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A cabal is a group of people united in some close design together, usually to promote their private views or interests in a church, state, or other community, often by intrigue, usually unbeknownst to persons outside their group. Cabals are sometimes secret societies composed of a few designing persons, and at other times are manifestations of emergent behavior in society or governance on the part of a community of persons who have well established public affiliation or kinship. The term can also be used to refer to the designs of such persons or to the practical consequences of their emergent behavior, and also holds a general meaning of intrigue and conspiracy. The use of this term usually carries strong connotations of shadowy corners, back rooms and insidious influence. The term is frequently used in conspiracy theories; some Masonic conspiracy theories describe Freemasonry as an internationalist secret cabal.

Origins of the word

The term cabal derives from Cabala (a word that has numerous spelling variations), the Jewish mystical interpretation of the Hebrew scripture. In Hebrew it means "reception" or "tradition", denoting the sod (secret) level of Jewish exegesis. In European culture (Christian Cabala, Hermetic Qabalah) it became associated with occult doctrine or a secret.[citation needed]

Association with Charles II

The term took on its present meaning from a group of ministers of King Charles II of England (Sir Thomas Clifford, Lord Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Ashley, and Lord Lauderdale), whose initial letters coincidentally spelled CABAL, and who were the signatories of the Secret Treaty of Dover that allied England to France in a prospective war against the Netherlands.[1] However, the Cabal Ministry they formed can hardly be seen as such; the Scot Lauderdale was not much involved in English governance at all, while the Catholic ministers of the Cabal (Clifford and Arlington) were never much in sympathy with the Protestants (Buckingham and Ashley). Nor did Buckingham and Ashley get on very well with each other. Thus the "Cabal Ministry" never really unified in its members' aims and sympathies, and fell apart by 1672; Lord Ashley, who became Earl of Shaftesbury, later became one of Charles II's fiercest opponents. The theory that the word originated as an acronym from the names of the group of ministers is a folk etymology, although the coincidence was noted at the time and could possibly have popularized its use. The group, who came to prominence after the fall of Charles' first Chief Minister, Lord Clarendon, in 1667, was rather called the Cabal because of its secretiveness and lack of responsibility to the "Country party" then run out of power.

The cabalist passion in the philosophy of Charles Fourier

In his characterization of the twelve common human passions, Charles Fourier ascribes a key role to what he calls the "cabalist passion" (passion cabaliste). This is one of the three passions that rule the other nine passions. Fourier extols the sublimity of the cabalist passion, which "like love, has the property of confounding ranks, drawing superiors and inferiors closer to each other":

Far removed from the insipid calm whose charms are extolled by morality, the cabalistic spirit is the true destination of man. Plotting doubles his resources, enlarges his faculties. Compare the tone of a formal social gathering, its moral, stilted, languishing jargon, with the tone of these same people united in a cabal: they will appear transformed to you; you will admire their terseness, their animation, the quick play of ideas, the alertness of action, of decision; in a word, the rapidity of the spiritual or material motion. This fine development of the human faculties is the fruit of the cabalist or tenth passion, which constantly prevails in the labors and the reunions of a passionate series.[2]

Fourier articulated plans for intentional communities in which the cabalistic passion contributed positively to the life of the community rather than posing an obstacle to organization and therefore needing to be suppressed.[3]

In technology

During the early years of the Usenet internet messaging system, the term "backbone cabal" was used as a semi-ironic description of the efforts of people to maintain some order over the structure of the community, and led to a popular phrase in the network, "There Is No Cabal" (abbreviated to "TINC").

The computer game company Valve Software uses "Cabal Rooms" when working on specific areas of projects.[4]

The Conficker Cabal is a team of specialists working to defeat the Conficker computer worm, including several notable computer security specialists.[5]

In Haskell programming language there is a package manager called "cabal", used to download and build Haskell libraries.

Notable uses

•Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown denounced the leaders of the regime in Zimbabwe as a "criminal cabal".[6]

•Cabal are a race of extraterrestrials that compose one of the main hostile factions in Destiny.

•In the British TV show The Thick of It, it is used to describe the group of politicians manoeuvring against the prime-minister

•In the TV show The Blacklist, the Cabal is a group of international criminals with moles in the U.S. Government

See also


  1. Durant, Will and Ariel. The Age of Louis XIV. (page 277) New York: Simon And Schuster, 1963.
  2. "Of the Role of the Passions," as translated by Julia Franklin, Selections from the Works of Fourier (1901), p. 57.
  3. New World Encyclopedia article "Charles Fourier"
  4. "The Cabal". Gamasutra. Gamasutra. Retrieved 16 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Bowden, Mark (May 11, 2010). "The Enemy Within". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2013-05-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Zim led by 'criminal cabal': Africa: Zimbabwe". News24. 2008-07-09. Retrieved 2014-08-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>