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Freedom, equality and fraternity

Photo: Gullers, KW / Nordiska museet (CC BY-NC-ND)
Torgny Segerstedt,1940. Photo: Gullers, KW / Nordiska museet (CC BY-NC-ND)

"If you cut off the health of ability, your own interest in creating value, progress stops. Withering sets in." - Torgny Segerstedt

"Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" was one of the formulas in which the French Freemasons expressed their aspirations. What had been whispered in private in the closed society of the "Great Orient" grew into a thunderous shout when the excited crowds of the revolution found their solution in it.

No one considered that this triad included irreconcilable opposites. It was left to the logic inherent in the course of events to separate the concepts. The storms of the revolution overturned the brick wall of the social order. The way was cleared for freedom.

Freedom meant open road jobs. The race was unhindered. Dignity had its chance. All of life seemed like a test of strength. The strong pushed forward, the weak were shunned. The struggle for existence was the angle from which all events unfolded. The best equipped prevailed over the worst off. Everything progressed towards ever higher forms of life.

Freedom was the lifeblood of individual prowess. Everyone had his place assigned to him according to his powers. The inequalities of inheritance and favourable conditions of upbringing were soon enough evened out. The disgraced were soon enough relieved on the social scaffold. Virtue graduated everything. There could be no question of equality. Freedom, with the wrestling of wills which it implies, is incompatible with equality.

Only in our time, under the banner of social democracy, has equality asserted itself. It has asserted itself at the expense of freedom. The capable are always a few. When numbers become decisive, the standards of equality are raised. The great multitude marches on, a thousand strong, its footsteps softly heard, dust and sweat in its air. There is something overwhelming in this mass action of the deep ranks.

Equality thinking is rooted in Christianity's view of the equality of all people before God.

What separated the individuals was unimportance. If the valuable had any significance, it was that of making the poor more receptive to the desires of the supernatural than the rich, whose possessions bound them to the earthly. The souls of men were all of equal value. And when those who have felt shunned now go out into the sunshine, they sing of the human dignity they demand back. It is the gospel of equality, rededicated to battle song.

The mass movement is averse to graduation. Everyone should be equally good or equally bad. It is logical to say that it matters less if the new social order that is emerging worsens living conditions, as long as everyone is equally bad off. In all areas, the aim here is equality and equivalence. People should have the same education, equal pay and equal working hours.

In the political sphere, the principle of equality has prevailed. And the political power placed in the hands of the egalitarian throne is used to demolish the grading of economic living conditions and the distribution of property which has been carried out under the auspices of freedom. It's quite an exciting showdown going on. Virtuosity claims that all progress, all increase in general well-being, depends on its efforts. If the health of ability, its own interest in creating value, is cut off, progress comes to a standstill. Impoverishment sets in. People come to use the satisfaction which draws its strength from the consciousness that all are equally bad off.

There is already a certain hesitancy in the deep ranks. They themselves have advanced with uneven speed. Graduations and distinctions are beginning to appear within their own ranks. The pressure, which is the life-form of equality, like that of freedom, is beginning to be felt in many quarters. Myth has not yet broken out, but there are murmurs in the ranks. The more far-sighted are beginning to look for some higher unity between freedom and equality.

Can fraternity be this higher formula of unity? It would be wonderful to be able to answer this question in the affirmative. But what is brotherhood? With freedom it could not be united. Equality has for twin an often unreasonable class hatred. Brotherhood, however, might be thought to span them both. As a feeling, it has its origin in the individual. In its activity, it radiates towards the many. It is a moral force of which few are powerful and which must be fought for anew every moment. Our natural attitude is hatred. Nothing is more fully proved by experience than that hatred springs from the seed of kindness. There is a thousand years of experience behind the proverb that ingratitude is the world's reward. Brotherhood must be based on a complete renunciation of all thought of reciprocity in any form. It is therefore individual in its origin, it springs from the soil of freedom, and it waters the inherently barren soil of the commonwealth, of equality.

From a purely intellectual point of view, this concept can be treated as a higher unit of the other two. Another question is whether it can be thought of as the redemption of an age, a political and generally cultural direction. Courage fails when one wants to affirm the question, the heart shrinks from saying the no that the idea demands. This does not prevent it from becoming a point of reference for individual efforts. Perhaps by striving towards this goal, the individual can gain for himself the independence that will help him overcome the danger of sinking into grief. He may be able to defend himself so long that even his death throes may become a last elusive answer to the attempt to wipe out individuality in the indistinguishable community.

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