Bensheim Conferences 2010, 25.-27. März 2010
1. Bensheim Conference, 25-27 March 2010
organized by the Institute for Personal History (Bensheim) and the
Ranke-Gesellschaft, Vereinigung für Geschichte im öffentlichen Leben e.V.
»Clandestine Elites ?« ― Part I
Prof. Dr. Volkhard Huth, Bensheim: Opening speech and introduction
Dr. Matthias Heiduk, Göttingen: Clandestine or imagined elites? Elitist habitus and elite projections, applied to the Knights Templar
Dr. Thomas Krüger, Augsburg: The Medieval College of Cardinals between representatives of the Church and oligarchical conspiracy
Dr. Manfred Hollegger, Graz: The so-called »hedge« around Emperor Maximilian I
Dr. Rita Haub, Munich: The Society of Jesus
Dr. Hermann Schüttler, Erfurt/Gotha: Illuminati
Dr. Florian Maurice, Munich: October 1798. The everyday life of a Berlin Freemason Lodge
Prof. Dr. Eckhart G. Franz, Darmstadt: Freemasons in the Rhine-Main region
Prof. Dr. Hermann Schäfer, Bonn: (Clandestine) Elites in recent German history― an analysis of the fame of the »nameless«
Dr. habil. Gerhard Hoffmann, Leipzig: Clandestine Elites in Islam?
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Andreas Brockmann, Leipzig: Indigenous elites in Latin America
With the start of the ›Bensheim Conferences‹ in the state park of Fürstenlager in Bensheim-Auerbach, the Institute for Personal History, in cooperation with the Ranke-Gesellschaft, Vereinigung für Geschichte im öffentlichen Leben e.V., continued the work of the „Büdinger Conferences on Social History“, after a continuation of the Conferences in the castle of Büdingen became impossible in 2009. With the question »Clandestine Elites?«, the conference topic provided a direct connection to the more than 40 conferences on elite groups that had preceded it, but deliberately expanded the spectrum into the Middle Ages and beyond a purely European perspective. A second part is planned for 2011, which will focus specifically on the “Clandestine Elites” of the 19th and 20th centuries. The organisation of the conference and the introduction were undertaken by Volkhard Huth (Bensheim), the conference was chaired by Jürgen Elvert (Cologne) on 26 March and by Matthias Stickler (Würzburg) on 27 March. The agreeable ambience in the grand setting of the park, the motivation of the interested parties, the response by the local public and above all the constructive and stimulating discussion amongst the participants all combined to make the Conference a great success. The excursion to Worms to the “Warmaisa”, organized by Gerold Bönnen (Worms), also left a deep impression. A unanimous desire was expressed to continue this event.
»Clandestine Elites«, just like „open secrets“, constitute an aporia, a fact that Volkhard Huth (Bensheim) underlined in his introduction. Maintaining secrecy serves as their claim on legitimacy towards the wider population. But it remains to be seen whether secrecy itself is not a constitutive element of all authority, a central symbol, linked in different ways with God’s omnipotence and the public. Staged secrecy always has a conspiratorial sphere. Given the loss or lack of a classical metaphysics, the self-consciousness of humans forms a new Holy Grail (Friedrich Engels). The individual analyses on the Middle Ages, concerning the Knights Templar and the circle around Emperor Maximilian I, as well as the research on groups outside Europe, clandestine elites in Islam and indigenous elites in Latin America, offer some noteworthy possibilities of comparison for the analyses of the classic “secret societies” in modern Europe: Jesuits, Freemasons, and Illuminati.
Matthias Heiduk (Göttingen) presented the Knights Templar as the first case. The Order of the Temple was a military meritocratic elite. As landlord, it was simultaneously a political and diplomatic elite, and through its banking facilities, it was also an economic elite in the 13th century. As such, the Order proves itself unique in the history of Christian military orders. However, nothing about the Order of the Temple was secret. After its dissolution in 1312, no convictions were obtained. All the statements obtained through torture concerning accusations of heresy are worthless. Not one single testimony hints at any secret activity whatsoever. And yet, this was a central element of what they were accused of in later tradition. King Philip IV of France and his advisors delivered a perfect propaganda: the Templars were apparently elite keepers of a spiritual legacy. Their tradition was then taken up by the Freemasons as the „Ordre du Temple“. The Order was even identified as keeper of an elite and secret “blood legacy”. Heiduk presented the history of the reception of this tradition, identifying figures such as Friedrich Nicolai, Adolf Josef Lanz, Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat, Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall and most recently Pierre Plantard. For the clandestine elites, Matthias Heiduk saw the self-presentation and communication as central constitutive elements. Membership in these is marked by symbols. These groups present themselves as an elite through the production and heightening of prestige, not through maintaining secrecy, but through medial exploration. The „exposure“ of that which is secret provided a pull on people’s fascination which emanated from the supposedly secret, and correspondingly led to the foundation of new „orders“, whose characteristics were provided by this self-production. All these groups worked with alternative interpretations of history. Mysteries make history more exciting.
Thomas Krüger (Augsburg) introduced his analysis of the College of Cardinals with the Domherr Balderich von Trier’s description of the entrance of Pope Eugene III and his cardinals into Trier in 1147, one of the first significant sources in this regard. As justification for the appointment of these cardinals, Balderich mentioned the criteria of aristocratic descent, higher education, legal scholarship, belonging to the German nation, piety and rhetorical skills. The formal order of precedence of the cardinal was still disputed at this time. However, they were never a clandestine elite group, but rather a very publicly visible elite. In the traditional ecclesiastical order, cardinals were not to be found. As heads of the titular churches of Rome they were the clerics present in the Pope's immediate environment. Pope Eugene III had appointed 20 new cardinals, for the most part jurists with certified education. As men who enjoyed the Pope's trust, and as they were commonly interrelated, these cardinals developed into a „constant of the papacy“ (Wolfgang Reinhard). As legates of the Pope, they were his representatives in the church as a whole, as parts of the body. It was only with the Council of Constance that it was established that all nations should be considered equally, but the influence of the cardinals was restricted to the interim period between the regularly occurring councils. In 1431 the cardinals were able to abolish this „conciliary“ church again and had their new position of power confirmed by a papal bull. The substance of their privileges was to remain secret, but not the fact of the existence of these privileges itself. Christoph Weber has described this early modern college of cardinals as a ruling fraternity without substantial corporate power. The college of cardinals lacked the right to convene itself, outside of periods of sede vacante. Also, the assemblies of the college had only one purpose: the election of a Pope.
The Privy Council („Geheimer Rat“) was not yet an established institution in the time of Emperor Maximilian I. Manfred Hollegger (Graz) showed how Maximilian established new institutions as part of his Imperial Reform, in order to rule over or with the Imperial Estates. At first, Maximilian had filled the Aulic Council (Reichshofrat) with princes. However, after Maximilian had dissolved the Imperial Regiment (Reichsregiment) in 1502, the princes remained absent from the Aulic Council, with the exception of Eitelfriedrich von Zollern and Wolfgang von Fürstenberg. The „hedge“ around Maximilian was formed in this period by the cabinet secretary Matthäus Lang, the Tirolian chancellor and head of the court chancellery Zyprian von Serntein and the ‚financier’ Paul von Liechtenstein, who due to their rise through the chancellery possessed critical knowledge on the exercise of power. It was obvious that matters of concern to the ruler had to be dealt with and supported by those persons in the immediate environment of the emperor, and it was a matter of course for every emissary and politician to establish who had the ear of the ruler. One can not therefore speak of a clandestine elite. Since the princes demonstratively stayed away from the court after 1505, and the rump of the Aulic Council also rarely assembled itself in its entirety, this offered opportunities of advancement for the lower aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, the Hausräte, the gelehrten Räte. A new elite was formed. Before 1514, the treasurer general Jakob Villinger joined the ‚hedge’, Jakob Fugger, Konrad Peutinger, Sigmund von Dietrichstein (Master of the Silver Chamber, rival of Paul von Liechtenstein) belonged to the circle of the (second) ‚hedge’. By 1520, however, this was supplanted in the government by the chancellery. This also came to be plagued by tutelage of the ruler, and the growth of dishonesty, blackmail, dishonest practices, cronyism, corruption, and misuse of the seal.
As its public relations officer, Rita Haub (Munich) did not want the Society of Jesus to be understood as a clandestine elite, but certainly as an elite. With approximately 18,500 members, it is the largest Catholic order. Without either a common choral prayer, a conclave, or common clothing, it devotes itself entirely to the service of the world. Although it was not originally designed with an educational role, it has nevertheless made this central purpose, starting with the Jesuit College of Ingolstadt. Its cultural mission was for the most part the development of diverse educational programmes. In the 18th century, apart from missionary activities it also maintained its own theatre programme. In its missionary activities, the Order practised the art of assimilating knowledge, in order to develop and adapt it. The branches in India, Japan and China, as well as the foundation of its own state in South America, must be understood in this context. After its dissolution (1773-1814) and several bans, the Order experienced its greatest expansion with 36,000 members at the start of the 20th century, but was then proscribed and persecuted again in Europe by the National Socialists. According to the report by Rita Haub, the Order is nowadays active in an equal dialogue and in education. Though it is not an elite in its own understanding, it is true that all members of the Order must present evidence of two academic degrees, but they usually obtained three, including theology and philosophy. Inside the Order, the members who have taken four vows, rather than three, form a special group.
The Illuminati, presented by Hermann Schüttler (Erfurt/Gotha), did not regard themselves as an elite, nor did they assemble as an elite. It is therefore not possible to apply the sociological term „elite“ in this case. In the voluminous texts of the Illuminati, intentions and plans rather than organizational or procedural matters. A central demand of Adam Weishaupt, as a pupil (but later opponent) of the Jesuits, was the constant further development of members towards becoming better persons. In the source material analysed by Hermann Schüttler of 2500 letters (the so-called „Swedish box“ in Gotha) between members of the Illuminati Order there appear certain encryptions, ritualized formula, a distinctive form of communication, that was suggested by the leadership of the Order. One can not find a self-description as an elite in the texts of the Illuminati, but instead a constant zeal to become better people. This was to be realized through the educational process in the Order. Through active recruitment, a secret league of the best was formed, an invisible world for themselves, that was to lead the visible world. Adam Weishaupt adopted from the Jesuits their „secret school of wisdom“ as an „arcane academy“. However, the contents of this wisdom was unclear to Weishaupt himself. It revolved mostly around epistemological deliberations and long-term political perspectives on the abolition of aristocratic rulers and the church. Mostly 14- or 15-year-olds were recruited. In Thuringia, several schools existed that espoused the ideas of the Illuminati. In 1784, the „Philanthropin“ in Schnepfenthal was founded. The pupils came from the families of Illuminati and Freemasons, from Europe and overseas. With this, however, the area of the arcane was left for good.
Florian Maurice (Munich) used his presentation to convey an insight into the everyday life of a Freemason Lodge in October 1789 in Berlin. The members of the Lodge cultivated, through virtue and morals, a self-awareness of having been chosen. Thus, they already in the late 18th century provide that group which was to shape the 19th century as a meritocratic elite. Starting with the question of whether the Freemasons were a reserve elite, or even, as Koselleck argues, a revolutionary elite, Maurice saw the life in a Lodge as compensation for the lacking participation in political and economic activity. Freemasonry, particularly that encountered in the description of the Loge Royal York in Berlin in 1798 was, with its representative house and garden, the great hobby of the 18th century, so to speak. Ignaz Aurelius Fessler, 1756-1839, had pushed through a great reform in Berlin in the Loge Royal York in 1796 and communicated a programme oriented towards academic effort, self-administration and education in the sense of Kantian morality, but offered mainly social events. The „Constitutional Assemblies“ (4 per month) retained a central role, in which one could play at parliament on a smaller scale, and which was open to everyone. Unity and harmony were desired – discord, quarrels, cabals and intrigue did not remain absent for long, however. In the great quarrel, Fessler therefore left the Lodge, and accused the members of cheap consumption and escapism. The Lodge offered the members, who usually came from a middle-class background, a space for their ideas and aspirations of self-realization and of being a cultural elite, which they derived from romanticism. It thus provided a space, as did various other enterprises at the time, where a piece of modern life could evolve in its multiperspectivity.
Eckhard G. Franz (Darmstadt) provided an introduction into the history of the Lodges in the diverse region on the Upper Rhine and a comprehensive overview of the available source material. The sources, that led to a „Darmstädter Inventar“ in 2003, have survived in various ways, and their fates were representative of Freemason documentation. The files of the Lodge of Darmstadt have been available for a long time. The files of the older Lodges had reached the „opposition research“ of the SS genealogical researchers, as „trophy collections“, only in small parts. From Berlin they were taken to Silesia, then confiscated by the Soviet army and taken to Moscow and Poznan, then restituted to the German Democratic Republic in 1957. In the central archive in Merseburg they were sorted, and now form the collection group 5.2. in the “Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußisches Kulturgut”. The delivery of the largest part of these older files, however, was delayed due to sabotage and also survived the bombing of Darmstadt in an armoured safe in the castle’s cellar. To these documents must be added those files in Darmstadt in the family archives of the Hessian Landgraves and Princes, who were often members of Lodges. In 1742, the Lodge „Zur Einigkeit“ („For Unity“) was founded in Frankfurt am Main and in 1743 a subsidiary Lodge was called into being in Marburg („Zu den drei Löwen“; „Of the three Lions“). In 1765 there followed a newly-founded Lodge in Mainz („Zu den drei Disteln“; „Of the three Thistles“), which was moved to Frankfurt after 1767. In Darmstadt, Offenbach (1760) and Wetzlar (1767, the later head Lodge „Joseph zum Reichsadler“), Friedberg, Gießen, Biebrich or Worms (1781), further Lodges were founded. The aristocrats and rulers soon became active in these Lodges, above all the Landgraves of Hessen-Darmstadt. In the thistle Lodge in Wolfgarten and Darmstadt, the Landgrave Ludwig VIII was the Worshipful Master. At the Wilhelmsbaden Congress in September 1782, the Masonic movements in the Upper Rhine region were united under the „Rite of Strict Observance“. In the long term, the English „Late Observance“ was to prove more successful. In 1785 Frankfurt am Main became the centre of the „Eclectic League“, which the Darmstadt Lodge joined in 1816. The physician of the Grand-Duke, the ennobled Freiherr von Wedekind, became the first Grand Master. In 1838, all Lodges of the greater region were united in the Eclectic League. In the 1840s, disputes flared up over the question of the admissibility of Jews. Until 1860, further Lodges from the greater region joined, and the „Große Freimaurerloge zur Eintracht in Darmstadt“ („Grand Masonic Lodge of Unity in Darmstadt“), in which Wilhelm Leuschner was later a member as a trade union leader, formed the state chapter. When this organization celebrated its 50th year of existence in 1890, Leuschner also held the chairmanship in the „Deutscher Großlogen-Bund“ („German League of Grand Lodges“). Numerous new Lodges were founded in the 1920s, notwithstanding the dominance of the Grand Lodge of Unity. The newly-founded Lodges after 1945 were not able to reach the importance of Freemasonry in the 19th or even the 18th centuries.
Through the contributions of Gerhard Hoffmann (Leipzig) on clandestine elites in Islam and Andreas Brockmann (Leipzig) on indigenous elites in Latin America, the Conference was able to provide a comparison with non-European cultures. The actual question of „clandestine elites“ was sharpened by both perspectives in a remarkable way.
Islamic groups, according to Gerhard Hoffmann, also develop into clandestine elites through restrictions on admission and rites of initiation. Hoffmann explained the problem that the specialists of today often know more about these special groups than the actual members in the past or even in the present. The leaders of these groups come first and foremost from the inheritance of leadership positions in families. A particularly thorough religious knowledge, on the other hand, was rarely a qualification for leaders. The central element of all groups was the Taqîya, „fear“ and „caution“, the concealment of their religious views in a hostile environment. The smaller the group, and the more esoteric their theological positions, the more pronounced the Taqîya was, inside Islam as well as towards the outside. Persecution trauma are very common in small Islamic groups. These groups often exist in very isolated regions, where they can not be disciplined militarily. Gerhard Hoffmann presented the Ahl-e Haqq, the Nusayris (Alawis), the Druze and the Nizaris in countless facets. These groups also exist today, but have often undergone radical change. Thus, the Nizaris developed from being a militant secret society of the 11th century, when the name of their Syrian offshoots, the Hashshashin (assassin), became the strongest term for a murderer in Western languages, to an open religious community under the leadership of the Aga Khans, with a comprehensive social security system for its adherents.
In his presentation of the indigenous elites of Latin America in modern field research, Andreas Brockmann first described examples of leadership succession in early times in Latin America. The scribes possessed knowledge of governing. The education made a fundamental distinction between priestly and worldly careers. Long-distance traders had a fundamental role to play at the ruling courts of the indigenous peoples. Further career opportunities were to be found in the military. The astronomers served as fortune tellers. Even after the Spanish viceroy had taken over, he still renewed and appointed these indigenous dignitaries. In a second part, Andreas Brockmann recounted the example of the modern-day community of Santa Martha in Mexico, which is populated exclusively by natives. Here, the selection and obligation of the elites occurs involuntarily, especially due to the costs of holding office. Representation of the leading persons towards the outside, and the interior structure, differ greatly. To the outside, only the staff of office denotes the „mayor“. Every man as member of the tribe theoretically goes through all positions, but only a few actually reach the top of the career ladder. Mostly, the careerists remain as „mayor“, as they are then tax-exempt. The tax-exempt members of the tribe are the actual elite. The offices are strongly linked to the provision of certain services and duties, and entail a huge material investment. Here, the men have to organize large festivals of wastage, in which wealth is destroyed. A council of elders, with a speaker (a lifelong position) steers the system. The speaker never reveals himself as such to the outside, and only in the case of disputes does he become active as a mediator. Completing the career is obligatory. The offices change hands on 31 January. The new office-holders are brought to the town hall bound, and after a transition week, have one year in office. The principle of selection is based not on prior achievement, but on having been ‘called’. Other persons with special functions such as healers, representatives of the deities, and pray-ers do not form an elite in the European sense.
In his public lecture in the evening, Hermann Schäfer (Bonn) focused on the clandestine elites of more recent German history. On the one hand he put the word „clandestine“ in brackets, on the other hand he added a subtitle: ‚an analysis of the fame of the »nameless«. Four political systems succeeded one another in Germany in the 20th century, and each time, the previous elite was on the one hand made responsible and pilloried, but on the other hand, one had to make use of them. It was only in the 1990s that elites were again widely analysed in Germany. The main difficulty here remained the differentiation from the „non-elites“. Could it be that elites are just a self-styled group, outward manifestations, or only the 400 most important people of a society? One after the other, Hermann Schäfer analysed individual groups more exactly: the secret services, the counter-elite of the resistance against the National Socialists, the German scientists who brought military technology to the united States in 1945, the British decoding specialists at Bletchley Park, migrants in the target country, the elites of the “Wendehälse” (opportunists), hackers, general staff officers, ghost writers and lateral thinkers. While not every madman is a lateral thinker, for example, these are a ‚clandestine elite’ in the original sense. In the same way, those who live at the edge and far from the mainstream, are also a clandestine elite. Even today, female elites are also clandestine elites, since elites have in general always been defined as male. As the saying goes, „behind every great man is a great woman“. If one asks who is steering the decision processes, one may, according to Hermann Schäfer, increasingly notice decisions that are complemented, or that are even made possible, through expertise and rubber stamp-ers. Decisions are increasingly transferred through outsourcing. Individuals as decision-makers can no longer be identified. In parallel, the bureaucracy and costs are on the rise. Elites as such hardly exist any more as forces that shape society, as holders of influence now wish to, should or must remain without names and status. Elites are no longer personally identifiable, if everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame (Andy Warhol). Theodor W. Adorno already mentioned the „vulgarisation of the term 'elite'“ in 1963. And even when one is elite, one believes today that one must never be recognized as such. Hermann Schäfer suspected that the more clandestine one is, the more elite one is and remains today. Therefore, the future belongs to the clandestine elites.
As such, there was general enthusiasm for a second part of the Conference in 2011, which will focus on the 19th and 20th centuries. The Conference papers will be published together with the papers of the second part of the Conference, in the series of the Büdinger Forschungen zur Sozialgeschichte.
Lupold von Lehsten
Institute for Personal History (Bensheim)