Freemasonry and politics walk hand-in-hand, almost since its origins as a social club, and really long before that. For instance, the old guild system was an economic system, which means it was by extension a political arm of social-economic policies. Guilds were government sanctioned monopolies. To be, say a baker, and practice in a commercial capacity, you had to be part of the bakers guild. Sure, you could bake at home for your family, but if you wanted to bake and sell bread, you had to contend with the guild, who had the blessing of the king, governor, or whomever has granted them the monopoly. Guilds had patrons, usually an aristocrat who had a vested interest in the commercial work of the guild. For instance, if one owned a silver mine, they would be a patron of the silversmith guild. The patron would lend his political influence to curry favors for the guild from the king or governor, and likewise would help enforce regulations the king has mandated upon a guild, which also ensures his commercial interests in the work of that guild. Such was a matter of public health and safety, maintained quality of production, et cetera. So long before Freemasonry emerges from the stonemason guilds as a symbolic gentlemen’s club, it was already a political organization.
As laissez-faire capitalism emerges, and soon thereafter communism, the guilds as the dominant politico-economic system begins to wane. It is these two opposing economic systems that effectively kill the guilds, as both were equally in opposition to the guilds as they were to each other. Yet, more and more non-operative Masons were still joining the remnants of the stonemason guilds, effectively as patrons. And like the old patrons, though they may not have had a commercial interest in stonemasonry, they were nearly all aristocrats, the likes of which include Sir Robert Moray (initiated in 1641) and Alias Ashmole (initiated in 1646). These gentlemen appear to have used Symbolic Masonry as a private club to rub shoulders and advance scientific and philosophical agendas in a socio-political capacity, and such political ideologies would continue on into the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge of England in 1717.
One need only look at the driving personalities behind the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, as well as the relationship many of these men had to preceding events in England to see the politics embedded in Freemasonry from its very start.
Ric Berman traces the politics behind the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in several of his books (e.g. Inventing the Future, his Prestonian lecture, et al), which I will outline here using his work. As Protestantism spread and gained followers in the 16th and 17th centuries, especially in France, Catholics grew increasingly belligerent toward them. Hundreds of thousands of French Huguenots were massacred over the course of two centuries by French Catholic Kings. One need only look at St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 or the Dragonnades implemented under King Louis XIV to see how terribly Huguenots were treated: theft, rape, torture, murdered… absolutely awful. And over the course of these two centuries the Huguenots would trickle out of France into Germany, Switzerland, North Africa, and most popularly to England. Then in 1685 the last vestige of protection any French Protestant had was revoked by King Louis, and that previous trickle turned into a flood of mass migration of Protestants. And England was very sympathetic to their plight, providing asylum, charitable funds to support them, opportunities for work, et cetera. It is estimated that post-1865 the population of London was 10% Huguenot.
And why wouldn’t England be accommodating to them? They had spent decades trying to get rid of Catholic rulers. And with George I and James Stewart contending for the throne, it became dire for England to keep James from assuming the throne, and thus George I of the House of Hanover became King. There was a serious threat that James would attempt to seize the throne, and he did try, several times, and France, Rome, and Spain all supported him. Over the years a number of Jacobite uprisings occurred to attempt to dethrone George I, but all failed. Had James seized the throne, all those Huguenots that sought asylum in England would have entered into the same predicament they were in previously.
All the Grand Masters for the first few decades were pro-Hanoverian. That is, they supported Enlightenment ideologies, they promoted meritocracy for social advancement rather than a rigid class system in which there was next to no social mobility; they championed freedom of religion, which was unheard of in its time; they promoted equal rights within governance, such as each man gets a vote and each vote is equal, regardless of social standing. And they provided a social club that would permit such to be implemented. As long as you could afford to pay your dues as a Freemason, you could practice whatever religion you wanted, and it allowed for a simple laborer to have as much right to become Worshipful Master of a lodge as a duke or lord, and that both had the same value in their votes.
This was wildly unheard of. It was truly radical, and deeply political. We might put this on par with, say, a lodge in South Carolina admitting a person of color into their lodge, or any lodge anywhere admitting a transgender or gender-non-conforming person into Masonry. Sure, today we look at Article I of the Constitutions of Free-Masons (1723) and think: “Oh yes, they were wise and ahead of their time.” No, they were absolutely radical. I’m certain there were Masons at the time who were saying: “Keep politics out of the Lodge!” when the Constitutions was published in 1723. And as a note, while we are not totally certain, most scholars firmly believe that Desaguliers was the author of the Charges.
Then look at Article II of the Charges, which specifically states that Masons maintain a “peaceable” subservience to the government, but there is still no problem with a Mason being rebellious toward his government: “So that if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State, he is not to be countenanc’d in his Rebellion, however he may be pitied as an unhappy Man; and if convicted of no other Crime, though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his Rebellion, and give no Umbrage or Ground of political Jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible.”
It is easy for us look back at the politics of the early Grand Lodge of England and see it as mere “history.” We don’t see all this as deeply political, or even radically political, but it was. We lose sight of the implications of these things because they happened in England a long time ago. Yet, even as history marches forward, we will see again and again Freemasonry intwined with politics.
Freemasonry is a social club, and thus is typically a reflection of the larger socio-political climate it is situated within. I could probably do a second part to this piece to further elaborate, and I probably should, but for now, I will leave it at this. We could deeply explore the politics behind various anti-fraternization policies of Grand Lodges during the American Civil War, as well as how many brothers chose to ignore those policies (and just as many followed them). I have previously explored on the Whence Came You? podcast how most Freemasons and Grand Lodges in Germany renounced Freemasonry and signed up with the Third Reich when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany… a reality that is very contrary to the feel-good narrative we are fed about the origin of the Forget-Me-Not. Heck, even today, I have wondered how the Grand Master of Russia could run against Putin for President and not end up going missing (it has been rumored that the two are very close friends and that Putin actually has some influence over how Freemasons conduct themselves politically in Russia). We could look at how Freemasons have committed treason together (e.g. Boston Tea Party) as well as build a nation and even form states (e.g. it is well known that Freemasons had a huge and mighty hand in the formation of the State of Colorado).
We know we have a deeply divided political climate in this country. The issue has become that one side of the political aisle thinks their politics is “patriotic” and thus the other side are seditious bastards. Each side thinks their party is correct and walking with God, so the other side is wrong, and therefore we are the patriotic side. If being antisemitic is the policy of one side, then the other side that says, “Hey maybe we don’t exterminate Jewish people,” then the former will claim that any favor extended to Jewish people is unpatriotic... and horrible things tend to follow shortly thereafter, historically speaking. Swap “Jewish” with “transgender” and the same point stands. Frame the same scenario with gun laws and suddenly one side is full of terrorists that want to rip this country apart! (See how I kept that example vague, and you already think it fits your point of view?)
It's not that politics in Masonry is dangerous. It’s how far sideways political identity has tipped. Bro. Darin’s original point in his post still stands: a lack of thinking, a total lack of reason in guiding our political understandings, a complete lack of original rhetoric in how we understand how we live and make policies together, has led to a decay in how politics can ever be appropriate within Masonry. Thus, what we are left with is left or right-wing soundbites regurgitated as if original, but ultimately is a lot of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This is when politics in Masonry becomes dangerous: when politics can’t be a part of Masonry.