Square and compass: Freemasonry's tools for constructing a global civil society

Judith Rasoletti, Florida International University


The concept of a global civil society is gaining greater acceptance among International Relations (IR) scholars, yet few studies exist that look at the role of fraternal organizations and their influence in constructing this realm. Freemasonry, one of the oldest fraternal orders, exerts a powerful influence on its membership through its symbolism, architecture and ritual, based on the tenets of mutual respect and tolerance towards all human beings. Such principles helped in creating a body of practices and institutions as early as the eighteenth century which two hundred years later were identified and conceptualized as global civil society. The allegations of anti-Masons and conspiracy theorists offer a continuous account of Masonry's influence on the political scene since its modern founding in 1717 Great Britain. Conspiracy theorists portray the coming of a New World Order, orchestrated and directed by a secret hierarchy of Masons/Illuminati. Even though the lens of conspiracy theories paints a distorted view of reality, it does focus attention to Freemasonry's activities as a major player in politics over the span of three centuries. Not only do such theories challenge the novelty of practices that make up a global civil society, but also the notion that it is an inclusive and growing sector that unites people across the globe. They also provide a valuable critique by pointing out the inconsistencies and discriminatory practices of Masonry as contrasted with the lofty ideals and aims for humanity. The Masonic influence in the social world is perceived as one that reflects the liberal worldview where the nation-state and power structures are in pursuit of human progress, or profit. The symbolism of Masonry, however, carries a message that can be characterized as representing republican ideals. Masonic symbolism and ritual create spaces of meaning where the contradictions between the ideals and the structures of inequality and elitism can be resolved. Freemasonry as a symbolic system proclaiming their inherent republican values does have a global reach. However, the effectiveness of these values is bounded by the constraints that are inherent in a liberal world dominated by nation-states.

Subject Area

International law|International relations

Recommended Citation

Rasoletti, Judith, "Square and compass: Freemasonry's tools for constructing a global civil society" (2003). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3085017.