The common theme in conspiracy theories about a New World Order is that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government — which replaces sovereign nation-states — and an all-encompassing propaganda that ideologizes its establishment as the culmination of history's progress. Significant occurrences in politics and finance are speculated to be orchestrated by an unduly influential cabal operating through many front organizations. Numerous historical and current events are seen as steps in an on-going plot to achieve world domination through secret political gatherings and decision-making processes.
The Order of the Illuminati was an Enlightenment-age secret society founded on 1 May 1776, in Ingolstadt (Upper Bavaria), by Adam Weishaupt, who was the first lay professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt. The movement consisted of advocates of freethought, secularism, liberalism, republicanism and gender equality, recruited in the Masonic Lodges of Germany, who sought to teach rationalism through mystery schools. In 1785, the order was infiltrated, broken up and suppressed by the government agents of Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria, in his preemptive campaign to neutralize the threat of secret societies ever becoming hotbeds of conspiracies to overthrow the Bavarian monarchy and its state religion, Roman Catholicism.
In the late 18th century, reactionary conspiracy theorists, such as Scottish physicist John Robison and French Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel, began speculating that the Illuminati survived their suppression and became the masterminds behind the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The Illuminati were accused of being subversives who were attempting to secretly orchestrate a revolutionary wave in Europe and the rest of the world in order to spread the most radical movements of the Enlightenment — anti-clericalism, anti-monarchism, and anti-patriarchalism — and create a world noocracy. During the 19th century, fear of an Illuminati conspiracy was a real concern of European ruling classes, and their oppressive reactions to this unfounded fear provoked in 1848 the very revolutions they sought to prevent.
During the interwar period of the 20th century, fascist propagandists, such as British revisionist historian Nesta Helen Webster and American socialite Edith Starr Miller, not only popularized the myth of an Illuminati conspiracy but claimed that it was a subversive secret society which serves the Jewish elites that supposedly propped up both finance capitalism and Soviet communism in order to divide and rule the world. American evangelist Gerald Burton Winrod and other conspiracy theorists within the fundamentalist Christian movement in the United States, which emerged in the 1910s as a backlash against the principles of Enlightenment secular humanism, modernism, and liberalism, became the main channel of dissemination of Illuminati conspiracy theories in America. Right-wing populists, such as members of the John Birch Society, subsequently began speculating that some collegiate fraternities (Skull and Bones), gentlemen's clubs (Bohemian Club) and think tanks (Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission) of the American upper class are front organizations of the Illuminati, which they accuse of plotting to create a New World Order through a one-world government.
Skeptics argue that evidence would suggest that the Bavarian Illuminati was nothing more than a curious historical footnote since there is no evidence that the Illuminati survived its suppression in 1785.