Having an Argentine wife and a large number of both Argentinian and Uruguayan friends, it's only natural that when thinking of the sun as a symbol of regeneration, I thought of the Argentine and Uruguayan flags, both of which feature a jolly sun referred to as the Sol de Mayo, or Sun of May.
|Eye of Providence|
|Declaration of the Rights of Man featuring fasces, Phrygian Cap and the Eye of Providence in a Triangle|
|Coat of Arms of Argentina featuring the Sol de Mayo|
In the early part of the 19th century, Latin America was in a revolutionary tumult against colonial Spain. A variety of short-lived republics popped up and fell apart, eventually settling into the more or less stable national configuration we see today. These revolutionaries were inspired by the successful revolutions of France and the United States, so it is unsurprising their symbols popped up in the new flags and coats of arms. The Phrygian cap, for example, used extensively in US and French revolutionary propaganda, can be seen on the flags or coats of arms of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Argentina, Colombia, Haiti, Cuba, Bolivia and Paraguay.
|Flag of Chile|
|Flag of the State of Bahia|
We have already discussed how the New World had been regarded as the regeneration of the Old as far back as Francis Bacon. In the latter-half of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, several historical transformations came to a head. I have identified three important historical threads.....the rise of capitalism, the beginning of the modern nation state and the development of the scientific method. It seems clear that in business and modern diplomacy, as well as in scientific endeavour, competence needed to take precedence over privilege, and that competence needed to be cultivated. In promoting reason over blind faith, the forward-thinking leaders of the day were in natural conflict with the Church. In promoting capability over entitlement, they ran into conflict with the aristocracy and the nobility. As young men, eager to make their way in society, found themselves blocked, their anger naturally grew. As the desire to progress met resistance, something had to give.
Naturally, some men grouped together to give history a push in the right direction. One must also consider that the leader of the Revolutions were mostly men of means; I am always surprised to see how many Generals in the French Revolutionary Army were minor nobles. Certainly a lot of the rhetoric was self-serving, applying equally to dispossessed masses as well as the minor nobles and bourgeoisie who, without the right name or connections, found their aspirations hampered.
Freemasonry became a tool in this struggle. I think the doctrine of human improvement, if not perfectibility, runs counter to the idea of natural aristocracy: the nobility saw themselves as naturally better then others, chosen by God. The Catholic Church saw all men as born corrupt. Various Protestant sects saw a man's fate as pre-destined. But Masons saw things differently: all men were created equal and can improve. This would later be worded in the American Declaration of Independence
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I see the "pursuit of happiness" to be of special importance here. Happiness isn't guaranteed, only the opportunity to achieve it. I interpret this not in happiness as a mood, but as a state of fully-realized self, whether professionally, spiritually or mentally. It is the guarantee that no social order will inhibit the industrious individual's right to realize their hopes and aspirations. At least in theory. Modern American Freemasons use the motto: "Making Good Men Better."
The following article concerning "the pursuit of happiness" is instructive:
Properly understood, therefore, when John Locke, Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Jefferson wrote of “the pursuit of happiness,” they were invoking the Greek and Roman philosophical tradition in which happiness is bound up with the civic virtues of courage, moderation, and justice. Because they are civic virtues, not just personal attributes, they implicate the social aspect of eudaimonia. The pursuit of happiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of achieving individual pleasure. That is why Alexander Hamilton and other founders referred to "social happiness".
"Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" also form a neat trinity, bringing us back to the triangle. This trinity of inalienable rights can also be seen in the French Revolutionary motto: "Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité".
Still, as I said earlier, one must be careful not to overstate the role that Freemasonry played in Revolutionary movements; we should instead speak of individual Freemasons.
In Freemasonry's Contribution to South American Independence, Leon Zeldis (Freemason) writes:
Paradoxically then, the interests of masonic and non-masonic authors have coincided in trying to exaggerate and enlarge the role played by Freemasonry in the independence of Chile and other South-American countries. Wishful thinking replaced the critical apparatus of the historian, and the indiscriminate use of the word ‘Lodge’, without distinguishing between masonic and non-masonic organizations, has compounded the confusion.
The documentary evidence as well, has often been of a sort that raises serious doubts about its validity. Spanish historians, some of whom are inclined to discover the hidden hand of Freemasonry in any place where Spanish interests have been affected....enthusiastically embraced the theory that the Lautaro lodges (which, for them, were regular masonic Lodges in all respects) were the root and soul of the Latin-American independence movements.
This simplistic view ignores, of course, the other factors operating at the time, such as the growing antagonism between ‘criollos’ and ‘peninsulares’, the weakness of the Spanish crown at the time, the profound influence of the ideas of philosophers such as Rousseau, Saint-Simon, Locke and Hume and the example of the North-American colonies who gained their independence from England.
Did Freemasonry then play no role in the independence of Latin-America? The answer depends, to a large extent, on what we mean by independence. If we refer only to the military actions that led to the final defeat of royalist Spanish armies and their expulsion from the continent, we must admit that the direct influence of Freemasonry was minimal. This does not mean, of course, that we should adopt a radical scepticism on this subject. There is a well-documented participation of individual freemasons in the independence struggles of all American regions, north, centre and south. For some of them, their masonic background and experience was a determining factor in their libertarian efforts. For others, masonic membership was only a minor component of their personal history and view of the world. Since we cannot enter into the hearts of men, we have no way of evaluating the true importance that ‘being a mason’ held for men such as Bolívar.
Complete independence is a long and complicated process, involving many aspects, that may take many decades to come to fruition. In this sense, the contribution of freemasons towards expanding and completing the independence process of which political independence is but the first stage cannot be overstated.
Which seems to be the most sensible view of things; after all, it supports the conclusion I had come to previously! I was also pleased to find this article by (Freemason) Alex Davidson entitle The Masonic Concept of Liberty:
In summary, we can say that Freemasonry was one of the channels, perhaps the main channel, by which the values of the Enlightenment were transmitted from Britain to America, France, the Netherlands....The essentials of the message were liberty, tolerance and sociability, and.....the idea that through reason, all men could find a way of life that is satisfying and fulfilling.
Secondly, we can show from history that Freemasonry was inevitably the bearer of revolutionary Enlightenment ideas where liberty did not exist. We know with reasonable certainty that the French lodges did not practice politics, yet their philosophy could not but cause many of their members to be active participants in the politics of revolutionary liberation movements. Freemasonry may have been officially neutral, but its members were not. And finally, we can remark that we are all, indirectly, the beneficiaries of Freemasonry and the Enlightenment: we now regard their general political values as so normal that we tend to take them for granted. Secularism, constitutionalism and parliamentarism are their heritage, obviating the need for revolutionary action to achieve liberty.
So. I think this concludes what I wanted to get at in this article. A kind of meandering and at times contradictory train wreck of a post that's gone a long way from suns and triangles. I consulted The Gid on where to go with this, and he had some good ideas, but even his sage advice wasn't enough to save us here. Like the battery bunny, I just keep going and going and going. And just because I'm tired of this beast, I'll plant my flag here and cry "¡Ya basta!"
See Also: Masonic Republics
See Also: Masonic Republics