PART THREE: Conclusion
The Euro-centric version of the ‘march of progress’ teaches that a rational or scientific method, begun by the likes of Francis Bacon, was shaped in the 18th century, as far as studying the past to learn how to deal with the future was concerned, by Voltaire, Vico and Kant, among others. [dliii] In the early years of the nineteenth century, Augustin Thierry, searching for a new way to deal with history’s major themes, believed he had found it in Sir Walter Scott’s novels, such as Ivanhoe.[dliv] The creation of British India produced notable civil servants curious to understand the sub-continent in order to influence government policies. Sir Charles Malcolm, John Mill, senior, and Mountstuart Elphinstone were BEIC men who studied, analysed and then applied their insights to the production of better, ie, less-corrupt and more people-relevant governance standards and practices. This dynamic process was not sustained, with the result that by the late-19th century German historians were doing ‘scientific history’ but leading English historians were rejecting the concept because, they claimed, it was Prussian in origin. A lodge of research might have fuelled a radical rethink, but QC’s founders were mature, some even elderly when they eventually got together, meaning that their views were those of the world in which they had grown up. In the founding circle there was only one, perhaps a surprising, exception to that general rule but even he did not stray far, and the stamp QC put on subsequent EF research has, unfortunately, proved enduring.
QC was EF’s chance to learn from its past, to correct errors or to attempt a rejuvenation. The available evidence shows that:
* beliefs brought to QC by the founders in 1886 were not conducive to an open-ended sense of learning;
* a determination to inaugurate ‘authentic history’ was not included in QC’s aims or objects;
* neither as first Worshipful Master and co-founder of Lodge QC nor as Chief Commissioner of Police did Warren grasp the clearly available opportunities to discuss, let alone introduce a more scientific approach to his tasks;
* none of his QC co-founders urged him to adopt a more scientific approach;
* the founders came to QC with no idea of what was required administratively;
* UGLE had no interest in progressing Masonic research.
By the 1880’s imperial rhetoric, an assumed superiority in all things and unquestioning allegiance to ‘the authorities’, secular and religious, negated any chance QC had for independent thinking. Inconsistent with the scientific method, which is at least implied by the notion of ‘authentic history’, the status-quo was destructive of what potential QC might have had and was adding to the stasis and decay already in play within EF. What was assumed to be true was believed sufficient and the tools of learning – original documents, museums and libraries – were devalued. The ‘Old Charges’ were assiduously pursued and preserved since they provided an illusion of research and protected against the worst of the ancient religion advocates, while other guild documents such as those used by Toulmin Smith and Brentano were not regarded of sufficient value even to salvage. Already in poor condition when first used, they were still ‘in melancholy mildew and decay’ a decade later.
The founders of QC constructed a financial vice around Lodge 2076 and then set the squeeze in motion by making the subscription rate too low to cover costs. They then locked themselves in to the printing and distribution of a substantial record each year to all ‘members’ many of whom had not paid, and who then had to be pursued. The falling member numbers for EF, and the weakness of QC finances and its failure to change the culture of EF, are results of ‘the fall’ not the fall itself.
The evidence also shows that over three centuries UGLE has made no attempt to critically examine itself but installed and then maintained a politically partisan and reactionary path wherein conformity was the criterion for truth, and disobedience to authority a breach of faith which brought penalties. The prohibitions on lodge discussion of religion or politics within a profoundly religious and politically-explicit EF culture have rendered attempts at internal reform impossible and stymied any enthusiasm present in other research lodges. Overtly religious Freemasons at GL level have striven for political dominance of ‘their’ particular interpretation while in individual lodges an uncomfortable alliance has prevented attempts to take alternative interpretations seriously and has rendered EF’s declaration of religious tolerance a sham.
Let me be clear. EF can be Anglican, Catholic, Buddhist or Calathumpian, or any combination thereof it chooses. The internal decay has derived from a lack of consistency which, in turn, has been the result of a lack of integrity. After three centuries, with recent audiences better informed and more likely to check for itself, the gap between EF’s claims and its practice has become obvious to the point of caricature. In the 19th century it was still possible to point to expansion and growth in response to questions of credibility. In the 20th and 21st centuries it was and is no longer possible to use numbers as a fig-leaf.
The scattered signs of interest in evidence-based, Masonic research in the years before QC might have convinced an outward-looking and confident UGLE that it could build on work already done and consolidate its claim to the ownership of the idea of ‘Freemasonry’ by scientific methods. The brothers Oliver and Crucefix had wanted EF to notice ‘the manners, habits, propensities and amusements’ of the people with whom it co-existed. They failed to convince what Prescott has called ‘the conservative wing’ of EF but ‘it’ just happened to be in control of UGLE. Prior to Carnarvon’s advent to EF leadership, the Order’s deep and continuous involvement with ‘the Establishment’ was perhaps amenable to re-direction. Perhaps he and his clique realised that EF’s active role in the power structure was being written out by new approaches developing in the military and the bureaucracy. His ‘Masonic Parliament’ idea was a logical extension of what UGLE had been doing, in the same way that a close combination of Britain’s colonies seemed possible and worth attempting around the same time. Neither scheme eventuated, and for the same reasons – the Empire’s expansion had reached its limits and EF was losing its political value as the idea of a professional meritocracy took hold. The rhetoric disguised the reality for a generation or so after Khartoum but without a substantial rethink of the product even the words had to come back to earth.