A history of Freemasonry through the ages, and an analysis of the secret society’s role in the contemporary Western world.
The fact that historian Ridley (Bloody Mary’s Martyrs, p. 1010, etc.) is neither a Freemason nor a conspiracy theorist provides him with a more objective, academic view of Freemasonry’s historical role than that of the many shrill attacks on the organization published over the last 20 years. His reputation for sound research and balanced scholarship induced the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in London to offer him more than two months of free access to their holdings. Ridley’s historical investigation carefully documents the origins of the secret society in medieval Europe and its transformation from guilds of uniquely skilled stone carvers into clubs dedicated to free thought and religion that attracted members as diverse as Mozart, Churchill, and Theodore Roosevelt. He traces how this commitment to intellectual and spiritual freedoms inevitably brought Freemasonry into conflict with both political and religious powers as the Catholic Church lost ground to the Protestant Reformation and monarchies gave way to modern nation-states. These tensions, he maintains, inspired anti-Masonic groups to exaggerate the powers of the group and resulted in the spinning of isolated tragedies like the 1826 murder of William Morgan by Freemasons into public visions of international conspiracies. This anti-Masonic hysteria has resulted in a movement toward oppressive English laws Ridley regards as ominous in their singling out of Freemasons for special scrutiny. He contends that the Masons should be recognized as the freedom-minded intellectual organization they historically have been, lest public ignorance lead in the same direction as the oppression of Jews by Fascists in the mid-20th century.
Readers looking for a deeper understanding of Freemasonry will find Ridley a fascinating, informative guide to its historical and contemporary roles.