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Literature / The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

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Dismantling the Big Lie, a study of The Protocols whose cover shows several editions of the notorious book.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the Bible for antisemites around the world. Allegedly, it describes a Jewish cabal's Evil Plan to Take Over the World in their own words — in short, the Trope Codifier for many an elaborate conspiracy theory today.

In the 19th-early 20th century, sinister racist and antisemitic trends were on the rise, and many European countries have ideologically contributed to what would later become the greatest genocide of the 20th century. France contributed Arthur de Gobineau who was the pioneer of scientific racism. Britain contributed Houston Stewart Chamberlain who became "Hitler's John the Baptist" and was in his time praised by many intellectuals. And this book is Russia's contribution to the nightmare.

First published in 1903, during the twilight years of Tsarist Russia, when antisemitism was at its height (pogroms and all that) and the House of Romanov looked like it was in trouble (it was), The Protocols are widely believed to be authored by the Okhrana, the Tsar's Secret Police — specifically, by Matvei Golovinski, journalist and Paris agent, on orders from then chief Pyotr Rachkovsky. The intended message boils down to, "All the problems in Russia are caused by the Jews, so don't blame the Tsar. Also, the Jews want you to overthrow the Tsar, so don't do that. In fact, the Tsar is the best thing to have happened to Russia since unification!" — granted, the Tsar was only mentioned sparingly and offhandedly, but the point still stands.

In 1921, Philip Graves, an Irish reporter and Constantinople correspondent for The Times, asserted The Protocols to be a forgery, finding that much of it bore a distinct resemblance to The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, an 1864 satire against Napoleon III, written by French lawyer and Bourbon royalist Maurice Joly, which nicely explains why The Protocols read as though they were meant for dissemination in 19th-century France. But if you think this stopped people from believing in The Protocols, then boy are you very naïve.

The fall of the Romanovs and subsequent rise of the Soviets saw a mass exodus of White (anti-communist) Russians, many of whom brought copies of The Protocols with them, using them as tools of propaganda against the communist regime, believing it to be concocted by Jews (conveniently reinforced by the fact that both Leon Trotsky and his ideological forebear Karl Marx were of Jewish stock).

In 1920, Henry Ford brought The Protocols to the United States, where he published some 500,000 copies. You probably know Henry Ford as "that car guy", but there was another side to him. When a reporter pointed out to him that The Protocols had been exposed as fake, Ford replied, "The only statement I care to make about The Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are sixteen years old, and they have fit the world situation up to this time. They fit it now." Across the Atlantic, Ford's view was shared by Adolf Hitler, who would directly cite them in his autobiography, Mein Kampf. It's been said that The Protocols were Hitler's "warrant for genocide". Eventually Ford declared he'd made a colossal mistake in publishing The Protocols and later printed articles attacking it in The Dearborn Independent (the newspaper he owned).

In the West today, The Protocols continue to be circulated among neo-Nazi groups. They also inspired The Turner Diaries, Hunter and other white nationalist works by William Luther Pierce, the founder and leader of the National Alliance. However, the book's biggest contemporary success has been in the Middle East. The Protocols were believed authentic by Muammar Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden. In 2002, Egyptian television aired Knight Without a Horse, a Mini Series based on The Protocols. Saudi Arabian textbooks describe The Protocols as a genuine historical document. And this is just scratching the surface.

In 1993, a Russian court officially declared The Protocols to be an antisemitic forgery, the first time the book was denounced as such in its country of origin. But if you think this stopped people from believing in them, then you really haven't been paying attention.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion contains examples of:

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The "goyim" (Gentiles or non-Jews, depending on your definition) are to be made stupid, gullible and immoral by encouraging excessive consumption of alcohol, while the Jews are to remain sober, allowing the Elders to more easily manipulate the resulting mass of idiots. (In real life, Jewish religious rituals and celebrations can include copious amounts of wine.)
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The alleged authors describe themselves as this.
  • Anti-Role Model: Intended as such on meta level. The reader is supposed to learn which actions of the "goyim" allegedly pave the way for Jewish rule so that they can do the opposite.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: The book itself, based on a near-identical forgery of an anti-Bonapartist satire.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: After the left-wing and democratic ideologies have served their purpose as the Sword of Damocles, society is to be brainwashed with authoritarian right-wing ideology in order to create a docile mass that will now loyally serve the Elders' Puppet King.
    "The goyim have lost the habit of thinking unless prompted by the suggestions of our specialists. Therefore they do not see the urgent necessity of what we, when our kingdom comes, shall adopt at once, namely this, that it is essential to teach in national schools one simple, true piece of knowledge, the basis of all knowledge - the knowledge of the structure of human life, of social existence, which requires division of labour, and, consequently, the division of men into classes and conditions."
  • Bread and Circuses: People are to be distracted from politics in the societies that are firmly under their control using a whole raft of mindless entertainment. On a meta-level, the work itself is meant to consolidate Russians against the Jews and distract them from the government's increasing woes.
    "In order that the masses themselves may not guess what they are about we further distract them with amusements, games, pastimes, passions, people's palaces..."
  • The Chessmaster: Almost goes without saying.
    "All our newspapers will be of all possible complexions — aristocratic, republican, revolutionary, even anarchical — for so long, of course, as the constitution exists... Like the Indian idol "Vishnu" they will have a hundred hands, and every one of them will have a finger on any one of the public opinions as required. When a pulse quickens these hands will lead opinion in the direction of our aims, for an excited patient loses all power of judgement and easily yields to suggestion."
  • The Conspiracy: Albeit a hoax, this book sets the precedent for many other conspiracy literature throughout the 20th century and until the present, whether real, fictional or even fraudulent.
  • Corrupt Church: The Protocols allege that they are written by Jewish "Elders of Zion" which are depicted as very much along the lines of this trope.
  • The Coup: In the end the new global authority is to usurp power from all existing lesser authorities in a single day.
    "When we at last definitely come into our kingdom by the aid of coups d'etat prepared everywhere for one and the same day, after definitely acknowledged (and not a little time will pass before that comes about, perhaps even a whole century) we shall make it our task to see that against us such things as plots shall no longer exist."
  • Crushing the Populace: All opposition to the One World Order is to be eradicated, including its idealistic liberal pawns that helped bring about that order.
    "We have demonstrated that progress will bring all the GOYIM to the sovereignty of reason. Our despotism will be precisely that; for it will know how, by wise severities, to pacificate all unrest, to cauterize liberalism out of all institutions."
  • Democracy Is Bad: Democracy is considered useful to the Elders' plans and promoted precisely because of its badness as a system, and because ideas of political freedom can be applied in order to overthrow defiant governments.
  • Despotism Justifies the Means: The ends of creating a tyrannical state ruled by a self-declared master race (the alleged authors) justify the means used to achieve it.
    "As you see, I found our despotism on right and duty: the right to compel the execution of duty is the direct obligation of a government which is a father for its subjects. It has the right of the strong that it may use it for the benefit of directing humanity towards that order which is defined by nature, namely, submission... Everything in the world is in a state of submission, if not to man, then to circumstances or its own inner character, in all cases, to what is stronger. And so shall we be this something stronger for the sake of good."
  • Devour the Dragon: In the end the Freemasons who loyally served the Elders will be eradicated by the same group they have brought about.
  • Divide and Conquer: Global and civil discord is to be created in order to give the Elders leverage over all nations.
    "Throughout all Europe, and by means of relations with Europe, in other continents also, we must create ferments, discords and hostility... Therein we gain a double advantage. In the first place we keep in check all countries, for they will know that we have the power whenever we like to create disorders or to restore order. All these countries are accustomed to see in us an indispensable force of coercion."
  • The Dragon: The Freemasons are meant to be this to the alleged authors. Through their manipulation of these Freemasons they are able to act without revealing themselves or leaving any obvious trails leading back to them.
    "Who and what is in a position to overthrow an invisible force? And this is precisely what our force is. Gentile masonry blindly serves as a screen for us and our objects, but the plan of action of our force, even its very abiding-place, remains for the whole people an unknown mystery."
  • Final Solution: Societies where "left-wing" ideas have grown too strong to be simply uprooted will have to be exterminated, sparing only those who will take up arms for their cause because Despotism Justifies the Means.
  • Greedy Jew: Bet you didn't see this one coming. More or less the whole point here.
  • Hero Antagonist: The Pope and the Tsar. Subverted as they were once antagonists but are no longer at the time of the Protocols' alleged authorship.
    "The principal guarantee of stability of rule is to confirm the aureole of power, and this aureole is attained only by such a majestic inflexibility of might as shall carry on its face the emblems of inviolability from mystical causes — from the choice of God. Such was, until recent times, the Russian autocracy, the one and only serious foe we had in the world, without counting the Papacy."
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Since the Protocols were forged by the Tsarist regime to demonize the Jews, yet they look favourably upon an authoritarian government and poorly upon democratic government; it would seem at least in part to be actually intended to indoctrinate the reader in the authoritarian ideology of their windmill 'enemy'. It is supposed to make the reader assimilate the Authoritarian ideology of the made up enemy by attempting to understand them so as to effectively oppose them.
  • Hobbes Was Right: The first protocol is very strong on this trope; indeed it can almost be summarized as this.
    "It must be noted that men with bad instincts are more in number than the good, and therefore the best results in governing them are attained by violence and terrorisation, and not by academic discussions."
  • Humans Are Morons: The natural status of all human beings other than the elevated superhuman Jews (like the alleged authors).
  • I Control My Minions Through...: Blackmail.
    "In order that our scheme may produce this result we shall arrange elections in favor of such presidents as have in their past some dark, undiscovered stain, some "Panama" or other - then they will be trustworthy agents for the accomplishment of our plans out of fear of revelations and from the natural desire of everyone who has attained power, namely, the retention of the privileges, advantages and honor connected with the office of president."
  • Intellectually Supported Tyranny: Intellectuals are to be manipulated by careful maneuvering of scientific (or pseudoscientific) ideas and theories, lulling them into doing the bidding of the Elders by merely following their own ideas.
  • La RĂ©sistance: The Jesuits are heavily implied to be this, which the Elders are to deal with through Malicious Slander.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The people will be guaranteed universal suffrage, but because public opinion is manipulated by the Elders, all this amounts to is their ability to appoint or depose the ruling regime and so control it. The ruler eventually becomes a Puppet King of the Elders through Work Off the Debt if he is not one already.
  • Master of Illusion: By controlling their perception, the public can be manipulated to pursue the ends of the Elders, and the "blind force" of the people can be used to destroy their enemies.
    "Our countersign is Force and Make-Believe."
  • Master Race: How the Jewish elders see their race, being divinely elevated into a refined and perfected form of humanity that is morally and intellectually superior. This gives them both the ability to prevail against the gentiles and makes their domination a 'good thing'.
  • Might Makes Right: Explicitly mentioned, though the word "force" meant manipulation rather than brute force.
    "Our right lies in force. The word 'right' is an abstract thought and proved by nothing. The word means no more than: Give me what I want in order that thereby I may have a proof that I am stronger than you."
  • Moral Guardians: Inverted and exploited to create a state of malaise in society and subtly undermine social order and give the Elders an opening.
  • Mutual Disadvantage: The Second Protocol establishes that wars should be as much as possible inconclusive and unproductive so that belligerent nations would be weakened enough for the Elders' agents to infiltrate them and present a humanitarian facade.
  • Mystery Cult: What the Elders would have to be in order to maintain their secrecy.
    "Who will ever suspect then that all these peoples were stage-managed by us according to a political plan which no one has so much as guessed at in the course of many centuries?"
  • One World Order: The Elders' ultimate goal, but only so long as it is their One World Order; otherwise they promote Divide and Conquer.
  • Parody Religion: At the expense of Judaism obviously.
  • Poe's Law: If the Protocols were intended to be satire, as some theories claim, then it would be the most triumphant example ever.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Particularly to a modern audience to whom the racial/religious supremacism of the Elders is more notable.
  • Propaganda Machine: Subverted in that it is to be used against the government or to control it in the meantime until the Elders achieve their One World Order.
  • The Purge: What happens to all Gentile secret societies and groups when they establish their rule, including those they have previously made use of.
  • Red Scare: The likely motive behind the forgery. By such means the Okhrana and the Tsar could discredit and cast suspicion on the disproportionately Jewish socialist opposition since they are described as working for the Elders.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Bureaucratized: Commoners that rise to positions to power lack adequate education and experience (which, back in the 19th century at least, is only truly found in those raised from childhood to rule) to effectively rule and thus pose a threat to the Elders' plans.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Combined with Democracy Is Bad (but useful). Through possession of wealth, the Elders can circumvent the authority of liberal societies.
  • Strawman Political: Because the Windmill Political advocates authoritarian right-wing ideology yet declares left-wing democratic ideology useful to its goals and was forged by that kind of regime; the Okhrana were likely creating a strawman version of their own ideology in order to contest with their real position. By destroying this strawman the authors reinforce their own similar ideology, since it is perceived as opposing the things that are useful to the strawman version of that ideology.
  • Sword of Damocles: Left-wing (communists, anarchists and socialists) and some right-wing (monarchists) forces are used in this manner. While clearly in no way supportive of their objectives at an ideological level, they can be used to destroy those who defy the Elders, and the fear of them can be used to assert control over elites.
    "It is from us that the all-engulfing terror proceeds. We have in our service persons of all opinions, of all doctrines, restoring monarchists, demagogues, socialists, communists and utopian dreamers of every kind. We have harnessed them all to the task: each one of them on his own account is boring away at the last remnants of authority, is striving to overthrow all established form of order. By these acts all States are in torture; they exhort to tranquillity, are ready to sacrifice everything for peace: but we will not give them peace until they openly acknowledge our international Super-Government, and with submissiveness."
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: Pretty much the ultimate ideology of the alleged authors.
    "Out of the temporary evil we are now compelled to commit will emerge the good of an unshakable rule, which will restore the regular course of the machinery of the national life, brought to naught by liberalism."
  • Villain Protagonist: The 'story' is told from the POV of the villains, i.e., the titular Elders.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The universal ruler the Elders hope to install. It's The Good King to the alleged authors, of course.
    "Our government will have the appearance of a patriarchal paternal guardianship on the part of the ruler. Our own nation and our subjects will discern in his person a father caring for their every need, their every act, their every inter-relation as subjects one with another, as well as their relations to the ruler."
  • Work Off the Debt: A nation is to be worn down economically, politically and militarily, leading it to so dire a state of financial ruin the need to receive credit places it in the hands of those with the money, i.e., the Elders.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Antisemitism is actually useful to the Elders because it helps them control the general Jewish populace (described in the letters as the "lesser brethren"), presumably because keeping them fearful and paranoid reinforces collective group identity against pressures, creating a need for strong leadership, which the Elders would provide.
  • Yes-Man: Servility is very much encouraged among the rank and file of the bureaucracy in order to keep them under the control of a few high-educated and completely indoctrinated geniuses that are under the sway of the Elders.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Elders use liberals, to which theoretically they are opposed to, in order to undermine their authoritarian enemies, but once they have finally established their government they will have to be disposed of.
    "The part played by the liberals, utopian dreamers, will be finally played out when our government is acknowledged. Till such time they will continue to do us good service."

Zuckermann: Don't you know the headlines this picture [of an Octopus encircling the globe] will make? "The Jews have murdered a giant octopus in outer space!"
Goldberg: Zuckermann, we're planning to Take Over the World! Don't you think it would make a worse headline?