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The Coming of the French Revolution
The works of these writers [Descartes, Voltaire] strengthened oral propaganda in the salons and cafés which multiplied in the eighteenth century, and in the societies of all kinds which were found in great numbers—agricultural societies, philanthropic associations, provincial acadamies, teaching institutions like the Museum of Paris, reading rooms, Mesmerist societies where the magnetism put in vogue by Mesmer was experimented with and, finally and above all, Masonic lodges, brought over from England in 1715. The philoophy of the day inevitably entered into the conversations and colored the debates in all these organizations. It can be seen in the subjects for which acadamies offered competitive prizes. The topic set by the Acadamy of Dijon provoked Rousseau's famous discourse On the Origin of Inequality Among Men. The Masonic lodges in particular, though they included not only bourgeois but priests, nobles and even the brothers of Louis XVI as members, were favourable to philosophic infiltrations because they had the same ideal: civil equality, religious toleration, liberation of the human personality from all institutions which kept it immature. [pp. 42-43.]
The question is whether a central intelligence directed this orchestra of protest [by the Third estate in 1789]. Such a role was soon attributed to Masonry, and the Revolution was explained as the result of a Masonic "conspiracy". No proof has ever been furnished. Many of the revolutionaries—not all—were Masons, and no doubt they found it easier to understand each other for that reason. But many aristocrats sat also in the lodges. The directing authorities of the several branches of Masonry, especially the Grand-Orient, could not have ordered their aristocratic members to lend aid to the Third Estate without provoking protests and schisms of which no cases are known.[p. 46.]
Many French bourgeois, though far from all, had become Voltaireans estranged from Christianity, preferring in most cases the "natural religion" preached by the Freemasons and which Rousseau had relieved of its dryness by his effusions of feeling. [pp. 63-64.]

The Coming of the French Revolution, George LeFebvre (1874-1959). trans. R.R. Palmer. New York : Vintage Books, 1947. [Quatre-vingt-neuf, Paris : Institute for the History of the French Revolution, 1939] pb. 191 pp plus index.

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