by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners
It is pretty much taken as historical fact that Modern Freemasonry grew out of the Operative Mason Guilds which were formed during the middle ages. One of the core values of the guilds was egalitarianism, which broadly defined is “equal access to resources and to decision-making power”. Decision making was done by consensus or another system in which each person has a voice, it was not done hierarchically where only a few made choices that impacted the group as a whole. The guild could also share assets, which would be distributed equitably throughout the group, with each member having access to more or less the same resources as the other members. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egalitarian_community
As the operative Stone Mason guilds of the Middle Ages began to die out, or evolve into Speculative Lodges, many of the egalitarian ideas remained. For example, at the end of our lodge meetings, the Senior Warden is asked by the Master, ‘How should masons meet?’, and the reply given, ‘On the level’. This is a direct hold over of the egalitarianism of the guilds. A better example of this would be illustrated by the first York Rite degree, the honorary degree of Mark Master, when the workmen of the quarry receive their wages. All of the workers receive the same wages, which causes some conflict as there is a belief that one of the workmen, namely the candidate, does not deserve an equal wage to the other workmen.
In the EA degree, we are taught the tenets of a Mason’s profession are brotherly love, relief and truth. We are taught the exercise of this brotherly love is to regard all of humanity as one family, the high and low, the rich and poor; who were created from the Great Architect and are citizens of the same planet, and that we are to aid, support and protect each other. Masonry, we are told, unites men of every country, sect, and opinion. We are taught in the Fellowcraft degree the importance of the seven liberal arts and sciences, which are grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. We are further told that Masonry is particularly founded on geometry, which is the science that treats of the powers and properties of magnitudes in general, where length, breadth and thickness are considered. It is by this science, we are taught, that the architect is enabled to construct his plans, and that geometry is the foundation of architecture, the root of mathematics (and indirectly astronomy). We also learn later in this degree that by study of geometry, we might discover the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Grand Artificer of the Universe. We are reminded that man’s study and observation of nature was an effort to imitate the Divine plan. This is further reinforced during the Master Mason degree, when we are taught about the 47th problem of Euclid and Pythagoras, and we are told to be lovers of the arts and sciences.
At the heart of the Socialist philosophy is a belief in the world wide brotherhood of man, not separated by nation, religion, social standing or any other system of division. Eugene Debs, a famous 20th century Socialist, stated quite eloquently that ‘Socialism was Christianity in action’ IE: the golden rule which is taught to us in many of the world’s religions--to love one’s neighbor as himself. (As a quick aside, Eugene Debs home still stands in Terre Haute, IN. on the campus of Indiana State University. Debs was born in Terre Haute in 1855, and his cremated remains are buried there in Highland Lawn Cemetery. Debs was not yet a socialist when he became involved in a labor dispute with Bro. George Pullman in 1894.) Does Freemasonry not also follow this golden rule? It is one of our main tenets, that of brotherly love, as explained above.
Furthermore, Socialism attributes the progress of science and reason as being hand in hand with the progress of society and social relations. Because science has made it possible to banish hunger, cure disease and banish ignorance; scientific law and reasoning have been always held as essential to the development of the utopian society that Socialism strives for. Albert Einstein, who is regarded as one of the, if not the, top scientists of the 20thcentury, published an article in May of 1949 in the Monthly review entitled: ‘Why Socialism’. It stated: “Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends.”
Socialism, as a political and economic philosophy, did not come into being until the mid-1800s. Its origins could be traced back to some of the enlightenment ideas which were propagated by the French Revolution of 1789. The climate which led to the French Revolution, could be said to be heavily influenced by Voltaire, who was a Freemason. The American Revolution, which had just ended in 1783, was also a great influence upon the French. Much of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation (and later the United States Constitution), were heavily influenced by Anderson’s Constitutions. The constitution was drafted by Grand Master George Payne in 1720, and adopted by the Grand Lodge of England in 1721. It was revised by the Reverend James Anderson, and printed in book form by Anderson in 1723. The influence of both the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution are seen in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This document was introduced by Freemason and Hero of the American Revolution, General Marquis de Lafayette. (http://toddecreason.blogspot.com/2011/07/famous-american-freemason-marquis-de.html)
It would be incorrect to assume that Freemasons it did not have any part during the French Revolution, and/or the Reign of Terror. Many Jacobins, such as the Duke of Orleans who was Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France Lodge, were Freemasons. His position was vacated by the Lodge in December 1793, after the Jacobins outlawed Freemasonry in 1793 and the Duke’s death by guillotine in November 1793. In truth however, there were Freemasons that supported the monarchy as well as those that supported the Republic. While Masons like The Duke of Luxembourg supported the Monarchy, other active Freemasons during the revolutionary period were Mirabeau (who was a leader during the early stages of the Revolution and argued for a Constitutional Monarchy built on the model of Great Britain), Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, (Army General, and author of the novel Dangerous Liaisons, who was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror), and Rouget de Lisle (Army officer and composer of the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise).
If anything, one could argue that Freemasonry and its tenets had an influence upon the development of Socialism. Karl Marx, who along with Friedrich Engels, first employed a systematic analysis (known as “scientific socialism”) to study Capitalism and expose its contradictions in his work ‘Das Kapital’, was a student of Hegelian philosophy. While Hegel was not a Freemason, many of his colleagues like Johann Gottlieb Fichte were. It therefore stands to reason that Hegel was familiar enough with Freemasonry to have it influence some of his works, and in fact many of his works contain Hermetic and Freemasonic imagery.
The same forces and philosophers that influenced the beginning of Socialism were also influences upon the foundation of Speculative Freemasonry, and both arose out of the Age of Enlightenment. The works of Sir Francis Bacon, such as The New Atlantis, as well as Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, were influences upon the Age of Enlightenment, Freemasonry and the philosophers that influenced Socialism. While it is debated whether Bacon and More were Freemasons, it is pretty certain that early socialist philosophers like Marx were influenced by Freemasons John Locke, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They were also influenced by non-Masons like Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin, and Lewis Henry Morgan. However, it’s easy to over simplify such a complex topic. There are many varieties of Socialism and no way to singularly define them.
Most forms of socialist theory holds that human behavior is largely shaped by the environment. Socialism holds that the social customs, values, cultural traits and economic practices are social creations and not the result of the natural law. The objects of Socialisms critique are the material conditions and man-made social systems that give rise to what they observe as social problems and inefficiencies. Socialism essentially views creativity as an essential part of human nature, and defines freedom as a state of being where individuals are able to express their creativity unhindered by the constraints of material scarcity or coercive social institutions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism
Marx believed the Socialism was only a transitional phase between capitalism and a higher phase of communist society. This idea of society for Marx entailed the absence of all social classes, and the end of class warfare. In his eyes, this meant that there could be no religion, or that there had to be absolute atheism. This also means that Marxian Socialism or Communism is incompatible with Freemasonry.
On the other hand, American Freemasonry could be defined by Socialists as an organization that promotes social inefficiencies, and is therefore incompatible with Socialism. We can see this presently. There are still Grand Lodges in the United States that refuse to recognize Prince Hall Masons as being regular and still consider them as clandestine to this very day. The fact that we as fraternity do not allow women to be members also could be viewed as promoting a social inefficiency. Furthermore, there are conflicting views regarding allowing members that are homosexual and/or transsexual. For the record, I don’t believe that I’d be a Freemason if Illinois failed to recognize Prince Hall Masonry. I am also in the minority that feels that adding women might help our declining membership. I am also probably in the minority that supports LGBTQIA members, and has no problem with allowing Trans-men becoming Masons. It is the authors’ view that we should judge the character of the Man by his actions, and not by their sexuality or what is present between ones legs.
Is Freemasonry socialism? No, it’s not. The fact remains that Speculative Freemasonry was “officially” founded in 1717 with the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge of England (even this date is debated by Masonic Scholars). Karl Marx, the father of socialism, was born in 1818. One Hundred and one years after the foundation of Freemasonry. Marx was not a Freemason (He was an atheist), although you will see him portrayed as one by Anti-Masonic literature. In fact, I was unable to find any of the forefathers of Socialism that were Freemasons. Did Freemasons influence the philosophy of Socialism? Most likely, in so much as they also influenced other schools of thought which came from the Age of Enlightenment. While Socialism and Freemasonry may have similar ideas regarding a worldwide brotherhood of man, and the importance of the liberal arts and sciences; they are not the same.
Great article. The greatest conversation ender, in my experience, is to through politics into the mix. One of the reasons I joined Masonry is because it looked beyond creed, colour and religion. As I read your post I thought of one of my best friends and brother who leans towards the right side of the spectrum, me being more towards the left. When we do investigations together he always uses us as an example of how two people with diffrent political beliefs and from different backgrounds can be friends, who, if not for the Lodge, may not have. The age of enlightenment seems to have sparked many ideals, Freemasonry and socialism included.