The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.


Bro. Hugh Young

The term “PERMISSIVE SOCIETY” has for many become equated with sexual licence, drug abuse and praise or, at least, acceptance of some types of violence. This equation, however, only serves to illustrate that “permissiveness” is, more often than not, a term of abuse used by one generation for all those things it doesn’t like or understand in another — usually the elder criticizing the younger.

If this is the case then it would appear that there is no permissiveness in our society today but merely an unwillingness in some of us to accept the fact that all people are different, whether they be of the same generation or of another, and that this difference is the root of the misunderstanding which arises between generations now and, indeed, in the past times.

Eminent persons in the field of child psychology inform us that the early years of a child’s life are the most important for it is during these years that he forms his impressions of the world in which he lives. Impressions which although modified do not change throughout his life. Is it any wonder then that children today are different from children of 50 years ago, where there was none — if few — of the luxuries which today are regarded as almost necessities.

Perhaps there is no permissiveness today but only an openness which did not exist in previous generations and ages. Let us draw a comparison between the present age and the Victorian age.

Certain facets of life were hidden then from the moralistic gaze of the righteous and yet in 1870 in London, England, which at that time had a population of 3 million — it is estimated that there were 80,000 prostitutes, which demonstrates the permissiveness in that society which allowed such rampant trade to flourish almost unchecked. Indeed although this era was moralistic in its outlook it would appear, at a cursory glance, to be the epitome of “the permissive society”.

We appear to have come a long way from that moralistic outlook on life — or have we?

In 1963 when the Profumo affair rocked British politics, commentators of the time were keen to point out that Profumo was wrong, not for his adultery, but for lying to the House of Commons and the possible danger to national security because of his liaison with the known prostitute Christine Keeler and yet the man and woman in the street were of the opposite view, namely, that a man in public life should set an example for the populace. A view which I’m sure would have been echoed by their Victorian counterparts.

Closer to home and closer to today is a different type of scandal — the infamous Watergate affair — if this were a permissive society in which we live would not this have been ignored and allowed to happen — but no — this affair led to the downfall of a man who held one of the most powerful positions in the world — the Presidency of the United States of America.

Perhaps now we should pause and try and see what this term “permissiveness” actually is or what it implies.

In this our democratic society we believe that it is the will of the majority which dictates what the norms of society will be. What actions will be within the Law and what ones will be contrary to the Law as the majority — through it’s elected representatives rule. This I should emphasize is the theory of democratic government — the government of the people — for the people — by the people.

This majority rule is to point out that as time passes and the younger generation become the older generation and also become the voting majority then the norms and consequently the laws of our society are altered to conform to the views of the new majority.

This can be summed up by saying that:


Change is not an evil in itself unless the change is detrimental to someone or something and on this subject something must include any part of our culture and therefore our ancestry.

In the Random House Dictionary PERMISSIVE is defined: “habitually or characteristically permitting or tolerating behaviour that others might disapprove or forbid”. This I feel is a rather poor definition as it does not explain enough but it is sufficient to corroborate my opinion on this subject.

If we can accept this fact and understand that what we feel is unacceptable to us, not because it is harmful, but only because it is against our basic principles — may become a way of life tomorrow, then we will feel more secure in the possibility of a good future for our children and grandchildren.

I am not suggesting for a moment that each of us should agree with actions or opinions of other people which are contrary to our basic beliefs but only that we should understand that, due to their initial indoctrination into our society being different from ours then their outlook on life is different but NOT necessarily wrong.

I feel I have covered a part of the subject matter up to this point but now I come to the other part — where does Masonry and the Mason stand in this changing — I think that changing is a more apt word than permissive — society?

One of the greatest attractions for me in Masonry — after the brethren — is that Masonry is unchanging — I feel contentment in the knowledge that had I sat in a Lodge over a hundred years ago it would be the same as sitting in a Lodge today.


The Lodge would be the same — or would it?

The brethren — well they’d be the same — or would they?

The Ritual would be the same — or would it?

Changes have occurred and will continue to occur in Freemasonry both in Lodge work and in the running of Lodges and Grand Lodges.

Not so many years ago to bring alcoholic beverages into a Masonic Temple was strictly taboo — now it is recognized in many areas that alcohol is not an evil in itself but it is the constant overindulgence of alcohol to the detriment of the consumer’s health or that of persons with whom he is in contact, which is the evil — another change in the operation of Lodges.

These changes in the operation of lodges etc., are not permissive, of course — OR ARE THEY?

Up to recent times even minor contraventions of God’s or Man’s Law were considered reason to expel a brother from the Order. For the Masonic Offences as listed in our Constitution were indeed offences. Offences like drunkenness, fighting, undue solicitation of candidates, adultery. But of course, who today would ever think of enforcing such petty matters as these.

Perhaps the pendulum of change has swung too far in this respect but perhaps it has not.

In summation, let me direct your attention to these points:

  1. What is permissiveness?
  2. Is there permissiveness in the world today or is it merely changing in ways some of us do not understand or appreciate?
  3. Is Masonry as an organization permissive?
  4. Are Masons today being permissive in not safeguarding the Ancient Landmarks and Established Customs of the Fraternity?
  5. Within what limits should a person be allowed to set his own standards of morality?
  6. Should I have stayed at home and not bothered coming to deliver this address?