Re: The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies
--- In email@example.com, Kris Millegan <roadsend@...> wrote:
truncated at 64k, continued:
( 491) not properly a secret order, than through its simultaneously published ideal of including all men, and thus of representing humanity as a whole.
Corresponding with intensification of separateness from the outer world, there is here, as elsewhere, a similar access of coherence within, since these are only the two sides or forms of manifestation of one and the same sociological attitude. A purpose which stimulates formation of a secret union among men as a rule peremptorily excludes such a preponderating portion of the general social environment from participation that the possible and actual participants acquire a scarcity value. These must be handled carefully, because, ceteris paribus, it is much more difficult to replace them than is the case in an ordinary society. More than that, every quarrel within the secret society brings with it the danger of betrayal, to avoid which in this case the motive of self-preservation in the individual is likely to co-operate with the motive of the self-preservation of the whole. Finally, with the defection of the secret societies from the environing social syntheses, many occasions of conflict disappear. Among all the limitations of the individual, those that come from association in secret societies always occupy an exceptional status, in contrast with which the open limitations, domestic and civic, religious and economic, those of class and of friendship, however manifold their content, still have a quite different measure and manner of efficiency. It requires the comparison with secret societies to make clear that the demands of open societies, lying so to speak in one plane, run across each other. As they carry on at the same time an open competitive struggle over the strength and the interest of the individual, within a single one of these spheres, the individuals come into sharp collision, because each of them is at the same time solicited by the interests of other spheres. In secret societies, in view of their sociological isolation, such collisions are very much restricted. The purposes and programs of secret societies require that competitive interests from that plane of the open society should be left outside the door. Since the secret society occupies a plane of its ownfew individuals belonging to more than one secret societyit exercises a kind of absolute
(492) sovereignty over its members. This control prevents conflicts among them which easily arise in the open type of co-ordination. The "King's peace" (Burgfriede) which should prevail within every society is promoted in a formally unsurpassed manner within secret societies through their peculiar and exceptional limitations. It appears, indeed, that, entirely apart from this more realistic ground, the mere form of secrecy as such holds the associates safer than they would otherwise be from disturbing influences, and thereby make concord more feasible. An English statesman has attempted to discover the source of the strength of the English cabinet in the secrecy which surrounds it. Everyone who has been active in public life knows that a small collection of people may be brought to agreement much more easily if their transactions are secret.
Corresponding with the peculiar degree of cohesion within secret societies is the definiteness of their centralization. They furnish examples of an unlimited and blind obedience to leaders, such as occurs elsewhere of course; but it is the more remarkable here, in view of the frequent anarchical and negative character toward all other law. The more criminal the purposes of a secret society, the more unlimited is likely to be the power of the leaders, and the more cruel its exercise. The Assassins in Arabia; the Chauffeurs, a predatory society with various branches that ravaged in France, particularly in the eighteenth century; the Gardunas in Spain, a criminal society that, from the seventeenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century, had relations with the Inquisitionall these, the nature of which was lawlessness and rebellion, were under one commander, whom they sometimes set over themselves, and whom they obeyed without criticism or limitation. To this result not merely the correlation of demand from freedom and for union contributes, as we have observed it in case of the severity of the ritual, and in the present instance it binds together the extremes of the two tendencies. The excess of freedom, which such societies possessed with reference to all otherwise valid norms, had to be offset, for the sake of the equilibrium of interests, by a, similar excess of submissiveness and resigning of the individual will. More essential, however,
(493) was probably the necessity of centralization, which is the condition of existence for the secret society, and especially when, like the criminal band, it lives off the surrounding society, when it mingles with this society in many radiations and actions, and when it is seriously threatened with treachery and diversion of interests the moment the most invariable attachment to one center ceases to prevail. It is consequently typical that the secret society is exposed to peculiar dangers, especially when, for any reasons whatever, it does not develop a powerfully unifying authority. The Waldenses were in nature not a secret society. They became a secret society in the thirteenth century only, in consequence of the external pressure, which made it necessary to keep themselves from view. It became impossible, for that reason, to hold regular assemblages, and this in turn caused loss of unity in doctrine. There arose a number of branches, with isolated life and development, frequently in a hostile attitude toward each other. They went into decline because they lacked the necessary and reinforcing attribute of the secret society, viz., constantly efficient centralization. The fact that the dynamic significance of Freemasonry is obviously not quite in proportion with its extension and its resources is probably to be accounted for by the extensive autonomy of its parts, which have neither a unified organization nor a central administration. Since their common life extends only to fundamental principles and signs of recognition, these come to be virtually only norms of equality and of contact between man and man, but not of that centralization which holds together the forces of the elements, and is the correlate of the apartness of the secret society.
It is nothing but an exaggeration of this formal motive when, as is often the case, secret societies are led by unknown chiefs. It is not desirable that the lower grades should know whom they are obeying. This occurs primarily, to be sure, for the sake of guarding the secret, and with this in view the device is carried to the point of constructing such a secret society as that of the Welfic Knights in Italy. The order operated at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the interest of Italian liberation and
(494) unification. At each of its seats it had a supreme council of six persons, who were not mutually acquainted, but dealt with each other only through a mediator who was known as "The Visible." This, however, is by no means the only utility of the secret headship. It means rather the most extreme and abstract sublimation of centralized coherence. The tension between adherent and leader reaches the highest degree when the latter withdraws from the range of vision. There remains the naked, merciless fact, so to speak, modified by no personal coloring, of obedience pure and simple, from which the superordinated subject has disappeared. If even obedience to an impersonal authority, to a mere magistracy, to the representative of an objective law, has the character of unbending severity, this obedience mounts still higher, to the level of an uncanny absoluteness, so soon as the commanding personality remains in principle hidden. For if, along with the visibility of the 'ruler, and acquaintance with him, it must be admitted that individual suggestion, the force of the personality, also vanish from the commanding relationship; yet at the same time there also disappear from the relationship the limitations, i. e., the merely relative, the " human," so to speak, which are attributes of the single person who can be encountered in actual experience. In this case obedience must be stimulated by the feeling of being subject to an intangible power, not strictly defined, so far as its boundaries are concerned; a power nowhere to be seen, but for that reason everywhere to be expected. The sociologically universal coherence of a group through the unity of the commanding authority is, in the case of the secret society with unknown headship, shifted into a focus imaginarius, and it attains therewith its most distinct and intense form.
The sociological character of the individual elements of the secret society, corresponding with this centralized subordination, is their individualization. In case the society does not have promotion of the interests of its individual members as its immediate purpose, and, so to speak, does not go outside of itself, but rather uses its members as means to externally located ends and activities in such case the secret society in turn manifests a heightened degree of self-abnegation, of leveling of individuality, which is
(495) already an incident of the social state in general, and with which the secret society outweighs the above-emphasized individualizing and differentiating character of the secrecy. This begins with the secret orders of the nature peoples, whose appearance and activities are almost always in connection with use of disguises, so that an expert immediately infers that wherever we find the use of disguises (Masken) among nature peoples, they at least indicate a probability of the existence of secret orders. It is, to be sure, a part of the essence of the secret order that its members conceal themselves, as such. Yet, inasmuch as the given man stands forth and conducts himself quite unequivocably as a member of the secret order, and merely does not disclose which otherwise known individuality is identical with this member, the disappearance of the personality, as such, behind his role in the secret society is most strongly emphasized. In the Irish conspiracy which was organized in America in the seventies under the name Clan-nagael, the individual members were not designated by their names, but only by numbers. This, of course, was with a view to the practical purpose of secrecy. Nevertheless, it shows to what extent secrecy suppresses individuality. Among persons who figure only as numbers, who perhapsas occurs at least in analogous casesare scarcely known to the other members by their personal names, leadership will proceed with much less consideration, with much more indifference to individual wishes and capacities, than if the union includes each of its members as a personal being. Not less effective in this respect are the extensive role and the severity of the ritual. All of this always signifies that the object mold has become master over the personal in membership and in activity. The hierarchical order admits the individual merely as agent of a definite role; it likewise holds in readiness for each participant a conventional garb, in which his personal contour disappears. It is merely another name for this effacement of the differentiated personality, when secret societies cultivate a high degree of relative equality among the members. This is so far from being in contradiction of the despotic character of their constitutions that in all sorts of other groupings despotism finds its correlate in the leveling of the ruled. Within the secret
(496) society there often exists between the members a fraternal equality which is in sharp and purposeful contrast with their differences in all the other situations of their lives. Typical cases in point appear, on the one hand, in secret societies of a religio-ethical character, which strongly accentuate the element of brotherhood; on the other hand, in societies of an illegal nature. Bismarck speaks in his memoirs of a widely ramified pederastic organization in Berlin, which came under his observation as a young judicial officer; and he emphasizes "the equalizing effect of co-operative practice of the forbidden vice through all social strata." This depersonalizing, in which the secret society carries to an excessive degree a typical relationship between individual and society, appears finally as the characteristic irresponsibility. In this connection, too, physical disguise (Maske) is the primitive phenomenon. Most of the African secret orders are alike in representing themselves by a man disguised as a forest spirit. He commits at will upon whomsoever he encounters any sort of violence, even to robbery and murder. No responsibility attaches to him for his outrages, and evidently this is due solely to the disguise. That is the somewhat unmanageable form under which such societies' cause the personality of their adherents to disappear, and without which the latter would undoubtedly be overtaken by revenge and punishment. Nevertheless, responsibility is quite as immediately joined with the ego-philosophically, too, the whole responsibility problem is merely a detail of the problem of the egoin the fact that removing the marks of identity of the person has, for the naive understanding in question, the effect of abolishing responsibility. Political finesse makes no less use of this correlation. In the American House of Representatives the real conclusions are reached in the standing committees, and they are almost always ratified by the House. The transactions of these committees, however, are secret, and the most important portion of legislative activity is thus concealed from public view. This being the case, the political responsibility of the representatives seems to be largely wiped out, since no one can be made responsible for proceedings that cannot be observed. Since the shares of the individual persons in the transactions remain
(497) hidden, the acts of committees and of the House seem to be those of a super-individual authority. The irresponsibility is here also the consequence or the symbol of the same intensified sociological de-individualization which goes with the secrecy of group-action. In all directorates, faculties, committees, boards of trustees, etc., whose transactions are secret, the same thing holds. The individual disappears as a person in the anonymous member of the ring, so to speak, and with him the responsibility, which has no hold upon him in his intangible special character.
Finally, this one-sided intensification of universal sociological traits is corroborated by the danger with which the great surrounding circle rightly or wrongly believes itself to be threatened from the secret society. Wherever there is an attempt to realize strong centralization, especially of a political type, special organizations of the elements are abhorred, purely as such, entirely apart from their content and purposes. As mere unities, so to speak, they engage in competition with the central principle. The central power wants to reserve to itself the prerogative of binding the elements together in a form of common unity. The jealous zeal of the central power against every special society (Sonderbund) runs through all political history. A characteristic type is presented by the Swiss convention of 1481, according to which no separate alliances were to be formed between any of the ten confederated states. Another is presented by the persecution of the associations of apprentices by the despotism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A third appears in the tendency to disfranchise local political bodies, so often manifested by the modern state. This danger from the special organization for the surrounding whole appears at a high potency in the case of the secret society. Men seldom have a calm and rational attitude toward strangers or persons only partially known. The folly which treats the unknown as the non-existent, and the anxious imaginativeness which inflates the unknown at once into gigantic dangers and horrors, are wont to take turns in guiding human actions. Accordingly, the secret society seems to be dangerous simply because it is secret. Since it cannot be surely known that any special organization whatever may not some day turn its legally
(498) accumulated powers to some undesired end, and since on that account there is suspicion in principle on the part of central powers toward organizations of subjects, it follows that, in the case of organizations which are secret in principle, the suspicion that their secrecy conceals dangers is all the more natural. The societies of Orangemen, which were organized at the beginning of the nineteenth century in England for the suppression of Catholicism, avoided all public discussion, and operated only in secret, through personal bonds and correspondence. But this very secrecy gave them the appearance of a public danger. The suspicion arose "that men who shrank from appealing to public opinion meditated a resort to force." Thus the secret society, purely on the ground of its secrecy, appears dangerously related to conspiracy against existing powers. To what extent this is a heightening of the universal political seriousness of special organizations, appears very plainly in such an occurrence as the following: The oldest Germanic guilds afforded to their members an effective legal protection, and thus to that extent were substitutes for the state. On the one hand, the Danish kings regarded them as supports of public order, and they consequently favored them. On the contrary, however, they appeared, for the same reason, to be direct competitors with the state. For that reason the Frankish capitularies condemned them, and the condemnation even took the form of branding them as conspiracies. The secret association is in such bad repute as enemy of central powers that, conversely, every politically disapproved association must be accused of such hostility!
- Translated by Albion W. Small.
- There is, to be sure, still another type of confidence, which our present discussion has nothing to do with, since it is a type that falls outside the bounds either of knowing or not knowing. It is the type which we call faith of one person in another. It belongs in the category of religious faith. Just as no one has ever believed in the existence of God on grounds of proof, but these proofs are rather subsequent justifications or intellectual reflections of a quite immediate attitude of the affections ; so we have faith in another person, although this faith may not be able to justify itself by proofs of the worthiness of the person, and it may even exist in spite of proofs of his unworthiness. This confidence, this subjective attitude of unreservedness toward a person, is not brought into existence by experiences or by hypotheses, but it is a primary attitude of the soul with respect to another. This condition of faith, in a perfectly pure form, detached from every sort of empirical consideration, probably occurs only within the sphere of religion. In order that it may be exercised toward men it probably always needs a stimulus or a sanction from the knowledge or the inference above referred to. On the other hand, it is probable that in those social forms of confidence, however exact vi intellectually sanctioned they may seem to be, an element of that sentimental and even mystical " faith " of man toward man is hidden. Perhaps the type of attitude here indicated is a fundamental category of human conduct, resting back upon the metaphysical meaning of our relationship, and realized only empirically, accidentally, and partially through the special conscious grounds of confidence.
- This counter-movement occurs also in the reverse direction. It has been observed, in connection with the history of the English court, that the actual court cabals, the secret whisperings, the organized intrigues, do not spring up under despotism, but only after the king has constitutional advisers, when the government is to that extent a system open to view. After that timeand this applies especially since Edward II the king begins to form an unofficial, and at the same time subterranean, circle of advisers, in contrast with the ministers somehow forced upon him. This body brings into existence, within itself, and through endeavors to join it, a chain of concealments and conspiracies.