A French humorous image of a cabal.

A cabal is a group of people who are united in some close design, usually to promote their private views or interests in an ideology, a state, or another community, often by intrigue and usually without the knowledge of those who are outside their group. The use of this term usually carries negative connotations of political purpose, conspiracy and secrecy.[1][2] It can also refer to a secret plot or a clique, or it may be used as a verb (to form a cabal or secretly conspire).[1][3]


The term cabal is derived from Kabbalah (a word that has numerous spelling variations), the Jewish mystical interpretation of the Hebrew scripture (קַבָּלָה). In Hebrew, it means "received doctrine" or "tradition", [4] In European culture (Christian Cabala, Hermetic Qabalah) it became associated with occult doctrine or a secret.[5]

It came into English via the French cabale from the medieval Latin cabbala, and was known early in the 17th century through usages linked to Charles II and Oliver Cromwell. By the middle of the 17th century, it had developed further to mean some intrigue entered into by a small group and also referred to the group of people so involved, i.e. a semi-secret political clique.[6]

There is a theory that the term took on its present meaning from a group of ministers formed in 1668 – the "Cabal ministry" of King Charles II of England. Members included Sir Thomas Clifford, Lord Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Ashley and Lord Lauderdale, whose initial letters coincidentally spelled CABAL,[7] and who were the signatories of the public Treaty of Dover that allied England to France in a prospective war against the Netherlands, and served as a cover for the Secret Treaty of Dover.[8] 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.[9]

Usage in the Netherlands

In Dutch, the word kabaal, also kabale or cabale, was used during the 18th century in the same way. The Friesche Kabaal (The Frisian Cabal) denoted the Frisian pro-Orange nobility which supported the stadholderate, but also had great influence on stadtholders Willem IV and Willem V and their regents, and therefore on the matters of state in the Dutch Republic.[10] This influence came to an end when the major Frisian nobles at the court fell out of favor. The word nowadays has the meaning of noise, uproar, racket.[11] It was derived as such from French and mentioned for the first time in 1845.[12]

Conspiratorial discourse

Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory use "The Cabal" to refer to what is perceived as a secret worldwide elite organization who, according to proponents, wish to undermine democracy and freedom, and implement their own globalist agendas.[13]

Some anti-government movements in Australia, particularly those that emerged during Canberra’s response to the pandemic, that Scott Morrison’s secret ministerial appointments were evidence of what they said was happening all along – a "secret cabal".[14]

The term is sometimes employed as an antisemitic dog whistle due to its evocation of centuries-old antisemitic tropes.[15][16]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Collins English Dictionary: Cabal". Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  2. ^ "Wordpandit: Cabal". 12 February 2011. Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  3. ^ Ball, Molly (2021-02-04). "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election". Time. Retrieved 2021-04-27. a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.
  4. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (3rd edition), Houghton-Mifflin, Boston/New York, ©1992, p. 365
  5. ^ Dan, Joseph (2007). Kabbalah : a very short introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 67. ISBN 9780195327052. OCLC 60664380.
  6. ^ "World Wide Words: Cabal". Archived from the original on 2018-05-01. Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  7. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cabal" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 913.
  8. ^ Durant, Will and Ariel. The Age of Louis XIV. (page 277) New York: Simon And Schuster, 1963.
  9. ^ Girdlestone, Henry Clapcott (1926). Europe: Its Influence on South Africa (11th impression, revised & enlarged by Cecil Lewis ed.). Cape Town: Juta & Co. p. 178.
  10. ^ see nl:Fries Cabaal
  11. ^ see nl:kabaal
  12. ^ Kabaal in: DBnl.org
  13. ^ Zuckerman, Ethan (2019). "QAnon and the Emergence of the Unreal" (PDF). Journal of Design and Science (6): 1–5. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-07-02. At [QAnon's] core is the idea that all American presidents between John F. Kennedy and Donald Trump have been working with a cabal of globalist elites called "The Cabal" to undermine American democracy and forward their own nefarious agenda. ... In all versions of the mythos, the Cabal seeks to destroy American freedom and subjugate the nation to the wills of a world government.
  14. ^ Lydia Khalil, Morrison’s secret appointments are a slippery slope, Lowy Institute, 31 August 2022.
  15. ^ "AJC Translate Hate Glossary: Cabal". 10 March 2021. Retrieved 2022-05-11.
  16. ^ Hübscher, Monika; Von Mering, Sabine (2022). Antisemitism on Social Media. Routledge. p. 25. ISBN 9781032059693.