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Free Association

For certain necessary and inescapable purposes men now and then, and of their own free will, form themselves into associations (fraternities, clubs, sodalities, societies), designed for a stated purpose, self-governed, and excluding control by persons not in its membership. Men cannot work, or have culture or civilization, or protect themselves as a people, or wage war when war becomes a duty, or have schools, or sciences, or arts, or any freedom of thought or speech or publication, or any means of information, if they cannot form free associations; to do 60 belongs so essentially to the nature of man and to the world that even such terms as rights and privileges are not sufficiently strong to describe the sheer, absolute need for free associations; which are to be classed with food, clothing, shelter in the order of needs. To strike at free associations is to strike at man himself; to make them impossible is to make it impossible for him to live.

When tyrannies or despotisms arise, when some man or group or class, sets out to subjugate men, to render them impotent, to turn them into helots, serfs, or slaves, it is against the right of free association that they invariably aim their first blow, and it matters not whether the tyranny be in politics, work, war, religion, or society. The struggle of the rank and file of ordinary men to resist, to overthrow those groups or classes or churches or other organizations which have countless times attempted to subjugate them is one of the two or three keys to world history; the many struggles taken together, and considered as one, is what Heinie meant by "the warfare for humanity." World War I, waged against the ruling class in Germany which was out "to conquer and rule" other peoples, and World War II against an international group which called itself variously Fascists, Nazis, Falangists, etc., who undertook to divide the whole of Europe between a small "master class" and populations of slaves, were only the two most recent of the battles in that warfare. It was profoundly significant that when the Vichy government ordered free associations destroyed and appealed to organized workmen of each and every type to join a "totalitarian" government, the French Underground issued in May, 1941, a manifesto in which it declared that no body of citizens would co-operate with the regime until it acknowledged the principle "of freedom of association."

In the famous chapters on the Roman Collegia in his History of Freemasonry (Vol. II) Bro. Albert G. Mackey properly describes the collegia as genuine forms of free association, but when he comes to the suspension or repression of them by the late emperors was too willing to take the emperors' word for it that a number of the collegia were illicita, or unlawful. Much has been learned by archeologists since l)r. Mackey wrote those pages, enough to make it clear that the collegia illicita were not (except for a few) engaged in conspiracies, etc., but only fought for enough wages to live on, and for their rights before the law, etc. The Imperial gangsters at Rome gave the emperors' crown to a succession of cut-throats of the same type, Mussolini and Hitler who made use of the collegia (associations of workmen) as a means of robbing workmen of almost everything they earned.

After Charlemagne in 800 set up the new and continental, so-called Holy Roman Empire it took up where the old Empire had left off; as soon as Charlemagne himself died his successors began the old war against free associations; and scholae, covines, sodalities, assemblies, etc., were forbidden. (The Mason gilds escaped the worst restrictions because of the nature of their work, especially the Freemasons who worked in Gothic, because they either had to have a large measure of liberty or they could neither move about when needed nor practice their art. They may not have called themselves Free Masons for that reason, but they were always conscious of being freer than other Craftsmen and made much of the fact. Their use or not of the name is not important.) The Roman Catholic Church issued its first Bull of Excommunication against Freemasonry in 1738, in an absurdly worded and ambiguous document signed by Clement XII, then in his dotage. But the Vatican had always been opposed to the Fraternity, and had been so because it was a free association, a society the priests could not control; it was then, as now, opposed to free association on principle.

This opposition was announced in no uncertain terms as early as 1326 when the Council of Avignon issued a statute of excommunication "Concerning the Societies, Unions and Confederacies called Confraternities, which are to be utterly extirpated or wiped out." The Freemasons were included under this ban, and the same ban was readapted and reinforced in the 1860's, and again by the Arch Anti-Mason, Pope Leo XIII, in the 1880's. According to the Council of Avignon nobody was to meet "under the name of a fraternity," nor wear "a similar dress with certain curious signs or marks," etc.

England in that same period was in reality a trifle more free than France, a little more humane, but was not so in theory. In 1305 Henry IV forbade workmen if to hold combinations (assemblies, general organizations) outside gild limits; Masons living in the same town could meet, but they could not meet with Masons from other towns. In 1361 Edward III declared "null and void all alliances and covines of Masons and carpenters." In 1425 Henry VI forbade Masons to hold any longer "yearly congregations and confederacies made in their general chapiters (sic) assembled."

In his History Gould argues against the supposition that Masons ever held assemblies, but it may be supposed that Henry VI, living at the time, must have been better informed. In 1467 the Crown issued an edict that the tilers (a branch of men in the building trade; roofers) of Worcester were to "sett no parliament among them."

AUTHOR'S NOTE- As early as 1917 the writer took the world that Freemasonry belongs under that general head of social organization which for some 1200 years has been called "free associations" and he has ever since held that this fact is the corner-stone of Masonic sociology, and that it is the starting-point for any history of the Fraternity. In Freemasonry and Roman Catholicism, written in 1943 and published in 1944, intended to be a fair, non- controversial essay on a difficult theme, he took the same ground, and stated that because the Roman papal system has always been a totalitarian dictatorship it would be compelled by the logic of its own organization to seek to destroy free associations, and that this would have to include Freemasonry.

Between those two dates he had opportunity to study Professor Gierke's work on Medieval law along with Professor Maitland's notes and commentaries on it, and in addition a number of other works in the same field of Medieval law and custom which belong to the Gierke constellation including one history of Medieval agricultural law. Professor Gierke had no thesis to prove, nor was he a crusader for any cause, his sole purpose was to bring under review the forms of Medieval Law in one century and country after another. He found that Medieval law was essentially corporative law, and that where modern law is aimed at the individual man Medieval law was aimed at an incorporated body of men hence the importance of charters, warrants, articles of incorporation in the Medieval period. Among the species of corporative bodies were the free associations.

Since writing the brief article to which this note is a pendant, the writer has belatedly secured once again after having been without it for years a copy of the 1908 edition of The Gilds and Companies of London, by George Unwin; Methuen & Co.; London. It is apropos in the present connection because on page 11 Mr. Unwin unequivocally states that in free associations is the principle of progress which most distinguishes western civilization and under the head of free associations he brings the craft and trade gilds, including the gilds, fraternities and societies of Masons. "The greatest body of essential truth yet attained in this field is to be found in the great work of Professor Gierke, of Berlin, on the development of free association, with the ideas of which Professor Maitland has done so much to make us familiar . . . free fellowship has been the most vitally essential element in social and political progress since the fall of the Roman Empire." This fact explains many things: it explains why the Roman Church has since 1738 conducted an active crusade, at an expense of millions of dollars and the work of thousands of its employees and partisans, to destroy Freemasonry; why Mussolini and Hitler both sought to destroy Freemasonry and for the same reason as the Popes namely, that it is the witness to, and bearer of the principle of free association; nearer home, it explains why our own Masonic historians, such of them as have failed w to begin with the fact that Freemasonry is in essence a free association, have been led off into so many bogs or morasses of confusion; and why the earliest Lodges set so much store on their first charters or warrants. H.L.H.

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