New World Order, Old World Anti-Semitism

Article excerpt

IN HIS PUBLISHED WRITINGS, especially his 1991 book The New World Order, Pat Robertson has propagated theories about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Michael Land raised the issue in February in the New York Times Book Review, and in April Jacob Heilbrun, writing in the New York Review of Books, cited chapter and verse of Robertson's borrowings from well-known anti-Semitic works. After the New York Ti s and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith called attention to the matter, Robertson issued a statement denying any anti-Semitic intent, affirming his alliance with the Jews and his support for Israel, and saying he "regretted" any offense his writings may have caused. Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, which Robertson founded, also spoke to the question, firmly disavowing anti-Semitism within the ranks of the coalition.

Yet neither Robertson nor Reed has confronted the substantive criticisms that have been made about Robertson's writings. The charge of anti-Semitism needs to be examined. At the same time, the entire thrust of Robertson's thought needs to be considered in order to grasp the place anti-Semitic themes play within it, Robertson seems most animated by fears of a financial conspiracy that is rendering individual Americans and the nation itself powerless. Accompanying and complicating this conspiracy theory is Robertson's abhorrence of the Enlightenment (though this does not prevent him from embracing that Enlightenment economic thinker Adam Smith). An investigation of Robertson's worldview opens an intriguing, if frightening, window on a portion of the American religious mind.

The New World Order was written principally to condemn the United Nations' command authority during the gulf war. Robertson presents a sweeping warning about an age-old conspiracy designed to control world politics and economics. In Robertson's view, the conspirators belong to a secret "society" led by satanic atheists and financial "money barons." According to the evidence he marshals, these conspirators have taken over international banking and American academic and cultural institutions, and have carefully planned to use the UN and Federal Reserve Bank to impose upon the globe a "one-world" government. The real purpose of the conspiracy, however, is the destruction of American Christian culture and of Christianity itself.

ROBERTSON TRACES the historical progress of this conspiracy, back to Lucifer and his machinations in antiquity. In the modem era the conspiracy has been promoted through a small secret society founded in late 18th-century, Bavaria called the Illuminati, whose members purportedly infiltrated Freemasonry, organized the French Revolution, recruited Friedrick Engels and other communists to their cause and orchestrated the Bolshexik takeover of Russia. Through their control of international banking, the Illuminati-dominated servants of Satan, according to Robertson, have imposed a system of national and private credit and interest that has saddled the nation with debilitating and enslaving debt, robbing the American people at once of their independence and their control over their religious life.

While the Illuminati conspiracy theory waned for a century or so after its heyday in the late 18th and 19th centuries, it revived when shifting economic and cultural pressures led to the scapegoating of certain groups such as the Freemasojis and the Jews. Robertson's critics rightly focus on the connection the theory has had with aggressively anti-Semitic propaganda. Anti-Semitic versions of the Illuminati conspiracy were developed and promoted in the U.S. in this century a number of extremist political organizations, notably the John Birch Society.

To point only to the, anti-Semitic aspect of this material hardly tells the whole story. George Johnson, a student of modern American conspiracy theory, associates three elements with the recurrent revival of the Illuminati thesis--populism, isolationism and anti-intellectualism. …