Freedom, Equality, Fraternity:

By Boris Mouravieff

According to the universally widespread tradition, which is being lost in the night of time, man is endowed with a possibility to overcome death. And so abnegation, reaching the ultimate sacrifice, is thus justified for the individual by the hope of finding a counterpart in the beyond1. Such is not the case for the Peoples. As Peoples live but once and their death signifies a definitive disappearance. Hell, purgatory and heavens of Peoples take place here below. The history of international relations offers us a permanent spectacle where tribes, Peoples, nations and States pursue an egoistic politics; quite justified by the above mentioned fact. The pompous proclamations of altruistic politics and the attempts at “disinterested” politics, such as for example those of Emperor Alexander 1st and his successors, were either folly, or hypocrisy. Thus we must admit that on the international plane, the politics of States seen without embellishment has been and will always be guided in the first place by egoistic considerations. Also, because the self-consciousness of Peoples – as with any community – has not and cannot have goals other than the welfare of their members – in every shape, but always here below2.

Such is a fact of nature, implicitly known in the very depth of every thoughtful person. Its dissimulation is not necessary and can be dangerous: it leads sometimes straight to armed conflict.

Remains to know if it’s possible to find an organic method of creating the conditions for the coexistence of the Peoples and States of the globe in an atmosphere of veritable peace, outside hot and cold wars, outside the classical hypocrisy and chimeric constructions? – Such that everyone finds his dues?

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While pursuing the answer to this question, let’s attempt to rapidly analyze the principles at base of the self-consciousness of those Peoples bearing the civilization whose home is Europe and birthplace France.

Freedom, Equality, Fraternity – such is the sacramental formula, engraved in occidental minds – and so strongly that with time it’s been raised to the rank of taboo.

On the interior as on the international level freedom is demanded. And it is undoubted that without a minimum of freedom we can’t even live, in the integral sense of the word, that is to say to develop in peace and in dignity. A remarkable study was recently made by Maurice Lambiliotte3, penetrating with extraordinary lucidity and courage to the heart of the problem and therefrom drawing logical conclusions with great tact and goodwill. Such a manner of dealing with the problem is all the more precious, since the object studied is an eternal matter of discord, which is easily transformed into a barrel of powder ending up in rivers of blood.

We have certainly nothing to add to this analysis, which we can only hope will be heard and well understood. All we wish – and that would be our modest contribution to the study in question – is to examine the very nature of the principle of Freedom, the principal object in Examen de Conscience. Let’s try to find its real place on the scale of political values proclaimed by the French Revolution, as it holds the foremost position of the three universally widespread members (tr.: i.e. Freedom, Equality, Fraternity).

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Bizarre as it may appear at first, this formula seems to us established inversing the natural order of things.

Let us look more closely. Generally the notion of liberty is conceived of as a right. Put in motion, it quickly takes the form of a demand, often supported by an armed hand. Whether won or granted, freedom is enjoyed within the limits imposed by the law or by treaties.

Freedom as we know it has been criticized more than once. More frequently, from the point of view of its practical application. We say, for example, that the freedom granted doesn’t mean all that much if it isn’t accompanied by the means of realizing it. Hence freedom for some and not for all, in other words a return to the aristocratic principle under a democratic guise. Similarly, the principle of equality is criticized. It is said to be purely imaginary since life, including humankind, is founded on inequality, a fact which is diametrically opposed; that in reality, the equality proclaimed is restricted to the judicial equality of citizens before the law – and moreover the facts don’t always correspond with the theory.

Surely in the imperfect world where we live it would be absurd to expect something that is perfect. But at least our efforts should be directed towards the possible perfection of the conditions of our lives and planned in a strictly logical manner. But then, as we have just said, the formula: Freedom, Equality, Fraternity seems illogical to us. Freedom maintains its aggressive sense; Equality is in jeopardy; as to the unfortunate Fraternity, it never leaves the frame of declarations. And one cannot see how, after two centuries of experience can we ameliorate the practical application of this famous formula of 1789.

II

The situation can be radically modified if we take the same formula, but backwards.

Fraternity, Equality, Freedom.

Let us allow that, by some marvelous means, we had established and generalized over the globe the great principle of Fraternity. What would then be the imaginable consequences?

First of all, the principle of Fraternity would relegate into immorality and flagrant illegality violence under all its forms; it would heal little by little individuals as well as Peoples suffering from either an inferiority or superiority complex. And it would condemn in a decisive and definitive manner racial prejudice – survivor from tribal mentality.

The practical application of the principle of Fraternity would surely not change the face of the world all of a sudden. Transgressions, abuses, weaknesses and incomprehension – this curse of humankind – will still subsist for a long while; but if it doesn’t modify straight away the facts, it would modify our attitude vis-à-vis the facts. Such that certain transgressions, certain abuses, certain weaknesses from which public life suffers, would no longer have the possibility of coming into action.

The proclamation and glorification of the principle of Fraternity would not be a chimeric act. It would be a very realistic enterprise; historical evolution, as we see, approves and demands it. Judiciously applied in practice, it will prevent for example, a group of activists’ interests from drawing their Peoples into a war. Also, racial prejudice, once it is stigmatized, would lower the pride of some and raise that of others…

All this is very lovely, the realistic reader will say, but how can we introduce practically in the morals of Peoples – and for all the more reason in those of States – the principle of Fraternity, such that it becomes a driving social and international force and ceases to be dead letter?

Very legitimate question. As in general, the value of any theory consists in its practical application. But before answering, let us finish our analysis of the reversed formula of 1789.

Let us allow, as we said, that by some marvelous process the great principle of Fraternity gets rooted in the consciousness of Peoples and of States. Wouldn’t that be the best, even the unique possible guarantee for Equality, both on the social as on the international plane? And Freedom, wouldn’t it then appear as the logical and organic consequence of this new state of things?

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One must understand and admit that with the technical progress achieved, wars are no longer profitable enterprises4. The experience of the great and small wars of the XXth century has provided astounding proof. Nevertheless, the fact passes almost unperceived. This paradox can be explained by obsession with the past. Man always arrives late, and we continue to direct affairs in the second half of the XXth century with the mentality of Napoleonic times.

III

Let us try now to find the answer to the practical question formulated above. We state straight away that it’s not a question of entering into and discussing the different political doctrines. Let’s leave them where they stand. Whether we profess ideas that are capitalist or communist, progressive or obscurantist, the brutal fact which dominates all is that with technical progress the Peoples have come out of the old system of resting in isolation and have been abruptly placed in a narrowed down world, mechanically reduced to unity.

This new, unexpected and still badly understood fact imposes on Peoples and on States new exigencies. And under pain of a cataclysm, demands of Man an urgent reviewing of values: abandoning obsolete positions that can no longer be defended and abandoning inoperative methods. From this point of view, communism like capitalism, both belong in principle to history and nothing more. With technical progress we have reached the threshold of a New Era, which demands imperiously new forms of coexistence of Peoples and of States.

In a study dedicated to the problem of super-state Authority5, the author of these lines has already directed attention to the principal tendency characterizing public life in our time: an accentuated interpenetration of intra and inter-state affairs, accompanied by an ever growing influence of economic and social factors over problems which are strictly political. Moreover, in general, a progressive mixing up of the factors and influences, which in their ensemble constitute modern public life, both national and international. Man, who is thus placed in every domain before new facts which communicate to the political conjuncture of the world an absolutely new aspect, is thus logically called on to seek a solution to the problem by way of new means.

It is obviously not possible in the frame of the present article to discuss in detail the arguments set forth in the mentioned work. Nevertheless it is necessary to draw the reader’s attention to a historical analogy which exists between the evolution which a feudal State undergoes in order to become a national, centralized State – and the judicial international order as it existed before the First World War, with its present evolution towards a new stabilization, not as yet definitively outlined.

Let’s briefly recall that the feudal State ceased to exist following the fact whereby national consciousness took precedence over regional consciousness (without altogether abolishing it). Thus were born the States endowed with a central power sufficiently strong to impose internal order and peace. Men of genius such as Richelieu understood the call of time and their work was preceding the evolution of the elite. Such that the unity of the French people was not consecrated until the following century, by the constituting Assembly. The latter abolished feudal privileges, and proclaimed national sovereignty, the separation of the legislative, executive and judiciary powers, finally, the admissibility of all citizens under public charges and their equality before the law. After all, it was nothing but the expression of the consciousness of Fraternity manifested within the frame of a single nation. Such was the process of the transformation which interests us.

We can say that currently, on the scale of the whole world – and despite the jolts of which we are witnesses – the man of elite approaches a psychological state analogous to that which animated the French deputies of the constitutive Assembly of 1789. It seems that in his very depths, in all the corners of the world, the man of elite is becoming – if not already become – conscious of the fact that the world regime, so to speak “feudal”, with its impervious partitions between States, and instilled with suspicion and jealousy, has no longer any reason for being.

And the divine principle of Fraternity which transformed feudal States into national States continues to work the spirits. It continues to work on the consciousness of the elite, but now on the superior scale, the international scale. The creation of organizations such as the League of Nations, then the United Nations, is it not a manifestation – still imperfect – of the consciousness of international fraternity demanding the constitution of an organ to express it?

The UN still does not represent such an organ. In fact if we placed side by side, the hugeness of the metamorphoses taking place in world conjuncture, and the weakness of the consequent modifications effected in the international judicial order, we would easily feel the disparity of the structure of the UN in relation to the real facts and to the march of time. The recent events furnish an irrefutable proof. For the United Nations is called on, not only to heal wounds, but to effectively prevent the spillage of blood.

The weakness of the United Nations is the direct consequence of the internal contradiction admitted at the base of this organization. If we open the Charter, we see that it was demanded in the name of the Peoples, whereas the carrying out of the vows which are therein stated was entrusted to governments6. And that is not the same thing.

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The population of the globe taken in its ensemble finds an analogy on the narrowed down scale of multinational States. The history of the latter provides us with suggestive examples. In the first place, they show that there is but two positive means of unifation (tr. the author means by this the uniting of factions): imperialism or federalism. A third, negative means, is provided by the old Poland with its regime of liberum veto, and the legalizing of civil war in certain conditions. It is precisely with this last regime that we can compare the international judicial system of our ended era. An anarchic system in principle, based on the equilibrium of opposed forces – which is unstable by its very nature– and the might of the stronger.

But then, the new international judicial system is still in an embryonic state and lacks effectiveness. This is because we seek, in vain, the solution of the problem on the level of the state, whereas it ought to be sought on the on the super-state level. Similarly, in the feudal States, the force to surmount regional antagonisms and the rivalry of the lords was found by appealing to the supreme, omni-national authority.

If we compare the whole of humanity to the population of a State, with the individual in both instances keeping its place, we would be obliged to admit that the different States of the present time, on the global scale, are analogous to the feudal fiefs of the Middle Ages – on the level of a State. Accordingly the United Nations, insofar as it is a governmental organization, would appear to us similar to an imaginary congress of feudal lords, stripped of any real authority…

Seeing the futility of the idea of applying today the principle of imperialism to unify humanity – which would tend to the creation of a Polizei-uber-Staat, we have no other possibility but to examine the practical conditions under which we may envisage the application of a unifying federalist principle.

Here again, history provides us with suggestive examples; notably cases of multinational States. First of all we have before our eyes that of the ancient Helvetic Confederation of sovereign districts which was transformed into a federative State. Another analogous modern example is given by the USSR.

So we ask ourselves, if it isn’t possible to solve the deficiency of the present international judicial system by taking inspiration from these examples of which one held against the test of time and the other against that of invasion?

It must be said that political thought is hardly ever inspired. But then, inquiries into the source of the super-state authority – as we already said – should not tend towards a states super-structure (tr. i.e. a super-structure composed of sates). That would be a non-sense and would create a vicious circle. The field of inquiry must be frankly changed: leaving the state or inter-state plane to go to the very source of any public power – popular consultation.

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How, while keeping realities in check, can we practically tackle the problem within the general frame of the United Nations, given that this Organization is called upon to become universal? Could the example of the multinational States endowed with a federative constitution in effect be imitated on the world plane? And in what way? The bicameral, parallel system, of Switzerland or the USSR, could it be introduced into the United Nations, and would it render the latter more effective?

In our opinion the idea of creating beside the general Assembly of States – members of the UN – a second general Assembly, of the Peoples, organ of expression precisely of the great principle of human Fraternity, would modernize the international judicial system and would endow it with an incontestable authority.

Equal in rights, assembling at the same time and place, these two Chambers would form together the supreme Assembly of the United Nations, analogous to the Swiss federal assembly or to the supreme council of the USSR.

That would also be, in our opinion, the reestablishment of a just equilibrium between the traditionalist principle expressed by the Assembly of States, and the innovative one of which the Assembly of the Peoples would be the hearth. For if the delegations to the present general Assembly of the UN, each comes provided with an imperative mandate from their respective governments – which they cannot transgress, that of the general Assembly of the Peoples will not be thus bound. And at the heart of their Assembly the delegates will be able to form – and will most certainly form – groupings without obligatorily taking into consideration, as was the previous case, of their belonging to such or such State or group of States. It would then be a genuine organ of expression, on the international plane, of the principle of human Fraternity.

And if, in this project of modernizing the United Nations, each of the two Assemblies cannot make, just as before, anything but recommendations, their vote in the common session that is the Supreme Assembly of the United Nations will have, by its very nature, imperative meaning and force.

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Clearly, despite this, quarrels between States can and most certainly will surge. One must still let time do its work. Thus, we may perhaps begin by gathering in the Peoples’ Assembly, parliamentary delegations: and it will not be until much later that we will come to direct and proportional elections. But the main thing will be that henceforth the structure of the United Nations having come in harmony with the pulse of the new political and social life which demands real freedom, no longer conditional or directed, but manifesting within the frame of an effective equality and based on the principle of human fraternity.”

We find not a word to add to Mr. Mouravieff’s article, and only hope that there be some advocates of true Freedom in the world who can raise their eyes from the immediacy of their own lives and look at the greater picture and its imperative demands. And time, we must hope against all hope for time…

1 It is curious that even the ultra-materialist atheistic systems recognize this indirectly. For if for them religion is but the opium of the people, and if they truly set off from the principle that with death everything ends, then logically, the human body should hold for them the supreme value – or condition. How then explain the call for sacrificing one’s life which the materialist leaders throw at the masses, in certain circumstances? Should one conclude that their materialist profession of faith is but the same opium of the people, offered under a different banner?

2 Already Machiavelli, though wrongly understood and generally wrongly interpreted, drew attention to the error of comparing States, on the plane of international politics with individuals on the internal plane.

3 Examen de Conscience (tr. Examination of Conscience) by Maurice Lambilliotte. La Revue SYNTHESES. No 126-127, November – December 1956.

4 Translator’s note: Certainly the author is not discussing the immediate financial profits generated by the weapons manufacturers and the States harboring such industries. The word “profitable” here should be taken in the sense of profit to any Peoples and to humankind, where experience over the past century shows that the advance of technical progress assures that all pay the price and none escape including the aggressor.

5 Boris Mouravieff, Le Probleme de l’Autorite super-etatique. Neuchatel. La Bacconiere, passim.

6 The question has already been raised and studied in the midst of the Swiss consultative Commission in 1918, and was the subject of the message of the federal Advice of 4 August 1909. C.f. Le Probleme de l’Autorite Super-Etatique. Above cited