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Sociology and Freemasonry

In the eyes of sociology a people consists of institutions, cultural agencies, established groups, organized societies, living traditions, mores, etc. These the sociologists study, classify, and describe as a botanist describes and classifies plants, impersonally, impartially, and without moral judgments. In sociology Freemasonry is classified as belonging to the group of cultural agencies, within the sub-classification of fraternities; the sociologist then attempts to discover the "sociologic laws" of fraternities; that is, principles, forms of organizations, and purposes common to them.

Except indirectly, or in passing, sociologists have never made a special study of Freemasonry according to their own categories and canons, but there have been signs lately to indicate that they are about to do so. Secret Societies; a Study of Fraternalism in the United States, by Noel P. Gist, Ph.D., Columbia University; New York; 1940; and "Sociology of Secret Societies" in the American Journal of Sociology; Vol. XI; 1906; p. 441, are together a fairly complete portrait of the Craft as it appears to the eyes of sociologists. Studies of a similar kind, though not technically sociologic, are:

Secret Societies Old and New, by Herbert Vivian; London; 1927 (the author does not possess sufficient knowledge for his task, and on some pages writes in a style that is either crude or sarcastic, it is impossible to say which). Hutton Webster's famous Secret Societies is sociologic but is not concerned with modern fraternities. Three of G. G. Coulton's works are histories, but they contain chapters which are in effect sociologic studies of Medieval Freemasonry: Medieval Panorama. Social Life in Britain; From the Conquest to the Reformation (Cambridge; 1919). Life in the Middle Ages; Macmillan; New York; 1930.

It is probable that only sociology itself will gain much from these researches, because its data long have been familiar to Masonic scholars to whom it is a commonplace that Freemasonry is a fraternity, and nas secrets, and has only fraternal purposes, is a free association, etc. It is however possible that from sociology Masons will gain a somewhat clearer knowledge of the Fraternity's place among other cultural agencies in modern society.

Not long after the beginning of this century sociology came suddenly into a general popularity. Ward, Giddings, Veblen, Ross, etc., were suddenly catapulted into a place among best- sellers alongside popular novelists; even practical politicians began to study these volumes in the hopes of finding a magic key to their own problems; a few adventurers made fortunes out of exploiting the half-conscious fears of the populace, and a cheap and trashy book, called The Rising Tide of Color, foretold a global war between the White race and the Yellow, or even the Black, and this was viewed with huge alarms because it was assumed that the White race was "so vastly superior" to either of the other two that if it "fell" it would take civilization with it! These apocalyptic vaticination had a reincarnation in the "ideologies" of Fascism and Naziism under the label of "racism," though confusion became confounded when the Teutonic champion of the White race discovered to their delighted military surprise that the Japanese are "White Aryans."

This episode of lunacy was a debacle for sociology, from which it has not recovered, and will not until it ceases to consider itself a "science" and becomes in name as well as in fact, what Boas affirmed it to be: a series of non-scientific studies of, and of thought about, the subject of race, and of such subjects as are auxiliary to it. Like psychology, sociology had become maddened by too many theories, has fallen from popular interest, and been dropped out of a large number of colleges; even sociologists themselves, some of them, have lost confidence in their own subject.

In spite of its thus having been temporarily derailed, sociology has established one truth, and there is no possibility of its being questioned again: it has discovered that men are not born as individuals, separate and mutually-repellent atoms, which can be brought into groups only by preaching idealism, or by force, or by "moral suasion," as the orthodox sociologic theory of the Nineteenth Century had said they were. Men are in groups before they are born, because to be so is in their anatomy, their physiology, is the way they are made. A baby already is a member of a family, belongs to a society of blood relatives, is in a community, is a member of a people, is predestined to attend school, and to be a citizen, and to enter free associations-- he cannot evade or avoid these "sociologic" engagements any more than he can avoid eating or sleeping.

Society itself, as sociology employs the term, consists not of separate, atomistic individuals (still less of "rugged" individuals), but to begin with consists of institutions, groups, and associations; they are the units by which it is comprised. It is at this point, and in these terms, that Freemasonry is in the field of sociology, and may be sociologically studied. Its regalia, its charity, its Ritual and symbols, these are of no concern of sociology; on the other hand free associations do belong to sociology, and a Lodge therefore, as a Lodge, belongs to it because it is one of many forms of free associations.

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