12 Most Exclusive and Influential Societies

1. Freemasonry

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Possibly the most easiest to gain access to in the groups on this page, Freemasonry allegedly extends its roots back to the Biblical times, linking the society with the building of the Temple of Solomon. Its members call it “The Craft”  and the society is split into various subgroups and orders, all of which consider God as the Grand Architect of the Universe no matter what their religious afflictions are. The Masons have various greeting gestures “Modes of Recognition”, which renders the society cultish; its square and compass logo is famous for being on the Cadillacs. Entire treatises were written about their secret handshakes and passwords. Its members are easily recognizable by their signature rings; originally more secretive, the membership is now open for everyone who is over 21 and who has the recommendation of a member. [Above: Insignia of The Regular Grand Lodge of England]

2. Bilderberg Group

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Originally formed in Arnhem, the Netherlands in 1954 (and taking its name from the name of the hotel where the first meeting was held, Bilderberg Group still retains its headquarters in Leiden, the Netherlands. The Bilderberg Group annually meets for an invitation-only conference of around 130 guests, most of whom are persons of influence in the fields of politics, business and banking. As Jonathan Duffy for BBC reports, “No reporters are invited in and while confidential minutes of meetings are taken, names are not noted… In the void created by such aloofness, an extraordinary conspiracy theory has grown up around the group that alleges the fate of the world is largely decided by Bilderberg.”

3. The Bohemian Club

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Named for the bohemian life longed by many of its journalist founders, the Bohemian Club (estb. 1872) is a prominent private club in San Francisco, California, USA. The original group of artistic talent was soon replaced by those with major financial resources. Every year the club hosts an annual three week camp at Bohemian Grove, which is notable for its illustrious guest list and its eclectic Cremation of Care ceremony involving human sacrifice imagery at the base of a forty-foot stone owl. In addition to that ritual, there are also two outdoor performances, often with elaborate set design and orchestral accompaniment. The more elaborate of the two is called High Jinks, the more ribald is called Low Jinks. Members have included many Republican politicians, and CEOs of financial institutions, military and oil companies. Some prominent figures are given honorary membership, for instance, Richard Nixon and William Randolph Hearst.

4. Club of Rome

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Originally comprised of only six member, this greatest of all independent political think tanks was formed in 1968 by an Italian industrialist and a Scottish scientist. The original small group met at a villa in Rome, Italy, hence the name. Its website states that the Club of Rome is composed of “scientists, economists, businessmen, international high civil servants, heads of state and former heads of state from all five continents who are convinced that the future of humankind is not determined once and for all and that each human being can contribute to the improvement of our societies.” However, it is frequently criticized for its strongly elite membership. [Above, the founders of Club of Rome in a rare photo: Peccei, King. Thiemann and Okita, from L. to R.]

5. Council on Foreign Relations

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From its daunting limestone headquarters at 58 East 68th Street (at Park Avenue) in New York City [above], the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is the most powerful private organization to influence United States foreign policy. Formed as a working fellowship to brief Woodrow Wilson, the group has expended its scope and aims largely under the endowments of J.P.Morgan and J.D.Rockefeller. The membership is available only to US citizens, but very selective. Expensive corporate memberships exists as well, and many distinguished speakers, ranging from foreign leaders to American businessmen speak and share their views in the Council’s frequent luncheons.

6. Chatham House

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The CFR is modeled on Chatham House (now called the Royal Institute of International Affairs) an English think-tank, founded in 1920. Its well-known headquarters are at 10 St. James’s Square, London (once home to three British Prime Ministers). Although anyone can apply to be a member, the House has a range of different types of membership, which differs greatly in access to the House and its exclusive seminars. To maintain the confidentiality of those seminars, the House promulgated now famous rule known as the Chatham House Rule, which provides that members attending a seminar may discuss the results of the seminar in the outside world, but may not discuss who attended or identify what a specific individual said. The Rule facilitates frank and honest discussion on controversial or unpopular issues by speakers who may not have otherwise had the appropriate forum to speak freely. [Above: Reagan speaks to Chantam House]

7. The Round Table/Society of the Elect

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The Round Table movement was founded in 1909 through a large endowment from Cecil Rhodes to promote closer union between Britain and her colonies. It was affiliated with major lobbying groups in every major capital city of the world coordinated by a headquarters in London. Some believe that the Round Table Groups were connected to a society called the Society of the Elect, whose existence itself is doubtful. Although Rhodes planned the Round Table as the Association of Helpers for the inner sanctum, ‘Society of the Elect’, and much of the hierarchical structure of the organization wasn’t carried out. Instead, Rhodes abandoned the idea for creation of a scholarship program to Oxford, which still bears his name.

8. Trilateral Commission

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Founded by the members of Bilderberg Group and the CFR, the Trilateral Commission is established to foster closer cooperation between United States, Europe and Japan. Founded in July 1973, at the initiative of David Rockefeller, the Commission received much attention and criticism when it became known that President Jimmy Carter (a former Trilateral member) appointed 26 former Commission members to senior positions in his Administration: 107 Americans, 150 Europeans and 85 Japanese members. Although the membership included corporate CEOs, politicians, distinguished academics, university presidents, union leaders and philanthropist, it is stipulated that members who gain a position in their respective country’s government must resign from the Commission. [The first Trilateral meeting was at Rockefeller’s Pocantico compound in New York’s Hudson Valley, above.]

9. The Immortals

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Unlike their English counterpart, the Royal Academy, the Académie française in France, and Real Academia Española in Spain has limited number of seats. (Forty in the former and forty six in the latter.) In the Académie française, each seat is assigned a separate number, while in the Spanish one, each academician holds a seat labeled with a letter from the Spanish alphabet; upper- and lower case letters are separate seats. Because of the extreme prestige of the seats and imminence of the holders, the members of two academies are known as the Immortals—the inspiration being Cardinal Richelieu’s quote, À l’immortalité (“To immortality”). Candidatures are made to a seat, not to the Académie: if several seats are vacant, a candidate may apply separately for each. When elected, the new member must have an eulogy to the previous holder of the seat, an event sometimes controversial in the past.

10. The Rand Corporation

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In 1970, a rumor was spread that Richard Nixon had commissioned RAND to study the feasibility of canceling the 1972 election. Thus, the RAND Corporation (Research ANd Development)–the think tank originally formed by the U.S. Military in 1946—was thrust into spotlight. Accused as militarist, RAND works with other governments, private foundations, international organizations, and commercial organizations to recommendation military policy through quantitative analyses. Over the last 60 years, more than 30 Nobel Prize winners have been affiliated with the RAND Corporation. [Above: its HQs in Santa Monica]

11. The Sacred College of Cardinals

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Although they are the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church serving the Pope and has no actual ruling power, the College of Cardinals plays two prominent roles in the church by participating in papal elections and the Pope in a consistory. The cardinals are elevated by the Pope from the bishops and the archbishops all over the world to make up the upper echelons of this Catholic hierarchy. The rules of the Conclave state that the Pope need not be chosen from among the ranks of the Cardinals (any unmarried Catholic male may be elected Pope), this has been the consistent practice since the election of Pope Urban VI in 1378. Now, many cardinals take on lead roles in tackling global problems and engage in diplomacy.

12. The Alfalfa Club

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The Alfalfa Club is an exclusive Washington D.C. social organization, that exists only to hold an annual banquet on the last Saturday of January–the group’s name is a reference to the plant’s supposed willingness to do anything for a drink. The Alfalfa Club was started by four Southerners in Washington’s Willard Hotel in 1913 to celebrate the birthday of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Its sole purpose was an annual night out for the boys, but it didn’t admit blacks until the 1970s, and women until 1994. The club’s membership, which numbers about 200, is composed primarily of American politicians and influential members of the business community, and has included several U.S. Presidents. 

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