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UniversalFreemasonryAndTheEnlightenment

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StephenJ.Trachtenberg,33
President,TheGeorgeWashingtonUniversity
OncewerealizehowtheEnlightenment,Freemasonry,andtheUnitedStatesofAmericahavebecomeoverlappingcategories
ofhumanbehavior,wealsohavetorecognizetheextenttowhichEnlightenment,asasystemofvalues,ispresentlyunder
siege.

ThewordEnlightenmentwithacapitalEhadveryspecialmeaninginthe18thcenturywhenFreemasonrywasmakingsuch
animpactinEuropeandAmericaandwhenthisLodgewasintheprocessofbeingfounded.Q
OpenatextbookonthehistoryofEuropeinthe18thcentury,andoneofthefirstreferencesyoullfindisareferencetoThe
Enlightenment,anintellectualmovementbasedinFrancebutextendingitsappealasfarawayasStockholmandMoscow.The
Enlightenmentrepresentedanewattitudetowardthehumanpast,present,andfuture.Itwasanattitudeconsciouslyopposedto
alltheforcesthatlockedthehumanmindintoanarrow,prejudiced,andbasicallypassivetypeoffunctioning.The
philosophersoftheEnlightenment,whentheylookedbackathumanhistory,tendedtoseeitasalongsequenceofprisons,
eachofwhichtendedtostandinthewayofintellectualpursuits,socialprogress,andconstructivechange.
Needlesstosay,thesesamephilosophersknewthattherehadalwaysbeenexceptionstothisrule.IntheupperranksofEuropeanmonarchyandaristocracy,therehad
beenindividualfigureswhosomehowtranscendedthelimitationsoftheirtime.ThetimeoftheRenaissanceinItalyproducedsomeobviousexamples.Sodidtheageof
ElizabeththeFirstinEngland.Andthe18thcenturyproduceditsshareofenlightenedmonarchsinAustria,Russia,andSwedenwholookedbeyondtheritualsoftheir
courtsandtheirchurchestobroadervisionsofhumanityandhumanprogress.ButthedeeperimpulsesoftheEnlightenmenttendedtobemoredemocratic,tolook
furtherthansuchoccasionalexceptionsallowedfor.

Whenwefeelaninevitabletemptationtosurrendersomeorallofourautonomyasindividualcitizens,letsrememberthattheultimatecraftistheonewherebywe
craftourselves.

OnecrucialdefiningpointoftheEnlightenmentwasthegreatencyclopediaproducedinFrancebyDenisDiderotandhiscolleagues.Itsarticlesandillustrationswere
concernednotjustwithfamousnamesoutofhistorybutwiththeartsandcraftsthatmadehumanlifeandhumanprogresspossible.Itsawtheentirehumanraceas
engagedinacommonendeavorthestruggletowardsharingwidelythebenefitsofhumanreason.
Needlesstosay,aphilosophicalmovementthatwasinclinedtobeappreciativetowardpeopleofeverysocialandeconomiclevel,thatencouragedtoleranceand
opennessratherthancompulsionandlimitation,wasboundtostirupalotofoppositioninsocietiesbasedonhereditaryprivilege.InFranceitself,theproponentsof
Enlightenmentgotusedtodrasticshiftsofpersonalfortune.Whentheywerentbeinglionizedbytheiradmirers,includingadmirersdrawnfromtheFrencharistocracy,
theywerebeingthreatenedwithimprisonmentorphysicalviolence.Andthemoretheywerethreatenedinthisway,themoreinfluentialtheybecame.
Ineverycountryandonnearlyeverycontinent,peoplebecameawareofanaltogethernewpointofviewwhichactuallysawtheearthasaplanetwhoseprocesseswe
couldunderstandandinfluence,ratherthanadivinemysterywhosedestructiveaspectswecouldonlyaccept.
Lookingbackatthe18thcenturyfromtheperspectiveofthepresentmoment,wecanseehowtheforceofEnlightenmentandtheforceofFreemasonryweredestinedfor
amarriage.ThereisahauntingparallelbetweentheimageryofcraftsmanshipintheMasonicvisionandthenewinterestinhumancraftthatwasincorporatedinto
DiderotsEncyclopedia.Whatwasslowlydiminishinginthisnewvisionwastheoldercontemptformosthumanbeingsasthemembersofasocalledlowerorder
whosehabitsandthoughtpatternsrespectablemembersofsocietycouldonlyregardwithcontemptanddistrust.
AlreadyimplicitintheEnlightenment,forexample,wasanewattitudetowardpublichealth.Inthe19thcentury,enlighteneddoctorsspreadoutthroughthenationsof
WesternEurope,startingwithFrance,andtriedtoalleviatethesubhumanlivingconditionsoftheruralpeasantry.Thenotionthatwecandoitbecameaselffulfilling
prophecy.Idealsofsanitationandeducationtooktheplaceofanearlierindifferencewhich,ofcourse,hadtranslatedintononstopplaguesofvariouskinds.
EnlightenmentandFreemasonryservedeachotherwellandreinforcedeachothersstrengths.Theyalsoexercisedagreatpoweroverthepoliticalexperimentthatwas
underwayalongtheEasternCoastofNorthAmerica.ThekindsofEuropeanswhopickedthemselvesupandmovedacrosstheAtlantic,whochosetherigorsofColonial
lifeoverthepredictableservitudeoftheplacesinwhichtheywereborn,weresympathetictothenotionthathumanbeingsallhumanbeingscouldgeneratethekinds
ofideasthatmadetheworldabetterplace.
Itwasnoaccident,therefore,thatsomanyoftheFoundingFathersoftheUnitedStatesweredeeplyinfluencedbytheEnlightenmentandwerealsomembersofthe
MasonicOrder.Anditwasnoaccidentthattheysharedadeepdistrustofanynationalreligioussystem,especiallythekindofnationalreligionthatoperatedhandin
glovewithahereditarymonarchy.Enlightenmentwouldalwaysbecrushed,theybelieved,whentheforcesrepresentingtheauthorityoffaithcouldbackuptheirpower
withthearmedforceofanorganizednation.
Inthemostnaturalway,therefore,EnlightenmentbecamethedeepestprevailingvalueoftheUnitedStatesofAmerica.Asallofusknow,thephilosophyofour
Constitutionisonethatseekstocreateabreathingspaceforeventhesimplest,humblest,mostaverageAmerican.ThewarswagedbetweentheExecutive,
Legislative,andJudicialelementsofournationalsystem,thecountervailingpowerswithwhichourstatesconfrontthefederalgovernment,thewaysinwhichthe

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UniversalFreemasonryAndTheEnlightenment

residentsofasinglemunicipalitycanasserttheirneedsandconcernswhentheyfeelthesehavebeenignoredallthesechecksandbalanceshaveonemajorpurpose:to
permittheindividualAmericancitizentoflowerintofullstrength,influence,andcreativity.
Wemayoftenargueaboutthedetailsofthisgrandsystemofbalanceandopportunity.Weveryseldomargueaboutthekindofhumanbeingthesystemisdesignedto
favor:anAmericanwhoknowshisorherrightsandwhois,therefore,aslittleinclinedtoworshipauthorityasanyphilosopherofthe18thcentury.
Intodaysworld,whensomanyforeignnationsareturningtotheAmericanmodelintheirownquestsforEnlightenment,itstemptingforustositback,topat
ourselvesontheback,andtobaskinthefactthatwegottherefirst.Butthatsatemptationwemustresist.OncewehaverealizedhowtheEnlightenment,Free
masonry,andtheUnitedStatesofAmericahavebecomeoverlappingcategoriesofhumanbehavior,wealsohavetorecognizetheextenttowhichEnlightenment,asa
systemofvalues,ispresentlyundersiege.
Openthenewspaperandyouarelikelytofindyourselfreadingaboutthemostrecentactionsofthisorthatreligiouscult.Drivenalongbytheunquestionedauthority
oftheirleaders,cultmembershaveengagedinmurder,armedconfrontation,andsuicide.Theirvisionsoflifeareoftengroundedinaselectionofreligioustexts,
especiallythosewhichenvisionaglobalcatastropheofsomekind.Meanwhile,theyignorethetextswhichsuggestthatweoughttobeworkingonadaytodaybasis
tomakelifeamoreorderlyprocesswhoseultimategoalisjustice.
Inshort,whatcultssooftendoistofavorpreciselythekindsofauthoritarianismandpassivitythatthe18thcenturyEnlightenmentsetouttooppose.Meanwhile,they
tendtoignorethepoliticaltraditionembodiedbyAmericasFoundingFathersandFreemasonry:thesenseofpoliticsasahumanitariancraftwhichcouldactually
designanationinsuchawaythatitscitizensagreeitisfundamentallyjust.
Asweallknow,cultsofthiskindfeedonfeelingsofdespairanddisillusionment.ManyofthepeoplewhocommittedsuicideafterjoiningtheHeavensGatecultleft
behindlettersandvideotapesinwhichtheysaidthingslike:Theresjustnothinghereanylonger.Andbyheretheymeantnothinglessthanourentireplanet!To
commitsuicideinordertobeginaninterplanetaryvoyageonapassingspaceshipwasawayofescapingfromaworldtheysawasaprison.Theyfeltthatitscontinents,
oceans,skiesandsocietiesallofthemwereinthegripofanevilforce,usuallyidentifiedbysuchcultistsasSatanorLucifer.Onlybymovingtosomeotherworld,
therefore,canhumanbeingsmakethemselvescomfortableandcreativeandtrulyhappy.
OneofthebuiltinproblemsfacedbythosewhoworkonbehalfofEnlightenmentisthattheyhaveoftenunderestimatedthepowerofwhattheythemselveshave
escaped.MostAmericantouristsvisitingotherpartsoftheworldwouldfinditintolerabletoliveintheagesthatproducedhugechurches,castles,andotherkindsof
authoritarianinstitutions.Werewecarriedbackintimetooneofthoseages,fiveminutesoflookingaroundwouldhaveusbeggingforareturnto1997.Butifwecan
travelbackinamuchsaferway,thewayprovidedbymoderntravelandthehumanimagination,thenwecantwaittoexperiencethepast,evenifthemonumentswe
visitwereoncethesitesofhumansacrifice,religiouspersecution,andamurderousreactiontoanyformofdisagreement.

ItwasnoaccidentthatsomanyoftheFoundingFathersoftheUnitedStatesweredeeplyinfluencedbytheEnlightenmentandalsomembersoftheMasonicOrder.

Enlightenmenttellsusthattoengageintheactofdisagreementisoneofthemostbasicaspectsofbeinghuman.Imayfindwhatyousayorwhatyouthinkis100
percentwrong.Imayevenregardyourideasdangeroustothesocietywithinwhichwealllive.Butintheverythroesofsuchdisagreement,IstillresistanytemptationI
mayfeeltoburnyouatthestakeorotherwiseremoveyoufrommysight.Icanactuallyrecognizethesupremeimportanceofallowingyoutogetonmynerves!Inshort,
whatEnlightenment,Freemasonry,andtheUnitedStatesofAmericaallhaveincommonisasingularlycomplexpictureofthehumanmind.ThosewhojoinaMasonic
Lodgemayincludepeoplewhohavenot,formanyyears,usedanytoolmoresophisticatedthanacanopener.ThosewhobecomecitizensoftheUnitedStatesprobably
includepeoplewhobelievethatourplanetisflatasapancakeandsitsonthebackofacosmicturtle.Thosewhotookpartinthe18thcenturyEnlightenmentincluded
peoplewhoserigidatheismandsheerhatredofreligionresembledtheangersoftheverysystemstheyweretryingtooverthrow.
Butwhatwealltendtofeel,despiteourdifferences,isthatwearebetterservedbythefreedomforalltoexpresstheiropinionsthanwewouldbebyamuchneaterand
insomewaysmoreaestheticallypleasingsystem.Backinthedayswhennoreligiousprocessionwasindangerofhavingpeoplewavepicketsignsatitandwhen
sicknessanddeathweremostoftenregardedasactsofGod,apparentunanimitywasachievedbytheobliterationofinconvenientformsofdisagreement.Everybody
seemedtothinkalike.Theresultwasthekindofharmonyadmiredbythedictatorsofthe20thcenturywhosawtoitthateverybodyhadtherighttoagreewiththem.
Clearly,thevaluesoftheEnlightenmentwhichhavedonemuchtoproduceusmayonceagainbefacingacrisis.Thosevaluesseektoprovideeveryhumanbeingwith
alargemeasureofautonomy.Butautonomy,besidesbeingawonderfulthingtohave,isalsoveryoftenachallenge.Allofusexperience,intheprocessofgrowingup,
thedifficultprocessofgainingindependencefromourparents.Werenolongerbeingtoldwhattodo.Wehaveactuallytodecidewhattodo.Andonthoseoccasions
whenwhatwedecidetodoturnsouttobeamistakeoranoutrightdisaster,canwereallybeblamedforlookingback,nostalgically,tothetimewhenlifewassomuch
simpler?
OncetheEnlightenmentshifteddisagreementfrombeingakindofsintobeingakindofduty,ourspeciesbegantoexperiencetheapexofitsinfluence.Ancient
sicknessescouldbecured.Ourmooncouldbevisited.Theearthitselfcouldbeexploredwithathoroughnessthatpreviousgenerationswouldhaveregardedasscience
fiction.Thebiologyofhereditycouldbemapped.Andthemostsubversivepolitical,social,orintellectualideascouldbeproposed.Nosoonerhadthethoughtofa
SigmundFreudoverthrownsomanytaboosandsacredcowsthatthepreFreudianworldwasnolongertrulyimaginablethantheattackonFreudhimselfgotunderway
andwassoonsuggestingthathewasinfactafraud.NosoonerhadwegottenthroughlamentingtheinfluenceofMarxistthinkingontheThirdWorldthantheThird
WorldstartedtopackitsMarxismintotheneighborhoodtrashcan.
Suchisthenatureofthehumanmind.AndwhatEnlightenmenthasrepresented,aboveall,isthegrowthanddevelopmentofthehumanmind.Wehaveacceptedthe
keendiscomfortinvolvedinquestioningoldassumptions.Andwehavedecidedthatacertainamountofpermanentdiscomfortisbetterthantheharmonyachieved
bymurderingonesopponents.
SoifthedislikeofbeinguncomfortableandthepainofbeingautonomousareforcescurrentlynibblingawayatEnlightenment,wecanreassureourselvesbylooking
backatthefirsthalfofthe20thcentury.Atthattime,manypeoplefeltthatEnlightenmentwouldproveahistoricalloser.Fascismwasaleadingcandidateforthe
statusofwinner.Wasntitobvious,manyasked,thataquarreling,squabbling,systematicallydisuniteddemocracycouldnevercompetewitharigidlyorganized
tyrannywhereeverybodymarchedtogether?Theywereprovedwrong.Whenitcametothemostcolossalwareverfought,theproponentsofbrutalunanimitylostoutto
thesquabblingproponentsofdemocracywhowerewillingtolistentojustaboutanyideawithoutrejectingitoutofhand.
Soletsnotconfuseanitchwithadisease.WhatEnlightenment,Freemasonry,andAmericanhistoryallteachusisthatthinkinganewthoughtisntoftenaveryeasy
thingtodo.Andwhenwefeelaninevitabletemptationtosurrendersomeorallofourautonomyasindividualcitizens,letsrememberthattheultimatecraftistheone
wherebywecraftourselves.Nomorethrillingmomentcanbeimaginedthantheonethathasourchildrenorgrandchildrenlookingbackatusandsaying,Theychose
thehardway.Anditturnedouttobetherightway!

Thearticleaboveisanaddress,editedforlength,givenbyIllustriousTrachtenbergattheStatedCommunicationofPotomacLodgeNo.5,Washington,DC,on
May5,1997,aspartofacelebrationoftheLodges208thanniversary.

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