Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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?


Jeremiah said...

The first quote is very interesting. Liberty and Equality are two words which are easily recognized as ideals. The speaker takes it one step further, saying that they are empty of meaning. I tend to agree in that such ideals are impossible to attain. There are always differing viewpoints as to what equality is, and what liberty is, and so no true equality or true liberty can ever exist. Here are my thoughts with some random examples:
One villager says that "equality" is when everyone gets five tomatoes, but another notices that not all the tomatoes are the same quality, and so equality is when everyone gets the same net quality of tomatoes...some bad, some good. Still another says that, I am bigger than you, and I should get more tomatoes than you so that it is proportionally "equal" to my need. Another may say, I don't like tomatoes, so I should get more corn, but someone else disagrees. These are 4-5 different viewpoints of equality governing a very simply matter: how many tomatoes should everyone get? Try to make the idea universal/applicable to everything, and chaos ensues.
And what of liberty? If we say that liberty is when everyone is free to do whatever he or she pleases, then a man is free to kill his neighbor for any reason he chooses. But this is impossible, because it infringes upon the freedom of the neighbor's wife to have her husband, of his kids to have their father, and of course the freedom of her husband to live. Everyone can't be free to do whatever they want without someone else's freedom being limited. It is impossible. Nor is a person free to choose whether their actions are objectively wrong, right, or subjectively somewhere in between. For all these reasons, chasing the dreamy ideals of Liberty and Equality can be dangerous and lead to some pretty powerful problems.

We can see this a bit in Spain with some of the violence that ensues when people realize that there are new ways of thinking about liberty and equality. It sounds great to be free to do as one pleases, or to govern one's own life completely. Ideally, it would be great. But in order to chase that dream, there is immediately bloodshed and riots and passionate defenses of these new ideals. The ideals are powerful, and somewhat empty in their unattainable nature. Do people settle and figure out that they have reached freedom and equality? Or are there constantly new parties and new people who are unhappy with the status quo in Spain and abroad? I think the answer is that no country has been able to ever attain the ideal, and one proof is that anyone could totally disagree with everything I have just written.

DeeDee Hirschtritt said...

Hm, quite interesting. I rather disagree with both quotes in some way. The first, I believe that both of those words have powerful connotations that cannot be separated from them. While these words, as Jeremy said, may have different interpretations by each individual, they are not meaningless just because of this. The complexity of these words does not limit their effect (about which I believe the author would agree), but it is also not the reason for chaos. A community might value these ideals (as the communities we´ve studied thusfar have) and blame other things for their conflict. How about real struggles? What´s to be made of starvation, limited jobs, socioeconmic strife, etc. etc.? Hm, I´m not entirely sure I explained myself well there, but surely it´s something to think about: do words cause such action or do actual physical happenings lead to it?

Perhaps I am a supporter of some form of communism or socialism or perchance anarchism (although in the form of which I am most familiar-that which dominates Midwestern American anarchists today-I´m not so sure), but I believe the second quotation to be very insulting. I believe we need some sort of guidance, but why not collective? Given the riots and rallies which permeate media right now, isn´t it clear that singular persons are not capable of making decisions that correctly address everyone´s problems? How about a more collective use of resources and a fair assessment of everyones´ strengths as to best use our collective abilities? Perhaps regionalism in the time we´re studying was truly the best course of action as each individual would have more of a say over their fate, be it economic, social, or what have you. Hm, people might be "ignorant" as the quote suggests, but don´t they at least know what makes them happy or what they fairly believe they need-why strip all their power??