Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

In the history of the West there have been numerous  revolutions but the one called the Great Revolution occurred, according to the professor writing on the opinion page of the Peace Weekly, in France in 1789. It was the revolution that broke down the walls, he says, that separated the social classes and ushered in many of the basic rights and equalities we enjoy today. He says, with admitted exaggeration, that we can separate world history into the "time before" and the "time after" this Great Revolution.

Looking at the history of that revolution closely,  we can see, he points out, a great deal of it involved violence and fanaticism. Under the banner of liberty  and equality many innocent people were killed.  Using  reason in the place of God, the instigators of the revolution, ironically, ended up acting against reason, and public order came to a halt. Ultimately, the course of the country was to follow a path of encroachment on other countries that developed into French Imperialism. Because of  this, some historians see this time as one of the darkest moments in  French history.

Why, he asks, did the revolution begin with the high ideals of liberty and equality and end up with a  government that struck fear in the hearts of the French people, finally turning them against the government? Octavio Paz, Mexican novelist, essayist and poet, says that it was the incompatibility of the two ideals, equality and liberty. From the beginning, these two values, he says, can't  be reconciled.  Liberty does harm to equality, and equality does harm to  liberty. Liberty makes inequalities more profound and equality oppresses liberty and in the end destroys it. Fraternity, the third value that stems from the revolution, is, according to Paz, what keeps them together. Fraternity can also be seen as "philanthropy" (benevolence), which the professor considers a better translation of the word than "fraternity."

This fraternal love of others is what will unite liberty and equality, which are enemies to each other.  According to Paz, the slogan of " liberty, equality and fraternity" is an important element of all democracies, but of the three, fraternity is the most important because it unites the other two.

In our modern societies, the differing values placed on liberty and equality have brought us a world divided into two camps: those who value democracy (liberty) and those who value socialism (equality). There seems to be little hope of uniting the two effectively and peacefully. We see this in the way Korea is divided into the socialist camp of the North and the democratic camp of the South. In the democratic South we have unlimited competition, a winner-takes-all capitalist mindset, while in the North, with its socialist system, most of the population lives in fear, and oppression an equality they did not envision, and not the equality the republic was to bring them.

The new Cardinal Yeom, who is also the Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, said in his first talk to the press after receiving the honor that there was a need for expressing the fraternal love between the two parts of Korea. An openness to reconciliation and respect are what each side should give the other, he said. The professor on hearing these words said that his heart was greatly elated. For a Christian this emphasis on world solidarity is a familiar goal and a legacy with which we have been intrusted. He hopes the Cardinal will be instrumental in working toward  healing the  internal and external conflicts we currently have in society, and that he will continue to work for the unification of Korea.

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