- by Terry Melanson
Amongst the source material utilized during the writing of Perfectibilists, was a 1956 International Review of Social History article by Arthur Lehning: “Buonarroti and His International Secret Societies.”
I became fascinated with the so-called “first professional revolutionist,” especially the evidence of his indebtedness to the stratagems of the Bavarian Illuminati (directly or otherwise).
In the midst of Lehning’s thorough outline of the central role Buonarroti played in various secret societies during the period, a short passage caught my attention involving a clandestine nexus of French Carbonarists, Joseph Rey’s ‘L’Union,’ and a particularly revolutionary Masonic Lodge of the Grand Orient: the ‘Amis de la Vérité’ [Friends of Truth]:
In 1821 the secret leadership of the anti-Bourbon opposition went over to the “Charbonnerie française”. Bazard, the later Saint-Simonist, formed in 1818 the “Loge des amis de la vérité” with its military “Compagnie franche des écoles”. Behind the “Loge” stood the secret “Union” of Rey, and it was Victor Cousin (of the “Union”) who, in fact, took the initiative. Involved in the military conspiracy of 19th August 1820, two of its members, Joubert and Dugied, having fled to Italy, brought back from Naples the statutes of the Neopolitan “carbonari”. They form 1st May 1821 the first “Haute Vente” of the “Charbonnerie française” of which soon the leading personalities of the parliamentarian opposition such as Lafayette, De Corcelle, Koechlin, Manuel – all deputies – and also Cabet and De Schonen, became members (127).
The name of the lodge was no doubt chosen as an homage to the paramasonic revolutionary club ‘Cercle Social,’ or ‘Confédération Universelle Des Amis de la Vérité’ [Universal Confederation of the Friends of Truth]. Co-founded by masons Nicolas de Bonneville (1760-1828) and Claude Fauchet (1744-1793) in Paris, 1790, this “société fraternelle” had its own printing house that published a short-lived yet influential journal called La Bouche de Fer [The Mouth of Iron], where the tradition of revolutionary-as-journalist-agitator originated. James H. Billington characterized the Cercle Social as “nothing less than the prototype of a modern revolutionary movement” (44); while Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in 1844, had opined that “the revolutionary movement... began in 1789 in the Cercle Social [itself].”
The mystic-occult current during the French Revolution, the pervasiveness of mesmerism in particular, has been carefully documented by Robert Darnton. The Cercle Social, Darnton writes, was “an association of mystic revolutionaries who hoped to establish a Universal Confederation of Friends of the Truth with a masonic organization. The ideology of the Cercle Social derived from a strain of occultism expressed most fully by Restif de la Bretonne” (132), dubbed the “Rousseau of the gutter.”
Restif’s “baroque imagination,” elaborates Darnton:
produced a cosmology made up of animal planets that produced life by copulation; Pythagorean sprits that evolved with each incarnation through a hierarchy of stones, plants, animals, and creatures inhabiting countless worlds of countless solar systems; and a pantheistic god who endlessly created universes by a process of crystallization and then destroyed them by absorption in the sun, the brain of the universal “Great Animal.” Restif lubricated this animalistic, sexual cosmos with “intellectual fluid” that, like Mesmer’s fluid, acted as the intermediary between God and man’s internal sense. “God is the material and intellectual brain of the single great animal, of the All, whose intelligence is an actual fluid, like light, but much less dense, as it does not touch any of our external senses and acts only upon the inner sense” (ibid).
Wild stuff, for sure — typical of the illuminist strain of thought (Dom Pernety, Saint-Martin, Mesmer, Cagliostro, Lavater, Swedenborg et al.) during the Enlightenment. Restif was also the first to use the word communist in print in 1785 (Billington 79; Grandjonc 146), submitted an appeal for agrarian communalism to the Estates-General in 1789, and by 1793 “used the term communism as his own for the first time” (Billington 82). Hence, the origins of the modern conceptions of socialism and communism stem from a particular “irrational” undercurrent during the so-called “Age of Reason.”
In the introduction to the invaluable Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, Wouter Hanegraaff observed that during the Enlightenment “the boundaries between reason and its ‘other’ were in fact blurred and shifting, with many important figures finding themselves with one foot in each camp” (x). Bonneville and his Cercle Social was the embodiment of this ostensible contradiction. They preached “communism ... [and] demanded the redistribution of property” while at the same time promulgating the virtues of “communication with spirits, fraternal organizations, and grand oratory” (Darnton 134-5). Marx and his materialist acolytes acknowledged the Cercle Social as revolutionary progenitors but had obviously overlooked the fact that La Bouche de Fer subscribers “read about the animal planets, the transmigration of souls, the primitive religion and language, and, also, universal harmony” (133).
During the Restoration, the lodge ‘Amis de la Vérité’ was established explicitly for the purpose of recruiting members for the French Carbonari [Charbonnerie], which was founded as a
…center for political discussion and recruitment under the cover of freemasonry by young Parisian radicals – notably Bazard, Buchez, Joubert, and Flotard. It was chartered in good faith by the Grand Orient, which uneasily watched it expand into a body of several hundred members that maintained only the slackest connection with masonic observances. There is no doubt that the dominant elements in the lodge were using masonry as a front for their political operations, but the nature of the rank and file’s political commitment is less clear. Probably they were all hostile to the regime but not all of them were prepared to translate political attitudes into subversive action. The lodge was not a unit of the carbonarist organization but a vehicle for the recruitment and indoctrination of potential Carbonari. [Emphasis added] (Spitzer 219)
James H. Billington wrote of them as well, though he neglected to emphasize the lodge’s original French name. On the Amis de la Vérité [Friends of Truth], he writes:
Union soon established links with the respectable revolutionaries who provided the backbone of what was soon to be called the French Carbonari: Lafayette, Voyer d'Argenson, Dupont de l'Eure, and Victor Cousin. At the same time the swelling postwar student population in Paris began independently to use Masonic lodges for republican agitation. An organization, formed soon after September 1818 under the Illuminist name Friends of Truth, became a center for student radicals and gained more than one thousand members.
Joseph Rey de Grenoble (1779-1855) first formed his secret society, “l’Union,” in February 1816. Rey’s inspiration, he recalls, occurred while reading about the Prussian decrees against secret societies and theTugendbund (Union of Virtue) in particular. Two friends were enlisted, Simon Triolle and Champollion le Jeune (the future famous Egyptologist), and the first assembly of the secret society occurred in Grenoble, 28 February 1816. Its statutes were preceded by an explicit preamble: “The agents of tyranny are everywhere and for some time have been working to obtain their ends; the friends of liberty, that is to say the free exercise of all rights, which is the fulfillment of eternal justice, have in turn organized to regain these rights” (Dumolard 78). A few days after, Rey left for Germany and managed to recruit Charles Teste (1783-1848), who would soon become an important disciple of Buonarroti. Reaching France in 1817, and having set up cells of the organization in Paris and throughout the country, by 1820 members of Rey’s Union included the likes of professor Victor Cousin (later Carbonarist), “hero of two worlds” Marquis de Lafayette (whom Rey had worshipped), Voyer d’Argenson (a future Buonarroti conspirator), Jacques Charles Dupont de l’Eure (a witness and actor in the revolutions of 1789, 1830, and 1848), banker Jacques Laffite, influential members of the liberal press and magistrates, students and young professionals in the radical lodges (Weill 297-8; Boisson; Spitzer 215-16; Blanchet).
The Amis de la Vérité, wrote professor André Combes, “inaugurated a tradition: a lodge whose purpose was ultimately revolutionary” (Combes 136; Girollet 21). According to one of the founders—Jacques-Thomas Flotard (1797-1872)—they formed in September 1818.
Flotard, Saint-Amand Bazard (1791-1832), Philippe Buchez (1795-1865) and Nicolas Joubert (d. 1866) were, at the time, students and municipal clerks in Paris who had refused to give “consent to the beatitudes of restoration.” Three were Masons of good standing already, wrote Flotard: “that is to say they had received the light amid the silly sacraments prescribed by the Grand Orient; with less ceremony, the fourth was initiated.” In the beginning, at least, they tried their best to appear as “zealous propagators of the true light” and “scrupulous observers of the Scottish Rite.” This got them official recognition and a charter from the Grand Orient. Within a month they had thirty members and over a thousand at the end of the year, mostly students and young professionals (Paris révolutionnaire 197-200).
In short time, however:
Obsolete customs and long-insignificant ordeals of mystical morality were substituted with observations and discussions illuminating the rights and civic duties of each neophyte.
“One might say,” writes Spitzer, “that the membership had been successfully indoctrinated and shaped for the direct action it would undertake in the conspiracies of 1820-1822” (222).
Other lodges at the time soon attracted the attention of the authorities as well. Les Amis de l’Armorique, Saint-Louis de France, Les Trinosophes and Les Sectateurs de Zoroastre (Girollet 20) were openly hostile toward the Bourbons. The Amis de l’Armorique [Friends of Armorica], in particular, was directly allied with the Amis de la Vérité, both lodges being comprised of young men of the same age and political persuasion. The Amis de l’Armorique, Spitzer recounts, “enlisted en masse in the conspiracy hatched in the Amis de la Vérité. It is unlikely that the two radical lodges had a monopoly over the Parisian youth but they were undoubtedly the largest and strongest organizations which were put in touch with the committee of notables to form a revolutionary coalition. This coalition, or some faction of it, had a hand in organizing the plot of August 19, 1820” (Spitzer 224).
The attempted coup is known in history as the 1820 “August Plot” or the “conspiracy of the French Bazar”; in French, usually “complot du Bazar français” or “complot du 19 août 1820.” Flotard’s first-hand account of it can be read in Paris révolutionnaire (Paris 1848): “Une nuit d'étudiant sous la Restauration (du 19 au 20 Août 1820).” It’s covered extensively in Spitzer’s Old Hatreds and Young Hopes: The French Carbonari against the Bourbon Restoration, pp. 39-50, 225-229.
The conspiracy was quite elaborate and involved notable intermediaries—Joseph Rey, Jacques Koechlin, Voyer d’Argenson, Victor Cousin and Lafayette—with connections to students and disaffected military veterans.
The effective leaders of the actual attempt to seize power in the summer of 1820 are identified as Rey himself; Jean-Baptiste Dumoulin, the notorious bonapartist from Grenoble; and Captain Nantil of the Meurthe legion, then stationed at Paris. Through Rey they were in touch with the student organizations; through Dumoulin and Nantil, with the elements that operated out of the Bazar Français; and through Nantil, with the corruptible garrisons in Paris and the East.
This failed attempt led directly to the formation of a stronger organization: the French Carbonari. Two members of the Amis de la Vérité, Nicolas Joubert and Pierre Dugied (1798-1879), having fled to Italy after the August plot, brought back the statutes (and inner-workings) of the Carbonari and formed their own version of it in France, May 1st, 1821—it’s logistical base being the Amis de la Vérité.
The significance of this date hasn’t escaped me. It certainly seems like a tribute: May 1st, after all (in 1776), saw the birth of the Bavarian Illuminati.
The modus operandi of Adam Weishaupt’s Order was quite well known and studied, particularly at that time. Most influential, above all, was the Illuminati’s incessant effort to infiltrate other organizations, especially Freemasonry, and form a secret society within a secret society.
Buonarroti was unmistakably indebted to this technique and had used it effectively at every turn. At this point it’s worth quoting from my book, Perfectibilists (141-2):
Shortly after the first failed Philadelphian conspiracy against Napoleon in 1808, Buonarroti had founded his most important secret society: the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits (or Sublimi Maestri Perfetti) [Sublime Perfect Masters]. It was a merging of the Philadelphes from France and Switzerland and its Italian branch, the Adelphes, formed around 1807, headed by Buonarroti’s friend Luigi Angeloni (1758-1842). A decree dated July 26, 1812, probably distributed amongst Buonarroti’s most trusted followers, reads: “The associations the Ph[iladelphes] and the A[delphes] are reunited into one Order.” Not content with anti Bonapartist insurrection, the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits “became an international society of European revolutionaries with the purpose to republicanise Europe … to direct, to control and influence other societies for its own political aims … a directing committee for the revolution.” And it is with the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits that Buonarroti—no question about it—tips his Illuminist hat once again:Recent research has shown that it was primarily the influence of the Illuminati of Bavaria that led Buonarroti to develop … a secret society based on a “metapolitical” distinction between the “civilian” society and the reforming order in its midst. In its structure, as well as in its gradualist aim, the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits closely resembled the order founded by Weishaupt in 1776. Its hierarchy, its methods of initiation, its employment of the catechism, all were almost identical with the structure of the Illuminati. Even the name of Buonarroti’s organization evoked Weishaupt’s original name for his order—the Perfettibilisti; its aims suited Weishaupt’s alias—“Spartacus.” The third and most secret credo of the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits—that which referred to “the Republic” as “the sole proprietor” and “to creating a social patrimony aimed at by the philosophers” was called the Areopagus. Among the Illuminati, the “areopagites” were the chosen few who alone knew the real aim of the order, the date of its foundation, and the name of its founder. (Eisenstein 35-6)The Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits was composed of three grades. The first was called the “Church” (reminiscent of Minerval Churches), and had a “Sage” as its director; the second was the “Synod,” whose members were christened Sublimes Elus [Elected Sublimes] (the Illuminati’s Priest degree initiates conspired together in a “Synod”); and the third and last grade, as we’ve seen, was called the “Areopagus”—all uncannily similar to the structure and makeup of the Bavarian Illuminati. In revolutionary terms, the “church” was a local cell whose “sage” was in contact with a regional “synod”; the synods had a liaison, called a diacre territorial [territorial deacon], in charge of setting up the churches in each region; while the “Areopagites” (also called the “Grand-Firmament”) were represented by a diacre mobile sent out “to control the synods and supervise propaganda and agitation.” Each level—again like the Illuminati—had its own propaganda, which morphed and became more forthright as one ascended the ladder. The credo of the first grade professed a type of Masonic fraternal-Christianity; the second grade revealed doctrine of true liberty, where “only the people are the rulers … the true Republic … every citizen is entitled to destroy the usurper of supreme power”; and the last credo, that of the Areopagus, can be viewed as the “secret program,” the Buonarroti-Babeuf “Communist Creed of 1796,” almost identical to the Rousseauist-Weishauptian dogma revealed in the highest degrees of the Illuminati.
Buonarroti had utilized the strategy while successfully infiltrating the Italian Carbonari in 1818, and had obviously managed to merge both the Adelphes and the Philadelphes into a single organization. In short time, “the great mass of the different sects,” wrote Buonarroti expert Armando Saitta, “were being secretly manipulated by the followers of Buonarroti in the Perfect Sublime Masters” (qtd. in Mattei 5).
It’s tempting to attribute the incarnation of the French Carbonari as a sign of Buonarroti’s scheme put into force. His Areopagites’ (i.e. the “Grand Firmament’s”) sole purpose was to direct and manage the founding of regional “synods” on a Europe-wide scale. Members of the synods, as mentioned above, were called Sublimes Elus. Significantly, James H. Billington cited from its statutes, found in the Archives Nationales, which recommended that “‘Les Illuminés’ in Germany are one of the five ‘already formed secret societies’ that revolutionaries at this second level are to make use of” (548 n.193).
Consulting an important Buonarroti text published by Armando Saitta (“La Mac :: La Charb :: et le M ::” i.e. “Freemasonry, Carbonari and le Monde”) — concerning revolutionary concealment within Freemasonry — Eisenstein wrote:
[I]n its structure and symbolism, the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits was almost identical with the masonic order and this was a typical and quite deliberate piece of camouflage. Buonarroti had no use for most Free Masons; their organization he regarded with the scorn that a professional reserves for amateurs. “The public character of its meetings, the almost infinite number of its initiates, and the ease with which they are admitted have removed from Masonry every trace of political inclination. And if an exception is made of some very few and almost unknown lodges in which the light is preserved in its purity, all the others are nothing more than entertainment centers or schools of superstition and slavery.”
A further passage not printed in Eisenstein, reads: “The exercise of masonry is not for us a duty; but we are always initiated in its mysteries and it is up to us to use this institution or to use it as a refuge or to find proselytes or for any other purpose consistent with the spirit of le Monde” (Saitta 95). And in the next paragraph of the document, Buonarroti starts to discuss the Carbonari, an institution that had similar doctrine and goals to his own, he said, and which, unlike Masonry, had merited his respect.
It should be noted at this point that, according to Lehning (122), the mobile deacons (diacre mobile) of the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits were admonished, by an Areopagite decree dated 1819, “to be initiated into the mysteries of the Rosicrucians” — as a preparatory measure, no doubt, for the inevitable encounter with eccentric/occult Masonic Obediences such as the one discussed in part two.
(Cited sources at the end of part two)