This year's book is John Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe Carried on in the Secret Meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies, written in 1797. Robison was Professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, the secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a Freemason. Along with being influential in the early study of physics, he is also noted for the invention of the siren, and work with James Watt on an early steam powered automobile—arguably making him responsible for the police car, in case you were looking for someone to blame.
Robison became disillusioned by the horrors of the French Revolution and its aftermath, as well as the participation of French Freemasons and the Bavarian Illuminati (as well as other similarly themed fraternal, philosophical and esoteric groups). Proofs of a Conspiracy was an attempt to point out the culpability of these groups, as well as to make a disctinction between good and virtuous English and Scottish -derived Masonry, as opposed to evil, sneaky and untrustworthy Continental Masons. As he says,
"It has accordingly happened, that the homely Free Masonry imported from England has been totally changed in every country of Europe, either by the imposing ascendancy of French brethren, who are to be found every where, ready to instruct the world; or by the importation of the doctrines, and ceremonies, and ornaments of the Parisian Lodges. Even England; the birth-place of Masonry, has experienced the French innovations; and all the repeated injunctions, admonitions, and reproofs of the old Lodges, cannot prevent those in different parts of the kingdom from admitting the French novelties, full of tinsel and glitter, and high-sounding titles."
Unfortunately, most readers missed Robison's distinction between what we regard today as regular, recognized Craft Freemasonry that takes no political or religious position, versus the very political and anti-religious brand that grew up in France and Germany in the 18th century. Even today, the mostly unrecognized Grand Orient of France remains politically active. Their motto, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité," became a cry of the Revolution, until it turned back upon them, and their own members became victims of the mob's rapidly changing whim.
Robison's book, along with Abbé Augustin Barruel's 1797 Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire du Jacobinisme, are the two most influential works that created the modern day conspiracy theory, and both allege conspiracies of "secret societies" in an orchestrated plan for an anti-monarchial, anti-clerical new world order. The books would set off an international fear of "Illuminism," and in the fledgling United States, President Thomas Jefferson was eventually seen by some as the chief infiltrator. Modern NWO conspiracy theories, no matter who gets trotted out as the sinister, all-seeing, all-knowing boogeyman, can all be traced back to these works. The players - Jews, Commies, Bilderbergers, the Council on Foreign Relations, Neocons - may change over time, but the script is always straight out of Robison or Barruel.
That said, Proofs of a Conspiracy is a fascinating snapshot of a time when the world went mad. Men like Robison searched for reasons why France executed 17,000 with trials, 12,000 without, and another 300,000 or so, counting Vendee and their battles with Austria. It couldn't have been national insanity. It had to be orchestrated by someone. And Europe's Masons and the Illuminati seemed to be the likeliest choices. It is also fascinating for Freemasons to see the struggle that went on for the soul of the fraternity on the Continent, as the "higher" Eccosais (what became the Scottish Rite) degrees introduced Rosicrucianism, mysticism, and decidedly un-Masonic influences into the mix.
The Masonic Book Club edition is a hardback facsimile of the third edition published in Philadelphia in 1798. The type is light in places, but certainly quite readable, and I always prefer these to new typeset reprints.
Be sure to check out the Book Club's store, as they are offering many of their 39 previous books for sale.