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Lessing’s Ideal Conservative Freemasonry

3,073 words

Gotthold_Ephraim_Lessing_Kunstsammlung_Uni_Leipzig [1]Translation: French [2], Slovak [3]Spanish [4]

Author’s Note:

The following text is the basis of a lecture delivered in New York City on April 5, 2015 and again at The London Forum on April 11, 2015. As the recording will show, at The London Forum, I rapidly departed from the text and condensed it dramatically to leave time for Q&A. The audio [5] is available on the London Forum’s YouTube channel.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) was a German philosopher, playwright, and essayist. He was also a Freemason. On October 14, 1771 he was initiated into Freemasonry in the Lodge of the Three Golden Roses in Hamburg. Lessing apparently had high hopes for Freemasonry, but he became rapidly disillusioned. In 1776–’77, Lessing wrote Ernst and Falk: Dialogues for Freemasons, which was dedicated to Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, one of Germany’s most illustrious Freemasons.

In the dialogues, I believe that the character of Falk expresses Lessing’s own ideal version of Freemasonry, while the experiences of Ernst represent Lessing’s disappointment with the real thing, namely its snobbishness and occultism. Falk flatly states that no good man should join a Masonic lodge. He does, however, defend a kind of Freemasonry from Ernst’s objections. But what emerges in the process is an unusual form of Freemasonry which is anti-egalitarian, politically conservative—specifically conservative of historical identities and national differences—and based on eternal principles of natural law, which can be known by reason, as opposed to a mystical tradition passed along through initiation. In short, this is not your father’s Freemasonry.

Most Rightists today regard Freemasonry as a subversive institution, opposed to Christianity, monarchy, and nationalism and promoting secularism, republicanism, and globalism. I am, however, increasingly weary of broad-brush reactionary anti-modernism. If I lived in the 18th century, I would have been a Left-wing radical. I think that the separation of Church and state, religious freedom, and political secularism are all good things. I too think absolute monarchy is a bad idea. Monarchy is just fine, though, as long as it is constitutional, i.e., bound by laws and part of a mixed regime [6] which counterbalances it with popular and aristocratic power. I applaud Freemasonry’s contributions to those changes, which I regard as genuine improvements. Progress, if you will.

I also applaud Freemasonry’s contributions to the quest for trans-national institutions that can help mediate conflicts between different states and avoid or abbreviate the scourge of war. However, as a nationalist, I am opposed to globalization [7], meaning a single world government and/or economic system, because of its destructive consequences: the breakdown of borders, the homogenization of cultures, and the mixture of the races.

Thus I was delighted to discover that Lessing’s Ernst and Falk sets forth a conception of Freemasonry that explicitly rejects global government and wishes to conserve the differences between different nations and states, while remaining fully cognizant that we need institutions to prevent these differences from turning into hatred and bloodshed.

This is a conception of Freemasonry that helps to reconcile competing tendencies within the contemporary New Right, which is divided between advocates of “petty” nationalism [8], who envision a Europe of a hundred flags, and advocates of “grandiose” nationalism [9], who dream of a politically unified Europe, from Iceland to Vladivostok.

Ernst and Falk consists of five dialogues. The principal argument is found in the second one. Lessing argues that even if the single best constitution could be invented, this would not imply a single world government. Such a government would be impossible to administer. Thus power would have to devolve upon smaller units. So far, so good: this is textbook conservative political realism, not one-world utopianism.

Lessing goes on to state that the most natural political sovereign units are ethnic groups: Englishmen, Frenchmen, Swedes, Russians, Spaniards, etc. Lessing also recognizes that the differences between nations—which he thinks can in part be explained by climate—would eventually mean differences in constitutions.

Ethnonationalists can applaud this idea as well. We know that the most harmonious and well-functioning society is racially, culturally, religiously, and linguistically homogeneous. We also believe that the best constitution is not a one-size-fits all totalitarian boiler suit, but is rather a unique garment tailored to fit the distinct genius of a people.

But Lessing is also realistic about the problems with ethnonationalism. Ethnicity may unify a state, but it does so at the expense of dividing states from one another, laying the foundations for distrust and discord. We who think that Germans and Italians and Englishmen have too much in common to risk shedding one another’s blood, lament strife among Europeans and think that we need some sort of suprapolitical or transpolitical order to mediate disputes amongst us and coordinate our relations with the other racial and civilizational blocs: Islam, India, Africa, China, etc.

Lessing, furthermore, recognizes that mankind has many different religions, which are not going to disappear any time soon. Religion can unify a people, but again at the expense of dividing them from other religious communities, laying the groundwork for strife.

Finally, Lessing recognizes that within each political community, individuals are divided from one another by differences of power and wealth. Lessing flatly denies human equality. Some men will rule, and others will be ruled. Even if all property were evenly distributed, unequal men will manage their estates differently, and in a couple of generations, there would be extremes of wealth and poverty, which can also cause social strife.

As Falk puts it, “the means for uniting human beings, for assuring their happiness through association, also divide them” (p. 23).[1] A state is united by a common ethnicity, but the ethnicity that unites it also divides it from its neighbors. The religion that unites a group also divides it from followers of other faiths. A social class shared in common also divides us from other classes.

The duty of a good statesman is to protect the interests of his people. The duty of a pious believer is hold to the tenets and observances of his faith. A dutiful father looks after the interests of his family, whether rich or poor. But when destructive conflicts between nations, religions, and social classes arise, harmony can best be preserved or restored by men who are willing to go above and beyond their more particular duties in order to serve the interests of a larger whole.

One can attain peace without rethinking one’s interests simply through conquest or exhaustion. But peace through destruction is costlier than seeking peace through reconciliation, which requires an appeal to more general interests.

Interestingly enough, both Ernst and Falk accept the modern idea that the purpose of the state is to help us achieve our individual ends. They deny the classical idea that there is a common good to which individuals must subordinate their private aims whenever they conflict. Yet only recourse to the idea of a higher good can resolve the conflicts between more particular goods.

Lessing recognizes that within every nation, religion, and social class, there have always been individuals who are not merely dutiful but narrow partisans of their particular groups. Throughout history, these individuals have gone above and beyond their particular duties because they have a sense of obligation to a greater whole.

These individuals, moreover, are not scattered, solitary, and ineffectual. They are united together in a community of their own, a community that transcends national, religious, and social divisions. This community, Lessing’s Falk claims, are Freemasons: “the Freemasons may be these very men who have taken on the job of re-establishing human solidarity, including this in their proper business.”

A concern with human solidarity is above and beyond the proper business, the particular duty, of a man just insofar as he is a Frenchman, a Catholic, and a bourgeois, for example. But it is not above and beyond the duty of a Freemason. Indeed, caring for human solidarity is the duty of a Freemason.

This is the solution to a riddle that Falk poses to Ernst at the end of the first dialogue, namely: “The true deeds of the Freemasons aim at making most of the deeds commonly called good superfluous” (p. 19). Falk also adds that the true deeds of Freemasons are good, indeed superlatively good. The “good deeds” to be made superfluous are equivalent to deeds above and beyond particular duties. They are deeds in service of the common good. Freemasonry makes going above and beyond particular duties unnecessary, by making the common good—human solidarity—the proper duty of the Freemason.

The ultimate goal of Freemasonry, he hints, is a world in which differences of nationality, religion, and class still exist. But the conflicts between them are mediated and harmonized, for the greater good, by a transnational elite. In short, the aim of Freemasonry is not a universal homogeneous state, to borrow Alexandre Kojève’s term for the “end of history,” but a harmonious world in which real diversity flourishes, preserved by real boundaries and distinctions.

Lessing’s conservatism is also evident in his dismissive attitude toward the Freemasons of his time who were avid partisans of the American Revolution. Lessing’s goals were certainly radical and progressive for his time. He opposed absolute monarchy, religious intolerance, and all forms of narrow-minded chauvinism. But he was not a revolutionary, because he had a sense of the limits of human power to change ancient, organic institutions. In the third dialogue, Falk flatly states that mankind cannot be one, and that conflict can never be abolished but only ameliorated:

“Work against” [the unavoidable evils of human difference] may be too strong a word, if it is understood to mean “undo them.” These evils cannot be undone. It would destroy the state. They should not even be made apparent now to those who do not yet perceive them as evils. At most they can be mitigated, by distantly stirring up this perception in people, by allowing it to germinate and send out shoots, by clearing away weeds and thinning out the new plants. Now do you understand why I said that, whether or not Freemasons have always been at work, centuries may pass before one could say “That is what they wrought”? (p. 28)

In the fifth dialogue, Falk says:

The Freemason calmly waits for the sun to rise and leaves the lights on in the meantime, allowing them to shine for as long as they want to and are able. It’s not his way to snuff the candles and when they are extinguished suddenly to realize that the stubs must be relit or other light provided. (p. 40)

The dawn, of course, is the Enlightenment. The candles are the existing institutions. The revolutionary hastily snuffs the candles before the dawn, leaving us stumbling in the dark. The true Freemason has the patience to wait until new institutions emerge. And when they do emerge, there is usually no harm in leaving the old candles lit. For the tourists.

Lessing claims that his thesis is proven by the behavior of the Freemasons of his time, who seek to create a meritocratic community that transcends divisions of nationality, religion, and social class. Lessing claims that Freemasonry is an open conspiracy in terms of its means and goals. But Freemasonry distracts people from its primary project in two ways. First, to distract people from their open, secular agenda, Freemasons promote the idea that they are primarily an esoteric, initiatic religious order. Second, since most people still suspect Freemasons of a secular agenda, Freemasons counter by suggesting they are all about mutual aid and philanthropy, and drinking too much, and wearing funny hats. Lessing insists, however, that the aim of Freemasonry is entirely secular, but also lofty and of utmost seriousness.

The Freemasons’ real deeds are so great and of such long range that centuries may pass before it can be said, “This was their doing.” Yet they have done everything good in the world, note well, in the world. And they continue to work for all the good that is to be in the world, note well, in the world. (p. 19)

This lofty world-historical goal, I suggest, is the creation of a world in which diversity flourishes in harmony, rather than consumes itself in strife.

Freemasonry is an initiatic society, in which a tradition is passed from teacher to student. From the start, however, Falk rejects both initiation and tradition. He does not believe he is a Freemason simply because he has been accepted as a Freemason. Instead, he believes that he is a Freemason because he understands the nature and purposes of Freemasonry. Falk believes that he can know the nature and purpose of Freemasonry without initiation because Freemasonry is “a necessity, grounded in the nature of man and of civil society” (p. 16). If Freemasonry were not grounded in nature, it would be a “superfluity,” a mere convention that could only be acquired from other men. Thus the words, symbols, and rituals of Freemasonry, which are merely conventional, must be external to the true nature of Freemasonry.

This implies that there can be Freemasons in name only: men who have been initiated into Freemasonry but do not understand its true nature and purpose. It also implies that there can be true Freemasons who have never entered a lodge because they have learned their Freemasonry from nature herself. Falk claims the Freemasonry has the same relationship to the Lodge as Christianity to the Church, and it is clear that Falk is a Protestant or even a deist, meaning that he has access to religious truth without the mediation of religious traditions and institutions.

Lessing claims that Freemasonry is as old as human society. This is false if he is talking about historically existing Freemasonry. This makes it clear that Lessing is using “Freemasonry” as a generic term for any form of community that seeks to transcend narrow particularisms of nation, religion, and class. Falk claims that in every society, leading citizens gather together around a table with food and wine to broaden their perspectives, harmonize particular interests, and work for the common good.

Lessing does not offer specific historical examples. How could he, though, if such groups strive for secrecy? He simply deduces the existence of such bodies from their necessity. At the very least, we can say that every society that is equipped to meet the challenges of existence and to flourish must have such bodies. One could interpret the Nocturnal Council in Plato’s Laws as a kind of ideal conservative Freemasonry. But it is merely another theory, not an historical example.

The 20th-century German political theorist Carl Schmitt opposed Freemasonry, but Lessing’s ideal conservative Freemasonry overlaps significantly with Schmitt’s political theory [10]. First, both Schmitt and Lessing recognize that human difference and thus conflict can never be abolished. They can only be ameliorated. Second, both Schmitt and Lessing recognize that the good of a political order requires someone above and beyond that order. For Schmitt, this is the Sovereign, who is empowered to decide when the existing institutions are facing a crisis they are not designed to handle. For Lessing, Freemasons stand above and beyond the existing institutions, resolving conflicts that they cannot handle on their own. This is not the full function of the sovereign, but it is an important one.

Lessing’s ideal conservative Freemasonry also overlaps with a Turkish contribution to political philosophy, the idea of the “deep state [11]” (deren devlet). The Turkish deep state consists of a covert network centered in the military and intelligence services but extending into the judiciary and the business sector, and overlapping both with organized crime and the crypto-Jewish Dönmeh community. The purpose of the deep state is to preserve the secular Kemalist constitution against Islamism, Left-wing radicalism, and Kurdish separatism. During political crises, the deep state, acting through the military, has suspended democratic institutions to preserve the Kemalist state.

Every society ultimately has—or will acquire, under conditions of crisis—a deep state, a group standing above and beyond the official institutions, who are the system’s last line of defense. This is a kind of Freemasonry, although for Lessing, the true Freemason is not just a partisan of his own state but serves broader interests. For Lessing, the highest form of Freemasonry would function as the “deep state” of the entire world. World government may be impossible, but its desirable traits can be embodied by Freemasonry.

Lessing’s ideal conservative Freemasonry probably has little to do with historical Freemasonry. But Lessing was not trying to describe existing Freemasonry, he was trying to reshape it. So let’s set aside historical Freemasonry and simply consider Lessing’s idea.

I believe that whites need something like Lessing’s ideal conservative Freemasonry, not just for conflict resolution, but also to serve as the guardian of the laws and the guiding intelligence of our race. In order to survive, whites desperately need vision and long-term planning. We must reject populist suspicion of transnational elites. We will not survive by thinking small and being dumb. We will only survive by thinking bigger and being smarter than our enemies. The best way to defeat an elite is to be a better elite. We will only defeat the enemy’s transnational elite with our own.

Lessing’s vision of a world in which diverse nations, religions, and classes flourish within real borders, harmonized through the work of a broad-minded, transnational elite who make the welfare of the whole their business just is the vision of the New Right.

If European man is to survive with our differences intact, we need a kind of Freemasonry. Indeed, the New Right already functions that way.[2] And if the world is going to survive with its differences intact—if Europe is going to live at peace with the other global civilizational blocs—the most broadminded among us must meet with the most broadminded among them.

So when do we start? If Lessing is right, whenever broadminded people gather to discuss the welfare of the world, Freemasonry is afoot. So don’t ask “When do we start?,” because we already have.


1. All quotes are from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Ernst and Falk: Dialogues for Freemasons,” a translation with notes by Chaninah Maschler, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 14 (1986): 1–50.

2. Lessing’s claim that Freemasonry is in fact an open conspiracy points to the later views of Johann-Gottfried Herder, who held that the Enlightenment “Republic of Letters,” rather than a secret society, was the true embodiment of a trans-national elite. I explore the limits of the secret society model and the benefits of a non-hierarchical distributed network model in my “Metapolitics and Occult Warfare [12].”