Freemasonry, which emerged in Britain in the early eighteenth century, is one of our country’s most successful cultural exports. In every country to which Masonry has been transplanted, the mystique surrounding its secrecy has aroused passions ranging from deadly suspicion to pious loyalty. Yet Italy stands out for the curious and contradictory range of the Brotherhood’s manifestations and influences. Ever since Pope Clement XII Excommunicated the Brotherhood in 1738, the Catholic Church has been Freemasonry’s sworn enemy. In the nineteenth century, a beleaguered Papacy blamed the Masons for all the evils of the modern world. Not coincidentally, Masonic Lodges were among the first places where the fires of Risorgimento patriotism were stoked. After Unification, Lodges became a substitute for political parties, and Liberal Italy had ten or eleven Masonic Prime Ministers. Yet Italy’s mafias also owe their origins to the influence of Freemasonry as a way of organizing. In post-war Italy, Freemasonry became synonymous with corruption and intrigue, thanks to Licio Gelli’s notorious Propaganda 2 (P2) Lodge. Right now, a trial is going on that aims to prove that the Freemasons exercise a controlling influence within the Calabrian mafia, the ’Ndrangheta. The Grand Orient, Italy’s most venerable Masonic authority, has loudly protested against a witch hunt. Nowhere more than in Italy have the myth and reality of Freemasonry become intertwined.
Prof John Dickie’s lecture draws on material from his recent book, The Craft: How the Freemasons Made the Modern World.
John Dickie is Professor of Italian Studies at University College, London. He is an internationally recognised specialist on many aspects of Italian history and his books have been translated into more than twenty languages.