Weishaupt, Adam

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Weishaupt, Adam (1748 – 1830): German Jurist.

Adam Weishaupt was born is Ingolstadt, Bavaria, where he became professor at Ingolstadt University in 1772. Inspired by the revolutionary writings of Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Weishaupt founded the Illuminatenorden in 1776. The members of this secret society sought to promote the ideals of the Enlightenment by recruiting civil servants, university professors, the clergy and nobility to infiltrate government. Similar in its ideology to that of the Freemasons, of which group Weishaupt was briefly a member, the Illuminatenorden nevertheless practiced a more radical form of proselytism. Following an elaborate, hierarchical, organizational structure, Illuminatenorden recruits worked their way up through the ranks. Unlike the Freemasons, the Illuminatenorden was highly secretive. Members assumed code names, and information about the true mission of the order was reserved for those who attained the highest levels.

While the organization professed to be advocates of a moral society, it was deemed by counter-revolutionary groups to be a threat to civil society because the Illuminaten rejected the traditional assumptions of authority and power that had been ascribed to the church and royalty. Historian Abbé Barruel, a contemporary of Weishaupt, even asserted that the Jacobins, whose power in France was characterized by terror tactics, were an outgrowth of Weishaupt’s secret organization. The Jesuits launched a campaign of libelous pamphlets and other publications against the order, and the Bavarian government subsequently banned the order in 1784. Weishaupt defended the organization in his Vollständige Geschichte der Illuminaten in Bayern (“Complete History of the Illuminati in Bavaria”), and Apologie der Illuminaten (Apology for the Illuminaten, both 1786).

Further Reading:

Ulrich Im Hof, The Enlightenment, 1994.

Sarah Tusa

Lamar University