| 'When I find myself in uncongenial company, or when people are
playing their games, or when I am alone in a railway carriage,
I think of my great idea....It is the pleasantest companion I have.'
Cecil Rhodes' incredible achievements - one of the richest men in the world, the creator of the De Beers diamond empire, the founder of a new country, and the originator of the Rhodes Scholarships - were motivated by one single thing, his 'great idea'.
This idea came to him at the age of 24 with the force of a religious revelation. What is interesting is that it struck him in the hours immediately following his initiation into the Masonic Order while at Oxford University.
Although Rhodes was slightly contemptuous of the organisation he had just joined - `I wonder that a large body of men can devote themselves to what at times appear the most ridiculous and absurd rites without an object and without an end' - the fact remains that whatever the Masonic induction he had gone through, it would appear to have triggered something of an epiphany in the young student.
|On the evening after the ceremony, Rhodes sat pondering what had happened that day. Then, as he puts it, the 'idea gleaming and dancing before one's eyes like a will-of-the-wisp at last frames itself into a plan'.
He proceeded to pen his `Confession of Faith' in which he outlined his ambition: to establish a secret society whose objective would be the furtherance of the British Empire and the uniting of the entire Anglo-Saxon race, including America, into one single empire.
From that day, June 2, 1877, Rhodes was a man with a mission, with his `Confession of Faith' his guiding star and inspiration. When he had grown to trust anybody, he would confidentially reveal his 'idea' to him and expect the man's life to be changed immediately.
Historians and biographers have criticised his naivety, but the fact remains that when Rhodes did reveal his 'idea' to others, it often had the same effect, resulting in them devoting themselves from then on to helping him achieve his lofty aims.
There was an event in Rhodes' life, soon after his `illumination' at Oxford that is hardly mentioned by his biographers, but which may well provide a key to how Rhodes acquired the personal magnetism and power that he displayed from then on.
Three months after his Masonic induction at Oxford, Rhodes was back at the diamond diggings of Kimberley, in South Africa. One night, while staying in his bachelor quarters, a very strange thing happened. `His friends', according to his biographer Sir Lewis Michell, `found him in his room, blue with fright, his door barricaded with a chest of drawers and other furniture; he insisted that he had seen a ghost.' Immediately after this pivotal crisis, Rhodes had his previously penned `Confession of Faith' (which also contained his last will and testament) legally formalised by a Kimberley attorney. From then on, his star was in the ascendent.
What exactly happened to him alone in his room that night? No one will ever know, except that exactly the same thing happened to another man, in the following century, who also went on to become one of the most powerful men the world has ever known - Adolf Hitler.
In his book, `Hitler Speaks', published in 1939, Hermann Rauschning writes of an event that took place at the beginning of the 1930's prior to Hitler's seizure of power and his ascent to fame and infamy. Says Rauschning: `My informant described to me in full detail a remarkable scene - I should not have credited the story if it had not come from such a source. Hitler stood swaying in his room, looking wildly about him. `He! He! He's been here!' He gasped. His lips were blue. Sweat streamed down his face. Suddenly he began to reel off figures, and odd words and broken phrases, entirely devoid of sense. It sounded horrible. He used strangely composed and entirely un-German word formations. Then he stood quite still, only his lips moving .... gradually he grew calm. After that he lay asleep for many hours.'
In 1933, soon after this strange event, Hitler seized power and the rest, as they say, is history. A clue to exactly what fearsome thing Hitler had witnessed is given by Hitler himself, who said to his circle of intimate friends, of which Rauschning was a part: `The new man is among us! He is here! I will tell you a secret. I have seen the vision of the new man - fearless and formidable. I shrank from him!'
On another occasion, reported by Rauschning, Hitler remarked: `I will tell you a secret. I am founding an Order.' Which is pretty well exactly what Rhodes had set out to do after his illumination. How strange that Rhodes' secret society dedicated to ruling the world should have ultimately become a living reality in the next century in Hitler's SS (Schutzstaffel).
The German scientist, Oswald Spengler, in his `Decline and Fall of Civilisation in the West', described the spirit of colonial expansion which possessed Rhodes as something, `daemonic and immense, which grips, forces into service and uses up mankind.' And herein lies the clue to the careers of both Rhodes and Hitler, that at a point in their lives, they both encountered something `daemonic'.
In the years after the end of the First World War, Rhodes began to receive attention from the European political right wing precisely because his career showed such an elemental will to power. In 1918 the intellectual prophet of German Nazism, Oswald Spengler, published the first volume his famous work, 'The Decline of the West'. In this book, Spengler regards Rhodes with almost mystical awe, as a prototype of a new sort of leader. 'Rhodes is to be regarded as the first precursor of a western type of Caesar. He stands midway between Napolean and the force-men of the next centuries....in our Germanic world, the spirits of Alaric and Theodoric will come again - there is a first hint of them in Cecil Rhodes.'
Hitler himself appears to have made only one reference to Rhodes: at a dinner on April 18, 1942, he discussed Britain's failure to maintain the world position it had held in the Victorian age and commented that the only person who had understood the historical conditions for continuing British supremacy was Cecil Rhodes, whom the British had ignored.
'Mr Rhodes aspired to be the creator of one of those vast semi-religious, quasi-political associations which, like the Jesuits have played so large a part in the history of the world. To be more strictly accurate, he wished to found an Order ... and while he lived, he
dreamed of being both its Caesar and its Loyola.'