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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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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").
In 2005, former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson claimed that the Bush administration's foreign policy was run by a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" implying a sinister intent.
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