Augustin Barruel (October 2, 1741 – October 5, 1820) was a French publicist and Jesuit priest. He is now mostly known for setting forth the conspiracy theory involving the Bavarian Illuminati and the Jacobins in his book Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (original title Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire du Jacobinisme) published in 1797. In short, Barruel wrote that the French Revolution was planned and executed by the secret societies.
Augustin Barruel was born at Villeneuve de Berg (Ardèche). He entered the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, in 1756, and taught grammar at Toulouse from 1762. The storm against the Jesuits in France drove him from his country and he was occupied in college work in Moravia and Bohemia until the suppression of the order in 1773. He then returned to France and his first literary work appeared in 1774: Ode sur le glorieux avenement de Louis Auguste au trone. (Ode to the glorious advent to the throne of Louis Auguste). That same year he became a collaborator of the Année littéraire, edited by Fréron. His first important work was Les Helveiennes, ou Lettres Provinciales philosophiques (The Helveiennes or philosophical Provincial Letters) published in 1781.
In the meantime, national affairs in France were growing more and more turbulent, but Barruel continued his literary activity, which from now on occupied itself specially with public questions. In 1789 appeared Lettres sur le Divorce, a refutation of a book by Hennet. From 1788 to 1792 he edited the famous Journal Ecclesiastique founded by Joseph Dinouart in 1760. In this periodical was published Barruel’s La Conduite du. S. Siège envers la France, a vigorous defense of Pope Pius VI. He likewise wrote a number of pamphlets against the civil oath demanded from ecclesiastics and against the new civil constitution during 1790 and 1791. He afterward gathered into one Collection Ecclésiastique all of the works relative to the clergy and civil constitution.
The French Revolution and the Conspiracy Theory
The storm of the French Revolution had in the meantime forced Barruel to seek refuge in England, where he became almoner to the refugee Prince of Conti. Here he wrote in 1793 the Histoire du Clergé pendant la Revolution Française (“History of the Clergy during the French Revolution”). He dedicated the work to the English nation in recognition of the hospitality that it had showed toward the unfortunate French ecclesiastics. It has been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and English. The English version went through several editions and did much to strengthen the British nation in its opposition to French revolutionary principles. While in London, Barruel published an English work, A Dissertation on Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in the Catholic Church. But none of his works attracted so much attention as his Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism.
His basic idea was that of a conspiracy with the aim of overthrowing Christianity—or more to the point, any and all forms of political and social organization based on conformity to the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Barruel’s conspiracy is notable for suggesting an association between the Occult, the French Enlightenment, and Freemasons. He thereby associated Paganism with Enlightenment thought, a trend followed by some later reactionary thinkers and even contemporary intellectual historians.
It inspired John Robison, who had been working independently on his own conspiracy theory, to extend his book Proofs of a Conspiracy Against all the Religions and Governments of Europe and include several quotations from Barruel.
On the fall of the Directory in 1802, Barruel was enabled to return to France. He fully accepted and persuaded many other clergymen to accept the new political order of things in his native country and he wrote several books to defend his opinions. When the Concordat was made in 1801 between Pius VII and Napoleon, Barruel wrote: Du Pape et de ses Droits Religieux. His last important controversy was his defense of the Holy See in its deposition of the French bishops, which he said had been necessitated by the new order of things in France established by the Concordat of 1801. His book appeared also in English: The Papal Power, or an historical essay on the temporal power of the Pope. Many attacked the work, but as usual, the author did not suffer an antagonist to go unanswered. His new work involved him in a very extended controversy, for his work was translated into all the principal European languages.
His friends and foes alike became involved in a wordy war. Blanchard published in London no fewer than three refutations. He had promised to compose two works that never appeared: Historie des Sociétés Secrètes au Moyen-Age and Dissertation sur la Croisade contre les Albigeois. In regard to the latter work, Barruel stated his object would be to defend the Church against the reproach of having deposed kings and having freed their subjects from the oath of allegiance. He contended that objections on this score arose only from an ignorance of history. At the time of his death, Barruel was engaged on a refutation of the philosophical system of Immanuel Kant, but never completed his work. He died in Paris in 1820.
- Josephson-Storm, Jason (2017). The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 58.
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- Hofman, Amos. “Opinion, Illusion, and the Illusion of Opinion: Barruel’s Theory of Conspiracy,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1, Autumn, 1993.
- Mackey, Albert G. “Barruel, Abbé.” In An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences, Moss & Company, 1874.
- McMahon, Darrin M. Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity, Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Riquet, Michel. Augustin de Barruel: un Jésuite Face aux Jacobins Francs-Maçons (1741-1820), Beauchesne, 1989.
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- Tackett, Timothy. “Conspiracy Obsession in a Time of Revolution: French Elites and the Origins of the Terror, 1789-1792,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 105, No. 3, Jun., 2000.
Originally published by Wikipedia, 02.05.2003, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.