The Long View: An Open Letter to E. Michael Jones

I've reproduced this because of the concluding paragraph, which I think is a very interesting point about modernity, not because I have any beef with Jones or his magazine.

An Open Letter to E. Michael Jones from John J. Reilly
[Note: Through an oversight, my name continued to appear on the masthead two months after we agreed it would be removed.]
The problems are apparent in your review in the May issue of Daniel Pipes' book, "Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From." For one thing, I am at a loss to understand what you mean by a "conspiracy." You cite the litigation thirty years ago to remove prayer from public schools as the product of a conspiracy "confected by Jewish organizations." There follows a quote from the Catholic bishops' attorney, William Ball, in which he lists the numerous Jewish organizations that supported the other side.
Mike, it's not a conspiracy when you organize to change public policy. It's especially not a conspiracy when your advocacy is not a secret. The Rockefeller Foundation no more "conspired" to legalize abortion than Operation Rescue is "conspiring" to end it. I object as a citizen to the use of the courts to promote abortion and contraception because it is a kind of judicial coup. However, the misuse of the courts in this fashion is a chronic problem in the American constitutional system. "Conspiracy" does not explain Roe v. Wade anymore that it explains Dred Scott or Schechter Poultry (the Depression-Era case that made FDR try to pack the Supreme Court).
I have not read the Pipes book, so I cannot say whether his treatment of secret societies and lodge politics is adequate. Certainly the subject has not been neglected by serious scholars. James Billington covers the role of "secret" societies (which actually operated quite publicly) in his discussion of the origin of the French Revolution in his "Fires in the Minds of Men." My favorite study of the matter is James Webb's "The Occult Establishment." (An interesting history of the Templar myth, which also makes short work of Augustin de Barruel, is Peter Partner's "The Murdered Magicians.") I am not aware of any serious historian who thinks that secret societies as such are the key to any period of history. When they are politically important, it's because they are not much of a secret.
In any case, I suspect what Pipes is most interested in is the specific branch of conspiracy theory that deals with the Jews. Or the Jewish Masons. Or the Jewish Masonic International Bankers, the ones with the black helicopters. Paul Johnson gives some coverage to this myth in his "History of the American People," starting with its American incarnation among the Populists in the 1880s. A hundred years later, when I was writing newsletters for the American Bankers Association, I came across exactly the same stuff (except for the helicopters) from radical-right groups in the Midwest. If Pipes thinks there is an irrational folk-tradition incorporating this material, he is on to something. In any case, it has nothing at all to do with what happened to American culture in the 1960s or with the process of repair.
The chief argument against your attribution of the 1960s to a Grand Conspiracy to impose "social control" is that the time was most marked by the freezing up of control systems. Serious policing stopped in many cities. Crime went through the roof. Governments lost control of their budgets. Public school systems disintegrated. Manufacturing standards declined. You say that what was really happening was the implementation of the Masonic program as described by Pope Leo XIII: "...the multitude should be satiated with a boundless license of vice, as, when this has been done, [the multitude] would easily come under [the] power and authority [of crafty and clever men] for any acts of daring." What "acts of daring" did your controllers have in mind? If you are talking about the decline in the birthrate, that was not engineered: it happened from Sicily to Japan, quite without the aid of the US Supreme Court. License is not an instrument of control: licentious people are useless to the very extent that they are licentious.
Finally, regarding the Enlightenment, I think you persistently misunderstand what order of thing it is. The Enlightenment is like the Hellenistic period, and equally contains both good and bad. Richard Rorty is a man of the Enlightenment. John Paul II is a man of the Enlightenment. E. Michael Jones is a man of the Enlightenment. So was Augustin de Barruel. Left and Right, Progressive and Traditional, Liberal and Conservative, all these are oppositions that began with the Enlightenment and are meaningful only within it. The revolutionary tradition is a creature of the Enlightenment. So is the grand tradition of conspiracy theories, to which I have no desire to contribute.
Take Care,
John J. Reilly

This letter originally appeared on May 19, 1998, on the online Discussion Forum of Culture Wars magazine. It started an exchange which it is unnecessary to reproduce in its entirety, though I would be willing to do so at the request of the other participants.

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