Liberté vs. Fraternité

by Scott Orlovsky

March 15, 2004   


Blue and red portray fields, stripes, and stars on the flags of many modern nations, and the arrangement of these two primary colors awaken fervid emotions in those who have been instructed to pay homage to them each morning in the schools and before the commencement of every sports competition. But few wonder beyond the emotional ritual and critically discern the meanings of the colors that underlie the schematic display. Blue and red sectioned off the corners of the French revolutionary flag that greeted the arrival of the conceptual ideals, la liberté and la fraternité.

Liberty represented the French attempt to achieve the political ideal of individual freedom popularized by John Locke, embedded in and protected by a constitutional republic and popular legislature. 18th century Enlightenment reforms attempted to instill rationality and republican virtue into the new government founded on laws, and into the new citizens through secular schools. Fraternity featured the platonic and romantic model of brotherhood glorified by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, launched by the birth of a new nation and shared by all of its citizens. 19th century Romantic nationalism erupted onto the political and social landscape to exalt the loyalty of newly born patriots to the higher power of the state.

The concept of liberty centers on the unique integrity of the individual and hir ability to search for individualized meaning within the infinitude of choices that composes the world. Liberty also distinguishes the intrinsic and unalienable freedoms possessed by individuals, and delineates the primary duty of government to secure and protect these rights. Liberty endows individuals with the constructive tools of skeptical inquiry and a wide scope of debate to stimulate critical mental development, and multiply the diversity of thought and opinion to enrich political and societal discourse. These virtues nourish alternative ideas and cultivate intelligent proposals to help harvest solutions to the problems that belabor society and the wider world. Liberty epitomizes individualism and legitimates social cooperation based on voluntary association and action.

The concept of fraternity diffuses the idea of individualism before the collective requisites of the group, team, or state. Fraternity sacrifices individual needs before the greater needs of a majority, and personal liberty shrinks in the presence of the general will of the people. As government represents the ultimate group in society, fraternity espouses that a vast bureaucracy delegate the acceptable limits of thought and action through laws, and that a police force both supervise the behavior of members of the group, and coerce those that do not meet with society's legislative ideological standards. The people that constitute the subjects of the government represent members of the societal group called the nation, and both define themselves territorially and linguistically, and separate themselves in their ideas and lifestyle from others outside these politically and culturally created borders. Fraternity epitomizes nationalism to create intellectual and emotional bonds between members of the group, and applies exclusive and often Spartan standards of loyalty centered on a familiar ideology. Often the promotion of the ideology revolves around a pledge to the greater group concept and a propagandistic cult of those in power as part of the governing body of the nation's people.

Many people in the government work hard to convince the American people that the world is black and white, and they utilize the endless spittle of corporate talking heads to both propagandize their vicious Weltanschauung and censor any voices that disagree with it. I think that it is much more interesting to consider political society in blue and red, and denounce the current executive, legislative, and judicial branches for their handcuffing liberty at the expense of national security. SHAME ON THEM!

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America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Scott Orlovsky is a World History & Cultures, and an American History teacher at Clifton High School in New Jersey. He has a BA in History from the Johns Hopkins University and a MA in History from the University of Colorado.

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Published March 15, 2004
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