We all seek some metric abstract by which we can subject any specific topic or civic objective. The Age of Reason set in motion a humanist momentum that still dominates society, from the national conveying all the way down to the expectations of individuals when engaging with one another. Two fundamental axioms emerged from the 18th century and it’s the extent to which these maxims have been applied (and continue to apply) that, alongside economic prosperity, defines the reality of lived-experience in every democratic nation on Earth.
“All men are created equal.”
Take “men” to be humans. Take created equal as a statement of fact but not a law requiring equality of outcome. Meritocracy in America is given its ideological strength by dint of this statement, since it must inform all legislation and behaviour between government and citizens and citizens to other citizens. It’s ahistorical but this cannot be otherwise. Reparations for the subjugation of Africans whose near ancestors were slaves is a valid discussion but it is of its time and says nothing to the universal truth. “All men are created equal” is, in any case, the yin of human rights, the context we can all agree must frame the world in which we all aspire to create, advance and defend. Indeed the first (freedom of speech) and second (right to bear arms) amendments are paramount as the two critical corollaries.
“Liberty, Equality. Fraternity.”
This was the Left. It had faith in People. The Fraternity. But what if the People stay greedy, racist and unequal? There is no Fraternity. The People won’t allow Equality. The Left is pragmatic
What gives? It doesn’t take much to do the math. Liberty must take the hit.
Let’s pin down these words:
Depending on your personal blend of ideals, preferences and paradigms, the perfect proportions of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity will vary. This blend is often largely shared by one’s community (geographical, national, ideological, whichever) to become a vision of the “promised land”.
Sometimes history has created obstacles, current affairs imposing limits on “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” where one or other must suffer for the sake of the future e.g. to defeat Nazi Germany it required Fraternity to be turned up and Liberty turned down short term to protect it in long term. Again, everyone will have their own notion what precisely LibEquFra to give or take, to have the biggest chance of reaching the promised land.
What happens if we get rid of Fraternity (or over-weight it)?
Anarchy, in-group versus out-group, justification for violence and exploitation of those not in the fraternity without conscience, war, imperialism, nationalism jingoism patriotism, suppression and oppression, atomisation of people and therefore resources, tribalism to barbarism, community versus conspiracy versus confederacy. The Terror of the years following the French Revolution.
What happens if we get rid of Equality?
Corporate capitalism, oligarchs, dynastic power, elitism beats exceptionalism, monopoly, indentured servitude, cradle to grave predetermined. Passivity, exploitation, abuse of power. Back to a world of Kings and Dictators. Serfs and Feudalism.
What if we aspire to complete Equality from birth to death?
Communism, monopoly, uniformity, monotony, no innovation, no individuality, no agency, automation brick in the wall. Back to worst parts of the Communism a la 1984.
What about if we have less Liberty?
Fascism, totalitarian regimes, slavery, mob rule, power by strength and/or cunning applied to subjegate, dearth of creativity, grey lives day to day but also where the monotony is the best outlook cuz unpredictable means danger (sometimes death) or servitude, absence of privacy, technology applied to exert power over thought and deed, the world as a prison for body and soul. Examples might be North Korea or ancient Sparta.
How’s about total Liberty?
It’s a complex business deciding where personal liberty must needs be curtailed but the rule of thumb is “where it conflicts with Liberty” i.e. total freedom for the individual is only delimited by the freedom of another person or community, taken as an aggregate that includes the foreseeable future. This simple self-contained (and therefore potentially self-regulating) algorithm of [My Liberty x Rest of Life vs All Other Liberty x Foreseeable Future] should inculcate a thinking that’ll resolve conflicts (if any arise) with minimal imposition and no corrosion of Liberty principles. Total Liberty therefore is not freedom to murder your neighbour if the whim occurs. It is, on the other hand, freedom of speech, right to bear arms, right to fair trial, unrestricted movement, etc. All modern democracies flirt with a mix of safeguards to Liberty and ringfenced policed laws. None are perfect. Most are full of contradictions and inherited idiosyncrasies and imperfect history of progress.
But Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, howsoever it may be applied in one place, imposing or influencing or invigorating a person’s lived experience: the principles hold true, the promised land remains utopia not because it’s an impossible heavenly bliss or that it’s necessarily perfect. It is utopia because it is the two axioms made manifest, judged not by unchanging written blueprint but by a set of ideals whose meaning is expressed in pragmatic subjective personal terms, good or bad as they are lived not as some ancestor or scripture once upon a time did describe