Masonic liberalism in Russia

Lafayette’s sword with signs of a Masonic lodge. Museum of Freemasonry, Paris

We Have Society, and Secret Gatherings / Thursdays. The most secret union …
A. Griboyedov. Woe from Wit

Do you remember how in front of us
A temple arose, blackened in the darkness,
Over the gloomy altars
Fire signs were burning.
Solemn, granite-winged,
He guarded our sleepy city
Hammers and saws sang in it,
Masons worked at night.
N. Gumilev. Middle Ages

History of Russian liberalism. In the past, the materials focused on the era of the reign of Emperor Alexander I, the end of which was completely different from its beginning. However, studying the history of liberalism in Russia, one cannot bypass the Masons as well. And if this is so, then let’s hold our horses a little and see what relation to liberalism in Russia was also the movement of “free masons”, very interesting in its essence, and, no doubt, interesting in the context of our common theme. So, Freemasons and Liberalism.

Masonic liberalism in Russia

A dish with Masonic symbols. Museum of Freemasonry, Paris


Let’s start with the fact that Freemasonry appeared in England, and on a specific day of a specific year, namely June 24, 1717, when four previously existing brotherhoods created the world’s first Grand Lodge in the Goose and Spit tavern, that is, they took shape in a strict organization. In 1723, the “New Book of Statutes” appeared – a kind of constitution of the Masons, which outlined the basic principles of the movement: love for one’s neighbor, the ability to overcome the depravity of human nature, enlightenment, self-improvement, the elimination of evil through re-education and the creation of a “new man.” Was the Masonic movement inherently liberal in its essence?

All any doubts! After all, what was written in the same book of statutes? “In our time, a person freely chooses his faith …” That is, it was about the freedom to choose faith, which a priori encroached on the power of the church. No wonder, already in 1738, the Pope issued a bull, in which Freemasonry was declared a sect harmful to the Apostolic Church.

Masonic carpet State Hermitage, St. Petersburg


As soon as Freemasonry penetrated the continent, the attitude towards it became even worse. First, the class barriers in the lodges were replaced by “brotherhood”, that is, people from different social strata drew closer together. Secondly, the powers that be did not like the fact that the Masons were trying to create something on earth that was considered more perfect than existing. That is, they, in essence, encroached on the monarchical power! The monarchs also saw the danger in the fact that the politicians who entered the lodges would act in the interests of the order, and not the state, or even spy. I did not like the very atmosphere of mystery that the Masons surrounded themselves with. What if they are doing something wrong? Otherwise they wouldn’t be hiding! So reasoned not only the townsfolk, but also the crowned persons, caring about their own power.

The Illuminati Order, which used the form of a Masonic organization, was the first to suffer because of all these conjectures. And he was engaged in enlightenment, like most of the Masonic lodges, but denunciations against him claimed that the German Illuminati, in particular, the Bavarian ones, were acting in the interests of Austria, which wants the annexation of Bavaria; that they poison their opponents and, indulging the passions (what a cunning move, however!) of the mighty of this world, gain power over them.

As a result, the frightened Elector of Bavaria in 1784 immediately closed all the lodges of the Illuminati and Freemasons, and then banned any secret societies.

And then it turned out that many members of the French Masonic lodges were active participants in the revolution of 1789-1794. And if so, judged the European sovereigns, is there a direct connection here? Well, since the Russian monarchs, not too burdened with education, took “everything as it is” as a model, it is not surprising that, after Bavaria, the persecution of Freemasons began in Russia, and in 1792 Catherine II completely banned their activities.

Although it began in Russia, everything is very good for them. By 1770, 17 Masonic lodges had already been created in Russia, in which both princes and counts were members, and even less titled nobles were counted in hundreds! Russian Masons proclaimed Christian tolerance, conciliarism (that’s even how, where did it come from in the 90s!), Praise to the reigning persons, that is, they did not start anything seditious at that time. In some lodges, a fine was even imposed on political talk!

Portrait of A. F. Labzin in a blue caftan with the orders of St. Vladimir and St. Anna, 2nd degree, by V. L. Borovikovsky (1757–1825), 1805. The writer and philosopher Labzin was a Freemason, and Borovikovsky was also a Freemason, and also Levitsky and Rokotov – they were all Freemasons! State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


So the “golden age” of Russian Freemasonry took place under the very same Catherine II, who eventually banned it. And, by the way, speaking, the freemasons of that time did a lot for Russia. For example, they fought very effectively against the famine that struck the country in 1787. It was then that the Moscow Freemasons provided such large-scale assistance to the starving that Russia did not know any examples of such a thing. Naturally, they earned praise from the Empress. But the fear of the French Revolution proved to be stronger than the practical benefits of Freemasonry.

As for Paul I, he was ready to change everything that his mother did, but, on reflection, it was in relation to the Masons that he decided to keep all her orders in force.

Only Emperor Alexander I changed his attitude towards the Freemasons, who authorized the brotherhood in 1803. Freemasonry began to gain strength, but gained particular popularity after the victorious war of 1812 and the overseas campaigns of the Russian army. Secret societies, for example, the “Order of Russian Knights”, dreamed of the reorganization of Russia, also began to appear at this time in Russia, but the war interrupted this process. But already in 1816 the “Union of Salvation” appeared. That is, for lovers of all sorts of “secrets” Russia at that time was a very attractive place. There are Masonic lodges here, secret societies are appearing here, and the government was perfectly aware of everything that happened there, it was aware. But for a while I turned a blind eye. Well, the over-aged pranksters will indulge and quit!

Portrait of Prince Sergei (?) Sergeevich Golitsyn. 1800. Giovanni Battista Damon Ortolani (1750-1812). Tropinin Museum, Moscow. Previously considered a portrait of his brother Vladimir


Why was it so? Yes, simply because even in the Catherine’s era, the ranks of the Masons of Russia were replenished by people from the most famous noble families, such as: Golitsyns, Trubetskoy, Turgenevs, etc. A.V.Suvorov and M.I.Kutuzov were Masons. And not in small degrees of initiation! So, Suvorov, when he visited his father in Koenigsberg, was admitted to the Prussian lodge “To the Three Crowns” and there he was initiated into the degree of a Scottish master, which was considered very high. Masonic history of Kutuzov began in 1779, also in the German city of Regensburg, in the box “To the Three Keys”. But then he entered the lodges of Frankfurt and Berlin, and later he was accepted by the Freemasons of St. Petersburg and Moscow. He also had a Scottish Master’s degree, and in the fraternity the name is Greening Laurel. And here is the question that will interest the readers of “VO”: was the same AV Suvorov, if not a liberal, then a supporter of liberal ideas? And the answer will be this: yes it was, and what else! Remember his famous answer to Emperor Paul I: “Powder is not gunpowder, bouclés are not cannons, a scythe is not a cleaver; I’m not a German, but a natural hare “? So, only a person who had picked up ideas about freedom could answer that way, but not a loyal servant of the sovereign-emperor, the anointed of God. He said: “We need braids and curls!”, Which means he knew what he was saying, for the will of the sovereign is sacred! And it was necessary to take it for granted and not to hesitate from the evil one, but to know your place! But who is he, this Suvorov, a petty nobleman, who only knows how to fight, well, there are others, let them fight worse, but they don’t begrudge him! And rightly Paul exiled him for this insolence to Konchanskoye, because either you recognize the autocracy and rejoice at both curls and braids, since your emperor rejoices at them, or not – and then you are an obvious liberal and a potential rebel.

Portrait of P. Ya. Chaadaev. Sandor Kozina (1808-1873). 1848 State Historical Museum, Moscow


Later, outstanding people of the Russian land as one enrolled in the ranks of the Freemasons. Among them were Griboyedov, Chaadaev, brothers Muravyov-Apostles, Pestel, of course, and 20 more Decembrists. AS Pushkin was also a freemason, who was admitted to the lodge “Ovid 25” during his stay in Moldova, although this lodge did not last long. And after all – the same Colonel Pavel Pestel was awarded the golden sword for bravery. Trubetskoy was also a colonel. And such titles at that time were not given so immediately. That is, they were military officers. But for some reason they went to the Freemasons … In total, there were 121 Decembrists convicted, but 27 of them were Freemasons.

Portrait of A. S. Griboyedov, I. N. Kramskoy (1837-1887), 1873. State Tretyakov Gallery


However, even before the uprising of Alexander I, the popularity of Freemasonry and the growth of the number of Masonic lodges were so frightened that in 1822 he banned all secret societies in Russia, including Masonic lodges. However, the Masonic lodges played their role in the spread of free thought and liberalism in Russia, and a considerable one. Well, A.S. Pushkin, of course, also in some way added fuel to the fire with his poems …

Well, what about the conclusion? The conclusion from all of the above will be this: the liberal movement in Russia has been hesitating all the time, then it was approaching the throne – to push the monarchs to the fact that they began to carry out reforms “from above”, then they were disappointed in them and looked for allies for themselves (as well as an example to follow !) both among the Freemasons and among the most notorious carbonarian revolutionaries. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Yes, but it was so. Moreover, the psychological “phenomenon of Rostovtsev” that took place on the eve of the speech on Senate Square was precisely connected with such fluctuations.

And it so happened that on the eve of the uprising on December 14, the second lieutenant of the Life Guards of the Jaeger Regiment, Yakov Ivanovich Rostovtsev, wrote a letter to Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich, the heir to the royal throne of Russia, and in it warned him about “possible disorders” and offered to voluntarily surrender the throne to his brother Konstantin Pavlovich. Moreover, Rostovtsev warned that he had revealed everything to the Tsarevich, as well as the conspirators. Later Rostovtsev became a general and actively helped Alexander II to free the peasants.

Portrait of Ya. I. Rostovtsev with his family. S. Zaryanko (1818-1870). Russian Museum, St. Petersburg


What was it? Is it really a love of denunciation? No, fear of the shedding of brotherly blood and the possible death of the state. That was what then made the brilliant officer of the Guards regiment overcome his disgust for the personality of Tsarevich Nicholas himself (to whom he wrote so bluntly: “You are not loved in the army”) and commit an act that many of his comrades saw as a betrayal. He wrote about the conspiracy and told Nikolai during his audience. But he did not name the names and asked the Tsarevich to arrest him immediately. On December 14, trying to prevent bloodshed and drive the soldiers back to the barracks, he received thirteen bayonet wounds, his head and jaw were broken. Then, for the rest of his life, Rostovtsev was tormented by severe moral suffering. Everything was decided for himself by one single question: which is more important – a duty to comrades or to the state and its people?

Well, then there was what happened: the era of the harsh rule of Nicholas I began, when the very words “liberalism” and “revolution” began to be considered synonyms, and they no longer even remembered about Russian Masons.

To be continued…

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