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Friday, November 27, 2015

Apocalypse France: La France Maçonnique

La France maçonnique is the first episode in a series of documentaries entitled Apocalypse France.  It's currently only available in French, but will eventually be subtitled for the wider world.

The film takes a dim view of French Masonry, especially the Grand Orient, which is described as a lobby with strong ties to the Socialist Party and a historically strong influence in French politics, from the Revolution to today.  It claims, for example, that Masonic nepotism resulted in a disproportionate number of Masonic generals in the French Army at the beginning of the First World War, chosen regardless of competence, with disastrous results.  The documentary also proposes that Masonry is essentially the religion of the Republic!  There are certainly links in the expressed values of the Republic and the Craft, attested to by its language and symbols.  How this translates into concrete policy actions is another story.

Does the film exaggerate Masonic influence in France?  This is a good question, and I'm not sure the film makes a tight case; the interviewees generally have a negative view of the Craft, and with one or two exceptions, positive views are not well represented.  I think the film has some valid points to make, but it suffers from a lack of historical background, context and examples of if and how specific Masonic initiatives have been implemented as official state policy.  For example, the film mentions that Jules Ferry, a Freemason, succeeded in passing the laws which bear his name in 1881 and 1882; these laws made public education free, non-clerical, and mandatory.  But that's the extent of the reference.  In Argentina, in 1884, education also became free, compulsory, universal and non-clerical.  In both countries these laws harmed relations between the Church and the State, and were actively promoted by their respective Grand Orients.  In Argentina, the "father" of Argentine education is President Domingo Sarmiento; his tomb is considerably strong enough to support a good many large bronze Masonic plaques and emblems.  Some development of the references made in this film, more details, such as the link between Freemasonry and public education, would have made for a better film.  I recognize the one-hour format limits content, but perhaps a more historical narrative and fewer musings by the talking heads could have permitted the inclusion of more fact, as opposed to the opinions of its interviewees.

Still, it's interesting viewing and the questions it raises are worthy of consideration.  It's strange for me to have participated in what is essentially a negative view of Masonry, but I think it's better to be open and acknowledge opposing points of view than pretend these points of view don't exist.  Masons have usually deigned not to answer its critics and in this silence, critics have had free reign to present their case without rebuttal, thus controlling the narrative.  As I said in my last post, there's a lot of BS floating around out there about Masonry; if there are valid criticisms of Masonry to be made, the currency of the BS can only cloud the issue, functioning as a kind of disinformation where there is so much to be disbelieved that even true information is tainted with suspicion.  People are lazy or simply not that interested to sift through and distinguish wheat from chaff; it ends up where a person simply believes whatever scurrilous invention comes down the Pike, or on the contrary scoffs away everything which hints of secret dealings and unseen hands in action.  I had that experience when I wrote about the links between Scouting and Masonry; people are so used to dodging BS that they wrote it off as "conspiracy theory".  Those that had actually read the work and examined the facts presented still seemed reluctant to recommend my writings without the disclaimer that the author didn't seem to be a nut job....

If Masons acknowledge their critics, it will certainly be much more useful than simply letting them go unanswered.  One also has to bear in mind that this is not a documentary about Masonry as a whole, but in France; a lot of Anglo-Saxon Masons will be surprised, shocked even, at the level of political involvement by Masonry in France, something officially forbidden by Masonic bodies in the UK and the US.  The Grand Orient certainly has friends in high places and is clearly operating to influence the political life of the Republic.  How successful it has been is another issue, and I'm not sure the film gives us enough "history" and concrete examples to justify its claim that it has been extremely successful in its efforts.  Which isn't to say that is hasn't.  If you're looking for answers, this film might be a good starting point, but there are no smoking guns or jaw-droppers here.  It will probably be more interesting to someone already familiar with Masonic history and its rivalries; for a newcomer, not enough is done to explain what Masonry is; what different Grand Lodges and Orients currently operate in France; and how these Lodges relate to each other and the other Lodges in the world.  There are some killer shots inside various Lodges as well as extensive historical illustrations (again, without much context), as well as some thoughtful commentary by the interviewees.  French-speaking Masons should definitely check it out.  We'll keep you posted if a sub-titled version is made available.