With the United Grand Lodge of England having recently released all of the names of Freemasons under its jurisdiction up to 1923, the specter of alleged Masonic influence has again raised its somewhat ill-informed head. Chris Mullin, writing in The Guardian, says that,
According to the documents, the masonic roll call included at least 5,500 police officers (many occupying senior positions), several thousand army officers – including the Duke of Wellington and Lord Kitchener – 170 judges, 169 MPs and 16 bishops. Not to mention senior members of the royal family, up to and including Edward VII.
In regard to the inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic,
It now emerges that Lord Mersey, the judge who conducted the inquiry, was a mason; likewise two of his five expert assessors.
I don’t believe there is any suggestion that the ship hit a Masonic iceberg, but apparently the presence of Freemasons in prominent positions does not, in this day and age, suggest that the fraternity might have a positive influence on the morals and character of the individual, making them an attractive prospect for positions dealing with sensitive information or needing careful judgment. No, in a Hollywood-type of way, it suggests intrigue and dubious dealings.
One might put such thinking to bed by pointing out that Churchill, as is well known, was a Freemason, as was George Washington. Contrast these men with several modern national leaders, and judge who is more inspiring.
To what extent is masonic influence in public life a problem today? The masons claim to have 250,000 members in England alone, and another 150,000 in Scotland and Ireland; but my guess is that, like much organised activity, freemasonry is in steep decline. Although masons are still influential in some professions, especially uniformed services, membership is far less fashionable than it used to be. Much unjustified paranoia surrounds freemasons, but their obsessive secrecy and the oaths they swear inevitably means that they have only themselves to blame.
The problem with this sort of reasoning — which is pretty standard for articles in the public — is that the author doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea about the subject, beyond, at least, what critics have long claimed.
Has Freemasonry’s ship sailed?
Yes and no. It is highly unlikely that we will see any Freemasons becoming president or prime minister again, not least of all because the focus of non-Masons, and thus the public, tends to be on secrecy, the absence of women in regular Lodges, etc. These subjects, again, are an issue because the fraternity is still erroneously seen as an old boys network or business club.
As reading any number of books published over the last decade or so will show, Freemasonry is a society dedicated to mystical worldview, the moral and metaphysical lessons of which are taught through various rituals. It is extraordinary that such a society (or, in a broader sense, movement) ever became as popular as it did. The Orders it has influenced, such as the Ordo Templi Orientis (which teaches ceremonial and, at the higher degrees, sexual occultism) and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, for example, are minuscule in comparison.
Freemasonry faces a large issue with paying for the upkeep of sizable properties. But, on the positive side, it now tends to attract men who are interested in spirituality, esotericism, and the arcane, who are more likely to treat the rituals and symbolism seriously. If one wants political influence, yes, the fraternity’s ship has sailed. But if one is interested in cultivating serious-minded Lodges, then no, it probably has not, though one should expect fewer, if more dedicated Lodges.
Lastly, the subject has over the last few years become acceptable to academia, and, as such, we are learning about how it has helped to shape the modern world, not at the top of the social spectrum, but often in regard to the underdog, such as among 19th century Muslim activists or among Black nationalists in the 20th century. That, to me, is infinitely more interesting than who may have sat on the inquiry into the Titanic’s sinking.