In this line of thinking, incivility is the antithesis of republican virtue, precisely because it actually works to stifle freedom
of expression. And society’s current issue of incivility is in our
public discourse, particularly with regard to politics and race.
Certainly we can see this happening around us – our endless
entertainment news cycles fan the fires of partisanship, and
anonymous online forums have made spiteful public comment
easier and more bold. Staying silent may sometimes seem to be
the only reasonable way forward. But it begs the question: Do
we as Americans understand how to have civil public conversations about difficult and emotional subjects that can deepen our
understanding of one another?
American grand lodges have remained, for the most part,
just as silent as their British counterpart. If the fraternity is
to combat incivility, it may need to move out of its comfort
zone of discretion. Look at the rules of civil behavior, spoken
or tacit, that characterize any lodge meeting. Could these be
codified and taught to anyone of good will? There are specific forms of behavior that brothers seek to avoid. Could
these be enumerated and presented to audiences interested in
Freemasonry, who would learn in the process about civility?
In Italian male and female Freemasonry, there is a widespread custom of remaining silent during one’s first year of
membership. Is there some comparable practice in American
lodges that might serve to make people stop and think before
INCIVILITY IN THE
REPUBLIC, AND THE ROLE
OF MODERN MASONS
At its 18th-century origins, Freemasonry
proclaimed values very much derived
from what may be described as “classical
republicanism.” Masonic orators invoked
the Roman republic as an ancient example:
Virtue lay at the heart of an ethical society,
one that eschewed mindless luxury, greed,
and self-interest. Lodges on either side of
the Atlantic – and the Channel – talked
about moral regeneration, about how patriots would obey the laws and still work to
reform society and government. Clearly,
those ideals worked best in actual republics,
such as were created in the late 18th century.
What about today? Republicanism, in its
modern form, is still central to the Masonic
legacy. It is not about left or right, liberal or
conservative, white or black, male or female.
It is about virtuous behavior appropriate to
citizens of a republic.