Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité", French for "Liberty, equality, (brotherhood)", cite web | title=Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood | publisher=Embassy of France in the U.S.
] is the motto of France, and is a typical example of a tripartite motto. Although it finds its origins in the French Revolution, it was then only one motto among others and was not really institutionalized until the Third Republic at the end of the 19th century Mona Ozouf, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité", in "Lieux de Mémoire" (dir. Pierre Nora), tome III, Quarto Gallimard, 1997, pp.4353-4389 fr icon (abridged translation, "Realms of Memory", Columbia University Press, 1996–1998 en icon)] . Debates concerning the compatibility and order of the three terms began as soon as the French Revolution.

Origins during the French Revolution

In 1838, Pierre Leroux attributed the creation of the motto to the French Revolution, claiming it had been an anonymous and popular creation, and upholding the necessary conjunction of the three terms, "Liberté", "Egalité" and "Fraternité" . The historian Mona Ozouf underlines that, although "Liberté" and "Egalité" were associated together during the XVIIIth century, "Fraternité" wasn't included in it, and other terms, such as "Amitié" (Friendship), "Charité" (Charity) or "Union" were often added to them . Thus, the revolutionary origins of the motto is assured .

However, the tripartite motto was neither a creative collection, nor really institutionalized by the French Revolution . As soon as 1789, other terms were used, such as "la Nation, la Loi, le Roi" (The Nation, The Law, The King), or "Union, Force, Vertu" (Union, Strength, Virtue), a slogan used beforehand by masonic lodges, or "Force, Egalité, Justice" (Strength, Equality, Justice), "Liberté, Sûreté, Propriété" (Liberty, Security, Property), etc . In other words, "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" was only one slogan among many others . During the Jacobin revolutionary period itself, various mottos were used, such as "Liberté, Unité, Egalité"; "Liberté, Egalité, Justice"; "Liberté, Raison, Egalité" (Liberty, Reason, Equality), etc . The only solid association was that of "Liberté" and "Egalité", "Fraternité" being ignored by the "Cahiers de doléances" as well as by the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It was only alluded to in the 1791 Constitution, as well as in Robespierre's draft Declaration of 1793, placed under the invocation of (in that order) "Egalité", "Liberté", "Sûreté" and "Property" (Equality, Liberty, Safety, Property), as the possibility of an universal extension of the Declaration of Rights: "Man of all countries are brothers, him who oppress one nation declares itself enemy of all" [ French: "Les hommes de tous les pays sont frères, celui qui opprime une seule nation se déclare l'ennemi de toutes."] . Finally, it did not figure in the August 1793 Declaration .

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 defined Liberty in Article 4 as follow:

"Liberty consists of being able to do anything that does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of every man or woman has no bounds other than those that guarantee other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights."

Equality, on the other hand, was defined by the 1789 Declaration as judicial equality (art. 6):

The law "must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all high offices, public positions and employments, according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and talents."

"Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" actually finds its origins in a May 1791 proposition by the "Club des Cordeliers", following a speech on the Army by the marquis de Guichardin . The compatibility of "Liberté" and "Egalité" was not doubted about in the first days of the Revolution, and the problem of the antecedence of one term on the other not lifted . Thus, the abbé Sieyes considered that only liberty insured equality, unless the latter was to be the equality of all dominated by a despot; while liberty followed equality insured by rule of law . The abstract generality of law (theorized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the "Social Contract") thus insured the identification of liberty to equality, liberty being negatively defined as an independence from arbitrary rule, and equality considered abstractly in its judicial form .

This identification of liberty and equality became problematic during the Jacobin period, when equality was redefined (for instance by Babeuf) as equality of results, and not only judicial equality of rights . Thus, Baudot considered that French temperament inclined rather to equality than liberty, a theme which would be re-used by Roederer and Tocqueville, while Necker considered that an equal society could only be found on coercition .

The third term, "Fraternité", was the most problematic to insert in the triad, as it belonged to another sphere, that of moral obligations rather than rights, links rather than statutes, harmony rather than contract, and community rather than individuality . Various interpretations of "Fraternité" existed. The first one, according to Mona Ozouf, was one of "fraternité de rébellion" (Fraternity of Rebellion ), that is the union of the deputies in the "Jeu de Paume Oath" of June 1789, refusing the dissolution ordered by the King Louis XVI: "We swear never to separate ourselves from the National Assembly, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the realm is drawn up and fixed upon solid foundations." Fraternity was thus issued from Liberty and oriented by a common cause .

Another form of "Fraternité" was that of the patriotic Church, which identified social link with religious link and based fraternity on Christian brotherhood . In this second sense, "Fraternité" preceded both "Liberté" and "Egalité", instead of following them as in the first sense . Thus, two senses of Fraternity: "one, that followed liberty and equality, was the object of a free pact; the other preceded liberty and equality as the mark on its work of the divine craftsman." (Ozouf )

Another hesitation concerning the compatibility of the three terms arose from the opposition between liberty and equality as individualistic values, and fraternity as the realization of a happy community, devoided of any conflicts and opposed to any form of egoism . This fusional interpretation of Fraternity opposed it to the project of individual autonomy and manifested the precedence of Fraternity on individual will . In this sense, it was sometimes associated with Death, as in "Fraternité, ou la Mort!" (Fraternity or Death!), excluding Liberty and even Equality, by establishing a strong dichotomy between those who were brothers and those who were not (in the sense of "you are with me or against me", brother or foe) . Louis de Saint-Just thus stigmatized Anarchasis Cloots' cosmopolitanism, declaring "Cloots liked the universe, except France" .

With Thermidor and the execution of Robespierre, "Fraternité" disappeared from the slogan, reduced to the two terms of Liberty and Equality, re-defined again as simple judicial equality and not as real equality upheld by the sentiment of fraternity . The First Consul (Napoleon Bonaparte) then established the motto "Liberté, Ordre public" (Liberty, Public Order).

19th century

Following Napoleon's rule, the triptych dissolved itself, as none believed possible to conciliate individual liberty and equality of rights with equality of results and fraternity . The idea of individual sovereignty and of natural rights possessed by man before being united in the collectivity contradicted the possibility of establishing a transparent and fraternal community . Liberals accepted liberty and equality, defining the latter as equality of rights and ignoring fraternity . Early Socialists rejected an independent conception of liberty, opposed to the social, and also despised equality, as they considered, as Fourier, that one had only to orchestrate individual discordances, to harmonize them, or they believed, as Saint-Simon, that equality contradicted equity by a brutal levelling of individualities . Utopian Socialism thus only cared about Fraternity, which was, in Cabet's Icarie the sole commandment .

This opposition between liberals and socialists was mirrored in rival historical interpretations of the Revolution, liberals admiring 1789, and Socialists 1793 . The July Revolution of 1830, establishing a constitutional monarchy headed by Louis-Philippe, substituted "Ordre et Liberté" (Order and Liberty) to the Napoleonic motto "Liberté, Ordre public" . Despite this apparent disappearance of the triptych, the latter was still being thought in some underground circles, in Republican secret societies, masonic lodges such as the "Indivisible Trinity," far-left booklets or during the Canuts Revolt in Lyon . In 1834, the lawyer of the "Société des droits de l'homme" (Society of Human Rights), Dupont, a liberal sitting in the far-left during the July Monarchy, associated the three terms together in the "Revue Républicaine" which he edited:

"Any man aspires to liberty, to equality, but he can not achieve it without the assistance of other men, without fraternity [ French: "Tout homme aspire à la liberté, à l'égalité, mais on ne peut y atteindre sans le secours des autres hommes, sans la fraternité."]
The triptych resurfaced during the 1847 "Campagne des Banquets", upheld for example in Lille by Ledru-Rollin .

Two interpretations had attempted to conciliate the three terms, beyond the antagonism between liberals and socialists. One was upheld by Catholic traditionalists, such as Chateaubriand or Ballanche, the other by socialist and republicans such as Pierre Leroux . Chateaubriand thus gave a Christian interpretation of the revolutionary motto, stating in the 1841 conclusion to his "Mémoires d'outre-tombe":

"Far from being at its term, the religion of the Liberator is now only just entering its third phase, the poilitical period, liberty, equality, fraternity [ French: "Loin d'être à son terme, la religion du Libérateur entre à peine dans sa troisième période, la période politique, liberté, égalité, fraternité."]

Neither Chateaubriand nor Ballanche considered the three terms to be antagonist. Rather, they took them for being the achievement of Christianism. On the other hand, Pierre Leroux did not disguise the difficulties of associating the three terms, but superated it by considering liberty as the aim, equality as the principle and fraternity as the means . Leroux thus ordered the motto as Liberty, Fraternity, Equality , an order also supported by Christian socialists, such as Buchez . Against this new order of the triptych, Michelet supported the traditional order, maintaining the primordial importance of an original individualistic right . Michelet attempted to conciliate a rational communication with a fraternal communication, "right beyond right" , and thus the rival traditions of Socialism and Liberalism . The Republican tradition would strongly inspire itself from Michelet's synchretism .

1848 Revolution

With the 1848 February Revolution, the motto was officially adopted cite web |author=French Ministry of Foreign Affairs |publisher= |year= |url= |title=The symbols of the Republic and Bastille Day |accessdate=2006-04-20] , mainly under the pressure of the people who had attempted to impose the red flag over the tricolor flag (the 1791 red flag was, however, the symbol of martial law and of order, not of insurrection). Lamartine opposed popular aspirations, and in exchange of the maintaining of the tricolor flag, conceded the Republican motto of "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", written on the flag, on which a red rosette was also to be added .

Fraternity was then considered to resume and to contain both Liberty and Equality, being a form of civil religion (which, far from opposing itself to Christianism, was associated with it in 1848 ) establishing social link (as called for by Rousseau in the conclusion of the "Social Contract") .

However, Fraternity was not devoived of its previous sense of opposition between brothers and foes, images of blood haunting revolutionary christian publications, taking in Lamennais' themes . Thus, the newspaper "Le Christ républicain" (The Republican Christ) developed the idea of the Christ bringing forth peace to the poor and war to the rich [ "Le Christ républicain" n°7, quoted by Mona Ozouf: "Nous, pauvres prolétaires, nous sommes rouges, parce que le Christ a versé son sang pour nous racheter, son sang par lequel nous voulons nous régénérer. Nous sommes rouges, parce que l'ange exterminateur a marqué le haut de nos portes avec le sang de l'agneau, pour distinguer, au jour de la vengeance, les élus d'avec les réprouvés."]

As soon as 6 January 1852, the future Napoleon III, first President of the Republic, ordered all prefect to erase the triptych from all official documents and buildings, conflated with insurrection and disorder . Auguste Comte applauded Napoleon, claiming Equality to be the "symbol of metaphysical anarchism", and preferring to it his dyptich "Ordre et Progrès" (Order and Progress [ "Ordem e progresso" became the motto of Brazil ] ). On the other hand, Proudhon criticized Fraternity as an empty word, which he associated with idealistic dreams of Romantism . He preferred to it the sole term of Liberty.

Paris Commune and Third Republic

Pache, mayor of the Paris Commune, painted the formula “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, ou la mort” on the walls of the commune. It was only under the Third Republic that the motto made official. It was then not dissociated with insurrection and revolutionary ardours, Opportunist Republicans such as Jules Ferry or Gambetta adapting it to the new political conditions . Larousse's "Dictionnaire universel" deprived Fraternity of its "evangelistic halo" (Mona Ozouf), conflating it with solidarity and the welfare role of the state .

Some still opposed the Republican motto, such as the nationalist Charles Maurras in his "Dictionnaire politique et critique", who claimed Liberty to be an empty dream, Equality an insanity, and only kept Fraternity . Charles Péguy, renewing with Lamennais' thought, kept Fraternity and Liberty, excluding Equality, seen as an abstract repartition between individuals reduced to homogeneity , opposing "fraternity" as a sentiment put in motion by "misery", while equality only interested itself, according to him, to the mathematical solution of the problem of "poverty" . Péguy identified Christian charity and Socialist solidarity in this conception of Fraternity . On the other hand, Georges Vacher de Lapouge, the most important French author of pseudo-scientific racism and supporter of eugenism, completely rejected the Republican triptych, adopting another motto, "Déterminisme, Inégalité, Sélection" (Determinism, Inequality, Selection). But, according to Ozouf, the sole use of a triptych was the sign of the influence of the Republican motto, despite it being corrupted in its opposite .

20th century

During the German occupation of France in World War II, this motto was replaced by the reactionary phrase "Travail, famille, patrie" (Work, family, fatherland)cite web |title=Vichy Government |work=World History at KMLA| url= |accessdate=2007-05-01] by Marshal Pétain, who became the leader of the new Vichy French government through a constitutional coup in 1940. Pétain had taken this motto from the colonel de la Rocque's "Parti social français" (PSF), although the latter considered it more appropriate for a movement than for a regime .

Following the Liberation, the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) re-established the Republican motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité", which is incorporated into both the 1946 and the 1958 French constitutions.


French coins have carried this motto since the beginning of the Twentieth century. Even with the introduction of the Euro as the unified currency of the European Union, this motto continues to represent France on her currency.

At one point the motto was used to mark churches which were controlled by the state, rather than the Catholic Church.

Some former colonies of the French Republic (such as Chad, Niger, and Gabon) have adopted similar three-word mottos.

The motto used to appear on packs of Gauloises cigarettes.

In astrology, this slogan is used to describe the three zodiac signs of the element of Air: Aquarius (freedom), Libra (equality), and Gemini (brotherhood). The terms are also referred to in the film trilogy Three Colors by Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Belgian equivalent

"The Brabançonne", Belgium's national anthem, ends with a pledge of loyalty to "Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !" ("The King, the Law, [the] Liberty!"), an obvious parallel to the above - with the Republican sentiment of the original replaced in the Belgian version by the promotion of Constitutional Monarchy (the combination of "The King" and "The Law" is what produces "Liberty").

The Belgian slogan is actually very similar to the above-mentioned "la Nation, la Loi, le Roi" ("The Nation, The Law, The King"), which was used in the early days of the French Revolution, when that revolution was still considered to be aimed at Constitutional Monarchy rather than a Republic.


Further reading

*Mona Ozouf, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité", in "Lieux de Mémoire" (dir. Pierre Nora), tome III, Quarto Gallimard, 1997, pp.4353-4389 fr icon (abridged translation, "Realms of Memory", Columbia University Press, 1996–1998)

See also

*Give me liberty or give me death

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