Pythagorean backlash

While reading a book about Pythagoras, I came across a surprise. It seems that the Pythagoreans were the victims of a smear campaign that ended in the mobilization of violent citizens. This resulted in many deaths and also the diaspora of the Pythagoreans.

“Pythagoras and his associates were long held in such admiration in Italy that many cities invited them to undertake their administration. At last, however, they incurred envy, and a conspiracy was form against them …”

– The Life of Pythagoras, by Porphyry, trans. Guthrie.

What’s more interesting is that this all appears to have been due to the rejection of a powerful individual by Pythagoras himself. Further, this individual was able to play upon the fears and prejudices of the citizens. Those fears and prejudices revolved around the Pythagoreans being insular, exclusive mixed with that they were also often times politically, becoming the writers of law and becoming the politicians also.

This seems like a pattern I’ve heard about before. Primarily this made me remember some things I’d learned about the anti-masonic movements, and that Freemasonry not only resembled the descriptions of the Pythagoreans in my mind, but also that there are similar events in the history of Freemasonry in my country.

This link bewteen an exclusive, mystic tradition with active political clout very closly mirrors the position and character of Freemasonry during the the late 1800’s in the US. One source, a video program I remember, discussed how the orderly and debate oriented culture in the Masonic lodge became a training ground for political duty, and in fact that much of the polictical power in the early US was in the hands of men involved with Freemasonry.

An address by Fred P. Corson, President of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., was printed in the Congressional Record on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution. President Corson was talking about the stability of our government. He said: “America owes its governmental stability and her success as a democracy to her spiritual foundation. Prior to 1787 the work of laying this foundation was by the Church and by the Masonic Fraternity. It was no coincidence that of the six men who produced the Constitution, at least half were members of the craft.”
Whys & Wherefores by George Peter MPS

The link to the wave of anti-masonic feeling in the late 1800’s revolved around a flashpoint, the William Morris affair. This triggered, or was the fulcrum for the rise of one of the only effective third political parties in the history of the US, the Anti-Masonic Party. (See also “Whys & Wherefores” ibid.)

So, this pattern then, of an exclusive, private group which is founded on the ideas of an elite improving and bettering the world, sounds like a constant refrain. While both the Freemasons and the Pythagoreans, depending on whom you ask, are focused on creating more good in the world, other examples of this pattern might even be broadened to include disasterously evil things like the Fascist movements and splinter religious groups like the Branch Davidians, whom we all know from the siege in Waco, TX. Both of these latter groups were the targets of massive, violent backlashes.

Perhaps, this even relates to the severe backlash against groups like the Wobblies during the golden era of militant labor.

Obviously, there a gut level reaction to being an outsider, that creates resentment and fear. I wonder how much of this is the cause of the backlashes as opposed to the more likely scenario where the backlash was created using that resentment and fear as a way to mobilize the violent, to the agenda of a more machiavellian purpose.

Clearly a much repeated pattern reflects some core lessons for any such movement as these. Lessons about exclusion and elitism being the source for violent opposition should be clear enough, but what other lessons might there be?

Perhaps it is not so easy to tell the difference between the truly beneficial and the diabolical when secrecy provides such a blank slate on which to write one’s fears and prejudices, but that’s almost too easy. There’s something more fundimental here or at least more interesting.

There’s a fundimental resistance to change in the character of history. Revolutions seldom bring about such serious changes, after the dust settles, that you can tell the difference between the new and previous regimes. So, this mechanism is a way for history to push back against the revolutionaries, and the more revolutionary the more push back there is.

So the secret society is probably both a defense mechanism against this push back, an attempt to fly under the radar, and also a cause of the push back.

Clearly, a Sisyphean task this social evolutionary work …