47-2 “Concretely progress in society” or Freemasons at the forefront of social progress

When we talk about the influence of Freemasonry on social reforms, we can talk about the importance of Freemasons among certain socialists, trade unionists, activists and others. Also, we can talk about organized connections and parallels between Freemasons and friendly societies, but also certain radical groups. In addition, there are indications of Freemasonry ties and socialist forces in France and Spain, but also support for marginalized groups (such as Marano Jews in Spain, Creoles in Sierra Leone, blacks in the United States, etc.). Literature on socialist movements (lodges of England, for example) has also been confirmed in some Masonic archives. 

As an “import from Europe,” Freemasonry became present in French-speaking Africa, but also in English-speaking Africa, as it was in Latin America or the United States: “Libertador” Simon Bolivar and President Roosevelt were Freemasons. Freemasonry was often close to power, as in Gabon, where President Omar Bongo was a Freemason. In the multiple crises that accompany the ongoing democratization of the continent, African Freemasons often seek to play a mediating role. Former Congolese President Denis Sasou Ngueso and his successor Pascal Lisouba are Masons, but of different beliefs: Mr. Lisouba was initiated into the Grand Orient of France, and Sassou Ngueso belongs to the Senegalese Lodge and is associated with the French National Grand Lodge. After clashes between their armed militias in the capital, French and African Masons – from the Grande Loge de France, the United Grand Lodge of Ivory Coast and the United Grand Orient and the Lodge of Cameroon – joined as peacekeeping forces, but without much success.  This example says a lot about the influence of Freemasons in African France. Since the creation of the first Masonic lodge in 1781 in St. Louis, Senegal – several Masons have illustrated the history of French colonization. First of all, the two initiators of the abolition of slavery, Abe Gregar and Victor Schoelser, Secretary of State under the Second Republic, who definitively abolished slavery in 1848. Then Abd El Kader, received in 1864 in the Great Orient, expressed the gratitude of the French to the Emir of Algeria for the protection he granted to Christians in Damascus during the massacre in 1860. The great architect of the French colonial expansion, Jules Ferry, was also a Mason. As will the colony governor Felix Eboue, a black man from Guyana who gathered Chad in 1940 to help “African France”, along with General De Gaulle when the regime promulgated anti-Masonic and anti-Jewish laws.

Freemasons were quite numerous in the colonial administration. After World War II, most of them were for the independence of African overseas territories, and more and more Africans joined the lodges. After 1960, Freemasonry continued to spread, Africanizing and freeing itself from French obedience. National lodges were established in several French-speaking African countries, which nevertheless maintained more or less close ties with the French.      The situation of the colonial empire tends to the Masonic reality: the English colonial empire as well as the French colonial empire created the “colonial Masonic empire” at the same time. This empire is inhabited by colonizers, while at the same time it is the first place where we greet blacks and Muslims, even though they are considered fellow citizens in civilian life. This is the case in Algeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, West Indies and others. So, we are talking about colonizers who confirm colonial power, universal empire, civilization values – “Our ancestors Gauls”, etc. -, but who still welcome the most learned other brothers in the lodges.

Another interesting look at the influence of Freemasonry is reflected in the following event. Namely, in 1934, the priests who addressed the new Masonic lodge in England, concluded their speech with the following words: “We, brothers connected through brotherly love – should be strong enough to bring some real improvements in social relations and conditions of human society.” . There were many connections between Freemasonry and progressive movements of all kinds. This is most evident in European countries such as France and Spain, where Freemasonry was one of the main drivers of secular republican thought and was closely identified with socialist movements. Although Freemasonry forbids the discussion of religion and politics, it has nevertheless had a significant influence on radical politics and social movements in history. Many radical groups, such as the United Irish, adopted Masonic forms of organization and included many Freemasons. Also, there are many parallels between Masonic organization and symbolism and early friendly societies and unions. The personalities in the history of work who were active Freemasons were Ben Tillet and Arthur Greenwood. Radicals such as Thomas Payne and Richard Carlisle wrote extensively about Freemasonry, while Charles Bradlow and Anne Besant actively promoted forms of Freemasonry that they believed would support social reform. Many early women’s rights activists joined co-Freemasonry, a form of Freemasonry promoted by Anna Besant that received both women and men, and protest marches encompassed contingents of female Freemasons in Masonic regalia.

“Concretely progress in society.” This is the religion of Masonic teachings. That is to say, promoting knowledge, human and social progress, with the goal of improving society. This is the goal that also symbolizes the initiation ritual performed on the occasion of the reception: a new member of the lodge passes from Darkness to Light, a real inner journey for the advancement of man intellectually and socially. For example, in 2012, the Grand Orient of France especially opposed the comments of Cardinal André Vingt-Trois regarding the law on same-sex marriages. In a statement published in public, Freemasons criticized the views of the cardinal, who is considered “backward or even obscure, completely inconsistent with the necessary social and political development of our time”?!. We should also mention last year’s commitment of the Grand National Lodge of France when it prepared the answer to the discussion in the Senate of France on the topic of the proposal of the new law on bioethics. Recently, a large conference of French Freemasons on the topic of Islamism was held in France, instigated by a series of terrorist attacks that hit the citizens of Paris, Nice, Marseille and other cities. This is another example of the positive action of Freemasonry “outside the temple” in order to solve complex social problems.

It is interesting that Freemasons also maintain many ties with political parties. In a report broadcast on M6 television in June 2017, Christophe Habas, the Grand Master of the Grand Orient from France, reminds that Freemasonry is still very popular even if it has lost its influence in the political sphere. In short, Freemasons would work for the material and moral improvement of individuals in order to build a more just and enlightened society. `The modern problems of Freemasonry are also reflected in the activities of anti – system parties and movements around the world. Therefore, it is interesting to point out the “code of ethics” of such political forces in Italy “I cannot enter the government: people (…) who belong to Freemasonry”. As well as “persons convicted in criminal proceedings”. It did not take long to react to this rule, included in the program established between the 5 Star Movement and the League for the Formation of Government. Italian Freemasons in the field of art condemned the measure as “unconstitutional”, recalling the former “fascist laws”. The Great Orient of Italy specified that “Freemasons solemnly swear allegiance to the Italian Republic (…) and undertake to respect standards and laws.” He also reminds of the members of the Constitution who oppose this discrimination and states the names of the members who stood out in the history of the state, from Garibaldi to Goffredo Mameli, the author of the Italian anthem ….

In the Orient of France,