According to Yascha Mounk, an author and lecturer on Political Theory at Harvard University, millennials in America are six times more dissatisfied with the democratic system than they were in 1940. […] Mounk explains how in previous generations, many Americans supported liberal democracy because it made them wealthier. Now, that’s no longer the case.
Whenever we go somewhere warm for a winter vacation, I always buy several good magazines at the airport to make sure I have reading material for the quiet ‘morning coffee’-time on the terrace or for the lazy hours on the beach. Most recently, it happened that I came across many letters written in response to The Atlantic magazine’s October issue which examined the current “democratic crisis”: Is Democracy Dying?
There were several returning motifs in the discussions: lack of civic engagement, lack of civic participation in small local organizations that used to be considered the learning playgrounds of democracy. On top of that: universities and colleges shifted the focus from the core civic values (serving a democratic free world) to more hype topics: self actualization, genderism, offense nurturing, research, global politics, money making… This was the general tone of the reactions to that issue’s theme.
As I was in the middle of a personal project aiming to redefine some plans regarding our “regular work” in the lodges, it struck me that we may have an historical chance here. Let me explain!
If no organization is offering the basic teaching and instilling the values of a democratic free world… do we have (again) a chance to make the lodges the incubators of the “democratic experiment” as our forefathers used to do at the dawn of the modern era? When we talk about the early period of Freemasonry, we often mention proudly that certain basic ideas of the modern democracy have been introduced and practiced first in the Masonic lodges from where they’ve spread to the society at large.
Next question, if we indeed have this unique chance in our time: Are we prepared to fulfill this role?
Not yet. Not in my opinion. When recently an Ontario Mason (in a social media discussion group) felt offended by and wanted to reject the assumption in someone else’s statement that Freemasons are the elite of the society – it was the saddest day of my Masonic journey of 25 years.
Yes, I agree our membership is not comprised of the elite members of the society. However, to avoid the unnecessary arguments regarding the “elite” I suggest we use another term in this hypothetical fable. I suggest we use the term “decision makers” – just because the ‘elite’ is too often identified as the wealthiest X% of the society. It is a sad reality that the Canadian Masonry is lacking members of prominence: in the past half century no relevant politicians and important stakeholders or intellectual luminaries became members. It may be worth noted that financial wealth in itself doesn’t mean elite…
Probably, Linc (Licoln Alexander) was the last lieutenant governor general in Ontario who was a member of a Masonic lodge – although at that time our Grand Lodge didn’t even recognize them as Masons. (N.B. Compared to other provincial jurisdictions Ontario was quite slow in according recognition to Prince Hall Masons.)
Along the disappearence of the decision makers in the same period the Craft became a boring middle or working-class social club where the “buddies” have once a month good time away from their wives. Philosophy, esoterism, intellectual discussions, ethical debates has been exiled from the lodges. Apart from some local lodge history, the larger historical picture of the evolution of the Craft is based on popular fiction novels and movies which are presented as history. But I digress…
Now we might have an historical chance just as our forefathers had it when the lodges started to admit “gentlemen” …
If all the other existing institutions gave up on teaching democratic and civic values, stopped functioning as the breeding ground for leaders, stopped preparing the future leadership of the country – let’s make the lodges again into such places where all this can happen!
Let the dying lodges die. Reorganize lodges. Attract young educated smart men.
Transform the lodges into highly intellectual laboratories.
Don’t be afraid to let go the whining mediocre men – there is no need for them. We need good men – even for the cheap slogan (to make them better) you need good men. Not just men to fill the seats in the lodge room! Actually, I am not suggesting anything new: about 20 years ago a book has been published by the noted Canadian author and Masonic scholar Wallace McLeod and the American Masonic author Allen. E. Roberts put together a volume titled Freemasonry and Democracy: Its Evolution in North America.
Freemasonry has never been and was never meant to be a mass organization! Don’t be afraid to say NO to masses… the whole world’s situation shows clearly what happens when we gave in to the populist demand of open the doors (West Gate) to the uneducated or unprepared.
I am aware (almost expect) that I will be labelled – again – as elitist and/or arrogant because I want to exclude the good ol’ simple brothers who despite their ignorance still love to dress fancy aprons and recite words that they don’t understand about ideas that they cannot grasp. What my opponents don’t understand: I love those guys… just not in the lodge.
For charity work, for the camaraderie, for the joyful social events there are hundreds of much better opportunities and more suited organizations than the Lodge.