Sunday, May 3, 2009


Some interesting remarks about fraternity came to my attention today, and I think it reveals an interesting difference between a social policy and Socialism, a confusion that many seem to make, in one sense or another.
First, here is a quote from Charles Péguy's "De Jean Coste" written in 1902 (first the original in french, followed by my translation):
Le devoir d'arracher les misérables à la misère et le devoir de répartir également les biens ne sont pas du même ordre : le premier est un devoir d'urgence ; le deuxième est un devoir de convenance ; non seulement les trois termes de la devise républicaine, liberté, égalité, fraternité, ne sont pas sur le même plan, mais les deux derniers eux-mêmes, qui sont plus rapprochés entre eux qu'ils ne sont tous deux proches du premier, présentent plusieurs différences notables ; par la fraternité nous sommes tenus d'arracher à la misère nos frères les hommes ; c'est un devoir préalable ; au contraire le devoir d'égalité est un devoir beaucoup moins pressant ; autant il est passionnant, inquiétant de savoir qu'il y a encore des hommes dans la misère, autant il m'est égal de savoir si, hors de la misère, les hommes ont des morceaux plus ou moins grands de fortune ; je ne puis parvenir à me passionner pour la question célèbre de savoir à qui reviendra, dans la cité future, les bouteilles de champagne, les chevaux rares, les châteaux de la vallée de la Loire ; j'espère qu'on s'arrangera toujours ; pourvu qu'il y ait vraiment une cité, c'est-à-dire pourvu qu'il n'y ait aucun homme qui soit banni de la cité, tenu en exil dans la misère économique, tenu dans l'exil économique, peu m'importe que tel ou tel ait telle ou telle situation ; de bien autres problèmes solliciteront sans doute l'attention des citoyens ; au contraire il suffit qu'un seul homme soit tenu sciemment, ou, ce qui revient au même, sciemment laissé dans la misère pour que le pacte civique tout entier soit nul ; aussi longtemps qu'il y a un homme dehors, la porte qui lui est fermée au nez ferme une cité d'injustice et de haine.
De Jean Coste, Charles Péguy, éd. Acte Sud Labor L'Aire, coll. Babel, 1993, p. 55

The duty to lift the destitute off their misery and the duty to distribute wealth equally are not of the same order: The former is a pressing duty; the latter is a desirable one; not only the three terms of the republican motto, liberty, equality, fraternity, are not at the same level, but the last two themselves, have several important differences; by fraternity we are prompted to lift our brothers the men off misery; it’s a prior duty; on the contrary the duty of equality is much less pressing; as much as I am passionately disturbed to know that there are still men in misery, as much as I am indifferent to know if, out of misery, men have larger or lesser wealth; I cannot succeed to make myself passionate for the famous matter of knowing who will get in the future society, the bottles of champagne, the rare horses, the castles of the Loire Valley; I hope we’ll always find some arrangement; provided there really is a society, that is, with the provision that nobody will be banned from it, kept in exile in economic misery, kept in an economic exile, nevermind that this or that one is in this or that situation; many other problems will request the attention of citizens; on the contrary, it is enough that one man is kept knowingly, or, which is the same, is knowingly left into misery for the whole social contract to be broken; as long as there is one man outside, the door that is shut in someone’s face secures a society of injustice and hatred.

I think it illustrates very well an aspect of our societies on which we can ponder with some profit. Fraternity is really at the core of humanity and humanism, and its difference with equality is precisely parallel to the one between a social policy and Socialism.

For the french speakers (and listeners), it is also interesting to listen to today's broadcast of Repliques on France Culture:
Repliques du 2 Mai 2009: Penser la fraternité


ducati998 said...


My feelings are deeply bruised, I am traumatised by your decision to remove my blog.

Au revoir.

jog on

Jean-Philippe said...


Sorry to hear that. There's nothing personal in removing your blog from the ones I read daily, it simply means that I am not to read yours with this frequency anymore.
I already alluded to the reason for that: your position and the arguments you are using are not new to me, I already read them tens of times in other places (blogs and forums).

I also read your supposed rebuttal to "social policy", and still see the old dogmas put to the fore, about how unregulated markets allow everybody to engage "freely" in contracts for the benefit of all, with no acknowledgment whatsoever of how economic power endows its owner with an unchecked political power.

The problem is that freedom is a bit more complicated (it may be so that the freedom of one is the slavery of others), and if it really was like that, we could wonder why socialism exist at all.

I thought an englishman would have a sharper understanding of Dickens, but apparently not.



Eric said...

I don't know why you argue with him...

he just feeds off of it.

Jean-Philippe said...

Hi Eric,

I know you're right, and I actually stopped arguing.
I am just amazed by the number of people who share such opinion, and I was, for a while, contemplating the idea that it was merely caused by a superficial understanding of history, but the problem is actually deeper. I believe we are actually witnessing a turning point in Economics and Politics Studies comparable to the Renaissance for Philosophy and Natural Sciences Studies; a break away from dogmatic systems, in the sense of humanism opposing scholasticism.
I think Peguy here illustrates well this new approach.



Eric said...


I'm not sure, I suspect more of secular rotation. One would think there is some Evolution in economics, But some of it seems pendulous.


Jean-Philippe said...


There is indeed evolution and counter-evolution trends, it's always a struggle between progressive and reactionary forces: Savonarola succeeded to implement a fundamentalist christian theocracy in the very craddle of progressism (Florence) at the end of the 15th century, a decade or so later Copernicus was to revolutionize our understanding of the world.

At such times, the most extreme doctrines come to the fore and the progressive, non-dogmatic always win in the end, because dogmas are poor (while useful at the beginning) tools to understand reality.

The outcome of the current crisis may be such an evolution, or so I hope.


Anonymous said...

Oui, probablement il est donc