An Evaluation of Carroll Quigley’s Thoughts on the Illuminati, Buonarroti and the Carbonari by Terry Melanson

Note: Terry Melanson is the author of “Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati”.  He also publishes a scholarly journal on the history of the Illuminati of Bavaria and is the creator of the well known Conspiracy Archive.  I highly recommend reading his fascinating follow up to my latest article “Professor Quigley and the Article that Said Too Little: Reclaiming History from Omission and Partisan Straw Men”.  Terry has provided a rich contextual analysis, highlighting Professor Quigley’s “lack of knowledge” and several misconceptions espoused about the order of the Illuminati, Buonarroti and the Carbonari during the latter portion of the Washington Post interview. – kc

By Terry Melanson

Kevin Cole recently wrote an informative article about Carroll Quigley: “Professor Carroll Quigley and the Article that Said Too Little: Reclaiming History from Omission and Partisan Straw Men.” It concerns a Washington Post article in 1975 about how Carroll Quigley, Georgetown University professor of history, had unwittingly become a hero of sorts for the conspiracy theories promulgated by the John Birch Society. The interview, conducted by Rudy Maxa, was recorded and is available on the internet with an accompanying transcript (part one, two, three, four and five).

It’s pretty clear that the recording formed the material used by Maxa for the writing of the Post article, however as Kevin Cole has highlighted there are glaring omissions that hadn’t made it into the article.

I’ll let you read Cole’s assessment for yourself. He brings up good points.

What follows are my own observations about particulars in the interview for which I have some insight.

The discussion on the Illuminati and the Carbonari, in parts four and five, are interesting – for what is said, what’s left out, and certain erroneous statements and/or logic.

Quigley’s first mention of the Illuminati:

QUIGLEY: “Then in ’73 somebody called me… Now, I can give you the exact dates of this, if I can get to the papers. But I don’t have them. Anyway. And he wanted me to do something to stop the influence that this book [‘None Dare Call It Conspiracy’] was having in Nevada, particularly as promoting anti-semitism. Because there’s a group of people who were using this book – and they’re total nuts. I get letters from them all the time. I can show you some of them, if you want – complete nuts, who claim that this is a Jewish conspiracy, that is part of the same thing as ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, which we now know was a Tsarist Russian police forgery of 1905. And that this is the same thing as the Illuminati. And the Illuminati were founded in 1776 by a Bavarian named, I think it’s, White, Weiskopf [Weishaupt]. Or something like that. And the Illuminati are a branch of the Masons and that they took over the Masons, you see. And, uh, uh, the whole thing is a nightmare.”

First, the book I think he was talking about was Cleon Skousen’s The Naked Capitalist as opposed to Gary Allen’s None Dare Call it Conspiracy. Earlier he was explaining the effect the former book had had at a Mormon university. But even if that were the case, both books by Allen and Skousen in fact go out of their way to denounce antisemitic conspiracy theories. That their books were read by those who held to these beliefs, there’s no doubt. The book itself, however – Allen’s or Skousen’s – absolutely did not promote antisemitism as Quigley maintained.

Otherwise, I agree with the above statement that the Illuminati have been conflated with the master Jewish Conspiracy thesis. Unfortunately, this has been the case for quite some time. As James H. Billington has informed us in Fire in the Minds of Men, “The successive stages in the codification of the theory of an Illuminist conspiracy … shows the transfer of this aroused suspicion to the Jews, beginning with the Napoleonic period” (p. 538 n. 43).

Quigley then talks about the conflation of the Illuminati and the Masons with the Society of the Cincinnati, etc. It’s a common tactic amongst believers in a planned and persistent monolithic conspiracy, or the so-called master conspiracy thesis. Whether the masterminds are the Illuminati or the Masons or the Jews or the Jesuits (or ultimately Satan) – all evidence, contradictory or otherwise, is marshaled under a single banner and nothing is left to circumstance, coincidence or chance. An influential example of this mindset is Nesta Webster, which Quigley discusses next.

QUIGLEY: “And it becomes… You can’t believe it.

Now, these, these same conspirators are the Jacobins who made the French Revolution. A woman named Nesta — N-E-S-T-A — Webster wrote that book. To refute it, my tutor, who’s a Rhodes Scholar, Crane Brinton — B-R-I-N–T–O-N, wrote his doctoral dissertation called ‘The Jacobins,’ in which he refutes her. You see? Now, I think that, at the end of his life, Brinton probably came to feel that he was wrong. That there was some secret society involved in the Jacobins. And a student of his named Elizabeth Eisenstein, who is a marvelous researcher (she is now a professor at American University) under Brinton wrote a doctoral dissertation on the founder of the Babeuf Conspiracy. The Babeuf Conspiracy was a conspiracy of the extreme left which burst out in France in 1894 [sic] or so, led by a man named Babeuf, who was executed for it. But the man behind it was a descendant of Michelangelo, named Buonarroti. Because Buonarroti’s, uh, Michelangelo’s family name was Buonarroti. Look, if you can, at Eisenstein[‘s] book, which is published by Harvard, her doctoral dissertation, which shows that Buonarroti founded many secret societies, do you see?”

The Nesta Webster book he’s talking about is French Revolution: A Study in Democracy (1919); others, which more directly blame Jews, include World Revolution: The Plot Against Civilization (1921) and Secret Societies and Subversive Movements (1924). The impact she had on the John Birch Society—its founder, Robert Welch in particular—is significant. Always mindful of their Judeo-Christian audience, however, JBS authors omitted (or downplayed) Webster’s specific references to an overarching Jewish plot behind it all.

Quigley claimed that his former tutor, historian Crane Brinton wrote his book The Jacobins: An Essay in the New History (1930) to refute Nesta Webster and that it was initially his PhD dissertation. Both assertions are false. Brinton’s 1930 The Jacobins wasn’t related to his 1923 dissertation at all; his PhD thesis was later published in 1926 with the title Political Ideas of the English Romantics. Furthermore, Brinton hardly wrote The Jacobins to refute Webster. Her name appears only once, in a single sentence. The context in which she’s mentioned, however, is very interesting on many levels. Here’s the entire paragraph, and the one that follows:

The other chief antecedent of the Jacobin clubs is certainly to be found in the secret societies, and especially in the freemasons. Such a subject, however, is one which the newer historian must approach with trembling, and dispose of as quickly as possible. There is something romantic about any secret society, something of the “backstairs” history which hardly fits into science. There is the inescapable impossibility of getting reliable information from men sworn to secrecy. There is the cheap fear of such societies, from which writers like Mrs. Nesta Webster have construed philosophical melodramas. Yet it is unquestionable that many freemasons were among the founders of the first Jacobin clubs in various parts of France. According to Labroue, two-thirds of the freemasons of Bergerac joined the club in 1791; and of the fifty-eight members of the société mesmérienne (a title which shows its connection with the Enlightenment) forty-two joined the club. Brégail thinks that at Auch and in the Gers the clubs were founded by freemasons, and establishes definitely that the leaders of the clubs had also been leaders in the lodges. In the north, the same would seem true for Lille. And in general, those who have used documents emanating from the clubs – petitions, addresses, letters – can testify that the three masonic dots are not infrequently to be found accompanying signatures. Yet these masonic signatures are rarely in a majority. The register of the society of Toulouse, for instance, founded in May, 1790, has only four such signatures out of thirty-eight.

Moreover, certain practices which appear very early in the clubs point to masonic origins. Such as the fraternal embrace with which the presiding officer greets his guests, the universal use of the word “brother” – in the early minutes many of the speakers are referred to as “brother so-and-so” – the admission of the new members by a secret vote with the use of blackballs, and occasionally, the existence of a master of ceremonies. Not infrequently, after the manner of friendly societies the world over, the society delegates two of its members to visit a brother’s sick-bed, and sometimes provision for this is made in the rules. Finally, freemasonry itself dies out with the Revolution, and the lodges are not revived until the Empire (The Jacobins: An Essay in the New History, 2011 edition, Transaction Publishers, pp. 14-15).

A single dismissive sentence does not equal a refutation, nor can one deduce from a one-off rebuke the impetus for writing the book as a whole. The gist of the context reveals something quite different: Brinton, his mentor, as well as Quigley himself, wrote in a manner that could easily be appropriated by the same conspiracy theorists they profess to loath. When fuel is added to the fire, don’t be surprised when you get burned – or in Quigley’s case, the whole neighborhood catches fire.

Another scholar whom Brinton had mentored was Elizabeth Eisenstein. Once again Quigley wrongly attributes her book about Buonarroti as being her PhD thesis. I’m beginning to think he likes using the phrase just to impress the reporter.

Eisenstein’s unpublished dissertation was completed in 1953: “The Evolution of the Jacobin Tradition in France: the Survival and Revival of the Ethos of 1795 Under the Bourbon and Orleanist Regimes.” The book on Buonarroti that Quigley mentioned, First Professional Revolutionist: Filippo Michele Buonarroti, 1761-1837, is a monograph on the revolutionary, published at Harvard in 1959. Brinton indeed offered his suggestions and she acknowledges his help in the book. Quigley probably did read her dissertation, however. Although I haven’t read it myself, from the title surely Babeuf and his Conspiracy of Equals (together with Buonarroti) would have been discussed. I do agree with Quigley’s assessment that Eisenstein is a “marvelous researcher,” and he’s correct that Buonarroti was a descendant of Michelangelo.

The importance of Buonarroti which Quigley was highlighting is the fact that in Eisenstein’s book she “shows that Buonarroti founded many secret societies, do you see?” She does indeed amply document this fact; also from whom he was influenced: Rousseau, Robespierre, the Jacobins, and undeniably the Illuminati itself. Eisenstein also highlights the assertions of some scholars – Carlo Francovich and Arthur Lehning – that Buonarroti may have been initiated into the Illuminati in 1786, but rightly points out that the only evidence cited traces back to a single claim in John Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy that there was an Illuminati lodge in Florence. It was in this Florence lodge that he apparently became a Mason, and indeed had first become radicalized (see Eisenstein, op. cit., pp. 11, 42-43).

On Buonarroti’s possible initiation into the Illuminati, Eisenstein writes:

It is possible that, about 1786, he [Buonarroti] joined a Florentine lodge where, under the guise of practicing the Scottish rites of the Masonic Order, the Illuminati (founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776) may have been propagating their radical interpretation of [Rousseau’s] the Discours sur L’Inégalité and the Contrat Social. Although his initiation into Weishaupt’s order remains conjectural, his later familiarity with it is certain and was to be of paramount importance in his future development (p. 11).

The importance of the Illuminati to Buonarroti is discussed numerous times throughout her book. Quigley would have known this. Why he didn’t stress this fact, I don’t know. He’s eager to point out the myths conspiracy theorists have concocted about the Illuminati, but when he himself brings up a scholar on Buonarroti (a veritable puppet master with real sway for decades on various revolutionary secret societies throughout Europe), Quigley neglects to mention his debt to the Illuminati.

Continuing with the interview:


QUIGLEY: “One of them was the Babeuf people, who are now being praised to the skies by all the neo-Marxists, like [Herbert] Marcuse and others, you see, as the great heroes because they tried to change the French Revolution from a middle class, bourgeois, capitalist revolution — constitutional revolution — into a communist revolution. Now Buonarroti is also the founder of the Carbonari, of which Mazzini was the head in the 1840s, which united Italy in the 1860s. Do you see? So, as, if you start with Buonarroti, which as far as I can see is 1893 and 189-, eh, 1793, 1794, I think you can trace a connection down through these various secret societies which culminate in the, uh, Mazzini Carbonari. For example. Uh. Eh, I’ll tell you one thing.”


Both Babeuf and Buonarroti are heroes to Marxists and communist revolutionaries in general; he’s right. That Buonarroti was the founder of the Carbonari is an overstatement. No one has proved exactly who the initial founders were in Italy in the early 1800s, however suggestive evidence points to Pierre-Joseph Briot (1771-1827), who happened to have been associated with Buonarroti during this period and was a member of the Philadelphes which was subsumed into Buonarroti’s Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits in 1812. Quigley’s point – “you can trace a connection down through these various secret societies” – is well taken though, but the single most important thread for this line of inquiry is Buonarroti himself. Mazzini, on the other hand, was never the “head” of the Carbonari. He had joined in 1827, was used by the secret society briefly, but soon became disillusioned with the Carbonari’s inaction, its vague aims and numerous failures, and criticized them both publically and privately for the remainder of his life. Mazzini’s m.o. was to found and control his own secret societies – Young Italy, Young Europe, etc. – to compete with the incompetence of the Carbonari and similar conspirators associated with them. If anyone was acknowledged as the de-facto head of the amorphous assemblage of revolutionaries variously called Carbonari, Charbonnerie, Charbonnerie Réformée and Charbonnerie Démocratique Universelle; it was Buonarroti. Further, the two never got along. Buonarroti warned his initiates to stay away from Mazzini and vice versa (effectively excommunicating each other—and associates—from their respective circles). The latter’s focus on nationalism—Italy in particular—didn’t sit well with Buonarroti’s incessant longing for Paris as the center of an egalitarian/socialist European-wide revolution in the spirit of Robespierre and the dictatorial Jacobins during the glorious days of the revolution in France.

Next, Quigley talks to the interviewer about Napoleon III having been a Carbonaro in his earlier years, and how later on his assassination was attempted by another conspirator, and other details which he mostly got wrong. Quigley’s account here is garbled at best. The transcriber of the interview even felt the need to correct him multiple times [within brackets].

Quigley ends the Illuminati/Carbonari/revolutionary discussion with this:


QUIGLEY: “So, what I’m summing up is this: I do think there was probably a continuous sequence of secret societies from Buonarroti — [the] ‘Baboo, Babeuf conspiracy’, which is 1894, or ’95 [actually, 1794, or ’95] — through the Carbonari unification of Italy, which would be ’61, 1861. I cannot see anything since then. It may exist. I haven’t really studied it.”


QUIGLEY: “But I cannot see any connection between the Masons and the Illuminati,”


QUIGLEY: “Founded in Bavaria in 1776 And I can’t see any connection between them and Ba–, and, uh, Buonarroti.”

These last statements show his lack of knowledge on the subject, though it didn’t seem to stop him from the digression in the first place. The only factual statement besides the founding year of the Illuminati is that there’s “a continuous sequence of secret societies from Buonarroti.” On the “connection between the Masons and the Illuminati,” it’s elementary knowledge that the Illuminati actually tried to take over Masonic lodges and succeeded in the task many times in many places. The “connection” is that they were parasitical on the Masonic body, using it for sustenance and recruits —a secret society within a secret society. That he doesn’t see a “connection” between the Illuminati and Buonarroti, either, can be evaluated as follows: (1) he hasn’t actually read Eisenstein’s book closely at all; (2) he’s conveniently forgotten that she points to a definite Illuminati “connection” — inspired by, and duplicating their ideas, phrases and methodology, even to the point of disdain for Masonry and an anti-Jesuit stance (but studying the latter as a conspiratorial example to be emulated); or (3) he intentionally omitted it.

Another point I’d like to bring up concerns Quigley’s statement that he had participated in a debate with Gary Allen and Larry Abraham, the authors of None Dare Call it Conspiracy.

Per Quigley:

QUIGLEY: “And so they said ‘Would you debate, uh, Gary Allen and Larry Abraham?’ And, uh, I said ‘Well, I’d rather not, frankly’. ‘But we need you help.’ And I said ‘Well, are they both going to be debating me?’ They said ‘No, there a Dr. So-and-So here, who will, uh, debate with you.’ And he is, I think, a medical doctor. I’m not certain of that. But he was Jewish. And, what he was interested in was the the anti-semitism part in this.”

INTERVIEWER: “He was going to debate on your team, on your side?”

QUIGLEY: “By my side. And they said ‘It’s going to be absolutely the strictest thing.’ We’d be on the air for an hour. We’d be hooked up on telephone, uh, through the country. ‘I will be the coordinator,’ said this fellow, of this. ‘And it will be rigorous. You will, must stay on the subject, or I will stop you. There must be no personality attacks, or I will stop you. You can each talk for ten minutes [I think it is, or five minutes it could have been]‘. And ‘then, when each of the four has talked (I think it was for ten minutes), then each will have the right to have a five minute rebuttal’, or something, you see.”


QUIGLEY: “Now, in the course of it, I soon discovered that Gary Allen didn’t know up from down. But Larry A…”


QUIGLEY: “No. But Larry Abraham was immensely well informed. He knew all about corporations, finance and bankers, and who were their partners. He know. He’s tremendous. I…”

INTERVIEWER: “How did you find out? From talking with people?”

QUIGLEY: “I found out from the debate.”

INTERVIEWER: “Oh, O.K. That’s what I was going to ask. You did go to the debate?”

QUIGLEY: “Yeah. Gary Allen just repeated everything that’s in here [‘Tragedy and Hope’]. Uh, when I put in my rebuttal, and said these various things, he [Abram[s]] then started pulling in this information, I mean, some of it I’ve never heard of. Now, I don’t know everything. And the new book that’s out now, published by the Buckley, I guess it it’s the Bill Buckley, press, Arlington House (I suppose it is Bill Buckley, I’m not sure of that) called ‘The Bolsheviks and Wall Street.’ Oh, we got to go to lunch. ‘The Bolsheviks and Wall Street’ has lots of things in there that I don’t, didn’t know.”



If that debate really did occur, as Quigley admitted, then some record of it should be out there, perhaps even a recording. No such luck. I did, however, come across another account from a friend of Gary Allen’s.

Per Gary North:

Larry Abraham and Gary Allen appeared on a radio talk show where the interviewer had scheduled Quigley to debate with them over the phone. Quigley immediately denied that he had written the sensational material that Abraham and Allen had attributed to him. As soon as Abraham read one of the denied passages over the air, reading directly from Quigley’s book, Quigley hung up. Elapsed time: less than two minutes. So much for extended scholarly debate.

I’m inclined to believe the latter as opposed to the former. Otherwise we’d all be listening to it on YouTube and debating ourselves as to who indeed had won. An historic encounter like that would not have been lost down the memory hole … unless, that is, Gary North is right.