I spent some time talking with the author of Managing the Future of Freemasonry: The Book of Optimism, Dr. David West, about his work, the past and future of Freemasonry and what is at stake in moving into 21st-century fraternalism. Some of his ideas may surprise you, but when you consider what he says I think you may find some resonance in his ideas in addressing what’s at stake as we move into the new millennium.
Greg Stewart (GS) – Let’s start with who is Dr David West BA PhD
David West (DW) – I gained my first degree in Philosophy from the University of Exeter and my Doctorate of and in Philosophy from the University of Leicester. I taught university in England and Canada for several years, publishing in the academic press. My later business career included Ford and Xerox (President’s Award for exceptional service.) I served on several quasi-governmental committees on the future of work, was the special adviser to a Cabinet Minister (a bit like an Under-Secretary of State) and later founded The Working Manager Ltd, creating the core content of its web-based management education process. My books include:
- Employee Engagement and the failure of leadership
- The Goat, The Devil and The Freemason (a history and philosophy of ideas)
- Things to do when you have nothing to do (how to find those candidates who have been looking for you all this time)
- Masonic Recruitment (a short account of the St Laurence success)
- Deism at the time of the founders of the Premier Grand Lodge and my latest
- Managing the Future of Freemasonry
My mother lodge is St Laurence No. 5511, a fast growing lodge which grows by 12% each year and is the subject of two of my books. I am a member of two other Craft lodges and three RA chapters under the English Constitution and am in the process of joining the Mark and the Royal & Select to trace Neville Barker Cryer’s footsteps in The Royal Arch Journey. I served as Grand Registrar of the Masonic Province of Essex and am now Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden.
I lecture on such Masonic topics as The cowboy, the devil and the Masonic hoax, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, The King and Raquel Welch, Never be short of candidates again, The law of paradoxical intent and King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. I write for The Square magazine.
I have been married to Jenny, a retired Consultant Clinical Psychologist, for forty-eight years and we have two children, one a lawyer on the side of the angels and the other a professional musician. We live in London, England.
GS – Tell us what’s behind your book, Managing the Future of Freemasonry: The Book of Optimism.
This book is based on the view that the golden years of Freemasonry have passed with the departure of a world never likely to return. We cannot pretend that our membership problem will simply go away. If we are to rescue our order, we must take an objective look at ourselves and understand the society we now face. Our challenge will be to renew our ideals and bring them to the attention of a new audience, one that we as yet know little about. This will require hard work, open-mindedness, creativity and above all leadership. The optimism that runs through this book depends upon our ability to change, knowing that holding on to the past will be the last thing our order does.
I compare our current situation with the years following 1800, a period in which 42% of English lodges were lost. In the earlier 18th century, the ideals of Freemasonry were in keeping with those of our craftsmen and tradesmen brethren. Those ideals were lost during the first part of the industrial revolution and Freemasonry almost died in massive social and economic changes during which the majority of these crafts and trades disappeared. There was no leadership during this vital time for our order and our survival was almost entirely accidental as, eventually, Freemasonry found a new source of membership in the growth of the middle class.
Odd as it may seem, given that the period saw two world wars, little changed in the social and moral life from 1850 to 1950, and the middle class sustained Freemasonry for a hundred years. We assumed that this would go on forever but, during the 1950s, a quite sudden change occurred, one which began the end of the middle class — and which despite promptings, our leadership currently seems content to ignore. Unless we recognize these changes, we will be unable to recognize the opportunities open to us.
This is a book of optimism. I believe that we can achieve a resurgence. More than this, I believe that we can become more relevant to and more important in society than ever before. I examine the absence of common ethical principles in today’s society and argue that this absence makes the moral life near to impossible. I argue that Freemasonry is a moral order, one in which the moral life can be sustained in the face of this new dark age. This is our purpose, our function in society. It is what we are here for. I argue that making the choice to become a Freemason provides a meaning to life, something that many men are looking for and that, in providing this meaning, we shall save ourselves.
There are many implications of this, one of these is that we must cease to listen to the siren voice of [public relations], and make a positive statement of what we are and what we offer. It is clear that the false gods of PR are seeking to change the excellences of our order, and they must be resisted. I describe the form of leadership we require, one that makes the three grand principles the basis of all we do. These principles also turn out to be the principles of effective management. I will not say that it will be easy and I recognize that resistance will be strong. There are many brethren who would see their lodge go dark rather than accept change. Many lodges will go under, but then many always have.
We must take action now, just as we did not take action back in 1830. We cannot rely on luck again.
GS – What, in a nutshell, did Masonry do in the 1830s to make that change? Or was it more of a social change (like the industrial revolution) that preceded the change mid-century?
DW – In the 1830s, there was no leadership in freemasonry capable of recognizing the need for change, let alone make it. Our survival in Europe at least was solely a matter of the serendipitous rise of the middle class.
GS – What inspired this work? What made you put pen to paper?
DW – I have been working up to this book in all my earlier works. I care deeply about Freemasonry but I am equally deeply worried about the emperor’s new clothes. There seems to be very little written in the UK which is anything other than hagiography, even if there is a lot more virility in American writers such as John Bizzack, Richard A. Graeter, Andrew Hammer and Kirk C. White. Reading Rudyard Kipling again, I became convinced that he loved the ideals and ritual of Freemasonry but not its management, which is why he attended lodge so remarkably rarely after he left India. I think we must talk about the management of Freemasonry before it is too late.
GS – Given its subject matter, without giving away all of your ideas, what do you think is behind the drop in numbers?
DW – The social democracy of the 1960s and 1970s seemed to be leading towards a more egalitarian and caring state, but from 1980 such decency was replaced by greed on the one hand and fear of poverty on the other. The establishment showed that it could not be trusted, with the absence of a relationship between pay and performance at the top, continued crime and dishonesty within the finance industry, expenses fiddles and cash-for-access in government, sex crimes among media personalities, racial gang rape, organized pedophilia, hucksterism, ‘clever’ tax schemes, fiddled automotive performance reports, unreliable drug studies, and too many other sins to mention. Life has become harder-edged and uncaring with fewer spiritual values.
Respect for senior management has declined to an all-time low and there is a meanness about life. The focus on money, an outcome of Thatcherism and Reaganomics, is not an environment in which Freemasonry can flourish. Brotherly love, relief and truth do not fit with greed and self-interest. Austerity has meant that the men that we seek to recruit and retain have less time, less money, less energy and less security. Brethren can not commit to regular attendance at lodge because they simply do not know what demands their employers will put on them. These changes go along with other uncertainties in religious belief and the role of the sexes.
GS – Is there any one “silver bullet” that lodges or even individual masons can do, starting today, to change that tide?
DW – As I say in my book, Things to do when you have nothing to do, when faced with a problem, we try to solve it on the basis of our experience. When we fail, we rarely question our experience and thus repeat the same failed attempts. The law of paradoxical intent holds that by doing something different, even the opposite of what we usually do, we will be more likely to succeed; in terms of Masonic recruitment that: Being busy not seeking candidates will actually cause them to appear.
Candidates will come to those energetic lodges that are involved, active and ready for something new — and thus feel good about themselves. People will rarely talk about dull, gray lodges that are doing nothing interesting but they will talk about lodges that are busy, exciting and vibrant. Members who feel good about their lodge will talk to friends, relations and neighbors about it; not overtly to recruit but simply because they are excited about the lodge — and excitement is infectious.
- An entertainment using 18th century exposures of the ritual, featuring Prichard’s‘Masonry Dissected’ and exposing a dreadful cover up. ?- The truth about the words
- Shock! Horror!The established theory is wrong.? – A White Table?
- The complete ‘how-to’ with a full script and a discussion of openness.? – Success??
- The design and use of websites, a caution, being interesting, contacts and how to manage them, getting to know candidates, mentoring recruits.? – Triple!
- How to initiate three candidates at one meeting in a dramatic but personal way.? – Music for Exposure!
GS – From your perspective, what was the hardest thing about writing this book?
DW – As with all books, deciding what NOT to include.
GS – Any glimpse of what you chose NOT to include?
DW – I very nearly wrote a program for change but realized that it was too detailed. I would have liked to have gone into more detail on middle class values and their development and on change of employment 1799 to 1899. [I] could have gone on forever!
GS – Any plans for future books?
DW – I am currently working on an update of my leadership book, Employee Engagement and the failure of leadership and collecting material for a series of essays for a book to be called Masonic legends and puzzles. The latter keeps interrupting work on the former. I find that books being researched are almost alive; like pets demanding constant attention.
GS – Where can people find you? Any social or traditional websites?
DW – I avoid social media but the website of my mother lodge http://stlaurencelodge.org.uk/ contains a lot that I agree with and also includes information on our busy lodge.
In doing this interview, Dr. West included the following statement on the craft. He listed it as his Statement for Freemasonry, which reads:
- Freemasonry is a moral practice. We enable good men to live respected and die regretted.
- There are periodic intervals in human experience when the moral life comes under attack. Now is such a time, and we must respond.
- We will become a reservoir of social capital, enabling society to preserve the virtue of trust.
- We will provide a bastion for the virtues in an amoral world, maintaining a community within which the moral life is lived.
- In choosing to become a Freemason, a man accepts an obligation to live according to the virtues of the order. Such a choice cannot be made lightly.
- There is no sense in which a man can say, ‘I want to be a Freemason but not a good one.’
- To be a good Freemason is to exhibit specific virtues. The most important of these are the three grand principles — brotherly love, relief and truth — and the four cardinal virtues — prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice.
My thanks to Dr. David West for taking the time (and having the patience) for getting this interview out there.
You can read the press release on his books publication here, and you can find Managing the Future of Freemasonry: The Book of Optimism on Amazon.