Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe

By Margaret C. Jacob | Go to book overview

4
Creating Constitutional Societies

The early years of the masonic fraternity on the Continent were plagued by disputes engendered largely by ecclesiastical authorities, both Protestant, as was the case in publicists external to the lodges. The task of establishing these new, constitutionally governed societies also brought with it crises over legitimacy and authority, and not least, over national identity as the fraternity spread far and away from the London Grand Lodge. The records of Dutch freemasonry, once again, richly illustrate this phenomenon. They permit us to watch the tensions and uncertainties of the fraternal participants in this new and unique form of social and political behavior. As one example, we shall focus on the disagreements that arose between the most historically important Dutch lodge, located in Amsterdam and called (after 1754) La Bien Aimée, and the national Grand Lodge in The Hague.

Woven into their disputes were issues about the nature of true masonic government and, more precisely, about the validity or legitimacy of the masonic constitution. Amid these disputes we can also witness some of the first efforts made on the Continent -- if only in a private, voluntary setting -- to exercise a form of selfgovernment. Within the confines of private sociability the abstractions found in some of the favorite texts of the Enlightenment, from Locke through Montesquieu, and not least Voltaire -- who praised all things English -- may take on for us a more textured meaning, one lived as well as read. In this chapter and in subsequent ones we look to the Enlightenment as it was lived in the new Continental lodges.

The new lodges, both in Britain and on the Continent, were never simply private fraternal societies; they were also, as we saw in chapter 1 in the case of the Dundee lodge, constitutionally governed and legitimized civic societies. Predictably, within their private deliberations can also be found overtones of larger national and international issues about which brothers appear to have had deep disagreement. In the microcosmic polity constituted by a lodge, values and issues drawn from the larger society were debated and negotiated, social place and rank were adjudicated, and

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