Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Freemasonry and the Intellectual

A recent blog post by my friend and brother, Victor Guerra, set me thinking. His comments often do, but the vagaries of language and the cultural divides of the North Atlantic sometimes leave me wanting the correct avenue of thought to respond in a way worthy of an audience.  This most recent observation of his set me on a trajectory that I believe merits exploration.

Where is the intellectual in North American Freemasonry? The answer, at least upon first glance, is "apparently absent." We have no great thinkers. Mainstream masonry has in the last half century at least, for lack of a better description, and I do not wish to offend my brethren in the so-called 'regular' camp, fostered a "confederacy of dunces." Anti-intellectualism is as strong and as strident in North American Freemasonry as it has become of late in our society as a whole.  The great American author and thinker, Isaac Asimov remarked, "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Well, as Asimov clearly intended it to be understood, it is not.

There are many changes that mainstream North American Freemasonry needs to make if it is to survive the next two decades. I have read on a dozen blogs, some of whose authors have apparently been silenced by their 'regular' obediences, a litany of things that might be done to save the fraternity. Almost none of them have addressed directly the issue of engaging and cultivating the intellectual as a natural facet of the Craft. That comes as no surprise to me. In North America, Freemasonry has replaced Franklin with "Freemasons for Dummies," and while I admire the work that Brother Hodapp does to make an understanding of Freemasonry accessible to the average reader, I am certain he would be the first to assert that he does not count himself among the ranks of the intellectual thinkers of our age. While I am a captive of my own cerebral endeavors, I do not consider myself an intellectual, nor even close to those thinkers capable of providing astute observations and commentary on our fraternity and perhaps more importantly, on our society as a whole from the unique perspectives that Freemasonry ought to offer us.

That does not mean such thinkers do not exist. They do; simply not in North American Freemasonry. North American Freemasonry has difficulty confronting its own history, preferring to hide in the pseudo-historical views of 19th century Masonic authors. It certainly has not reached beyond that to provide us with minds who can offer insight into the profound issues of society writ large.  Let me clarify, I am not speaking of scholarship, but of intellectual speculation. There is a difference. The latter implies, in my opinion, the former. It is not however, the same thing.

Radu Balanescu, a Grand Master of the Grand National Lodge of Romania, summed up what intellectuals do, why they are important, and what awaits any group that fails to generate them among its members, when he noted that "an elite intellectual, a thinker, is a person who restores to humanity its essence. This is the motive for the gigantic impact thinkers have had in the history of the world. This is the reason why collectivities deprived of great thinkers decay relatively quickly, pervert themselves and are eliminated toward the edge of human history."

North American Freemasonry is not currently producing anybody of the stature of  Jacques-Geoges Plumet, or Alain Bauer. We have no Guglielmi,  Kessel,  Jacques Miterrand, or Fred Zeller. Nor have we any Alain -Jacques Lacot,  whose work Victor Guerra most recently highlighted on his blog,

These observations are not intended to belittle anyone, nor their obediences. Noting a flaw is the first step in empowering an individual or group to grow. Freemasonry in North America needs to begin developing didactic intellectuals if it is going to survive and grow. If that doesn't happen within "regular" freemasonry, we will have to look elsewhere for that leadership and example.

Gracias a Victor Guerra. 

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