Some would argue that we, especially
us Californians, have benefitted because
Bill Gates made a billion dollars. Many
Americans carry in the palm of their hand
a computer more powerful than could have
been imagined just a few generations ago.
Computers are in almost every home and
office worldwide, simplifying formerly
labor-intensive tasks, transforming the way
we work, and redefining our economy. It is
this type of innovation that brings fundamental economic change to a society. But as
a result of this change, there are often only
a few clear winners who make the lion’s
share of the profit. A great chasm between
rich and poor often results.
Progressives and the progressive movement were born out of the desire to even out
the great inequality of wealth this type of
economic change can create. This movement
flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s in the
United States, promoting social and political
reform. In many ways, the men who drove
this movement had motivations similar to
the men of the English Enlightenment who
transformed an operative craft to a speculative science. California was an important
contributor to the progressive movement, and
California Freemasons were key players in it.
Following the American Civil War, the progressive movement sought solutions to the perceived excesses of American
industrialization. As had happened before in England during
its Industrial Revolution, tremendous concentrations of wealth
developed in America, producing a period that we remember
as the Gilded Age. Everyone benefitted from the improved standard of living earned through the industrialization of America.
No longer were Americans held hostage by subsistence farming.
Farmers could use technology to grow more with fewer laborers,
liberating farm workers to move to cities and towns to take the
new jobs that industrialization had created.
Yet, while standards of living improved, this rapid industrialization was not without social costs. There were not enough
American citizens to satisfy the need for workers, and the lure
of better wages and living conditions in America attracted
increased immigration. New immigrants with limited English-language skills and little understanding of the democratic
process were often swayed by local political bosses. These
“mobsters” used their assumed authority to exploit vulnerable
immigrants at the expense of the common good, threatening
the established American political dynamic. In addition, many
immigrants lived in subpar conditions which, while perhaps an
improvement from their lives in their homeland, were shocking
to many Americans.
In a society based on rugged individualism – the belief that
we can succeed on our own and that government involvement
in society should be minimal – the individual is at a disadvantage when so much power is concentrated in big business. As
the saying goes, money buys power. The people with key jobs
and large holdings in big, industrial corporations developed
an oversized influence on all aspects of public life. No longer
was the debate between small farmer or rancher and small town
merchant or craftsman. The debate was between big business
and individual workers, and big business was winning.
AN INFLUENTIAL MOVEMENT
WAS INSPIRED BY MASONRY’S
COMMITMENT TO TOLERANCE
AND FREE THOUGHT
By R. Stephen Doan, Past Grand Master
FREEMASONRY AND THE