Adam Weishaupt, the Founder of the Illuminati, and His Ideal World

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard Spence Ph.D., University of Idaho

The secret society of the Illuminati was founded by Adam Weishaupt with the high aim of giving human beings freedom and happiness. This aim and the means of achieving it were very much influenced by his background, education, and the era in which he lived.

Image of elaborately decorated door handles showing the Freemason symbol, Eye of Providence, a single eye encompassed by a triangle surrounded by shining rays of light.
Adam Weishaupt told the members of the Illuminati to infiltrate Masonic lodges to spread their propaganda. (Image: SariMe/Shutterstock)

Who Was Adam Weishaupt?

Johann Adam Joseph Weishaupt was born in 1748. When his father, who was a lawyer, died at a young age, Adam was left to live with his godfather, Baron Johann von Ickstaff. Ickstaff was a true scholar of the Age of Enlightenment and had an extensive library full of banned and esoteric books. Without a doubt, young Adam had access to these books, and he must have been influenced by them.

Black and white portrait of Johann Adam von Ickstaff.
Adam Weishaupt’s godfather, Baron Johann von Ickstaff, had a great influence on him. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

Adam entered the Jesuit-run Ingolstadt University at the age of 15 and, like his late father, chose to study law. When he was 20, he graduated and became a professor at that university. While he was at university, he was taught the notion of casuistry. It was part of the rigorous education that the Ingolstadt University was famous for. Through casuistry, rational argument is used to reach conclusions that are dubious, illusive, or self-serving and are mostly related to moral issues. In other words, he learned the art of propaganda. One critical lesson that he learned was that reason does not tell someone to be merciful; instead, it tells them to leave no witnesses. 

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Weishaupt’s Beliefs and Principles

Weishaupt was neither Jewish nor a Jesuit, nor was he involved in any kind of other religion, although he studied and worked in a Jesuit-run university. The Jesuits were a secret society within the Catholic Church. They did whatever it took to protect the church against its enemies, even if it required political conspiracy and assassination. Like the Knights Templar, they got wealthy and powerful and were accused of blasphemy and heresy. In 1773, they were disbanded by Pope Clement XIV, which presented Weishaupt with an opportunity to be promoted as a deacon of canon law. Even though he later scorned his Jesuit instructors, his method of leadership was clearly influenced by that of the Jesuits’ superior general. Also, his adherence to the utmost secrecy is probably influenced by Jesuits’ means. This is why some people believe that he was a Jesuit at heart and secretly followed their instructions.

Monochrome version of the IHS emblem of the Jesuits.
Emblem of the Jesuits. Weishaupt’s leadership was influenced by that of the Jesuits’ superior general. (Image: Moranski/Public domain)

He believed that the most effective means of leadership was through secrecy. He held that humans’ desire for status could be satisfied by giving them access to secrets. These secrets could be real or imaginary. It was the best way to manipulate people. He believed that his order had to be covered under other societies or occupations. So he looked for a secret society to conceal his order under it. The best choice was Freemasonry. It had many benefits: it was widely known to the public, it did not attract attention, and their lodges were the best means of recruiting. He also admired the secrecy that united the Masonic lodges.

To this end, he was initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1777 and asked the members of Illuminati to do the same. He told them to move up to the leadership positions so that they could spread the Illuminati propaganda.

He paid particular attention to the libraries and literary circles, which were like the internet of those days. The Illuminati members were supposed to penetrate these societies and keep a close eye on everything that was printed. If something was published and attracted attention, they would try to recruit the writer. If he did not accept, they would denounce him.

Although he denied all religions, he was aware of the power of the clergy. So he primarily sought to recruit them. He wanted to make them believe that the Illuminati was the “true and genuine sense of Christian Religion”.

Learn more about the Knights Templar.

Attracting the Common People

But the elites were not his only focus of attention.  He also put a particular emphasis on ordinary people. He believed that they should attract ordinary people anywhere they could. Their means of attraction was through warm and open behavior and toleration of their prejudices. But he planned to abolish all these prejudices in due time.

He even had women in mind and believed that he could influence men through women. So, he suggested that they should win the hearts of women and promise them of liberation. This would make them work to the Illuminati’s interest without them being aware of it. Nevertheless, the ideal world to Weishaupt was a patriarchal society ruled by men. “The head of every family will be… the patriarch, the priest, and the unlettered lord of his family.”

Learn more about secret societies—the underworld of history.

Common Questions About Adam Weishaupt, the Founder of the Illuminati, and his Ideal World

Q: Who was Adam Weishaupt?

Adam Weishaupt was a German professor of law at Ingolstadt University in the 18th century. His father was also a lawyer who died at a young age and left Adam’s upbringing to his godfather, Baron Johann von Ickstaff. Adam Weishaupt founded the Order of the Illuminati.

Q: Was Adam Weishaupt a Jesuist?

Adam Weishaupt was neither a Jesuist nor religious. He defended the abolition of all religions to free human beings of all ethical constraints.

Q: What were the Illuminati’s beliefs?

The Illuminati believed in removing all constraints, including moral, religious, and social ones. They wanted to create an earthly heaven in which all people would live equally.

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