Two Schools of Masonic Thought: Part 2-Individualism


individualism - don't tread on me

This is the second article in a two part series on how Masons believe that Freemasonry should be governed. If you haven’t read the first article, please read it here. There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to how Freemasonry operates: collectivism and individualism. These are obviously the two extremes in the spectrum of Masonic philosophy. All Masons who are active in some aspect of the craft have adopted ideas from at least one of these philosophies and in order to understand modern Freemasonry, it is necessary to discuss these opposing ideals and how they relate to Freemasonry. These articles are the opinions of the author of this column, but they are presented so that Brotherly discussion about this subject may take place.

Masonic individualism is the philosophy by which every Mason pursues his own interests in Masonry. Individualism as a philosophy is defined as “the doctrine or belief that all actions are determined by, or at least take place for, the benefit of the individual, not of society as a whole.”1 Individualism allows for every Mason to have his own goals and directions. It relies on the peculiar strengths of each individual Mason in order to improve each other and through this process, the society becomes stronger.

When a man becomes a Mason, he is professing his belief in the individualist idea of self improvement.

That I might travel in foreign countries, work and receive Master’s wages, being better enable to support myself and family, and contribute to the relief of poor, distressed, worthy Brother Master Masons, their widows and orphans.” (Emphasis added)

The Mason is only asked to serve the fraternity in such a manner that its reputation may be upheld; the degrees regard the Mason only as an individual. This is because only a strong sense of individualism can serve to make a good man better and make the rough ashlar into a perfect ashlar.

The individualist Mason partakes in Masonry as much as his personal finances allow. He decides what the worth of his membership is and will decide for himself whether to sacrifice his other luxuries for his Masonic involvement or discontinue his membership. He does not expect the work of others to be modified for his needs. He refuses to deny the ego of man and is unapologetic about the elite nature of the Masonic fraternity. The individualist does not demand that the efforts of others in the fraternity be diminished in order to make him feel as an equal.

Individualism allows every Brother to pursue Masonic education as he wishes and to be distinguished by his particular studies. This concept realizes that some Masons may be the teacher while others may be the student. It encourages the individual to satisfy his own philosophical needs without regard for the interests of others. It allows the individual to accept or ignore the educational products created by other Masons and encourages educational presentations within the lodge because it accepts the individual nature of such a performance.

The individualist Mason desires to contribute to charity on his own terms and to the cause of his choice, regardless of the feelings of the other Brethren. He will create his own charitable endeavor if he desires to do so. He will accept the contributions of others, but only if it satisfies his intent. The individualist does not require the support of the masses for his charitable cause and will pursue his philanthropy with or without the assistance of others. He partakes in charity not for the good of the people, but to satisfy his own conscience.

Individualism dictates that Masonic leaders should be chosen by their individual merits. It requires that they possess leadership qualities in order to gain any sort of authority. This philosophy requires that Masonic leaders pursue the goals that they feel best as a leader, but it also requires that the leader does not encroach upon the pursuits of other individuals. It requires a working agreement of mutual respect between leaders and the individual Masons, but it demands that neither is forced into a form of servitude.

Masonic individualism requires that the Mason becomes the creator of the fraternity. It does not care where his Masonic pursuits take place or what they are as long as they maintain the reputation of the fraternity. It dictates that Masons should not be concerned with the opposition of those within or without Masonry. Because the individualist pursues his Masonic endeavors for his own pleasure, the disapproval of Anti-Masons is of little concern to him. He wishes to neither pay attention to them nor dispute their claims. He does not require the approval of others to feel that his individual goals are worth his time and dedication.

Masonic individualism creates a stronger fraternity. It enables each man to grow as an individual by pursuing his own interests and utilizing his peculiar talents. This fabric, woven with the strong threads of individuals, becomes a beautiful tapestry which intrigues and attracts men of the finest character. It allows them to find their own Masonic satisfaction and through their personal endeavors, the tapestry becomes stronger and more beautiful. Individualism is the model of Masonic operation which concerns each individual Mason and improves the fraternity through each member’s personal evolution.

Men have been taught that it is a virtue to agree with others. But the creator is the man who disagrees. Men have been taught that it is a virtue to swim with the current. But the creator is the man who goes against the current. Men have been taught that it is a virtue to stand together. But the creator is the man who stands alone.
Howard Roark in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand


Two Schools of Masonic Thought: Part 1-Collectivism

Posted in The Euphrates and tagged , , .


  1. I have to admit that at times I find myself pulled between the two camps, from the collective idea of the greater body to the independent ideas of the individual pursuit. Where between them do we reside most often. Is it possible to go in between the ideas, and is there another way, a hybrid of the two, or something entirely different? And if so, is it then Freemasonry still?


  2. I have to disagree with this contention that the individual comes first in Freemasonry as it can’t possibly be that simple. Freemasonry is built with individuals to create a collective of men who agree on certain principles. It is through our collective efforts that we get things done, not one guy doing everything for himself. We wear the same colored apron as we are put in the ground and we are told that we are social creatures. Perhaps the most important statement is that Freemasonry is a Fraternity, essentially a group of brothers. Just as collectivism can lead to groupthink and malaise, individualism can lead to egoism and jealousy, something we truly do not want in our Fraternity. I think this obsessive focus on the individual has been one of the problems within Freemasonry, the “Bowling Alone” scenario exemplified.

    If we are to use a weaved blanket model, an individualist tapestry would have strands in a million different places tied around themselves or not in the tapestry at all. It would be in a completely weakened state. Tapestries are built with strands that move in straight lines, aligned tightly to maintain strength and stability just we as maintain our strength and bonds by agreeing on certain tenets even while different colors appear, i.e. TO Lodges, EC Lodges, etc. The nature of Freemasonry and the brothers within it, do not change.

    I most assuredly think that Ayn Rand is the last person we want to ask about how to be a Freemason, “The moral cannibalism of all hedonist and altruist doctrines lies in the premise that the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another.” Anyone who disagrees with altruism disagrees with some of our most important tenets, at its simplest, the care of our widows and orphans. That and she pretty much plagiarized every Nietzsche work in print.

  3. Could you provide some examples of the “obsessive focus on the individual” that is ruining our fraternity? I propose that it is the lack of strong individuals and the suppression of those few that do belong to the fraternity that has led to our decline. Much as Howard Roark was ridiculed for designing buildings that looked like nothing that had ever been constructed, we suppress those in our fraternity that wish to build something stronger and more up to date.

    Karl Marx advocated altruism. Altruism requires the man to be selfless and give to another entity regardless of the burden it puts on the individual. Masonic ritual dictates that we should contribute to the relief of poor, distressed, worthy Brother Master Masons, their widows, and orphans. The word ‘worthy’ implies that they deserve our love. The individual will contribute to the deserving destitute on his own terms, not just because he is a Brother. Masonic ritual also states that we should not contribute so much to another’s relief so that we injure ourselves. That is not altruism, that is selfishness, that is individualism.

    I must ask you: should man bow before God as a collective group in servitude or should he look at the Divine so that God may see his own reflection?

  4. Interesting question: is G-d an individualist or a collectivist. Strong individualism breeds greed, contempt for others and jealousy just as strong collectivism breeds mediocrity and infighting. This isn’t to say that individualism must be ignored. There must be a balance between the two concepts. This is why I said it was too simple of an explanation.

    Think of a Mason as the middle of two circles, a Venn diagram. He is an individual seeker but he should also be seeking the fraternal aspects of the Lodge, getting together with brothers as he is a social creature. A man can walk into a room of strangers and still be a member of that group, people in Room A. Does he care for their welfare?, maybe. Does he communicate with the others in the room?, maybe. When he joins Masonry, he joins the Fraternity understanding that there is an expectation of service and communication with the caveat of individual situation. It is the concept of group and the individual together. If the individual was the only concern, a brother would not need the Lodge but could initiate himself, but he cannot, he needs is brothers to get him there. This is why there must be balance.

    Ayn Rand is just plain wrong that to promote another’s welfare is moral cannibalism nor was Marx correct that it requires a complete sacrifice of one’s self. Both concepts are against our evolutionary desire for survival, of self and species. What it requires is that we promote other’s welfare as we would hope to be looked after. This strand runs through religious, social and animal behavioral theory. To remove altruism is to remove humanity from itself.

  5. I think the symbolism within Masonry can guide us quite clearly here. Many symbols in Masonry speak to duality. Through discipline, the mason exists balanced in the centre of all those forces, striving to avoid excess to one side or the other. I think a duality exists between our collective self and our individualist self, and that both are vital parts of a healthy Order. We ignore one or the other at our peril. We must balance our need for individualistic personal growth with our desire to come together in work and in fellowship.

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