28th April 2017
Neoliberalism and Freemasonry
David West BA PhD
Freemasonry is firmly centred on morality and virtue and thus on our relationships with other people. The Long Closing, perhaps the finest statement of masonic values, reminds us of our loving duties to our fellow brethren. It instructs us to be slow to judge: to seek to help a brother who has transgressed and to find reasons that may explain his transgression, so that we are able to rehabilitate and forgive.
Remember that … you have solemnly and voluntarily vowed to relieve and befriend with unhesitating cordiality every Brother who might need your assistance … remind him in the most gentle manner of his failings [and] suggest the most palliating … favourable circumstances, even when his conduct is justly liable to reprehension and blame.
Our values apply to the man in the world, not just the mason in lodge:
… you are expected to extend these noble and generous sentiments still further. Let me impress upon your minds, and may it be instilled into your hearts, that every human creature has a just claim on your kind offices.
In lodge we properly avoid discussion of politics but most of our lives are spent outside and the Long Closing instructs us to take our values with us.
You are now about to quit this safe retreat of peace and friendship and mix again with the busy world. Amidst all its cares and employments, forget not those sacred duties which have been so frequently inculcated and so strongly recommended in this Lodge.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) spoke of there being two nations, the rich and the poor. A character, in his novel Sybil, says that between these two nations:
… there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.
Disraeli’s one-nation toryism sought to bridge this divide in the belief that all members of society owe duties and obligations to each other. Harold Macmillan was also a one-nation tory and he presided over acts improving conditions in housing, offices and factories; brought in the Noise Abatement Act; introduced a graduated pension scheme and implemented a reduction in the standard working week. None of these actions would fit with today’s neoliberal philosophy, which shuns the claims of the poor and underprivileged, permits tricks to avoid the tax that should pay the costs of society, and legitimises excessive wages for those at the top. In characterising the poor as scroungers, as underserving and merely lazy, it seeks to justify its refusal to act upon the obligations that a one-nation tory would recognise. Neoliberalism is not masonic and no one who accepts such a philosophy can genuinely be a freemason.
The Long Closing is written in echo of Galatians 6:7-10.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
We must all recognise that there are demands upon us. We cannot just take; we must also invest. Otherwise, we will have really laboured in vain and the ritual will have failed to impress upon our minds those noble and generous sentiments, so central to our order.
23rd January 2017
An article by Antonio Cambril recently appeared in the Spanish newspaper, Granada Today, entitled The Masonry of money: extreme poverty is the daughter of wealth it is impossible to annul one without canceling the other. Here is another lazy use of the word ‘masonry’.
The Communication Team of the Grand Lodge of Spain contacted the author, who immediately replied to correct what he wrote, readily accepting and regretting his unthinking use of the stereotype. He said:
I sometimes think that in the popular imagination Freemasonry is identified as the most secret of secret societies, and I forget that philanthropy is perhaps its principal guiding principle and that it has been persecuted by dubious, if not sinister, characters throughout history. I was not careful enough with the nuance, and the expression was clearly unfortunate.
An article in El Oriente, the newsletter of the Gran Loge de Espana, says that there is history behind Antonio Cambril’s use of the word. Freemasonry is idealistic. It dreams of a world sustained by simple principles: the right to think and the duty to tolerate. This ideal makes masonry an honourable institution in the democracies of the world, but one of the first victims of political totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism. Our meetings are banned, our members persecuted and our ideals defamed. Conscious masophobia incites hatred towards masonry, calling us an enemy of religious creed (because we respect them all), of social class (because we make no distinctions), of race (because we accept all men), and of nations (because brotherhood transcends national borders).
Since 1978, masons in Spain have enjoyed the protection of our democratic institutions, but the use of the masophobic stereotype still comes all too easily, even to one who without a doubt does not feel the slightest animosity for the real masonry we represent. The most terrible hatred is the one practised without being aware of it. Masophobia will grow if those who prize tolerance and free thinking let such stereotypes go unchallenged, allowing our democratic ideals to be forgotten.
That is why the 2017 Spanish celebration of the tricentenary of masonry centres on the conscious recognition of the honourable nature of our order, by all people and all institutions of goodwill.
Loose translation from Spanish by Dr David West.
10th January 2017
In The Guardian of 9th January 2016, the excellent Zoe Williams argues that we should avoid pessimism and re-connect with democratic action. She talks persuasively of citizen juries to examine proposed legislation, particularly regarding control of the banks. As she says, so few people understand money, including MPs, and talks about “an assumption of exclusivity, money as the preserve of the moneyed.” Unfortunately, and a little lazily, she then describes this as “a masonic code that leaves greed in charge.”
Masonry is the opposite of greed. The second of our three grand principles is about helping people in need. If Williams had written “secret” instead of “masonic”, her point would be better made. Masonry is not secret. It is a moral community which uses a few secret modes of recognition to add a little thrill to initiation and create togetherness. We stand together against the evils of greed.
10th November 2016
You may have heard that the Grand Lodges of Tennessee and Georgia in the USA have discriminatory polices against gay brethren. As a result, the Grand Lodge of California has withdrawn recognition. http://freemasoninformation.com/2015/09/grand-lodge-of-georgia-bans-gay-men/
The Grand Lodge of Florida has discriminatory polices against black brethren.
St Laurence Lodge No. 5511 wishes to make it clear that membership of this lodge is open to men of whatever religious choice, colour, creed or sexual preference.
2nd May 2015
Create your own reality
Steve Parrish is the full-time chairman of Crystal Palace Football Club, having sold a company he built from scratch to one which employs 2,500 people in 13 countries. His view about management of anything — a business, a football club or any other outfit — is that if you are not going forwards you are going backwards. He seeks what he calls moments of truth, occasions when the culture of the organisation can take a leap forward. His appointment of Alan Pardew as manager was one of those moments, but symbolic moments also count. When he took over the then bankrupt club, he renovated the main-stand reception, just to show his intention to create change.
He says that we create our own reality.
You are what you are, in our case [at Crystal Palace] a yo-yo club, perennial underachievers. You kind of attract people who like that, whether they work for you or support the club, and that is a self-fulfilling prophecy … You need to try to change that and it is really difficult.
But he did it. Crystal Palace were a Championship side, looking to go down, when he bought them. As at May 2, 2015, they stand 12th in the Premier League. Think what you could do with a failing lodge if you were to adopt that strategy and passion. The first thing to do is to change the mindset. Create your own reality. Do something different. Be something different. Show you mean change and what you can achieve, even if it costs a bit of money.
18th May 2014
Toye Kenning, now known as Toye & Company plc, are well known as the main supplier of masonic regalia. They supply many other bodies as well: several Livery Companies, the Oddfellows, the Order of St John and St John Ambulance, Rotary and Round Table as well as the Crown and the Commonwealth. They are, for example, the sole supplier of the Order of The British Empire medals (MBE, OBE, CBE etc.) and made the medals for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. They make the caps for the England football team and thousands of military buttons.
It is strange, therefore, that the announcement of Toye’s sale and leaseback of their London offices (a common enough financial strategy and one adopted by many departments of the Civil Service) should be announced in the Independent (Friday May 16) as a Masonic matter. The Grand Officer, pictured holding open the doors of the Grand Temple, is not in any way connected with Toye, as far as I know, other than as a customer.
It is a pity that journalistic laziness seizes so easily on pre-existing prejudices.
1st May 2014
We hold Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, in the highest regard. To put no finer point on it, she is one of the last remaining bulwarks against moral chaos in this country. We just wish that she had not compared to Freemasons those institutions involved in the Post Office sale, when she so rightly said of them:
… there is just too cosy a relationship … You all know each other. You work together. You trade with each other. You are part of this little clique and we the ordinary taxpayers, lose out on it.
As another politician said:
The sale was grossly undervalued. Shares sold for £1.7 billion at privatisation are now worth £2.7 billion. And who cashed in? Twelve of the sixteen so-called long-term investors made a killing worth hundreds of million pounds within weeks.
We now know that a gentleman’s agreement had been made to the effect that shares bought at privatisation by financial institutions would be held for a decent interval before sale. That is why they were given an extra allocation of shares. That agreement was broken within days. In one case, the institution was given an extra allocation worth £19.8 million and sold them to make a profit of £8 million in a week. This is unfortunately typical of the (im)moral universe we now inhabit, when the governing value is increasingly only money. The mistake Vince Cable made was to trust these people. We live in a world where trust has become a risky strategy – and that is dangerous.
Trust is the only thing that enables social life. If we cannot trust people to do what they say they will do, contractual agreement – in big things and little things – becomes impossible. If we cannot rely on members of professional bodies to live up to the ethics of their profession, then expert opinion becomes worthless. If we cannot trust products to contain what is on the label, then shopping becomes hazardous. If companies issue ‘mission statements’ about their values and then act contrary to them, then we cannot trust any of them.
You cannot buy a kettle, a pound of sugar, a fish or even a bicycle without trust. You cannot know how long a kettle will last, whether the sugar is pure, where a fish comes from or whether a bicycle is stolen, without trust. Thomas Hobbes, writing in 1651, said that it was only the social contract, the unwritten agreement that we all make to live according to moral rules, that makes social life possible. It is becoming less so and we should remember that Hobbes described the state of nature, without society, as nasty, brutish and short.
Freemasonry describes itself as a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols and the three most important of its values are brotherly love, relief and truth. Part of what we mean by brotherly love is expressed as, your lawful secrets when entrusted to my care, I will preserve as my own. Note the word lawful. The third degree obligation adds the rider,
murder, treason, felony and all other offences contrary to the laws of God and the ordinances of the realm being at all times most especially excepted.
So a Mason is enjoined to love his brothers such that they may share their innermost secrets but, and very seriously but, such love does not include covering up for illegal actions. The Masonic virtue of truth is perhaps the most difficult to define, but it certainly includes honesty in dealing with fellow Masons and sticking to promises made. We are enjoined to trust and, more importantly, to be trustworthy. Please note that this is not restricted to our brothers in Masonry. The words of the Long Closing are apposite:
Remember that at this pedestal, you have solemnly and voluntarily vowed to relieve and befriend with unhesitating cordiality every brother who might need your assistance; that you have promised to remind him in the most gentle manner of his failings and to aid and vindicate his character whenever wrongfully traduced; to suggest the most candid, the most palliating and the most favourable circumstances, even when his conduct is justly liable to reprehension and blame. Thus shall the world see how dearly freemasons love each other. But, my brethren, you are expected to extend these noble and generous sentiments still further. Let me impress upon your minds, and may it be instilled into your hearts, that every human creature has a just claim on your kind offices. I therefore trust that you will be good to all.
It is therefore with some pain that we read Margaret Hodge comparing the financial institutions she castigates to a Masonic Lodge. Their actions are contrary to everything we stand for. Like Ms Hodge, Freemasonry is a bulwark against the evils of the age; an institution which seeks to place trust at the centre of its world … and we will go down fighting for this.