Sunday, October 4, 2009

Libertè, Egalitè, e Fraternitè!

The Slogan´s of the French Revolution, Libertè, Egalitè, & Fraternitè influenced Spain and Europe in the past and continue to do so even today. The following are two interesting quotes of an important figure of the XIXth century which pose an interesting dilemma for those of us who believe in these ideals.

“Two words are enough to create evil, two words which because they are empty of meaning, enchant the dreamers by emptiness. These two words are Liberty & Equality.”

“The people let themselves be duped easily enough, you cannot exaggerate the goodness of the people, I might even say of all people’s, but their ignorance is great, and therefore they must be led.”

Prince Metternich
Austrian chancellor and foreign minister, dominated the European political scene after 1815. The architect of the Congress of Vienna he represented and embodied the conservative and autocratic values of the period. He was driven from power in 1848 when a revolution in Vienna forced him to flee the country.

What are your opinions? From the review we did of the XIXth century, how do you think these ideas apply to Spain during this period?


Randall Horn said...

Liberty and Equality are hard to achieve and in fact may seem "empty of meaning" when aligned with the French Revolution. The "Napoleonic Code" of Liberty, Equality and Freedom is more of an ideal than a reality. Napoleon instigated a revolution by leading the "oppressed" people of the foreign countries he conquered to believe they'd achieve these pillars of humanity under his rule. Essentially, the people were "duped" into believing that this slogan guaranteed a better life and thus they welcomed foreign invasion by a militarist. The "believers" of his code were led by Napoleon as he dawned himself the new King of his empire.

At first it seemed coward for Spain to hand over the throne to this foreign invader. But, this seems more logical than risking total annihilation by Napoleon's army. Now I find the guerilla attacks admirable and evidence that the Spanish wouldn't accept the idea of a foreigner leading Spain. The Spanish didn't believe that the Napoleonic Code would make Spain a better place and thus were not sold or "duped" and resisted his empire.

Esteban Matthews said...

Some people use the phrase, ‘it is a necessary evil.’ It is impossible to argue against the evils created by the words Liberty and Equality. There will always be fear, excitement and or evil into anything we are not certain of. I would tell the dreamer to dream and not worry if their dream is based upon logic. Metternich gives powerful insight into the capabilities of effortless, non-definable words. However, the true believer in Equality and Liberty is captivated by the ends of the mean and not the means of the end.
I strongly disagree with Metternich’s second quote. There are two points I find misleading, the first is an assertion that people allow themselves to be tricked easily. I find this inaccurate, the people are not being tricked into anything, at this time, France and all the people supporting the empire, extensively believed Napoleon brought Libertè, Egalitè, & Fraternitè to their countries. I believe tricky was not involved, maybe the system was flawed at obtaining the three justices, but the ideals themselves held true. The second is the declaration of mankind’s ignorance, and therefore the necessity to be led. This seems irrational, the absence of motivation due to lack of information does not correlate to the desire for leadership; instead it creates a desire of blissfulness.

William Suttles said...

It's fairly easy to see why a Prince of the Austrian Empire would have such coarse words toward the ideas of liberty and freedom. As a part of the Austrian Empire, Prince Metternich was firmly entrenched in the concept of an absolute monarchy. The introduction of any individual rights, including but not limited to liberty and equality, threatened the power and authority this Austrian Prince enjoyed.

As for the need for liberty and freedom in Spain; this is a bit vague. I can draw appreciation from the second quote in that the vast majority of the public were illiterate and easily persuaded by abstract ideals. It is quite perceivable to think of a progressive few influencing the uneducated masses into embracing such ideas as liberty and freedom without full comprehension of what the ideas truly meant. Fear of an illinformed group that threatens the very idea of your existence, from the view of a monarch, seems justified. This would be of no exception in regards to Spain. Change is a scary thing that strikes fear into the powers that be, no matter the era or circumstances.

Kassidy Benson said...

Prince Metternich makes an undeniable point: The aspiration to construct pure liberty and equality of mankind is futile. Civil liberties will never be able to deconstruct the social, mental, and physical barriers which restrict liberty and equality in the full sense of the word. The point Metternich makes is not original, ancient Greek philosophers have questioned the potential of liberty and equality since 500 BC.

During the nineteenth century, leaders lacked the foresight to understand the benefits of liberty and equality. Revolution after revolution only brought more killing and instability to Europe and Spain. Although we have yet to achieve true liberty and equality today, systems now exist to protect civil liberties and make a more equalitarian society. After two centuries of building up a global ideology which values human rights, more people than ever can pursue happiness. In order to transition into democracy, a stage of Paternalism was necessary during the nineteenth century.

Although ideas of democracy were appealing, during the instability people instinctively turned to the familiarity of Paternalism. Like in Austria, the people of Spain clung to the ancient regime. Although Metternich meant to highlight the paternalism, his quote ironically points out the weaknesses of authoritarian rule. He uses the word people as if he is not part of mankind.
“The people let themselves be
duped easily enough, you cannot
exaggerate the goodness of the
people, I might even say of all
people’s, but their ignorance
is great, and therefore they
must be led.”

When you consider that a ruler is nothing more than a man with a metal weigh on his head the meaning is greatly altered.

An authoritarian ruler is
manipulative. His goodness is
exaggerated. In most cases he is
ignorant to the realities of his
people and therefore the people
should stop following blindly.

In my personal opinion, a quote written by the man whose diplomacy and map drawing was at the origin of both World Wars holds little clout.

K said...

Will, I like your point about Prince Metternich’s background. His position as a prince, especially as ‘the embodiment of conservative and autocratic values of the period’ puts quite a spin on his words. Of course he isn’t going to like the idea of liberty and freedom – those two words translate to a loss of his power.

And Kassidy, I disagree about your comment about a ruler being “nothing more than a man with a metal weigh on his head” – yes, a ruler is simply a man, not God, but his amount of influence on the course of history is immense. It’s entirely possible for a people to be tricked into believing something untrue – what is the media, but a method of attempting to achieve just that? Even before our modern idea of media, governmental propaganda was in full swing.

As for the relation to Spain, I think the second quote is actually quite relevant. The people of Spain were under a constant barrage of change – yes, the intellectuals were able to discern what was happening ideologically, but as for the peasant farm worker in the fields? What did he know about far-off politics other than what he heard from his neighbors or what he saw happening in his local pueblo? It’s easy for him to be misled, especially by those clever figures who know how to sway opinions.

Cristina said...

“But their ignorance is great, and therefore must be led”. I found this statement to be quite ironic because the revolution that took hold of Spain during the XIXth century sculpted a new meaning for the French Revolution’s slogan: Liberate, Egalite & Fraternite. Finally, the masses were revolting and the people were truly seeking the echoed words of the revolution. The Spanish people took a proactive stance in the politics of their country and no longer stood for misrepresentation and exploitation. Their so-called ignorance, aforementioned by Prince Metternich, had transformed into an understanding and desire for a better quality of life. In class, we learned about many stories of men fighting and revolting against authority, nobility and institutions in the perusal of personal liberty and equality. For example, many men refused to travel to Morocco to fight in a war they did not agree with. Instead, these men refused to be exploited by the authoritve institutions of Spain and revolted. Furthermore, during Alfonso the 13th’s wedding in Madrid, an anarchist attempted an assignation on him. These extremist situations portray the new founded sentiment amongst the Spanish people.

I believe that the Spanish people needed Napoleon to impose the ideal of Liberty and Equality with his Napoleonic Code in order for a better reality to take hold. Of course, the Napoleonic Code was an ideal and as history tells, ideals can never be achieved. But the notion for equality and liberty was the catalyst for the people to understand their role in society and take action against the repressive bourgeoisie.

I salute the Spanish people for their courage NOT to be led, for recognizing the disillusionment behind the institutions and for fighting for a true ideal worth living for.

Andrew said...

These are very difficult quotes to analyze in the sense that both convey partial truths and partial fallacies. Although I see the potential dangers associated with liberty and equality, I disagree with the prince’s rational; these concepts are impossible to achieve because of the masse’s ignorant, illiterate, and narrow sighted minds. I believe these concepts could be dangerous if the populace does not do its part to implement them properly.
For example, what better way to garner complete control over a people than by making them think they control their own destinies, when in reality they serve as mere pawns to a governing body with absolute power (contrast this with the populace knowing they are being ruled. Which do you think would cause more uprisings?). Napoleon proved this by making his soldiers and countrymen believe they were fighting for these concepts, when in reality he was asserting his dominance as a hegemonic leader.
Furthermore, when reviewing the bloodshed and tarnished dreams that have accompanied the hopes of liberty and equality over the years, one has to ask if it is really worth it? The prince clearly thinks it is not. However, I would have to disagree on this point (call me a hopeless romantic).
These quotes fail to reflect the monumental, positive gains made through the struggle for liberty and equality. I believe Cassidy is right about absolute liberty and equality being unachievable; our own faults: jealousy, greed, the need for vengeance, etc. will always cause there to be some level of inequality. However, the struggle to put these concepts into practice has brought monumental gains for numerous cultures. I cite here the African American struggle for civil rights in America. This group was thought to be lower class, ignorant citizens, incapable and unworthy of basic rights. They went through countless struggles that marred the country in blood and pain. Still, do you think anyone would argue we are any worse off now because of their new-found equality and liberty? My point is that there will always be a certain level of inequality and repression in a society, as well as a price to be paid to rid ourselves of this oppression, but that does not make the struggle any less worth fighting for when such monumental gains are to be made.

Geethi Abraham said...

I disagree with the assertion that the words “liberty & equality” are empty of meaning. These ideas empowered the working class people in Europe and caused them to rise up and revolt against oppressive forces. The rebellions throughout Europe provoked, in part, by these ideal were instrumental in the eventual creation of democratic nations in which the rights of all people were acknowledged and respected. Less than a century after the French revolution, a millennia of hierarchal divisions in France was overturned.

As for the assertion. “Their ignorance is great, and therefore they must be led.” It is true that the masses in Europe at this time were significantly less educated than the nobility, but I don’t think that this higher level of education made the nobles better fit to lead the people than the people themselves. The nobility were unable to sympathize with the needs of the people; when the people were looking for a progressive leader the nobility unwavering held on to traditional styles of rule. Regardless of how educated you are, if you cannot sympathize with the needs of your people, you will not be able to adequately rule them. I think that the reason Napoleon was able to win over the masses was because he possessed this crucial quality of a good leader; he was able to identify what the masses would be receptive to. It was only natural, that the oppressed people would embrace ideals of liberty and equality. I think if anything they were naive than ignorant in believing that Napoleon would look out for their best interests.