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

By Margaret C. Jacob | Go to book overview

9
Le Régime Ancien et Maçonnique: The Paris Grand Lodge and the Reform of National Government

At a time when no one could have foreseen our revolution, I attached myself to freemasonry, which offered a kind of image of equality, just as I attached myself to the parlements, which offered a kind of image of liberty. I have since given up the phantom for the reality.

Voici mon histoire maçonniquea manuscript written in self-defense by LOUIS PHILIPPE JOSEPH D'ORLÉANS, also known as PHILIPPE D'EGALITÉ. 1

Philippe d'Egalité, as the due d'Orléans chose to call himself after 1789, had been a Grand Master. In 1793 during the Reign of Terror he wrote the preceding statement as the opening of his self-justification to explain why he had once been an active freemason. It sits to this day as a manuscript amid his papers, written in minuscule, beautifully crafted penmanship. As one of the nearest blood relatives to the recently guillotined king, Philippe d'Egalité was the object of deep suspicion; indeed, in 1793 he would meet the fate of his cousin. What is remarkable about his claim to have found in freemasonry a kind of equality, which he in turn gave up for the real thing, was that he had to make it at all. He has been attacked not by antirevolutionaries but by the Revolution's supporters for having been a freemason.

By 1793 freemasonry was suspect to both the French left and the French right. The Revolution had created a new and distinct political culture that was rapidly involved in repudiating its past. To that extent the fate of the lodges during the Revolution does not necessarily help us to unravel their character and role prior to it. But there is enough evidence from the 1780s that helps us to understand what the due d'Orléans may have meant when he said that the prerevolutionary lodges offered a kind of equality. In the new civil society of the eighteenth century, the lodges, like

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