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Kings might care what other people think about them, but they are not required to. That is the nature of unchecked power. Everyone in the organization has 3 choices: live with whatever the king decides, convince the king, or replace the king. Most people, most of the time, live with whatever he decides, because the second one is hard, and the third one is extremely painful.


Kings can move quickly and boldly: this is a major advantage in times of need, but a large disadvantage if you have an unwise king, because they can break many things very quickly.

The United Nations

The UN is a collaborative body where nations come together and talk it out. There is no King of the UN, even secretary positions of committees rotate. Nations have little or no way to compel one another to behave in certain ways. It is a diplomat’s paradise: all about relationships, political levers, & influence. There’s very little power in this body. Dialogue is a form of indirect power; convincing others to move in the desired direction.

In the United Nations, the most important factors that will dictate if you can get things done are your:

  • Political capital

  • Intentions as perceived by others

  • Allies & process


The United Nations cannot move quickly or boldly. This is an advantage when the room is full of hot heads, (because it slows them down) and it is a disadvantage in a crisis (because action is slow).


These two endpoints form a spectrum like what we see here, depending on the relative presence of power, and importance of consensus and harmony. Consensus & Harmony is the opposite end of power. Power is the thing that can create organizational motion & movement. When it is missing, the only other social force that can create motion is consensus.

Masonic Lodges

When you consider how lodges & Masonic jurisdictions operate, it’s clear that Freemasonry is a mix of both.


The organization focuses on harmony, and is still driven by a very clear hierarchical structure, beginning with the Grand Master, down through the Master and Wardens of each lodge. The “command structure” of Freemasonry is perfectly clear, and yet it mostly is not used as such.


Wisdom in Command – this simple observation is one of the reasons why, in my opinion, the pillar in the east is Wisdom, as exemplified by King Solomon. The understanding that power & command has its place, mixed with the wisdom to know that just because you have a hammer does not mean that you should swing it at every problem. 


Indeed real examples exist of un-Solomonic behavior in this regard. When true direct king-like powers are used by Grand Masters in Freemasonry, typically the result is a lot of division and unhappiness. There can be no question the GM is entitled to take these actions, but many a king has cut his nose off to spite his face.


“What is strength, without a double share of wisdom? Vast, unwieldy, burdensome; Proudly secure, yet liable to fall by weakest subtleties; not made to rule but to subserve, where wisdom bears command.”

John Milton


Looking back on the spectrum above – within the fraternity Grand Masters are much more like Kings than the United Nations. The content of our obligations makes this clear. And yet all wise Grand Masters and Lodge Masters know that a lodge is a volunteer group, which places it on the far left of the consensus / power spectrum. And in this regard, perhaps wisdom is knowing which situation calls for which approach.  Wisdom is not just knowing about the tool (such as power or consensus), or even mastering the use of the tool.

Is Power an Illusion?

In past years, we have had discussions in our lodge about whether or not Masonic power itself is an illusion. If everyone is a volunteer, and can simply leave whenever they want, what does it mean to say that a leader has power if those who do not support the decision can simply wander off and stop participating? If a leader’s power is only to enact changes that already have broad popular support … in what sense do they have any power at all?


Considering this carefully myself, I go back to the point within the circle, which is fundamentally a symbol about balance.  We want a Goldilocks zone; neither too hot, nor too cold.

  • It is “too cold” to believe Masonic power is an illusion. The power structure is perfectly codified in Masonry, and ultra-clear. And we can witness plenty of direct exercises of Masonic power through history, wise and unwise; both those which drove people away and also kept them engaged

  • It is “too hot” to believe that Masonic power is a primary tool of the organization.  Reading about the King above, probably several people were groaning, since “Kingly powers” is not most of our daily experience of how the Craft works; much more common is arguing about whether the light bill should be paid. And as noted, direct displays of power often create discord; the cultural norms of the Craft strongly prefer consensus, obviating the need for a power display.

Direct “kingly” power in Freemasonry is more akin to a weapon for home defense, or an insurance policy. You really don’t want to use it. And if you have to use it, there’s probably going to be a lot of inconvenience and pain around the situation or its aftermath. And so there are good reasons for having it, even if the best counsel given to brothers would usually be: “don’t use it”.

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