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Ernst und Falk
Gesprâche für Freimâurer
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729 - 1781
Erstes Gespräch
ERNST:Die Freimaurerei wäre nichts Entbehrliches? - Wie machten es denn die Menschen, als die Freimaurerei noch nicht war?
FALK:Die Freimaurerei war immer. [line 38]
ERNST:Nun, was ist sie denn, diese notwendige, diese unentbehrliche Freimaurerei?
internetloge.de accessed 2007/07/12
Second Discourse.
Ernst — Well, where have you been? And still you have not the butterfly?
Falk — It lured me from bough to bough as far as the stream — all at once it was on the other side.
E. — Yes, yes. There are such charmers.
F. — Have you thought it over?
E. — Thought what over? Your puzzle? Nor shall I catch it, that pretty butterfly! And it shall give me no further concern. Once to talk about Free Masonry with you, but never again! For I see well you are like them all.
F. — How like them all? They do not all say this.
E. — Don't they? Then there must surely be heretics among the Free Masons? And you are one of these? Still all heretics have something in common with the Orthodox. And that is what I was talking about.
F. — About what were you talking?
E. — Orthodox or heretical Free Masons — they all play with words, let themselves be questioned and answer without answering.
F. — Think so? Now then, let us talk about something else! For once you have torn me out of a cozy condition of dumb astonishment —
E. — Nothing is easier than to put you back into that condition. Just let yourself down here by me and look!
F. — Now what?
E. — The life and the moving to and fro and round about these ant-hills. What industry and yet what order! Every one carries and pulls and shoves and no one hinders another. Just see! They even help one another.
F. — The ants live in society like the bees.
E. — And in a still more wonderful society than that of the bees. For they have no one among them who holds them together and rules them.
F. — Therefore it must be true that order can exist without government.
E. — When each one knows how to rule himself, why not?
F. — Will it ever come to that among men?
E. — Very hardly!
F. — Too bad!
E. — Assuredly!
F. — Get up and let us be going! For they will be crawling all over you, these ants, and just now there occurred to me what I must ask you at this time. I have no idea at all what you think about it.
E. — About what?
F. — About the civil society of men. How do you look at it?
E. — As something very good.
F. — Incontestably. But do you take it as an end or as a means?
E. — But I don't understand you.
F. — Do you believe that men were created for the state, or that the state was created for men?
E. — Some appear inclined to assert the former. The latter, however, may be nearer the truth.
F. — That is what I think, too. The state unites men, so that through this union, and in this union, each single man may enjoy all the better and more surely his share of happiness. The sum total of the joy of each member is the happiness of the state. Aside from this there is no happiness. Any other good fortune of the state for which even a few members suffer and must suffer is merely the cloak of tyranny. Nothing else!
E. — I wouldn't want to say that out so loud.
F. — Why not?
E. — A truth that each one decides according to his own condition can easily be misused.
F. — Do you know, Friend, that you are already half a Free Mason?
E. — I?
F. — You. For you declare truths that one had better keep to himself.
E. — But what he still might tell.
F. — The wise man cannot tell that which he had better keep back.
E. — Well, as you will Let us not get upon the Free Masons. I don't want to know anything more about them.
F. — Forgive me! You see at least my readiness to tell you more about them.
E. — You are joking — Good! The civil life of man and all state constitutions are nothing but means for human happiness. What then?
F. — Nothing but means! and means discovered by man; although I will not deny that nature has everything so arranged that man must very soon stumble upon these discoveries.
E. — This then brought it about that some considered human society to be nature’s end. For all our desires and all of our deeds, even to the last one, lead along the road that nature travels. So they decided. As if nature would not bring forth the proper means! As if nature had more in view happiness as an abstract conception — such as the state, the fatherland, and the like — than the real happiness of each single being.
F. — Very good! You are coming to meet me along the right road. Now then, tell me if the state constitutions are expedients of human origin, shall they alone escape the fate of all other human expedients?
E. — What do you mean by the fate of human expedients?
F. — That which is inseparably bound up with all human expedients, and which distinguishes these from divine and infallible instruments.
E. — And what is that?
F. — That they are not infallible. That they not alone often do not accomplish their purpose but even bring to pass the very contrary result.
E. — An example! if one occurs to you.
F. — Ships and sea-voyages are means for reaching far lying lands, and at the same time become the reasons why many men never arrive there.
E. — For instance, those who suffer ship-wreck and are drowned. Now I think I understand you. But we know very well why so many single men fail to achieve their happiness through a state constitution. State constitutions are many; one is therefore better than the others; another is very faulty, contending openly with its own objects and the best is perhaps yet to be discovered.
F. — Undoubtedly! Suppose the best constitution that can be conceived of to have been established; suppose all the men in the whole world to have adopted this constitution; do you not think that even then that out of this very best constitution itself there must still arise things highly hurtful to human happiness and of which man in his natural state unfortunately knew nothing?
E. — I should think that if such things could arise out of the best constitution that then it would be the best constitution.
F. — And that a better one would still be possible? Well, then, I will take this better one for the best and repeat my former question.
E. — You seem to have been striving from the very outset to make clear the accepted conclusion that every human expedient such as you declare a state constitution to be, can be nothing else than faulty.
F. — Just that.
E. — And it would be hard for you to name one of those hurtful things that —
F. — That must of necessity arise from the best state constitution? Oh, ten instead of one!
E. — Just one, first!
F. — Well then, we will suppose the best constitution to have been discovered; we will suppose all men in the world to be living under this constitution would all of the men in the world for this reason constitute but one state?
E. — Hardly. Such an enormous state would be incapable of administration. It would therefore have to be divided into several smaller states which would all be governed by the same laws.
F. — That is, men would even then continue to be called Germans and Frenchmen, Hollanders and Spaniards, Russians and Swedes.
E. — Most surely!
F. — Now there you have it already, for then it would be true, would it not, that each of the smaller states would have its own peculiar interests and that each citizen would have at heart the interests of his own particular state?
E. — How could it be otherwise?
F. — These different interests would often come into collision, just as they do now, and two me two members of different states would be just as little able to approach each other with unprejudiced minds, as is today a German a Frenchman, or a Frenchman an Englishman.
E. — Very likely.
F. — So that, now when a German meets a Frenchman, a Frenchman an Englishman, or the reverse, it is no longer simply a case of the meeting of two men who on account of their like natures are drawn to one another, but it is a case of the meeting of two particular kinds of men, who are conscious of one another’s differing tendencies, which in turn makes them cold, reserved, and suspicious toward each other, even before they have had the slightest thing to do, or to share, with one another.
E. — That is unfortunately true.
F. — Now it is also true that the very thing which unites men in order to insure their happiness by means of such a union, at the same time divides them.
E. — Yes, if you understand it that way.
F. — Take a step further! Many of the smaller states would have widely varying climates, consequently widely differing needs and desires, widely varying habits and customs, greatly differing moral standards and consequently very dissimilar religions. Don't you think so?
E. — That is a tremendous step!
F. — Men would none the less still be Jews, Christians and Turks, and the like.
E. — That is something I dare not deny.
F. — If they were that, then they would also conduct themselves toward one another in a way no different from that in which our Jews and Christians and Turks have always treated one another. Not as mere men toward mere men, but as one class of men toward another class, who are contending for certain spiritual preferences, and founding principles upon these that would never have occurred to the natural man.
E. — That is very unfortunately very probable also.
F. — Only probable?
E. — For I thought, as you have assumed, that as all states could have one constitution, so they could also all have the same religion. Yet now I cannot see how it can be possible for them to have the same constitution without having the same religion.
F. — Neither can I. I simply assumed that, in order to cut you off in your flight. One is as absolutely impossible as the other. One state, several states; several states, several constitutions; several constitutions, several religions.
E. — Yes, yes, so it seems.
F. — So it is. Now note the second evil which civil society, wholly contrary to its intention, brings forth. It cannot unite men without dividing them, cannot divide them without establishing chasms between them and running dividing walls through them.
E. — And how terrible these chasms are! How insurmountable are often these barrier-walls!
F. — Let me add still a third. It is not enough that civil society should divide and separate men into different peoples and religions — a division into a few great parts, each one of which would be an entity in itself, would always be better than no entity at all — but, no! civil society must continue its separating process even in each one of these parts and so on to infinity.
E. — How is that?
F. — Or, do you think that a state can be conceived of without differences in rank or station? Be it good or bad, nearer or farther from perfection, it would still be impossible that each member of it should bear the same relation to the others. Even if they all had a share in the making of the laws, still each could not have the same share, at least not the same direct share. There would therefore be superior and inferior members. If at the outset all of the possessions of the state could be equally divided between them such an equal division would not survive two generations; one would know better than another how to use his property, and at the same time he might be compelled to divide his more poorly managed possessions among a larger number of descendants than would the other. There would therefore be richer and poorer members.
E. — That is clear.
F. — Now consider how much suffering there is in the world that arises out of this very difference in rank and station!
E. — How I wish I could still dispute that! But what reason would I have for contradicting you? Well, now, men are only to be united through separation, only to be held in union by never ceasing division. Now that is even so. It can not be otherwise.
F. — That is just what I have been saying.
E. — Well then, what are you trying to do, to disgust me with civilized life, make me wish that the thought of uniting themselves into nations had never occurred to men?
F. — Do you understand me so badly? If civilized society had but the one good that in it alone human reason could be developed, it would still bless us in spite of far greater evils.
E. — He who would enjoy the fire, says the proverb, must endure the smoke.
F. — By all means! But because with fire smoke is unavoidable, dare we for that reason, invent no chimneys? And he who invented the chimney, was he for that reason an enemy of the fire? See, that is what I am after.
E. — After what? I don't understand you.
F. — The comparison was still very fitting. If man can be united in nations only through such divisions, are they for that reason good, these divisions?
E. — Certainly not.
F. — Are they then sacred — these things that divide?
E. — How sacred?
F. — So that it is forbidden to lay hand upon them?
E. — For the purpose of —?
F. — For the purpose of not letting them become any greater than necessity demands. For the purpose of rendering their results as harmless as possible.
E. — How could that be forbidden?
F. — But it also cannot be commanded, commanded by civil laws — for civil laws never reach beyond the confines of a state. And this is the very thing that lies beyond all boundaries and all states. Consequently it can only be an opus supererogatum and it is only to be desired that the wisest and best in each state would voluntarily undertake these operi supererogato.
E. — Not only to be desired, but very greatly to be desired.
F. — I thought so! Very greatly is it to be desired that in every state there should be men superior to the judgment of the populace who know exactly just when patriotism ceases to be a virtue.
E. — Very greatly to be desired!
F. — Very greatly is it to be desired that there should be men who do not submit to the dictates of the religion in which they were born, and who do not believe that everything which they look upon as good and true must therefore be good and true.
E. — Very greatly to be desired!
F. — Very greatly is it to be desired that in every state there should be men whom civic pomp does not blind and civic paltriness does not disgust, and in whose society the lofty gladly unbend and the lowly boldly lift their heads.
E. — Very greatly to be desired!
F. — And if it should be fulfilled, this desire?
E. — Fulfilled? Of course here and there now and then you will find such a man.
F. — Not only here and there, not only now and then.
E. — At certain times, in certain lands perhaps a few more.
F. — What if there were even now such men everywhere, and must at all times be such men?
E. — God willing!
F. — And what if these men did not live in a state of barren distraction, nor always in an unseen church?
E. — Beautiful dream!
F. — To make it short — and these men should be the Freemasons?
E. — What’s that you say?
F. — What if it should be the Freemasons, who as a part of their work were endeavoring to close up, as far as possible, these gulfs by which men were kept strangers to one another?
E. — The Freemasons?
F. — I said, as a part of their work.
E. — The Freemasons?
F. — Oh, forgive me! I had again forgotten that you didn't want to hear anything more about the Freemasons. They, are just now beckoning us to breakfast. Come along.
E. — Not yet! Just a moment! The Freemasons, you say —
F. — The conversation brought me back to them against my will. Forgive me! Come on! There in the larger circle we will no doubt find matter for a more profitable conversation. Come on.

Lessing published the first three of his conversations in 1778. The last two were issued, possibly without his permission, two years later. The first two conversations translated from the German by Louis Block, Past Grand Master of Masons in Iowa — of which this is the second — appeared in The Builder 1915 - vol. i, p. 20. The third was published in The Builder, vol. ii, p. 201. The fourth and fifth conversations, translated by Bro. B. A. Eisenlohr, Ohio, appeared in The Builder, vol. xv, no. 11, pp. 322-25. Kenneth R.H. Mackenzie provides his translation of the first three conversations in the London Freemasons Quarterly Magazine, 1854 and the final two in the London Freemasons, 1872. The Rev. A. Cohen published an English translation of all five conversations in 1927, noting in his preface that Mackenzie had glossed or simply omitted some phrases. Louis Block’s translation is available at phoenixmasonry.org/the_builder_1916_july.htm.


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