Breadcrumbs Freemasonry in Israel > Articles > Philosophy > Freedom without Violence in the 21st Century

Freedom without Violence in the 21st Century
Leon Zeldis, FPS, 33°
PSGC, Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite for the State of Israel
Honorary Adjunct Grand Master

Submitted to the 41st European Conference of Sovereign Grand Commanders, Vienna, May 1997
Reprinted from 1997 Year Book, Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite for the State of Israel

World & Love

"If you want peace, prepare for war," runs an old Roman saying. Another saying, of more recent origin, is that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Therefore, it is not at all clear that freedom can be maintained, let alone achieved, without force. What we must keep clear in mind is the distinction between the moral use of force — to gain or protect liberty — and the immoral use of violence to curtail freedom, suppress public debate and impose a given pattern of thought over a powerless population.

The concept of freedom has undergone continuous change, or perhaps we should say, redefinition, in the course of the centuries.

At one time, freedom was conceived as simply the opposite of slavery. A freeman was one who wasn't a slave, period. How "free" was in fact a citizen of Athens or Rome is difficult to judge. By today's standards, he was far from enjoying freedom. Of course, a Greek or Roman woman was in much worse position.

Let us jump to the present. After all, this is not a historical dissertation. Our definition of freedom is much wider and eclectic than the one we gave before. We speak of many different kinds of freedom:  Freedom of worship, of expression, of assembly, of information. We consider that a person should be free from hunger, free to get an education (free from ignorance!), free to work or change work, free to marry whomever he or she would like, and so on.

All these different kinds or aspects of freedom are subject to restrictions in many parts of the world, even in enlightened nations. Of course, there are some countries where most of the freedoms mentioned are non-existent, where people are forced to worship as the rulers of the country decide, where women have no legal rights at all, where transmission of information can be a crime.

Should we accept this situation as a fact of life, like the weather or earthquakes, or should we — as Freemasons — regard the lack of freedom of others as an affront to our principles and a danger to the future of mankind?

Our world has become much smaller than that of our ancestors, and at the same time much more dangerous. An epidemic can start in one spot of the planet and spread like wildfire throughout the world in a matter of weeks or months. A madman could purchase, steal, or build weapons of mass destruction and plunge the entire world into the abyss. How the nations of the world will cope with these challenges remains to be seen. Past experience gives little ground for hope that reason will prevail, and that appropriate measures will be taken before the crisis begins.

Again the question arises, what are we expected to do. We are examining these problems not with the detachment of the academician or the historian, but with the personal involvement required of a Mason. Nothing human is foreign to us. We cannot, we must not, believe that we can live in an ivory tower and ignore the urgent demands of the world. Particularly we, the members of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, repository of so much of our cultural inheritance, firm believers in the value of ethics and metaphysics, cannot be absolved from taking a position, from declaring our beliefs, from giving out our message.

We are for freedom and against violence. What happens when these two desiderata exclude each other?

A possible way out would be to consider all the non-violent means that could be used to contain and eventually eliminate the use of power for immoral ends. How long could the dictators in their miserable countries stay in power if the rest of the world were to quarantine them, to cut them off absolutely, buy nothing from them (not even oil!), sell them nothing (not even food!), prevent the rulers from traveling abroad, from having any contact with civilization?

This, of course, is utopian. There will always be people willing to trade for a profit, even with hell. However, much can be done to expose them, to subject their actions to scrutiny and condemnation. Education, in this as in many other problems, is the key to future solutions, even if we cannot see them now.

We must, as Freemasons and as Scottish Rite Commanders, give our support to all efforts made to improve the education of the people of the world, all actions that open windows, that lift veils, that illuminate minds.

We have a huge potential for action. For too long we have been enthralled by the idea of Charity as the one and only mission worthy of our cause. Brethren, the highest form of Charity is to love our fellow-men and help them become better informed, responsible citizens, aware of their rights and obligations.

Our relations with the academic world, with universities and research institutions, should be widened and strengthened. One interesting development is the creation of Masonic-inspired or even Masonic-directed colleges and universities. The pioneer, if I am not mistaken, was the Free University of Brussels. The university of Chile was created by Masons, but today has fallen prey to other, restrictive ideologies. However, in Santiago a new start has been made, with the creation of the University La Republica, which proudly shows the square and compasses in its official seal. There are others, to be sure. We have the example of the Mother Supreme Council of the World, which only recently created the Scottish Rite Research Society. Similar institutions could be created in other parts of the world, perhaps on a common-language basis.

We should be actively encouraging publication of new works on Freemasonry, and reissues of worthy books that are out of print. This connects with the organized effort to place Masonic books in our public libraries. Several Grand Lodges already work in this direction. Perhaps we should do the same but on a different level, concentrating on University libraries, academic research institutions, "Think Tanks," etc.

There is much to be done. Much that we can and should be doing. You often hear the claim that the Scottish Rite and its higher degrees constitute "The University of Freemasonry". Let us place this concept at the head of priorities for outside action. By promoting better education, we shall be promoting freedom without violence, and that, after all, is the subject of our meeting.