The 2023 Prestonian Lecture - The 1723 Constitutions of the Freemasons: The indispensable trowel
In this Prestonian Lecture, I explain the unique contribution made by Freemasonry and its 1723 Constitutions to the establishment in the United States of a new and extraordinary experiment in human governance. I first lay out the essence of the Great Experiment conceived and launched by the Founding Fathers of the United States that required two new constructs.
A new construct of Government placing We The People at the center of governance. The Founders did not design government as an entity that rules over the people and solves their problems. Instead, they constructed government as a system engineering machine that enables the people to address their own challenges and engineer their own solutions and innovations to the problems of an ever-changing world. The effort behind the complex design was laser-focused on equipping the machine with the flexibility, resonance, and resilience necessary to ensure over time the effectiveness and sustainability of the rule of the people. Welcome to the separation of powers, checks and balances, and limited government - vertically and horizontally!
A new construct of society, called Civil Society. American identity could not be based on traditional societal cultural norms such as national origin, religious affiliation, blood lineage, or shared cultural traditions. A new construct of societal association, called civil society, was necessary to enable diverse people to come together, build consensus on governance, and improve their human condition, one generation at a time.
An experiment being always in the making, the Founding Fathers took a leap of faith that the people, endowed with natural rights, free, enlightened over time, and aided by Providence, would use the machine to amend and expand the experiment and move it forward. But how would the people go about seeking enlightenment? What institutions would equip them with the tools of self-governance? How would diverse people learn to work together as free builders of stronger and more resilient communities?
Freemasonry provided by far the most widely spread and impactful ecosystem to do just that.
I then explore the multifaceted nature of the Masonic Lodge as a “laboratory” for self-governance, a “safe space” for religious tolerance; a “breeding ground” for meritocracy, and an “incubator” for free and enlightened citizen builders.
After retracing the evolution of Freemasonry in the United States through the present, with its ups and downs, successes and failures, I then speculate on how a renewed Freemasonry armed with a futuristic vision might reinvigorate and reposition itself to fulfill its most scared mission of “graduating” free and enlightened citizen builders in the United States.