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

In this suggestive study, Margaret Jacob, who is known for her scholarship abou eighteenth-century scientific and civic culture, explores Enlightenment ideologies and their connections to Masonic elites in western Europe. The book is topically arranged and revolves around several stimulating theses. Jacob maintains that the ritualism of Speculative Freemasonry served as an effective vehicle for explaining important tenets of classicism, deism, Newtonianism, constitutional government and civil liberties to aristocratic and middle-class members in England, France, and Holland. She argues that this new organization fostered sociability among its members and became identified with some groups which supported reformist and republican movements in Holland and in France. Jacob also claims that Speculative Freemasonry greatly contributed to the new secular societies arising in Enlightenment Europe.

Chapters in the first third of the book explain the evolution and social facets of Speculative or Modern Freemasonry in England. Jacob believes that there were few institutional and social connections between Operative and Speculative Freemasonry and that Speculative Freemasonry emerged in London in 1717 as an independent movement; she perceives Modern Masonry as embodying pertinent secular, ethical, and scientific doctrines of the early British Enlightenment. There are persuasive accounts about the contributions of Drs. John Anderson and John Desaguliers to early Modern London Masonry and about the ideologies and institutional operations of this new grand lodge which are described in its Constitutions. Jacob also discusses the activities of local lodges of Modern Masonry in early eighteenth-century London. These bodies functioned as micro-Whiggish assemblies, electing their officers and members, adhering to the principle of religious toleration, and protecting the natural liberties of thei members. Local lodges as well were involved with coffeehouse and tavern life, thus helping to promote sociability among their members. The book might have mentioned more about the ritualism and the composition of Modern London local lodges. It is known that the rites of Modern Masonry embodied deistic, classical, Palladian, Newtonian, and Whiggish tenets and that its local lodges recruited nobles, merchants, bankers, lawyers, physicians, scientists, writers, and painters. The study unfortunately doesn't explain why specific aristocratic middle class, and cultural elites gravitated to the ranks of Modern London Masonry and what specific Enlightenment ideas embodied in its ritualism seemed to be meaningful to these groups.

Chapters in the middle third of the book focus on Speculative Freemasonry on th Continent and on its connections to Enlightenment activities. Jacob examines Dutch and French Freemasonry, maintaining that Anglophile ideologies--especiall deism, Newtonianism, and Whiggism--were important to the shaping of Masonic cultures in both states. There is a fine analysis of Dutch Freemasonry; Jacob well explains the organization, leadership, and political and religious feuds o the early Dutch Grand Lodge. She correctly suggests that this grand lodge was perceived as being an "Estates General of the Republic" and that some middle-class cultural elites within Dutch Masonry well might have been associated with the deistic circle of John Toland or with the quasi-Masonic organization known as the Knights of Jubilation. The author's stimulating account of the Amsterdam Lodge La Bien Aimee illustrates the cultural and political activities of an important Dutch lodge during the middle years of the eighteenth century. Members of this lodge, which primarily consisted of merchants and artisans, spoke as reformers, calling for abolition of political corruption in Holland; they also cited Locke's ideas regarding orderly government and legislative authority in vindicating Dutch republican culture in the decade after the 1747-48 Revolution. Similar to that in Holland, Freemasonr in early eighteenth-century France was characterized by Anglophilism and by other Enlightenment features. The author's terse account of the French Grand Lodge, which was established in 1725, emphasizes its alleged connections to the Jacobite movement. Jacob mentions the Whiggish doctrines of Montesquieu but say nothing about the aristocratic and middle-class enlighteners in the three Parisian local lodges during the 1730s. There is also a stimulating chapter about the language of Masonry. Jacob explains in it the meanings of some Masoni doctrines but says little about the many symbols of Masonry.

The last third of the book offers two chapters about French Freemasonry during the 1770s and the 1780s and a concluding chapter about the reappraisal of the Enlightenment. Jacob examines several lodges in the Strasbourg region and maintains that social tensions characterized these bodies. In terms of membership, Strasbourg lodges were either aristocratic or middle-class; feuds between lodges were often attributed to class antagonisms. Jacob uses the Strasbourg Lodge La Candeur as a paragon and effectively shows that aristocrati members of this lodge constantly feuded with middle-class members of the St. Genevieve Lodge and with leaders of the Parisian Grand Lodge about Masonic ceremonies, customs, and procedures. She maintains that by the late 1780s distrust and class cleavage became prevalent in Strasbourg Masonry and that the republican programs during the first years of the French Revolution deepened class wounds among Strasbourg Masons. The chapter concerning efforts to reform the Parisian Grand Lodge during the 1770s and the 1780s reveals the ritualistic problems and social tensions within French Masonry. Jacob shows that leaders of the Parisian Grand Orient between approximately 1776 and 1785 succeeded in bringing some stability to the order. However, Enlightenment ideologies, which were embodied in the higher degrees of French Masonry, produced feuds within th leadership of the Grand Orient, contributed to further class fractures within the order by the late 1780s, and led to the demise of French Masonry during the period of the Convention. Yet in her assessment of Freemasonry and the Enlightenment, Jacob believes that both movements contributed to societies in western Europe in a positive way. In the conclusion, she attempts to propose ne ways of thinking about eighteenth-century culture and society. Jacob claims in this chapter that the ritualism and sociability of Freemasonry greatly contributed to the diffusion of Enlightenment ideologies and to its cross-class and trans-Atlantic appeal.

This encompassing and solid study, despite some weaknesses, is a valuable contribution to the scholarship about the Enlightenment and Freemasonry. The book is based on extensive research in Dutch and French Masonic collections, is well documented, but contains no bibliography or appendices. This lucidly written and fairly well organized work illustrates intimate ties between Freemasonry and the Enlightenment in major urban environments. The book suggest that both movements helped to shape new civic institutions and political cultures and that the Enlightenment was anything but universal and sharply varied from place to place. An examination of important tenets of major Masonic ritualistic systems and an analysis of significant doctrines and symbols of the various Masonic civil religions would have revealed major patterns and variations of the Enlightenment in European urban societies. Jacob, too, might have compared the mentalities of Masonic aristocratic, middle-class, and cultural elites and thus would have clearly shown the precise connections of these elites to Enlightenment and Masonic ideologies. Moreover, an examination of Masonic learned societies in Paris and in other cities would have cogently illustrated the direct cultural, social, and institutional connections of the Craft to Enlightenment activities.

In sum, this study is highly recommended reading, for it presents new and perceptive interpretations about ideologies, cultural and social movements, and political cultures in western Europe during the eighteenth century.

William Weisberger Butler County Community College, PA
COPYRIGHT 1994 Journal of Social History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Weisberger, William
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
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