relegated to some distant future as an abstraction which does not concern modern man. It lies far off, like an island hidden in the mist of time, delayed by the passage of millions, billions, trillions of years, if ever. Let us return to real problems, they say, the flimsy assurance of their scientific materialism propping them up like a bunch of marionettes. In One-Dimensional Man Marcuse writes that “[society’s] sweeping rationality, which propels efficiency and growth, is itself irrational” (xiii), and this is true, for such confidence requires the very thing against which such reason so ardently militates, faith: faith in government, faith in capitalism, faith in the global elite which controls both, and most dangerously and foolishly of all, faith in Man himself. Over the course of the past two years we have watched world leaders scrambling to preserve the vestiges of a dying system, desperate to convince us that the current crisis is nothing but a “recession” in the long, happy, eternal life of global capitalism. They need us to stick our heads back in the sand, after all, so the cogs can keep turning peacefully. But the word is out, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that their so-called “solutions” are nothing but cursory attempts to delay an inevitable collapse that could easily cast us back into the Dark Ages.
But this is where it gets interesting. As stated earlier, we are in a highly ambiguous moment – a time when the contradictions of our capitalist society are revealing its underlying insanity. We have, on one hand, the likes of the current American President, who dishes out hope for genuine political transformation like he’s at a soup kitchen, wins over the heart of a nation, steps into the shoes of the “most powerful man in the world” with messianic grandiosity, and gives us one of the most underwhelming presidential performances in decades. This is an example of what Marcuse calls “containment of subversion,” channeling popular desires for change into dead ends. But is this all we have to look forward to, a series of deflationary disappointments? For better or for worse, this is highly unlikely for two reasons: first, such a perspective fails to take into account the fact that there is real growing discontent with the current order of things. Second, such a perspective fails to examine the long-term projects of the secret societies which, whether we like to admit it or not, are the true forces behind the movements of global politics. This statement will, of course, be met with cries of protest for a number of reasons, the most frequent of which (and weakest, I might add) is that our postmodern consciousness is naturally incredulous towards any such “simplistic” metanarratives as conspiracy theories. A far more educated reason to be skeptical towards this idea would be to argue that such secret societies are by their very nature what Edward A. Tiryakian calls “esoteric” in his article “Towards a Sociology of Esoteric Culture.” This term signifies both the secret knowledge circulated among initiates of such organizations and the fact that such organizations bear a conflictual relationship with the mainstream or “exoteric” cultures behind the scenes of which they operate. As Tiryakian writes:
[O]ne might argue that a function of occult practices is to provide a position against what is perceived as “Establishment” mentality with its structural apparatus of modern societies: The oppressive “technocracy,” “reductive rationality,” and “objective consciousness,” to borrow terms from Roszak. Occult practices are appealing, among other reasons, because they are seemingly dramatic opposites of empirical practices of science and of the depersonalization of the industrial order. (494)
This makes a great deal of sense, as the tenets of secret societies, from what it is possible to glean from writings that are made accessible to the public, are founded in “ancient wisdom” which is of a distinctly spiritual nature. As such, it logically entails a type of philosophical resistance to the predominantly materialistic mentality of modern capitalistic society. Paradoxically, however, it is the very elite itself, which is responsible for maintaining the capitalistic system, which makes up the membership of these so-called “esoteric” societies. Describing their leadership, Tiryakian writes:
[a]t the top echelon is a very small elite designated variously as “Magi,” “Grand Masters,” or other appropriate terms, and a council responsible for ultimate internal and external policies of the organization. The council […] may include, as notably in the case of Freemasonry, persons holding high ranks in exoteric society, even including heads of state. (500-501)
This is by no means an exaggeration, as it is possible to observe from the membership of the Skull and Bones society at Yale University (including the Bush, Rockefeller and Harriman dynasties), the Bohemian Club in California (members include the most prominent names in Hollywood and U.S. government who, at their annual “Cremation of Care” ceremony, gather around a stone statue of the Canaanite owl god “Moloch” making mock burnt offerings), or Freemasonry (whose ranks have been filled by a number of influential individuals including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and every King of England since George IV, to name but a few). In her work The Aquarian Conspiracy, Marilyn Ferguson discusses the widespread collaboration between professionals in a variety of fields who are working to bring about deep-seated change on a global scale, including “politicians, stewards of corporate or private wealth, [and] celebrities” (20). Their goal, according to the author, is to bring about a “new paradigm” (28) in which esoteric principles shall condition a new global economic, social, political and religious order.
Indeed, many of the great socio-political transformations that have now entered the canons of history as revolutionary turning points in the narrative of human social progress bear the marks of these elusive organizations. The most famous, or most visible, is on the Great Seal of the United States which decorates both sides of the dollar bill. In The Secret Destiny of America, Manly P. Hall, one of the most celebrated Masonic writers of the 20th century, writes: “[o]n the reverse of our nation’s Great seal is an unfinished pyramid to represent human society itself, imperfect and incomplete. Above floats the symbol of the esoteric orders, the radiant triangle with its all-seeing eye” (174). Another case of such symbolism being used is on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in the wake of the French Revolution. Above the two tablets which echo the Ten Commandments floats the same all-seeing eye, representing the Masonic “Great Architect,” and beneath it sits a snake biting its own tail. This symbol is known as the ouroboros, an alchemical symbol representing the universal cycles of creation and destruction. The urban landscapes of the world’s largest capitals are in fact littered with such symbols, further demonstrating the hidden influence of “the Mysteries” on exoteric society. We could go on listing them for pages, but this would constitute too great a digression.
So what, if any, is the ultimate goal of these initiatic brotherhoods? Manly P. Hall speaks of the “unfinished pyramid” of human society as if it were a progressively implemented project, and this may be the key to understanding the method of his fellow Masons. In this respect it might be relevant to mention a popular Masonic motto; ordo ab chao, which signifies “order out of chaos.” Some might contest that this is simply an innocent philosophical formula expressing the inner workings of the cosmos, which formed the material universe out of a primeval nothingness – but it may be much more, expressing, rather, the process by which the “Great Work,” or the Masonic utopian project, is to be realized. The “Great Work,” or Magnum Opus, is in fact an alchemical term that is exoterically referred to as the transformation of base metals into gold. Esoterically interpreted, some say, it symbolizes the spiritual transformation of man from his “fallen” state into a divine, or super-human, being. According to Hugh B. Urban in his article “Elitism and Esotericism: Strategies of Secrecy and Power in South Indian Tantra and French Freemasonry,” “[t]hrough the process of Masonic initiation, the individual is progressively ‘dissolved’ and ‘transmuted’ into a new spiritual being” (28). An alternate or additional interpretation might be that this transformational process has in fact been applied to society itself, and that these brotherhoods, by penetrating key strategic institutions and organizations within exoteric culture, are able to direct and manipulate it along a course towards what they perceive as “perfection.” This is confirmed by Urban, who writes that “the final goal of the Masonic initiations is to return to the world, to reenter the realm of social action, and to infuse it with the esoteric power achieved through initiation” (29).
To fully understand the strategy by which this transformation is successfully achieved requires comprehension of the concept of dialectic, which functions through the interaction of two apparently opposed principles that enter into a relationship, create a dialogue, and eventually come to a type of “synthesis.” Describing the Masonic concept of divinity, Urban writes that “[c]ontrary to the ‘limited’ and ‘simplistic’ Catholic view of the Deity, the Masonic view suggests a dynamic and dialectical Godhead, which does not transcend the cosmos […] but rather pervades [its] entire hierarchical body” (16). This bears parallels to Hegel’s concept of divine immanentization, in which humans are expected to carry out any existing “divine plan” through their actions, bringing it to fulfillment by constructing the perfect society. Hence the term Freemasons, a fraternity of “builders.” Now, if we understand dialectic to be at the heart of the process by which the Great Work is completed, it becomes much easier to grasp the apparent contradiction of prominent “capitalists” being engaged in a fundamentally spiritual undertaking. According to the esoteric perspective, the average man is hopelessly “profane.” Left to himself, he will never seek out spiritual enlightenment, and if he does, will debase whatever knowledge he comes across by literalizing it. As Ferguson writes, “[f]orty-four per cent of the Aquarian Conspirators polled considered the greatest threat to widespread social transformation to be ‘popular fear of change’” (123). Circumstances must be created, therefore, in which change is no longer optional, but becomes imperative. It remains the responsibility of the esoteric orders, therefore, to create a social and political context in which the masses will willingly accept their teachings. This is discussed at length by Alice Bailey, the founder of Lucis Trust (originally Lucifer Trust when it was founded in 1922), a publishing company and think tank which remains, to this day, a member of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The influence of her thought on the global elite is attested by the fact that Robert Muller, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations for forty years, developed an educational “World Core Curriculum” the contents of which were directly inspired by her writings. In her work The Externalization of the Hierarchy, Bailey writes:
The creative process […] will be brought into objective expression by the right direction of thought, the inspiration of right ideals, and the education of the usually unthinking masses […], so that humanity as a whole will appropriate these ideals. […] [T]he whole aim of the present crisis is to shift the focus of human awareness out of the form and the material aspect of living, into the consciousness of the soul. (327, 221)
This, in turn, will allow the orders to exotericize their esoteric knowledge and utilize it as the basis for a global “utopia.” According to Bailey, “one of the things that will eventuate – when the new universal religion has sway and the nature of esotericism is understood – will be the utilization of the banded esoteric organisms, the Masonic organism and the Church organism, as initiating centers. […] [O]ccultism will be the theme of world education in some modified form” (513, 322). The first step towards the successful completion of this project, it seems, has been to create a spiritual yearning within the masses of the world – this, in fact, is the true purpose of our world’s current materialistic paradigm; to create a global system of people lonely, alienated from one another, and desperately superficial. In other words, a world in which men are starving for something, anything to give them meaning in their lives.
As cruel and manipulative as it may seem, then, from a dialectical viewpoint the only reason why the esoteric orders would have allowed, even abetted the spread of global capitalism, is to tear it down in a moment of apocalyptic crisis. As Ferguson writes:
We know that stress often forces sudden solutions; that crisis often alerts us to opportunity; that the creative process requires chaos before form emerges; […]. Any time a perturbation is greater than the society’s ability to ‘damp’ or repress it, the social organization will (a) be destroyed, or (b) give way to a new order. (179, 180)
This, it would seem, is the stage which we have finally entered; when corporate and individual greed have reached such a level that the entire system is ready to collapse like a house of cards. This also allows us to comprehend the true reasons behind “containment of subversion;” while the prevailing stability of capitalistic consumer society absorbs the aggressive impulses of the masses, there is, nonetheless, an increasing popular awareness that has begun to challenge the status quo. The blatant partiality and hypocrisy of the mainstream media, the highly visible corruption that takes place among members of the elite, the aggravation of religious, racial, and international tensions, the growth of unemployment, the financial pressure exerted on populations by increasingly harsh “austerity measures” and the deliberate dissemination of musical and cinematic entertainment that encourages violence and rebelliousness: these are not simply accidental fissures in the fabric of modern society that are to be perpetually swept under the proverbial carpet; they allow, rather, the creation of energetic reservoirs that can be tapped into at any moment, allowing the puppet-masters of the world to trigger a global revolution at will. Indeed, when we attain the inevitable moment of crisis in which all this pent-up anxiety explodes into open hostility, the unprecedented scale of destruction that ensues will surely prove a catalyst for the demand for a “sustainable,” “peaceful” and “spiritually-oriented” world order. New institutions will inevitably be called into existence to promote these new values, endowed with international authority to enforce national and individual conformity to them. The world shall witness the creation of the first truly transnational political and religious apparatuses.
Perhaps the writer who most fully understood the Machiavellian nature of this phenomenon was René Guénon, a French traditionalist philosopher who was active during the first half of the 20th century. In his groundbreaking work The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, he presents a deeply insightful analysis of modern culture in which he denounces its rampant materialism, describing it as a process of “solidification” through which “quantity” comes to dominate social, political, and economic values. He writes, “[n]owadays people commonly think and say that anything that cannot be “put into figures,” or in other words, cannot be expressed in purely quantitative terms, for that reason lacks any “scientific” value; […] this outlook involves losing touch with everything that is truly essential, in the strictest interpretation of the word” (85). Guénon thus establishes a dichotomy between “quantity” and “essence” or “quality,” which he considers equivalent to spiritual and philosophical values. He is, however, very specific about the type of spirituality which he advocates, for he claims that another mark of modern culture’s inherent corruption is its tendency towards religious syncretism – the belief that there is a common thread running through each of the world religions which, analyzed from an esoteric perspective, can be seen to incorporate identical spiritual principles. Indeed, throughout the 20th century the notion of religious syncretism increased in popularity due to the influence of various movements such as Theosophy and what has come to be termed the New Age movement, ultimately looking forward to a synthesis of the world’s various religious traditions. This may at first seem perfectly innocent and even desirable, but when placed in the context of a global empire, can be seen as a tool for controlling the masses through their different cultural and religious affiliations. Bailey, whose activities were linked to Theosophical organizations, writes that “[t]here are certain fundamental truths which lie behind all revealed religions. […] [These] must be discovered and recognized as the new world religion takes form on Earth and conditions human thought and consciousness in the coming New Age” (288). As a traditionalist, Guénon is opposed to this idea, arguing that each religious tradition should retain its uniqueness rather than being assimilated into a universal religious system. Adding to the bankruptcy of the syncretist impulse, in addition, is Guénon’s conviction that the widespread materialism which characterizes modern industrial society has in fact been purposely engineered by what he called the “counter-initiation” – forces wishing to foist a synthesized spirituality onto humanity. He saw “solidification,” therefore, as but one stage in an ongoing dialectical process:
It may be observed […] that the ‘counter-initiation,’ although it invented and propagated for its own purposes all the modern ideas that together represent the merely negative ‘anti-tradition,’ is perfectly conscious of the falsity of those ideas […]; but that in itself indicates that the intention in propagating them can only have been the accomplishment of a transitory and preliminary phase, for no such enterprise of conscious falsehood could be in itself the true and only aim in view; it was only intended to prepare for the ultimate coming of something different, something that should appear to constitute a more ‘positive’ accomplishment, namely, the ‘counter-tradition’ itself. (324-325)
Despite the fact that he was writing this work in the 1940’s, therefore, Guénon was able to detect tendencies in Western culture that were indicative of a manipulative agenda that seems only to be coming to fruition over half-a-century later. Needless to say, if this plan succeeds the new society which emerges in the wake of the current order will be dystopian rather than utopian. As Guénon foresees, there is a high probability that the egalitarian ethics of liberal democratic society will be done away with, leading to the instauration of a highly stratified social system in which “philosopher-kings” rise to supreme positions of authority. Bailey confirms this, describing the spiritual leaders of the ideal society as adherents of religious syncretism: “only those will remain as guides and leaders of the human spirit who […] know no creedal barriers; they will recognize the onward march of revelation and the new emerging truths” (202). Guénon, however, takes his vision a step further, speculating that amid these radical social, political, and religious transformations, one individual will arise who will demand the worship of his fellow men. He defines this eventuality as the “reign of Antichrist:”
His time will certainly no longer be the ‘reign of quantity,” which was itself only the end-point of the ‘anti-tradition;’ it will be marked, under the pretext of a false ‘spiritual restoration,’ by a sort of reintroduction of quality in all things, but of quality inverted with respect to its normal and legitimate significance. After the ‘egalitarianism’ of our times there will again be a visibly established hierarchy, but an inverted hierarchy, indeed a real ‘counter-hierarchy,’ the summit of which will be occupied by the being who will in reality be situated nearer than any other being to the very bottom of the ‘pit of Hell.’ (326)
Bailey, in fact, corroborates this in her writings, describing a man who, she believes, will constitute the embodiment of this new order, and who will make use of his global influence to reinstitute the power of the “Mysteries” over mankind: “He will be largely instrumental in producing those conditions which will permit the reappearance of the Mysteries of Initiation” (299). The dramatic transformations that will follow the disintegration of the current world order, then, could constitute the deepest, most traumatic change that humankind has ever seen. The world will, in a sense, have ended. But all shall not be entirely hopeless, for with the dissolution of our smug, materialistic confidence will come the possibility of a return to a spirituality that transcends our current humanistic world-view.
These developments, if they come to pass, warrant extreme caution on the part of the populace. Looking at the present circumstances from this perspective, we can obtain an understanding of the underlying purpose beneath the current widespread talk of “change,” and the increasing pressure exercised by the international community to abandon “unsustainable” and “irrelevant” cultural institutions in favor of “new models.” Should the world suddenly slip into chaos, we must be careful not to embrace the first “solutions” that present themselves, even if they should deceptively promise “world peace” and “universal understanding.” We must remember that words are weapons too, and that the manipulation of rhetoric, which has allowed countless millions to be enslaved by the ideological constructions of our leaders in times of peace, shall be all the more dangerous when the populace is disoriented and confused by a global crisis. That said, the world might just keep on turning. But if it doesn’t, we must be careful not to accept the first “truth” that presents itself to us, and like the wandering Israelites, poison ourselves at the bitter waters of the well at Marah.