Essay On Liberty Equality And Fraternity

Student Winner. First Prize ($2,500)

“The Great Aim in the Struggle for Liberty is Equality before the Law.”—F. A. Hayek

It is hard to imagine two people more different. M. Lamartine was a poet who supported socialism; M. Bastiat was a philosopher who supported laissez-faire. Yet they were well acquainted—both had attended the French National Assembly after the February Revolution of 1848—and were at least gracious debating partners, if not outright friends.

Still, they disagreed on everything, especially economics—national workshops, universal credit, minimum wage, protective tariffs, and industrial subsidies. One day, Lamartine wrote to Bastiat claiming to have discovered the root of their differences. Their exchange was captured in Bastiat’s pamphlet The Law: “M. de Lamartine once wrote to me thusly: ‘Your doctrine is only the half of my program. You have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity.’ I answered him: ‘The second half of your program will destroy the first[1].’”

The difference between Bastiat and Lamartine was the central difference dividing classical liberals and socialists, and has since defined the philosophical debate dividing modern liberals and conservatives. Genuine justice, in the Enlightenment Classical-Liberal tradition, is fundamentally opposed to the egalitarian “social justice” of the modern left. The republican society based on liberty and equality under the law simply cannot coexist with the egalitarian society based on artificial equality of condition. In fact, the greatest threat to the institutions of the democratic republic comes not from the pulpits of Islamic fundamentalism, but from the mouths of well-meaning politicians preaching “equality of condition,” “fair trade,” and “social justice.”

The Republic: Law, Justice, and Equality

What is this strange creature called “the republic”? Definitions abound, but perhaps the best comes from Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. “What is called a republic, is not any particular form of government... [but is rather the] object for which government ought to be instituted. [It is the] RES-PUBLICA... the ‘Public Business’ of a nation[2].” A republic is defined not by form but by function; not by organization of parts but by the object for which they are arranged.

What progress! If that’s a republic, then what’s the res-publica? What is the proper business of the state? To understand the answer, we must first analyze the philosophy of classical liberalism from its foundation. In the words of Samuel Adams, “The Natural Rights of the Colonists are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can[3].” To prevent complete anarchy and chaos, man is obliged to combine his right of self-defense with those of his fellow, and delegate this defensive force to a third party called government. In the words of Bastiat, “[Law] is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense[4].”

Since the created cannot exceed the creator, it follows that governmental activity is limited to those instances where an individual can legitimately use force. Again, Bastiat: “Government acts only by the intervention of force; hence, its action is legitimate only where the intervention of force is itself legitimate... that being the case of legitimate defense.[5]” Or, as Hayek put it, free society confronts the problems of chaos and crime “by conferring the monopoly of coercion on the state and by attempting to limit this power of the state to instances where it is required to prevent coercion by private persons[6].”

A republican government has two contractual obligations to its people. First, a republic must guarantee justice by eliminating injustice. It exists specifically for this purpose; “to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all[7].” Second, a republic must secure equality for all its citizens. Since government derives its authority from the equal input of all its citizens, it must treat each equally under the law, and not discriminate against any. Moreover, legal inequality (discrimination in enforcement of the law) is a clear injustice. If a republic is charged with eliminating injustice in society, how can injustice in its own actions be justified?

The concept of “equality” has been overused, abused, and reduced the level of a common cliché or political buzzword. We will take our definition from Supreme Court justice John Marshall Harlan, who wrote in his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, “In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law[8].” Equality is equal protection for rights. Thus, we can see that republican equality is not an act of empowerment, or some other positive action encouraging success; it is a simple act of protection, a defensive action discouraging crime and violation of human liberty.

Egalitarianism and “Equality of Condition”

Some want to go farther. Many today see liberty and equality as Lamartine saw them; as secondary results of another broader program of egalitarian “equality of condition,” which Lamartine knew as fraternity. Proponents of this “social justice” promote the redistribution of wealth from the “haves” to the “have-nots,” using three (seemingly formidable) arguments.

First, they claim that wealth, by its nature, causes poverty, since in the market one person’s gain means another’s loss. This theory has existed since the days of Aristotle and Plato, and is the one lasting legacy from pre-Enlightenment Mercantilism. Bastiat knew this as the concept that human interests are intrinsically antagonistic. We know it today as the infamous “zero-sum game” that was the foundation of Marxist economic analysis. Simply, this theory claims that the accumulation of wealth, in and of itself, is an injustice to the poor, which must be corrected by government intervention.

Second, these egalitarian thinkers claim poverty, by its nature, violates human liberty. They claim that the poor are unable to fully use their faculties, or to receive the full value of their property, since their needs are greater and they cannot bargain with others on equal terms. Thus, poverty violates their ability to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor, and government must declare a “war on poverty” to protect their liberties.

A third argument used to support redistribution is the concept of entitlement: that every individual has a basic human right to wealth, which are a debt owed to him by society. Since poverty exists, clearly some people are not receiving their fair share from this societal spigot of prosperity, and those with “excess wealth” are enjoying what rightfully belongs to others. This denial of basic human rights is an unmistakable injustice, deserving governmental action.

Really? Let us cover all three arguments in turn. First, two individuals exchange commodities only if both gain through that exchange; after all, if trade meant a net loss to them, why on earth would they trade? Capitalism could not be a zero-sum game, simply because it would cease to exist if it was. This is one of the many facets of Jean-Baptiste Say’s Law of Markets,[9] (more famously known as Adam Smith’s “invisible hand[10]”): businesses operate by satisfying the wants of others, creating products of value to trade for what they desire (money, labor, production materials, etc.) An accumulation of wealth, therefore, is not an injustice as much as a service to the community; for it indicates that an individual provided more value for his neighbors than others, and therefore received more value in return.

Second, poverty does not violate human rights. Liberty, as defined by Bastiat, is “the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so[11].” Clearly, poverty does not threaten liberty, since it does not restrict man from using his faculties, or from enjoying the product of those faculties. Discrepancies of wealth are not the result of any societal injustice, but, in the words of James Madison, are caused naturally, by “the diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate. [Yet] the protection of those faculties is the first object of government.” Wealth and poverty arise naturally from the concept of liberty; diversity in abilities creates discrepancies in wealth.

Finally, the alleged “right to wealth” does not exist. The right of property, as expounded by classical liberals, is best described as Thomas Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness;” it is the right to utilize one’s faculties to produce and enjoy utility[12] (the satisfaction derived from goods and services.) The perceived “entitlement” to wealth is a subtle corruption of the original republican “right of property” (to pursue and produce utility or happiness) into the right to property (to physically enjoy a certain level of wealth.) However appealing, this right does not exist.

Nor can it exist. We must understand that there are two classes of rights possessed by man. The first encompasses the “natural rights” so famously set forth in the Declaration of Independence, which exist in a state of nature and are an intrinsic component of man. The second includes “civil rights,” which are only extensions of natural rights to societal interaction[13]. In other words, man has no rights, besides those which he possesses naturally in the absence of society altogether. Clearly, then, the “right to wealth” cannot exist since it requires the presence of other individuals (society) to provide that minimum level of wealth.

Republican Justice vs. Egalitarian Equality

From there, the egalitarian argument completely breaks down. If legitimate republican government is limited to merely removing the stain of injustice from the fabric of free society, then how can governmental redistribution of wealth be justified if poverty is not an injustice? It cannot be defended without attacking the very foundation of republican political theory. The ideals of egalitarianism contradict the ideals of republicanism; “equality of condition” is incompatible with “equality under the law.”

Thus it is that the republican institutions of justice are threatened by the very people claiming to champion those values under the name of “social justice.” It is not a little disconcerting to realize that the enemy of liberty is the kindly neighbor who supports welfare for the poor, the well-meaning preacher who advocates the enforcement of the voluntary model of early Christianity where “no one claimed that any of his possession was his own, but they shared everything they had[14].” Yet that is the inevitable and unfortunate conclusion: advocates of redistribution are necessarily opposed to the republic as envisioned by our Enlightenment forefathers.

The problem with redistribution should be clear. As Bastiat states, “You say: ‘There are persons who have no money,’ and you turn to the law. But... nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in[15].” In its proper role, the State is not a productive entity; it produces no goods or services, besides the service of protection against crime and injustice. Redistribution only spreads around existing wealth to new recipients... and in the process, confiscates that wealth from its legitimate owners. Thus, by definition, redistribution gives unequal treatment to different economic classes and individuals. Rather than ensuring equality under the law, redistribution abuses the power of government to create a new legal inequality.

This leads to the question of taxes. Insofar as they are used to protect persons and properties against crime, taxes are a legitimate exchange of property for the service of protection[16]. After all, taxes are levied through the use or threat of force, and thus add to the level of coercion in society. Governments must compensate for the injustice inherent in taxation by using those funds to reduce and eliminate injustice elsewhere in society. However, if tax funds are diverted from this legitimate function, and used to redistribute and equalize wealth, then that compensation does not exist. The only effect of redistributive taxes is to increase the level of injustice; thus, such taxes are categorically illegitimate and necessarily contradict the republican nature of government.

Good intentions notwithstanding, redistribution is an injustice multiplied many times over. Redistribution exceeds the legitimate bounds of a republic, to use a strictly defensive force to fight injustice. Redistribution gives unequal treatment under the law, and bases the level of protection afforded to individuals by their personal wealth. Finally, redistribution neglects the duty of a republic to eradicate injustice, preferring instead to promote injustice by violating property rights. In the name of charity, the institutions of republicanism are threatened and ignored by modern society.

Like Thomas Paine, John Adams took his definition of republic from the Latin original, “res-publica.” Unlike Paine, he derived a completely different definition: “The word res, every one knows, signified in [Latin] ‘wealth... property;’ the word publicus... [meant] ‘belonging to the people.’ Res publica, therefore... [meant] the property of the people.... Republic could be no other than a government in which the property of the people... was secured and protected by law[17].” Adams further explains that this protection includes by implication a protection of liberty, since “property cannot be secure unless the man be at liberty to acquire, use, or part with it, at his discretion[18].”

The point remains: for Adams, a republic could only mean a government where property rights are protected. The protection of legitimate property was so tied to the republican concept of “good government” that for Adams they were one and the same. The Founders of our own American republic realized the full extent of their revolution. No longer would they tolerate the monarchial elitism where the word of a single individual was accepted as absolute law. Nor would they tolerate the mercantilist nationalism that trampled the property rights of Englishmen everywhere to give a monopoly to a favored group or individual. They designed a representative republic, where not only was everyone given a voice in government, but also where the right to life, liberty, and property were respected and defended. Their republican ideals run directly against the popular notion of “social justice.”

Redistribution and egalitarianism were rampant during the first half of the eighteenth century, especially in France. They are equally prevalent today. Just as Bastiat confronted Lamartine for his misguided policies, so must classical liberals of this century challenge the orthodoxy of “material equality.” The natural order of society is threatened by the artificial order offered by egalitarianism, and true justice is threatened by the ideals of social justice.

Frederich Hayek never spoke truer words than when he declared that “the great aim in the struggle for liberty is equality before the law.” But if we are to cry, as the French revolutionaries, “Vive la republique!” we must recognize the full implications of the republican philosophy... and the nature of our opposition. Politics may make strange bedfellows, but it makes stranger enemies; for the republic’s greatest enemies are those who believe themselves to be its friends. They desire the same republican institutions of justice and equality, but believe that classical liberalism doesn’t go far enough to promote the ideal of fraternity. They desire perfect equality for all, but support policies that conflict with true legal equality. They perceive injustice in the vast disparity of wealth, but launch crusades against the cause of that disparity: human liberty.

Like the road to hell, the Road to Serfdom is paved with good intentions. These well-meaning but misguided advocates of egalitarianism are the great opposition to equality before the law, and the fight against redistribution is the great front in the universal struggle for liberty.

Works Cited

Adams, John. Defence of the Constitutions of the Governments of the United States. New York: Da Capo Press, (1797)

Adams, Sam. The Rights of the Colonists. Boston: Director of Old South Work, 1906 (1772)

Bastiat, Frèdéric. The Law. Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, 1998 (1850)

———. Economic Harmonies. Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, 1967 (1850)

Ebenstein, Alan. Hayek’s Journey. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2001

Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, & James Madison. The Federalist Papers. New York: Random House, Inc., 2000 (1787-88)

Kurland, Philip, and Ralph Lerner, eds. The Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986

Life Application Study Bible, New International Version. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991)

Paine, Thomas. The Rights of Man. New York: Penguin Classics, 1985 (1791-1792)

Say, Jean-Baptiste. Treatise on Political Economy. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001 (1836)

Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1991 (1776)


[1] Bastiat, The Law, pg. 21-22

[2] Paine, The Rights of Man, pg. 178-179

[3] Adams, The Rights of the Colonists, pg. 1

[4] Bastiat, The Law, pg. 2

[5] Bastiat, Economic Harmonies, pg. 456-457

[6] Ebenstein, Hayek’s Journey, pg. 145 (quoting The Constitution of Liberty, F. A. Hayek)

[7] Bastiat, The Law, pg. 3

[9] “A product is no sooner created, than it, from that instant, affords a market for other products to the full extent of its own value... the mere circumstance of the creation of one product immediately opens a vent for other products.” Say, Treatise on Political Economy, pg. 134-135

[10] “By directing industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this... led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” Smith, Wealth of Nations, pg. 351-352

[11] Bastiat, The Law, pg. 51

[12] “Property is the right to enjoy for oneself the fruits of one’s own labor, or to surrender them to another only on the condition of equivalent efforts in return.” Bastiat, Economic Harmonies, pg. 220

[13] For example: the right of “habeas corpus” (the right for the accused to know the charges against him) could not exist in a state of nature (there are no other people!) but rather extends natural liberty to societal jurisprudence.

[14]The Bible. Acts 4:32 (NIV)

[15] Bastiat, The Law, pg. 27

[16] “Whether I guard my land myself... or pay the state to have it guarded for me, does not alter the fact that I make a sacrifice for the sake of an advantage.... This is not a loss, but an exchange.” (Bastiat, Economic Harmonies, pg. 444)


Valdemar W.Setzer
Original in Portuguese: 3/18/13; translated: 4/15/13; last revised: 4/26/13
(See also a translation to the Czech language, Svoboda, rovnost, bratrství: Minulost, současnost, budoucnost done by Katia Bondareva <>)

The triad "liberty, equality, fraternity" became popular with the French Revolution. Robespierre proposed in 1790 that it should be written in National Guard uniforms and in all flags. In 1848 this motto was defined in the French constitution as constituting a principle of the republic; it appears in the constitutions of 1946 and 1958. It had several variations, such as "unity, strength, virtue" used in Masonic lodges, or "liberty, security, property," "liberty, unity, equality" etc. During the Nazi occupation it was replaced by "work, family, fatherland". But it is the form known today that became the French motto, adopted also in other countries, such as in the Constitution of India of 1950. The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains the triad: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Interestingly, these three ideals have become social movements throughout history. Before discussing this aspect concerning each ideal individually, it is important to characterize how they are understood in this text.

In terms of freedom, we should consider both the external and internal aspects of the human being. The external one has to do with giving freedom to people. In the Old Testament we already find the yearning for freedom in relation to a community, with the escape of the Jewish people from the slavery in Egypt (Exodus 1-12). Interestingly, they liberated themselves from the domination of the Pharaoh, but fell under the domination of Yahweh, a demanding and vengeful deity. This was necessary taking into account the human constitution of that period and as a preparation for what was to come later. They had to follow the commandments and other precepts, including the purity of race, otherwise they were rigorously punished.

More recently, the notion of universal freedom appears, e.g. in the U.S. Constitution. In its famous 1791 "First Amendment", established to ensure civil liberties, it provides for freedom of religion, speech, press and the right of assembly. The important thing is that with it anyone became free to express his/her ideas.

Another milestone of the movement for freedom was the abolition of slavery in the U.S, approved in 1863, setting free 4 million Africans. The "Lei Áurea" (Golden Law) that abolished slavery in Brazil was enacted in 1888. It was the last country in the Americas to completely put an end to slavery (the last country in the world was Mauritania in 1981).

Nowadays, the notion of external freedom is rooted in the culturally evolved humankind. For example, scientists cherish their freedom of research, that is, being free to investigate what each one finds most relevant. Teachers and professors, especially the latter, value the freedom of teaching, that is, organizing and teaching their classes as they see fit. Interestingly, the syllabi of university courses are generally fairly succinct, allowing for instructors to present the subjects in their own way, introducing other topics and improvising their courses according to each class.

Another kind of freedom is the inner freedom, the free will. Note that for a materialist or physicalist � a person who admits, ideally through working hypotheses and not by belief, that there are only material, physical processes in the universe and in humans �, free will cannot exist. The reasoning leading necessarily to this conclusion is fairly simple: an atomic particle cannot have free will, therefore neither can a cluster of them forming an atom, a cluster of atoms forming a molecule, a set of molecules forming a cell, a group of cells forming a tissue, a collection of tissues forming organs, and finally a collection of organs forming a living being or a human being.

However, expanding the physicalist conception of the universe and of the human being, there is no problem in admitting, again ideally, as a hypothesis rather than a belief, that there are non-physical phenomena and processes that influence the behavior of matter, that is, which cannot be reduced to purely physical phenomena. I have a theory of how this is possible without violating "laws" and physical conditions. Briefly, let's consider that living beings assume in every moment some material state and that there are certain transitions to other states in course of time. Suppose that there are non-deterministic transitions from a certain state A to states B, C etc. This means that if a living being is in state A, one cannot physically determine if the next transition will occur to state B, or to C, and so on. Suppose, furthermore, that the choice of which non-deterministic transition will be made at each point in time requires no energy. In this case, the choice can be made by a non-physical member of the living being. This partially explains the origin and maintenance of organic forms of living beings, with their fantastic symmetries, such as our hands and ears. If their growth, done by cell subdivision, were not be controlled externally to the physical body, during growth and tissue regeneration the symmetry would not be preserved to the degree that it is observed. Furthermore, which cells of a given tissue of a living being will subdivide in the next instant is also a non-deterministic process. In this case, the cells to be subdivided can be determined by a non-physical "member" of the non-physical constitution of a living being, imposing the organic form and eventually maintaining symmetry. Another example of a possible non-determinism is the fact that certain genes may produce, each one, the synthesis of several different amino acids that subsequently produce proteins. In choosing which amino acid must be synthesized from a gene, something non-physical can influence the development of the living being. Note that if a living being were totally subject to physical "laws" and conditions, it would necessarily have a crystalline or amorphous form, like the minerals, and not the typical organized, organic forms of species of living being. By the way, these typical forms allow us to externally recognize a plant or animal as belonging to their particular species. We recognize these shapes with our thinking, which suggests that in their origin they are also of the same nature as our thoughts.

Note that any inner process that modifies a living being is not subjected to a complete sequence of detectable physical causes and effects: investigating this sequence inevitably leads to a dead end. For example, the reader can mentally decide to perform a certain movement with one arm and then actually do it. Suppose that during the movement some muscle tissues of the arm are changed, some of them contracting and others expanding, due to chemical or electrical impulses received from some so-called "motor nerves". Great. But why did the motor nerves produce these impulses? Suppose that they, in turn, received impulses from a region R1 of the brain. Great. But why did this region R1 issue these impulses? Suppose it did because it received impulses from another region R2. Great. But why R2 issued these impulses, and so on? It is thus impossible to determine the primary cause of a conscious, previously imagined movement we make.

Following my conception of the world I will hypothetically assume the existence of free will in humans (but not in animals and plants). This hypothesis is based on my own experience of being able to determine a next thought, consciously choosing among several possible thoughts, without this choice being forced by preferences or remembrances. For example, I can mentally choose two numbers I have never seen or never thought about, and then choose one of them, "visualizing" it mentally for a few seconds, with closed eyes, as on a display of numbers for a queue, corresponding to numbers drawn by the people in the queue. Based on this hypothesis, external freedom should allow for inner freedom, that is, free will, to manifest itself. Note that it is possible to prevent the exercise of free will: just induce the person into a semi-conscious state like the one produced by excessive alcohol consumption, by psychotropic drugs, outbursts of anger or fear, sleep deprivation, brainwashing, stress, TV, and electronic games of the action/reaction or ego-shooter type (due the speed with which the player must react, because conscious thought is relatively slow).

Therefore, it is interesting to consider that external freedom is appreciated because it allows a person to exercise inner free will, that is, to think freely, therefore to plan and then perform actions or to speak. This occurs, for example, when one allows a person to have ideas (when one allows a person freedom to exercise her/his free will) and express them (outer freedom of action or of expression).

It is possible that this movement towards external freedom reflects the conquest of free will by humanity. That is, at a certain time in history people began to feel that they could have thinking freedom. By inner observation, they noticed they they could choose their next thought and focus on it. This can be experienced nowadays by anyone. By observing their freedom of thought with their own thinking, and the fact that they could carry out their previously planned actions in the world, people began to fight for outer freedom, that is, making it possible for them to externally execute those actions. No modern person should be content to follow commands, dogmas, laws and social rules without understanding their purpose and recognizing their validity. That is, they become suggestions and not impositions. For example, there is a law that prohibits crossing a red traffic light. If it is followed by fear of getting a fine or having the car hit by another vehicle, or by habit, one is not acting freely. But if one consciously recognizes that the law is valid because it protects other people from being injured and directs the traffic, it may be followed in freedom.

As already said, the movement for universal freedom is relatively old, because it apparently began at the end of the 18th century. Obviously, it has continued with increasing intensity until today.

We are currently in full development of another universal movement, the human rights. Human rights, which are expressed in laws and social rules of conduct, have to do with equality. Everyone should be equally treated before the laws concerning rights and duties. For example, if a law requires that one should not discriminate based on gender, religion, nationality, ethnicity or physical disabilities, it must be equitably applied.

It is interesting to note how equal opportunities are being given to physically disabled people to move around like people who do not have this deficiency. This is the fairly recent case of lowering sidewalks for wheelchair users, or installing mobile platforms on stairs where there are no elevators. Another manifestation of human rights is recognizing that sexual preferences are a strictly personal matters and nobody else has anything to do with it. If two people of the same sex decide to live together forever, they should have the same civil rights of two people of different sexes who have the same intention. The great social changes that are taking place in this area show another application of equal rights.

It is wonderful to witness, at present, the universal emergence and development of the consciousness for human rights. But what is the cause of this development? It seems to me that it is the insight that there is something "behind" every human being intimately connected to her/him, which I will call Higher Self, the essence of every person. It is a non-physical member (and therefore has no gender), and it is independent of religion, ethnicity and nationality. This higher self is different from what I call the lower self, which encompasses the physical body and tastes, instincts, memory, temperament etc. The higher self, like the lower self, is absolutely individual � this is why identical twins usually end up with completely different interests and lives, despite having the same DNA and eventually very similar education during childhood and youth. It is because of this higher self that we can get in touch with universal and eternal concepts, such as mathematical ones.

All higher selves, albeit different, are of the same nature, and constitute the very essence of every human being. Maybe it's the insight of it that has led to the universalism that is being strongly manifested in recent times. For example, in the European Union (EU) people have the right to live in any country, they are allowed to move freely from one country to another (a consequence of the Schengen Treaty of 1995). The universities allow students to take part of their courses at other universities in any EU country etc.

In the same way as with free will, people with a materialist or physicalist conception of the world and of the human being cannot admit the existence of a non-physical higher self. For such people, the human being consists only of the physical body, as it was inherited and then modified by the environment. But in this case there can be no equality - note that a transplant is rejected because every human body is physically unique. Rather, for someone who admits the existence of non-physical processes and members in humans, there should be no impediment to suppose, ideally by hypothesis and not by belief, the existence of this higher self, the divine member existing in every human. The recognition of this higher self should be the conscious reason for respecting others, that is, the origin of the impulse for equality.

As we have seen, the universal social movement for freedom is relatively old, that is, it began in the 18th century. Moreover, the social movement for equality, especially concerning rights, is occurring and developing in present times. Note that, as with everything that is human and social (because society and social relationships depend on individuals), there is no rigidity in these areas and no clear boundaries. Every human being is unpredictable. The biggest killer can regenerate himself and become socially important. Thus, although the movements for freedom and equal rights have respectively appeared and developed in the past and present, one can find its manifestations, still incipient, in very remote times. And what social impulse will appear and develop in the future?

It seems to me that the future holds the development of the third ideal of the French Revolution: fraternity, brotherhood. Let us first consider what it means.

Perhaps another denomination provides a better understanding of the meaning of brotherhood: solidarity. In social terms, it is not enough to allow a person to be free and have equal rights with others: it is necessary to help the person to develop her/himself.

We had in Brazil a sad example of what it means giving freedom without conditions and help to exercise it properly: the liberation of slaves threw them into the society without the slightest possibility of realizing themselves as individuals and even of surviving, because they were suddenly left without profession and without their master who, though often not treating them with dignity, at least provided them food and shelter.

Thus, fraternity, solidarity, mean helping those in need. There are many people and institutions that already do this. For example, I greatly admire the Kardecist spiritist movement, which is so popular in Brazil (attention, I'm not a spiritist), for its extensive social work, such as daycare centers, nursing homes, hospitals, help (in its particular way) for people with mental health problems etc. However, it seems to me that up to now there is no universal impulse of fraternity, as in the case of freedom and equal rights.

If a group of people violates the freedom of others or their equal rights, this is normally regarded as a return to the past, that is, behaving as mankind behaved in ancient times, such as in the Middle Ages. However, there is a long way before regarding someone who does not help others as not being a modern person. This shows that there is still no widespread sense of fraternity. In fact, the latter is very old - it seems to me that the great introducer of universal fraternity (that is, not within a family or community) was Christ, who helped indiscriminately all who came to him, even if it annoyed members of his religious community, which was heavily ethnic. Note that he did not want to introduce a new religion, because that would not be a universalist impulse. It seems to me that he wanted to renew Judaism making it universal, and not an ethnic religion as was the case. The great Buddha introduced the doctrine of compassion and love, and wanted to end suffering. According to him, birth, disease, old age, death and not getting what one wants is what leads to suffering. His solution was the mental development of each individual so that the person withdraws from earthly matters, and from all desires and impulses related to the physical world. That was not Christ�s message: according to him, suffering is part of our development, and we must overcome it by our actions here in the physical world, where we can choose to do good or evil, that is, where we can be free. Unfortunately, his message was totally distorted, and it continues to be so by many religions that claim to be Christian. We must not let these aberrations to dim his message and his example of life and, perhaps what is most important, the practice of selfless love, of altruism. A person who practices it should be considered as being a Christian, regardless of following a religion that does not consider itself Christian. Note that selfless love can only be exercised out of free will, that is, it should not be the result of an external imposition nor a habit or an inner pleasure of practicing it, because the pursuit of such pleasure would come from selfishness. Selfishness, egotism, is the opposite of selfless love. Selfless love comes from what I have very briefly characterized as the higher self, and selfishness from the lower self. Therefore, fraternity presupposes freedom and equality (recognition of the other as an equal, that is, also having a higher self).

Notice that the development of selfishness was a necessity for mankind. Without it, we would not have developed the perception of our own individuality, and therefore of self-consciousness. However, we are now at the stage of having to supplant it by selfless love.

As mentioned, the movements for freedom and equality appeared naturally, "automatically". As described above, the former appeared perhaps as a result of the emergence and development of free will which, to manifest itself, required external freedom. The latter arose from the intuitive perception of the higher self of the other. Will the movement for universal solidarity appear naturally due to an "automatic" development of humanity?

If we look at social evolution since the last century, we can see an exacerbated increase of selfishness and greed. The capitalist system itself is based on Adam Smith�s statement in his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations, that the satisfaction of selfishness and personal ambition would bring up an "invisible hand" that would distribute wealth and produce overall happiness. Unfortunately this "hand", which has indeed never been seen, must have never worked, because what we effectively see are growing economic inequalities and increasing social and individual misery � including the growing difficulty in social relationships, as well as addictions, not only to tobacco, alcohol and drugs, but also the most recent one, the Internet. International Journalist Jamil Chade, in his excellent 2009 book O mundo não é plano � a tragédia silenciosa de 1 bilhão de famintos [The world is not flat - the silent tragedy of 1 billion hungry people, in free translation] shows with realistic descriptions, including from his own experiences, the human tragedies caused by hunger and thirst. The most tragic aspect in this situation is that we produce or could produce enough food to feed the entire humanity. Only due ultimately to selfishness and greed of individuals, companies and governments, this inhuman situation is maintained. Food waste, inefficiency in production and consumption (e.g. eating meat is far less economically efficient than eating vegetables and dairy), improper industrialization (causing an impoverishment of food and the production of junk food, without nutritional value) are some of the factors that could be changed if there was a real spirit of brotherhood, that is, having the needs of people in mind, rather than pursuing exaggerated profit.

A symptom of the increased selfishness is also the fast growing competition. It turns out that any competition is inherently antisocial, because when one wins the other necessarily loses. The winner feels happy, accomplished and proud, and while the loser is at least frustrated. Therefore, the happiness of one person comes at the expense of unhappiness or frustration of another. The opposite of competition is cooperation, which is inherently social and fraternal.

The growing selfishness, greed and competition makes me doubt whether we will naturally develop a spirit of brotherhood, as we have developed the spirit of freedom and equality. It is very possible to consciously develop this spirit, through self-education of adults and education of children and youth. For example, it seems to me that competitive games should be totally banned from schools, replaced by cooperative games. In one class, students who are good at a subject should help their classmates who have difficulties. At the senior high school classes students should do an internship in an institution to help children, adults or old people with difficulties or disabilities. Helping others creates a sense of solidarity, and the taste for the exercise of brotherhood, just as the contact with suffering develops compassion.

By feeling compassion one can feel the responsibility to help others, and this is positive. However, it seems to me that the correct path is that one should cherish and contribute to the freedom and equality of others, and should perform fraternal actions. All this should be continually practiced out of a deep understanding of the human being. Unfortunately, this understanding cannot be obtained from a materialist, physicalist conception of the human being. If the latter is simply matter and is considered a mechanical-electrical machine, there is no harm in restricting its freedom (recall that this conception cannot admit the existence of free will), in not treating it as an equal (after all, we are all physically different), and in not helping it. Why could a material "thing" benefit from liberty, equality and fraternity? Only a psychotic person could think that s/he should handle a machine, e.g. her/his computer, with freedom, with equal rights and as something that needs help in a humane sense.

Therefore, to open the way towards a future with a feeling towards universal fraternity we must initially pass by the stage of supplanting what I consider the greatest evil of humanity today: a materialist, physicalist, conception of the universe and of the human being. The self-education referred to above should start with abandoning the prejudice that humans consist only of matter and physical processes. However, beware, I am not suggesting here that one should embrace spiritual or religious currents or sects that are based on feelings of satisfaction, promising physical or psychological comfort, happiness or, even worse, material gains. I am proposing that one should abandon the materialist conception out of a truly scientific spirit, without prejudices, in pursuit of understanding, using conceptual transmission of knowledge and doing conscious research. This approach already exists.

Aknowledgment: I am deeply grateful for Rose Lee Holland for many suggestions concerning the translation into English.

Other articles by V.W. Setzer with contents related to this one:

0 thoughts on “Essay On Liberty Equality And Fraternity”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *