Had an online conversation with someone who believed that the Illuminati and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) were exerting immense influence on our politics. I ran a search on “Illuminati Front Group Council on Foreign Relations,“ and the first six pages of results got me lots of authors and publications I never heard of. Wikipedia shows up on the 3rd page, the actual CFR shows up on the 6th. Which establishes, I guess, that even if some people take the Illuminati/CFR theory seriously, they're on the fringes and not part of the usual left-right dialogue.
Snopes is a pretty good debunking site (His answer to Snopes was “Snopes is ran by a Leftist couple out of their home,” which I don't consider a particularly meaningful or relevant response) and they say that Illuminati is a general, catch-all phrase identifying a mysterious, sinister agency where, yes indeed, if you type Illuminati backwards, it does indeed get you to an NSA website. But generally, “Illuminati” is a pretty vague, mysterious reference that doesn't refer to any particular individuals.
Ron Paul is a believer in CFR conspiracies. He says some good, peacenik-supporting stuff here and there, but I generally don't regard him as much of an expert on anything.
Good thinkpiece on the whole subject. The author feels the CFR generally does wish to establish a one-world government, but if they intended to be secretive about it, they're not doing a very good job of that, as it's quite easy to see what they've been saying and doing since they were founded.
As with other conspiracy theories, the CFR theory is plagued by sloppy research. The New American purports to tell us the history of the 1948 Marshall Plan. Slight problem is that it identifies David Rockefeller's study group as the inspiration for the plan, but the Marshall Foundation published a six-page PDF that reviewed the history of how the Marshall Plan came to be. It reproduces several memos, none of which are authored by Rockefeller. In 1999, Rockefeller was awarded a second George C. Marshall Foundation Award for “his long-time commitment to positive international economic development, his humanitarian service to community based on the recognition that a healthy, vibrant society depends upon a sound economic base.“ Nothing about his study group designing the plan. Bio.com doesn't write a terribly lengthy biography of Rockefeller, but it rather notably covers the immediate postwar years by talking entirely about his tenure at the Chase Manhattan Bank. The Rockefeller Center similarly doesn't give him any credit for the Marshall Plan. Sourcewatch draws all sorts of connections between Rockefeller and NAFTA, the Bilderberg society, the Trilateral Commission, etc., but again, nothing about inventing the Marshall Plan. Not sure all this completely debunks the New American theory, but it certainly doesn't give me any confidence that New American knows what it's talking about.
A major problem I have with the idea of secret societies covertly pulling the levers of power and arranging big changes behind the scenes is that it's actually pretty hard to keep lots of things a secret. The Koch brothers are two people who are determined to shape American society to their specifications. Their ideas are truly awful. David Koch ran as the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party in 1980 and the party got about 1% of the vote. In 1984, he founded Americans for Prosperity and has been an outsider-manipulator ever since. The Kochs played a substantial role in creating the Tea Party, for instance.
Now, the Kochs are trying convince people that they're running an “apolitical and altruistic reform movement to enhance the quality of life—as 'a movement for well-being,'“ as opposed to being a crassly materialistic movement that wants to throw the weak and helpless over the side and to reward the already rich and powerful with still more riches and power. It's not working out that well because the higher the profile they get, the more people notice them and the more investigative reporters poke and prod at, and break down, their carefully-constructed and maintained public images.