Friday, 15 July 2005

Conformity or Death!

Of the revolutionary triptych Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, the third has received the least attention from intellectuals. This may reflect its more visceral nature, which makes it unsuitable for systemization. Nevertheless, on this earth of squabbling apes the call for fraternity has not been rare.
.....The call for fraternity – a universal brotherhood of man – entails a universal toleration of views, which itself may or may not entail a universal conformity of some views. If it does not entail conformity, but rather a true toleration of all disparate and possible views, then the call is nihilistic. Only the nihilist tolerates all, a stance which some might take to be to his credit. Such persons do not reflect, however, that the toleration of all means the equal indifference to the boiling of eggs and the boiling of chartered accountants. If, on the other hand, it does entail a universal conformity with some views, the call is probably not as generous or as tolerant as is often made out. Conformity to which views, exactly? We should not be surprised to learn that the call is for a conformity to the caller’s views!
.....For instance, the international socialist who calls for a universal brotherhood may sound generously tolerant thereby, yet his call is not a call for the accommodation of all views including those of the capitalist, but rather it is a call for the dominance of his own views and the destruction of all views inimical to it. If it is not hyper-tolerant and nihilistic, a call for the brotherhood of man is a call for the conformity of all humanity with at least some of the views of the caller, the important point being that it may not be so generous and innocent as claimed.
.....In short, in order that there be a universal brotherhood there has to be at the very least a universal belief in this universal brotherhood – and there may be scant toleration of those who spurn the conformity in respect of the views it entails. This is starkly illustrated by the Jacobin slogan, “Fraternity or Death!”, the naked meaning of which Nicolas-Sébastien Roch de Chamfort was keenly aware: “Be my brother or I’ll kill you!”.

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