• de
  • en

For God, Fatherland, and Humanity – Masonic Internationalism in Europe, c. 1850–1935

The research project examines how freemasonry – as an association that maintained the forms and self-image from the 18th century into the Age of Extremes – responded to the challenge of internationalism. While freemasons understood their institution to be cosmopolitan, they were organised into national bodies that developed very differently in terms of their religious and transcendental bases and their social engagement. The project's overarching questions are how freemasons balanced their diverging understandings of religious commitment alongside the postulate of freedom of conscience at the international level, and how their different national loyalties and colonial/imperial ambitions related to an ideal of humanity that hoped to bridge all these differences.
A masonic "internationalism" developed parallel to similar movements in telecommunications, scholarship and the arts, where from the 1880s and 1890s onward an increasing number of international congresses had been held that led to attempts to found international associations or offices. The reconciliation of the universal goals of these transnational organisations with the individual interests of the national bodies contained much potential for conflict – this was also the case for the freemasons. From the 1880s, transnational masonic movements formed that became formalised in organisations such as the "Bureau international de relations maçonniques" (replaced in 1921 by the "Association maçonnique internationale") and the "Ligue internationale de francs-maçons". Such crossborder initiatives were hampered by the increasing anti-masonic mood in Europe, which reached its climax in the idea of the "international Judeo-masonic conspiracy".
The research project proceeds from an integrated understanding of "internationalism" as both a normative goal and a process of ever closer communicative ties. It covers (1) transnational movements at the level of masonic bodies and their consolidation in transnational structures and organisations. This organised transnationalism was (2) embedded in a network of bilateral relationships between masonic bodies. These were augmented – and sometimes rivalled by – (3) international grassroots movements arising from the initiatives and associations of individual freemasons, who interacted independently of their nationally organised masonic bodies at the international level.
The project approaches masonic internationalism from three perspectives. First, it examines how different national masonic bodies belonging to particular ideological "camps" positioned themselves on the international arena: in the "Anglo-Saxon" camp, the United Grand Lodge of England, which understood itself as the "mother grand lodge of universal freemasonry"; the Grand Orient de France and the Grande Oriente d’Italia, the "quarreling brothers" of the "Latin" camp; and two German grand lodges that stood between these camps (the Prussian National-Mutterloge as a "national" and "Christian" grand lodge and the Frankfurt Eklektische Bund as the representative of the "humanist" grand lodges). Here one can see that the camps developed more slowly than has been thought, that their borders remained porous, and that they were considerably less homogeneous than contemporary descriptions (by both their members and those outside them) suggest.
Second, the project traces the cycles and crises of the transnational movements and organisations and identifies their most important moments. It will present in detail the formative phase of masonic internationalism from the mid-19th century and picks out the First World War as an engine and catalyst of internationalism. This form of organised internationalism, mainly supported by the French, Italian and Iberian freemasons alongside their Swiss, Belgian and Dutch brethren, was met with reservations by the Anglo-Saxon and German organisations. The latter formed their own international "coalitions" (for example, of "English-speaking masonry" and "Masonic Central Europe").
Third, the project analyses the debates and conflicts that grew up between supporters and opponents of internationalism over the decades. It studies the argument over masonry's "mission" by focusing on how universalism was pitted against internationalism, how the transcendent ties of freemasonry were defined in the symbol of the "Grand Architecte de l’Univers" and how the postulate of "freedom of conscience" was alternatively championed or challenged with charges of dogmatism or atheism. The conflict over the role of freemasonry in society (through "external work") will be investigated using the examples of anti-masonry, pacifism, Europeanism and Transatlanticism. Debates on the harmonisation of rituals and common commemorative practices show how freemasons sought to construct "universal" symbols and myths. Finally, neuralgic "border regions" between external and internal work will be analysed by looking at humanitarian efforts and expansion beyond Europe. An overview of these debates allows one to historicise and contextualise the ideological spectrum of freemasonry.