Governmentality appealed to Freemasons. Government
ministers, state employees, liberal professionals like lawyers,
doctors, and teachers, as well as merchants, flocked to join
the lodges. In Sweden the entire court, from the king and his
ministers on down, joined lodges that were feted at the royal
palace. There, as in Britain and the American colonies, the
lodges paraded in public, a sign of their acceptance. In Paris
and The Hague, British ambassadors played a role in spreading the fraternity: In Berlin by 1750, Frederick the Great used
the lodges to enhance his cult-like following. In Vienna in the
1780s, Joseph II’s influence permeated the lodges where Mozart
sought out musical commissions.
Everywhere they spread, the lodges denoted relative affluence, drinking, and merry-making. Despite their conspicuous
consumption, the lodges were also places that sought to instill
decorum, at least before dinner, putting a priority on discipline
and manners. In London, lodges would sometimes take over the
seats of a theater, typically behaving better than the audiences.
They were setting an example that would prove vital. The habits of listening and silence in theaters and concerts developed
slowly, largely by the second half of the 18th century, as part
of a general growth of decorum and interiority. The Masonic
lodges played a role in that process, which, in turn, was deeply
related to democratic habits: listening and debating with civility, voting and regulating in an orderly fashion.
The habit of being governed by laws derived from a constitution may seem commonplace today. But the very term
constitution as we know it first appeared in French in a Masonic
document of 1710. (In the Masonic document, constitution
meant “rules and statues of our order” for the first time, and
not, as it did in French then, “one’s health.”) In the American
colonies, many of the first constitutions were Masonic ones.
As such, the Enlightenment in its
Masonic setting was a complex process
of new ideas as well as habits: public discussion; sociability; private, uncensored
reading. All required a new, more commonplace sense of politeness, of discipline and
decorum, and not least, the rule of law.
A RIGHT TO
In every European country Masonic dues
were substantial (although graded by ability to pay), and each lodge came to possess
a social persona, and to give loyalty to a
national grand lodge. Some lodges spurned
anyone but the noble born; others were entirely for students or doctors. Some lodges
admitted lowly merchants, even actors; others banned them. In Philadelphia, Benjamin
Franklin had to playfully draw attention to
the new lodges before they paid him the
courtesy of membership.
The relationship between the lodge and
a brother was partly contractual – based
upon dues paid – and partly filial, based
upon birth and deference. In this way, lodge
membership began to resemble citizenship
in a democratic state, where members felt a
presumed right to participate, and even to
govern. As in the polity, brothers faced consequences when they broke Masonic laws,
told secrets, gave away passwords, or failed
to pay dues or give charity donations.
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