Freemasonry and Empire 153


Five years ago I knew almost nothing about Freemasonry except that it is believed to be often a vehicle for corrupt fixes between businesses and the various arms of government, which I suspect is very probably true.  But what Freemasons did, or believed in, I had really very little idea.  Writing my book on Alexander Burnes required me to learn a great deal, because the Burnes family were not just very active Freemasons but had a profound international influence on the organization.

My conclusion about Freemasonry is that it became widely established as part of the spirit of rational enquiry that informed the eighteenth century enlightenment.  It had the same motivation as Unitarianism, which thrived around the same time  – it was striving towards a form of Deism that allowed people to move towards a belief in God while abandoning the obvious irrational mumbo-jumbo of Christian miracles and the divinity of Christ.  There are obvious parallels with the French revolutionary cult of the Supreme Being.  It was therefore very friendly to other monotheistic religions and looked to provide a kind of lowest common denominator religious synthesis.  The whole project was then dressed up in a great deal of “secret” ritual borrowed from crafts guilds.  That Freemasonry was so successful in aristocratic and educated circles was simple because it was they who also propelled the Enlightenment.

As time went on, for most members it became just a club to make good business contacts – the commitment of “brothers” to help each other in a secret society including a lot of the wealthy was originally well-intended but obviously bound to become a conduit of corruption. Most members would probably, from about 1820 on, have been very surprised by my analysis of its intellectual and religious origins.  They probably still would be today.  It’s just a club for most.

But what I was surprised to find, and of this I am certain, is that Freemasonry’s insistence that all members were equal, of whatever colour and creed, played a very important role as a counterweight to the increasing nineteenth century British Empire philosophy of racial superiority and religious and cultural arrogance.  Freemasonry actively helped turn the tide among the governing classes and directly impacted the increasing anti-colonial beliefs of the British governing classes from the 1920’s on.  A very high proportion indeed of British colonial administrators and officers were Freemasons.

We have a caricature view of Rudyard Kipling now; he was by no means the apostle of Imperialism he has somehow become in popular belief.  I know his soldier’s dialect writing is annoying.  I find it helps to speak it out loud.  But although it is sentimental, his poem The Mother Lodge does contain the germ of a very real truth about the impact of Freemasonry on the British view of race in India.  We’d say ’twas ‘ighly curious, An’ we’d all ride ‘ome to bed,
With Mo’ammed, God, an’ Shiva, Changin’ pickets in our ‘ead.  The same was true in Egypt, at least.  Remember many lodges operated on a far higher social level than the one described in this poem, and those too were mixed.

I appreciate this posting is going to annoy pretty well everyone.  Oh well.  No, I am not a Mason.

Humour me and read it out loud:

The Mother Lodge

There was Rundle, Station Master,
An’ Beazeley of the Rail,
An’ ‘Ackman, Commissariat,
An’ Donkin’ o’ the Jail;
An’ Blake, Conductor-Sargent,
Our Master twice was ‘e,
With ‘im that kept the Europe-shop,
Old Framjee Eduljee.

Outside — “Sergeant!  Sir!  Salute!  Salaam!”
Inside — “Brother”, an’ it doesn’t do no ‘arm.
We met upon the Level an’ we parted on the Square,
An’ I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!

We’d Bola Nath, Accountant,
An’ Saul the Aden Jew,
An’ Din Mohammed, draughtsman
Of the Survey Office too;
There was Babu Chuckerbutty,
An’ Amir Singh the Sikh,
An’ Castro from the fittin’-sheds,
The Roman Catholick!

We ‘adn’t good regalia,
An’ our Lodge was old an’ bare,
But we knew the Ancient Landmarks,
An’ we kep’ ’em to a hair;
An’ lookin’ on it backwards
It often strikes me thus,
There ain’t such things as infidels,
Excep’, per’aps, it’s us.

For monthly, after Labour,
We’d all sit down and smoke
(We dursn’t give no banquits,
Lest a Brother’s caste were broke),
An’ man on man got talkin’
Religion an’ the rest,
An’ every man comparin’
Of the God ‘e knew the best.

So man on man got talkin’,
An’ not a Brother stirred
Till mornin’ waked the parrots
An’ that dam’ brain-fever-bird;
We’d say ’twas ‘ighly curious,
An’ we’d all ride ‘ome to bed,
With Mo’ammed, God, an’ Shiva
Changin’ pickets in our ‘ead.

Full oft on Guv’ment service
This rovin’ foot ‘ath pressed,
An’ bore fraternal greetin’s
To the Lodges east an’ west,
Accordin’ as commanded
From Kohat to Singapore,
But I wish that I might see them
In my Mother-Lodge once more!

I wish that I might see them,
My Brethren black an’ brown,
With the trichies smellin’ pleasant
An’ the hog-darn passin’ down;
An’ the old khansamah snorin’
On the bottle-khana floor,
Like a Master in good standing
With my Mother-Lodge once more!

Outside — “Sergeant!  Sir!  Salute!  Salaam!”
Inside — “Brother”, an’ it doesn’t do no ‘arm.
We met upon the Level an’ we parted on the Square,
An’ I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!

I might add in clarity that I honour the various  peoples who struggled against the Empire, and who still struggle against Empires today.  I by no means denigrate their achievement.  But there is no doubt at all that the demise of most of the British Empire (sadly it hasn’t all gone yet) was hastened by the fact that the majority of the British governing classes had come themselves to believe the colonies should be free, certainly by 1945 and arguably sooner.

Unfortunately since about 1975 public opinion has been moulded into a rigid neo-conservative mindset, and neo-imperialism increasingly looks like the old variety.  If you didn’t live through it, it must be hard now to believe that the British “elite” once held quite left wing opinions, and of course some ideologically motivated would wish to deny it as not fitting their model of society.  But it was so,

 


153 thoughts on “Freemasonry and Empire

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  • Ben-LA PACQUTE LO ES TODO

    “I think probably most people are like that, but they just don’t show it so much.”

    That’s the key to reducing bigotry, Clark. Having some commerce with ‘others’ gives a human face to what otherwise would be crass generalizations. You smoke weed? 🙂

  • John Goss

    Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) ! 30 Apr, 2014 – 8:58 pm

    “You really are a very strange person indeed.”

    In some ways I don’t fit the standard mould.

    “I do not post anything on this thread – for which there could be several explanations.”

    I agree. I’ve been out myself tonight. Is there another explanation from you?

    “You – the self-proclaimed user of “Habbabreak” – are so worried by my absence that you post a comment which you now confirm was a roundabout way of asking me whether I’m a Freemason or not.”

    I wasn’t worried. If you went away forever I would not be overly-concerned. I do not wish you ill of course. I don’t know you. I may even forget about your Avatar(s) and pseudonym(s) in time. You do not know whether I use Habbabreak or whether I just ignore you. in truth my observation had more to do with how inexplicably peaceful everything had suddenly become – like old times.

    Now it was a Wednesday night, the night the lodge meets, when I decided to ignore your comments after you tacitly supported torture in Guantanamo Bay. You need to look this up yourself because I got sick of asking you and made a decision before I went out if you had refused to answer when I got back, a well-known Habba trait, I would cease dealing with you.

    Also, without having Habbabreak off I would not have known about your desire to see me with a Russian gun up my arse shitting myself. So you see Habba (whoever you are) my concern is more to do with getting answers to questions. Because while I admit in some ways I am strange, there is not a contributor to this blog, in my opinion, stranger than you.

    As Ben said “Why is H. so insistent on answers to queries when he supplies none to questions asked of him?”

    Are you a Freemason?

  • Ben-LA PACQUTE LO ES TODO

    I’ve noticed Squonk is shut-down for some time now. Hab has reached the limit of his tolerance for ridicule.

    “IMPERIOUS REX”

  • AlcAnon/Squonk

    Ben,

    A config file for the web server got set back to default when I was doing something else on squonk (translation: probable finger trouble on my part).

    All back to normal now. The downtime was 1 hour 22 minutes I believe.

  • Ben-LA PACQUTE LO ES TODO

    Dang it. I was hoping Hab was a cartoon character we might recognize and relate to, AA As it is we’re back to where we started

    Is Hab a Mason?

  • fred

    “Fred, Jives will probably think you’re joking.”

    He’d be right.

    So was he.

  • craig Post author

    “I can’t understand why Craig reads the commentary of the colonial elite upon themselves.” Guano, good and fair point – the problem is not listening to what the colonial elite say about themselves, (you should always listen to what people say about themselves) the problem is if you fail to compare it to other information. Rather confusingly it has become known in the historiography of colonial studies as recovering the subaltern voice. Which is annoying as subaltern in common parlance means a junior military officer, whereas in this sense it means something like the voice of the subjugated.

    It depends on what history you are writing. If you are writing the history of India, then the lives of the British who lived there would not figure much, though some of their impact, particularly the English language is very significamt. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, had they not been there, you would not now be here. Which would be a bad thing!

    The Guano and Phil school is that the only history worth writing is that of the great mass of the working class. You know, those people who vote UKIP, drink lager and idolize Simon Cowell. Apparently they are much more interesting (Yawn).

  • Mary

    @ Phil http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2014/04/freemasonry-and-empire/#comment-455105

    Sharper than the proverbial serpent’s tongue, except it belongs to a male of the species.
    Earlier yesterday, the same commenter was like the house guest who is invited in, given hospitality and repays it with a blast of venom at the host.

    And if I wanted the school sneak to copy and paste my comment from another blog, I would have asked. Pathetic as per usual and definitely not here for the benefit of the blog for sure.

  • John Goss

    I heard an interesting story about last night’s Masonic lodge meeting in Kings Heath, so thought I would share it since it’s topical. Apparently Masons have been using a Sports Club near to the lodge because there is only bottled beer available at the Masonic Lodge premises. The Sports Club is a private members’ club a bit like the lodge, and Masons, who have been using the Sports Club on a regular basis, were challenged to show they were members of the Sports Club. When it was revealed they were not members they were asked to leave. A handful of them ended up in a Kings Heath pub in their black suits.

    I think gatecrashing a private club is every bit as bad as climbing over the wall into the grounds of Vernon Sangster’s Douglas home, or hiding behind the curtains of the lodge at the Marine Hotel, Aberystwyth. Some people have no shame!

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    “And if I wanted the school sneak to copy and paste my comment from another blog, I would have asked. Pathetic as per usual and definitely not here for the benefit of the blog for sure.”
    ______________________

    Could the above be from the same Mary who has from time to time complained about people talking about her “behind her back” on this blog?

    Why, I do believe it could! 🙂

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    “…the same commenter was like the house guest who is invited in, given hospitality and repays it with a blast of venom at the host.”
    __________________

    As far as I’m aware, the host of this blog is called Craig Murray and not Mary.

    For the above venting to make sense, therefore, I would have had to unleash a blast of venom towards Craig .

    Could Mary or one of her surrogates please direct me towards said blast of venom?

    ********************

    La vita è bella, life is good!

  • Phil

    Craig 1 May, 2014 – 9:44 am

    “The [Guano and] Phil school is that the only history worth writing is that of the great mass of the working class.”

    I have never said any such thing. Another straw man from you Craig.

    All these strawmen suggest you are simply too arrogant to acknowledge your claim that left wing British elites were responsible for the demise of the British empire is nonsense.

    “You know, those people who vote UKIP, drink lager and idolize Simon Cowell. Apparently they are much more interesting (Yawn).”

    You reveal your snobbery and insecurities with this poor attempt at humour and/or baiting.

  • craig Post author

    Phil

    Left wing British elites made the demise of Empire quicker and less painful. They were a factor in its ending. That is undeniably true. Of course they were not the sole cause. Complex events never had a sole cause.

  • Phil

    Craig 1 May, 2014 – 11:33 am
    “Phil, Left wing British elites made the demise of Empire quicker and less painful.”

    Go on, name them.

    Name people in the establishment who were left wing relative to the masses of the left wing outside of the establishment, as empire declined. They simply do not exist. The establishment was always to the right of the left wing masses.

  • Clark

    Phil, have you read spycatcher, or Carroll Quigley’s The Anglo-American Establishment? There have been socialist aspects to the personalities of many “elite” people. More in a while…

  • Phil

    Clark 1 May, 2014 – 12:36 pm
    “Phil, have you read Spycatcher, or Carroll Quigley’s The Anglo-American Establishment? There have been socialist aspects to the personalities of many “elite” people.”

    Clark, as I said previously, I do not accept a few lefties in the second half of the 20th century constitute the British establishment during the decline of Empire.

  • Clark

    Phil, being “of the left” or “of the right” is a complex matter; we simplify it with those two terms. But what do such terms really refer to? “Leftness” and “rightness” are each made up from multiple factors, such as the extent to which we think people should be treated equally, or treated as equals (which doesn’t seem quite the same to me), or the circumstances in which a person thinks that a certain industry should be nationalised, or the extent to which wealth should be redistributed, etc. etc..

    Then there’s innate personality versus upbringing. Someone may be innately altruistic, but have been conditioned to hold right-ish beliefs. Or they may be highly competitive, but a Christian upbringing has conditioned them to be generous.

    All this makes it too complex to simply place a person somewhere on a left-right continuum.

    My own view is that there are multiple human motivations which are innate (“instinctive” may not be quite the right word). Motivations such as altruism, competitiveness, generosity, xenophobia and xenophilia (everyone has both; they are not mutually exclusive), favouritism of one’s own family, belief in freedom of individuals, tendency to submit or dominate, etc.. Everyone has all of these in varying degrees, which is just normal variation within the human species.

    These motivations, together with our upbringing and our environment, give rise to our opinions, some of which we express. But those opinions can never be fully consistent with each other, because the motivations were never a system of logic, but instead adaptations to help survival in diverse situations within our wildly varying world. in the human as an organism, the motivations switch on or off in response to circumstances, whereas opinions are supposed to be consistent.

    When we are adult we become involved in “politics”; either directly within the political system, or as voters, or merely by discussing current affairs with other people. It is only at this stage that we classify ourselves, and are classified by others, as being of the left or of the right; a gross oversimplification of the underlying opinions, themselves a set complex syntheses and compromises between the innate motivations.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Phil

    “Name people in the establishment who were left wing relative to the masses of the left wing outside of the establishment, as empire declined. They simply do not exist. The establishment was always to the right of the left wing masses.”
    ___________________

    I’d advise investing in a second-hand copy of Noel Annan’s “Our Age”.

  • Jr Q

    “The relationship in West Scotland between freemasons and Orange lodges seems to be a unique bit of unpleasantness”

    Yes, I was referring to that but, as you say, it may be more anecdotal than real. However I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t a fair overlap of membership in places like Ayrshire for example.

    In reference to your other post, I must say I only ever remember “tigger” rather than “nigger” from that rhyme in Scotland in the early 1970’s.

    More interestingly, I remember once reading that “Eeny, meeny, Miny, Moe” are the numbers 1,2,3,4 in some proto-celtic language that has been passed down as folklore. Ring a bell, anyone ?

  • Phil

    Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) ! 1 May, 2014 – 3:23 pm
    “I’d advise investing in a second-hand copy of Noel Annan’s “Our Age”.”

    I guess by the stupidity of your claim you were betting on me not reading your comment. Unfortunately I did. Sorry, my mistake.

    The most informative page I could quickly find about this obscure book was a NYBooks review which listed these people as subjects of the book: F.R. Leavis, Isaiah Berlin, John Osborne, Edward Heath, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Tynan, Rab Butler, Enoch Powell, Cyril Connolly, and Margaret Thatcher.

    To claim these people prove a left wing British establishment causing the decline of empire is idiotic. Almost as pathetic as Craig mentioning the Cambridge spies and Tony Benn.

    You pompous establishment twits want to claim everything for the establishment.

  • Phil

    Clark

    Sorry I do not know how to respond to your comment. I do not see how motivations are relevant and I think all involved understand what we mean by left wing in the context of this argument.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    Phil

    “Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) ! 1 May, 2014 – 3:23 pm
    “I’d advise investing in a second-hand copy of Noel Annan’s “Our Age”.”

    I guess by the stupidity of your claim you were betting on me not reading your comment. Unfortunately I did. Sorry, my mistake.

    The most informative page I could quickly find about this obscure book was a NYBooks review which listed these people as subjects of the book: F.R. Leavis, Isaiah Berlin, John Osborne, Edward Heath, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Tynan, Rab Butler, Enoch Powell, Cyril Connolly, and Margaret Thatcher.”
    ______________________

    Calm down, dear. Your post demonstrates the pitfalls of relying on reviews of books rather than reading said books (especially if – as I suspect – you could not read the whole review because it is behind a paywall).

    If you ever do read it, you find it mentions many more people – in many more fields- than the small dozen you mention.

    Allow me to quote just a little from the inside cover:

    “Our Age tells the story of the intellectuals formed by Cambridge, Oxford and the London School of Economics between 1920 and 1949, the people who in turn shaped the literature, science and politics of their age – and to some extent ours…..
    ..Our Age examines examines the movements that influenced this generation – pacifism, collectivism and modernism…..And he shows why, in the age of appeasement and Munich, some became Marxists, and a handful of them Soviet spies, while others became Roman Catholics”

    So I think my recommendation can stand.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    No need to apologise, Phil, but do control yourself better and above all, stop posting uninformed piss.

  • guano

    Craig, such class distinctions are irrelevant. The rich and poor vote for UKIP equally. The thinking arm of the affluent ignorant of the previous colonial era are the ‘Orientalists’. They study every minute detail of Islam without coming into Islam.

    Their most ouitspoken oppenents are Political Islam in its deobandi form, total rejection of the English per se in perpetuity. Thes are the ones now fully engaged with destroying Syria and getting into top gear in the UK economy. Fighting for Islam by deception, breaking the rules of Islam in order to gain political power for Islam.

    Craig, it’s a good idea to listen to what people say about themselves. But in the case of the oppressed underdogs of Indian colonial rule, we find that they are actually steeped in the dreams of Empire and the ways of colonial deception.

    The only enemies the Muslims have is from their own ranks from the hands of the selfish ambition of a few, who use the trump card slogan of being oppressed when they are ruthlessly pursuing, now , same as before, their own narrow selfish political minarets of personal prestige.

    The scholars of India have never lifted a finger to reach out in humility to their enemies in the way of the prophet,peace be upon him, but always engaged in a political tareeq/path, which dreams of the restoration of Moghul empire and racial domination.

    So Craig is correct in my opinion in folowing his hunch that not the whole blame for the problem of colonialism or neo-colonialism lies on the shoulders of the Western non-Muslim side. Allahu Akbar, it is an English political blog that preserves the freedom of speech, which is the prerogative of Islam.

    Islam exists in the remnants of the body of English culture that studied the good book , the sister to the Qur’an, the Bible, more than in the body of Asian culture that ignored the teachings of the Qur’an.

    I deeply resent Asians coming here and introducing corruption in business, in the electoral system and in the mosque, by raking up hatred against the English, when they were equally responsible for the catastrophe of colonialism themselves by not tackling the invaders in a proper way.

    You only have to look at Syria to see how Muslims try to shift the blame onto the West for their own crimes. if the Muslims got their act together and adopted the teachings of the Qur’an, the West would be history, as ancient Rome is now.

    And inshallah that process has been started by the responsible scholars who urge the Muslims to follow the Qur’an and leave politics to the self-important self-seeking self-appointed murderers of the innocent in false jihad, to perpetuate the power of the enemies of Islam by wrecking the Muslim world, for their own pride.

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