Liberty, Fraternity and Equality

The Marseillaise was the bloodthirsty war-cry of the French Revolution: exactly the sort of thing that aroused the hatred of those who sang it. Such powerful feelings were easily heightened. The three words liberty, fraternity and equality constantly repeated and shouted out loud had a powerful hold, especially on all the underdogs. Enhancing the envy of the have-nots by appealing to their grievances with emotive words has always been very effective. Here again we note the power of three. One word more or less would immediately spoil the impact. Look back to my article “The Magic Three” which tells us of the impact over the mob exercised by Mark Anthony in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”.

I shall now examine the three words, liberty, fraternity and equality and how they affect people in their attitudes to life.

Liberty is the most powerful word of the three. We all want freedom, or we think we do. So what does ‘freedom’ mean?

The psychotherapist, Erich Fromm, wrote a splendid book ‘The Fear of Freedom”. Why should we be frightened of it. With very good reason. The more freedom we have the more we are obliged to make decisions and take responsibility for them. Those people who feel insecure and won’t think for themselves still feel they want to be free. Free from what? Free to do what they like. But you can’t have your cake and eat it. Freedom is for the brave who do not depend on others and think for themselves. The American President, Harry Truman, quoted from Harry Vaughan “Don’t go into the kitchen if you can’t stand the heat.”

Fraternity comes next. I believe that what was meant here was that we are all connected and should respect our fellow beings. Weak people who cannot stand their own company, love to have lots of

folk round them for support. Real friendships are made when we speak openly to each other and do not try to make people like us.

Equality is linked to fraternity, but is not quite the same thing. George Orwell wrote in his book “Animal Farm”, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”: a delightful tongue-in-cheek comment in one of the best satires of the 20th century.

Equality does not mean that we are all the same as each other. It does mean that everyone should be treated in the same way in the eyes of the law regardless of their status in society. We are a long way from having reached such an attitude. People are still very much judged not by what they are but how much they know.

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