|Trilateral Commission Symbol|
Everyone is a conspiracy theorist. Differences are just matters of degree. Some people at the most skeptical end of the spectrum acknowledge only the most open conspiracies such as organized political parties, lobbies, and proselytizing cults. On the other end of the spectrum are those who carry on about the Illuminati, black helicopters, or even transdimensional aliens (see David Icke, The Reptilian Conspiracy). There is a broad range between the extremes, and it includes folks who worry about the influence of exclusive clubs such as the Bildeberg group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission, to all of which membership is by invitation only. We’ll leave aside conspiracy theories about specific incidents, since a particular person may get a bug about, say, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, or the World Trade Center while being more generally skeptical.
Mainstream historians overwhelmingly are on the skeptical end of the spectrum. Most are strongly dismissive of the significance of covert conspiracies except for the rare (in their estimation) occasions when they succeed, as did the Bolsheviks. My own Bachelor’s degree is in history and I’ve generally sided with the mainstream in this matter; historical events by this view are much more often characterized by the lack of forethought than by successful planning, secretive or otherwise. Nonetheless, I want to be open to alternative viewpoints. When trying to see things another way, it is best to avoid the temptation to look at only the most bizarre opposing interpretations, as easy a path to self-affirmation as this may be. Picking only the writings of extremists whom one comfortably can regard from the outset as flakes is a prescription for not seeing things another way.
There are serious-minded and unflaky folks who believe that the Western World is dominated by a conspiracy of a “power elite” that is disdainful of democracy and of ordinary individuals whom the elite regard as incapable of perceiving and pursuing their own best interests. This very small cadre, they believe, dominates the West via governments, financial institutions, and corporate governance. Members meet and discuss goals in organizations like (and including) the Bildeberg group. Those goals are globalist and broadly collectivist, albeit not in a way that would diminish the elite’s own stature. Books such as The Open Conspiracy and The New World Order by HG Wells explain and defend these goals and plans. It is important to the conspirators not to let common people interfere, so they mollify the hoi polloi by allowing them the illusion of democracy; in other words, they distract the common folks by letting them argue with each other and vote on unimportant matters while the conspirators continue to run things. “Social issues” and other common sources of political dissension mean nothing to the elite since the upper 1% – much less the .001% – never has troubled itself with bourgeois morality or paid attention to laws about it. (This is a theme of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, by the way, along with the commentary on marriage.) The fortunes of mainstream political parties are unimportant also. Members of the ruling group find hostility between ordinary supporters of major parties laughable because, regardless of who wins an election, the fundamental power remains in their own hands. The Western power elite are not alone; other parts of the world have parallel elites. The conspiracy theorists note, for example, that, with allowances for a change in generations, by and large the same folks run the former communist countries as ran them before. But the non-Western elites are not fundamentally different in philosophy or goals from the Western; they are just rival clubs that sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete with the West.
The challenge, then, was to find a sober and respectable proponent of these views. This proved a negligible obstacle. When Bill Clinton (a member of the Trilateral Commission, some might note, as was Bush before him) accepted the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 1992 he thanked by name his favorite history professor at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, Carroll Quigley. Quigley was a respected historian who deviated from the mainstream only to the extent that he believed secret societies have played a larger role in historical events than is generally acknowledged. Better yet, while in his books he accepts some conspiratorial arguments, he isn’t a scaremonger about them. On the contrary he supports the general aims of the modern elite conspirators, and objects only to their secrecy: “But, agreeing with the Group on goals, I cannot agree with them on methods.” Quigley seemed to be just the fellow to read.
Much of Quigley’s work is on the evolution of civilizations from ancient times, but his works relevant to modern conspiracy theory are Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time and The Anglo-American Establishment: From Rhodes to Cliveden. They make pretty dry reading, but that is because he feels it necessary to reinforce his point time and again. The latter book in particular is not much more than a litany of names with brief descriptions of the persons’ roles in history and – more importantly – their interrelationships with each other. He traces back to Cecil Rhodes the origin of modern roundtables of major financial and political figures. The initial core of the group was in the UK and the Empire, but it expanded into the US and then other Western regions. He convincingly establishes that prominent figures in politics, banking, and business from the late 19th century onward – but especially since WW1 – knew each other and belonged to overlapping organizations. If newly ultra-rich entrepreneurs sometimes remained outsiders, their children typically did not. It isn’t a very big step to conclude that these figures not only socialized and did mutual business but colluded. Over time the group embedded itself in central banks, the IMF, and other nondemocratic institutions. The power of this group in government and business, while prevailing, was never complete; for example, it was wrong-footed badly in the ‘30s by the fascists, who, while appalling beyond measure, were genuine populists outside its control.
For me, the step to “collusion” is still a step too far, at least insofar as it implies a true strategy by a coherent cabal. That an elite exists with outsize influence is not in dispute, and I’m willing to credit that people who belong to those rarefied circles are likely to share a particular world view – just as union workers, shopkeepers, and foxhunters are likely to share views with others in their own group. But that is not quite the same as saying they constitute a functioning shadow government that directs the geopolitical and economic future of the Western World. I doubt the meetings of the CFR, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, and other overlapping quasi-clandestine groups are as productive as all that. Is the chaotic state of current affairs attributable to thoughtful planning? Nonetheless, alternative historians who do believe this are not saying something completely outlandish. It’s not quite fair to say, to steal a line from Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there.” Quigley and others deserve a respectful hearing.
For a more playful take on the subject, the best reading material in my experience is The Illuminatus! Trilogy by science fiction writer Robert Anton Wilson: conspiracy within conspiracy within conspiracy. For all the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the books, it is clear that Wilson isn’t entirely joking but instead subscribes to Gore Vidal’s dictum: “Anyone who isn’t paranoid isn’t in full possession of the facts.”
Robert Anton Wilson on the Illuminati