Thursday, 20 December 2012

Is it time to stop worrying about freemasons?

I've just re-read Stephen Knight's book The Brotherhood which is an early 1980s exposé of freemasons and the malign influence of masonry (not the bricks, you understand. It would be silly to think that bricks could have a malign influence. I mean the organization).

Knight goes out of his way to be unbiassed (or certainly to appear so), which makes the book sometimes rather tedious reading as he balances different statements and pieces of evidence, but the overall conclusions are clear. Knight tells us that this is an organization based on a religion that is incompatible with most major faiths, it has been misused by criminals, spies, politicians and the police and it really isn't an organization that anyone with a public role should touch with a bargepole. Yes, there are plenty who live up to the stereotype of harmless, sad, boozy old businessmen with rolled up trouser legs - but the opportunities for and evidence of misuse were considerable.

At the time Knight wrote the book, soon after the P2 masonic scandal in Italy, he was able to credibly give real concern to the possibility that the KGB could use the masonic system to infiltrate the  British establishment. I suspect the post-Soviet position is very different. But also I wonder if, to be honest, the whole business of masons will soon be gone and forgotten.

This is an organization based on the fundamental acceptance that the establishment is always right, that conservatism with a small c is the essential way to carry on, and that the Englishman was most happy away from the company of women, enacting silly rituals and swapping anecdotes over a brandy and a cigar. (I know there are many masons outside England, but the blame seems to lie firmly with the English.) It's the sort of group that I suspect is finding it harder and harder to get members. Of course there will always be those who join in the hope of self-preferment (you aren't supposed to join for selfish reasons, but we all know it's not like that). However the appeal of this whole bizarre business seems as dated as liking spam and pining for powdered eggs.

Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps people (sorry, men) are queuing up to join the freemasons. But in some respects, modern society is significantly better than it once was. And I suspect the general attitude to the whole masonic rigmarole will reflect a healthy taste for such distasteful, secretive mumbo-jumbo and fraternal backscratching.

3 comments:

  1. I have some insight into this, as my brother did quite a lot of scholarly research on 18th century Freemasonry, and talked quite extensively with masons to this end.

    By the end of it, they were actively begging him to join; at 35, he'd be the fresh young blood of the group.

    He declined. He sees them as, by and large, a sorry lot with far too much time on their hands.

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  2. It's still alive and well in my local council with building contracts and so on

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  3. Interesting, Pel. I take your point, Peter, but I suspect that this is the last generation and that it is in serious decline.

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