Home/Rod Dreher/Liberty, Equality — But Where’s The Fraternity?

Liberty, Equality — But Where’s The Fraternity?

The book for our time, says Matt in VA (Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock)

More interesting commentary by Matt in VA, the gay Millennial reader who is on the Right, but not easy to pin down. I’d asked him in a comments thread for his idea of what society needs. That is, he has a very succinct and penetrating diagnosis of our society’s sickness, but what is the cure? He responded like this:

Well, I’ll just further give movement conservatives reason to dislike me by invoking the French Revolution. But I do so because someone with, I hope, impeccable conservative credentials did: Chesterton.

I am thinking of Chesterton’s essay on Dickens’ Hard Times. Now, I think the entire essay (which is pretty short, and available for free online; if you like this kind of thing, read it!) basically says better than I can what I think about this whole situation. In fact, as I try to write, I keep thinking “I wish they would just read this essay — listen to Chesterton, not me!” But I will try.

Chesterton writes that Dickens was writing, in that particular novel, about What Is To Be Done? about some of the thorniest problems of his time — and what do we see? The problems are inequality, both poverty and inequality of opportunity; the problems are those of the uncaring, even sadistic industrialist/wage-slaver, the business owner who wants to grind as much as he can out of his workers, the teacher who wants to grind as much as he can out of his students to best prepare them for the grinding to come. But, as Chesterton says, “He is by his own account dealing with hard times, but not with a hard eternity, not with a hard philosophy of the universe.” The Victorian Age had such great achievements, such good sense on many matters, it had Dickens himself — but it was also a time that was hard, and Dickens never forgot or lost sight of that, and Dickens knew that some big things had to change.

Chesterton specifically invokes the French slogan that we all know– the Revolutionary slogan — “liberte, egalite, fraternite!” Chesterton said that these three things REALLY ARE ALL IMPORTANT! (I capitalize this because Movement Conservatives, who will quail at the idea that anything about the French Revolution was good or correct, will not want to hear this and will close their ears to it. But these three things are all important, and deep down men of spirit and soul DO care about them, and always will (I hope).) Chesterton says what went wrong, in the Victorian era, was that England only cared about “liberty”–which they called the Manchester School — sorry, Haigha, again — and that while they appreciated fraternity, which is why they loved Dickens (think of the Pickwick Papers, which is fraternity from top to bottom) they lost sight of equality altogether, and those “Hard Times” were the result. Chesterton says “this was violating the sacred trinity of true politics; they confounded the persons and they divided the substance.”

Note that “trinity” (again, Chesterton’s words, not mine) — liberte, egalite, fraternite. We *must not* confound and divide this trinity. But what do we see in America today? We see a society in which the two sides squabble over “liberty!” vs “equality!” endlessly…

And where is fraternity? Where has fraternity gone?

You see *right here* where the problem is, for young men. We have *abandoned* them in our politics. The very word — “fraternity” — is enough to send our feminized culture into convulsions of rage and disdain. You see right here what has happened to us, why we keep battling over things and never getting any closer to something satisfying, meaningful, organic, real. We do not even know what we are missing. We have thrown out one-third of the trinity as “toxic masculinity” and wonder why our culture has a huge hole in it.

Think about what it means that we associate Dickens so much with *Christmas* — you might almost say that he is more responsible than anybody other than Jesus for our idea of that most important of our *holidays.* Other commenters think I am so angry and even violent-tempered, and maybe I am, but Chesterton says: “I have heard that in some debating clubs there is a rule that the members may discuss anything except religion and politics. I cannot imagine what they do discuss; but it is quite evident that they have ruled out the only two subjects which are either important or amusing. The thing is a part of a certain modern tendency to avoid things because they lead to warmth; whereas, obvious]y, we ought, even in a social sense, to seek those things specially. The warmth of the discussion is as much a part of hospitality as the warmth of the fire.” We need that *warmth*, we need the warmth of the fire. We need that fraternity, the fraternity that comes from the holiday — that is, the *time off from work.* Movement Conservatism wants everybody to defer to the boss–excuse me, to the “Job Creator”. What we should really want is the medieval calendar and the feast days and the saints’ days. Man was not made for the market. And to all the commenters here pointing out how much better the Democrats are than the Republicans — yes, I agree (to an extent), but I fear that the Dems get more careerist and consumerist with every passing day, even moment; who are the people who look down on women for choosing to stay home and raise kids rather than staying in the workforce? What are the politics of the upper middle class, the class that certainly cares an awful lot about secular/bourgeois success? The problem is one that affects both parties.

Let me give an example of what I mean by “fraternity.” There is an annual track meet between Finland and Sweden in which about 100+ men and 100+ women take part. Remember that these are countries of about 5 and 9 million people, total. The scoring is done to be extra-inclusive — like a cross country meet — winning even sixth place nets you some points. This track meet is a big deal in these two countries, and involves a lot of people training for it, getting ready for it, spectators, volunteers, etc. And because the two countries are fairly small, about the size of mid-to-large-sized US states, lots of people know somebody participating, or knew somebody who participated the year before, etc.

Notice how different this looks from USA culture. I learned about this event from Steve Sailer, who compares it to the very different “superstaritis” culture that we have here. Why don’t we have anything like this in which states, or even counties, compete against one another, in which relatively regular folks (not just anybody, to be sure, but people who are amateurs, not pros) are the ones whose performances determine the winning teams? In which lots of people know somebody who might be part of the winning relay on that special day? We have our pro leagues and our NBA, NFL, etc., but these are passive spectator phenomena, involving athletes who are on a different plane/at a different, removed level. In America, we would think that this kind of thing is kid’s stuff; something that an adult “doesn’t have time for.” We might have time to *watch* our kid’s football game, but we don’t have time to be *active.*

Sure, we have lots of yuppies who do triathlons and that kind of thing, but it is different because it is a pastime of the placeless and rootless — the yuppie who probably lives in a city on the other side of the country from where he grew up. I’m a marathon runner myself, and I live in a different state from where I grew up — I’m an example of this! It’s not what I mean.

We do not have *fraternity.* The Left practices entryism, invades institutions and organizations, takes them over, guts them, and wears them like a skin suit while pushing its political goals; meanwhile, the Right, in its slavish subservience to capital, thinks that “fraternity” is suspicious, a kind of “stealing time from the company” or something, an unwillingness to maximize shareholder value; also, conservatives embrace atomizing placeless suburban life (the strip mall, the drive-thru, the big box store) and don’t prioritize organic community.

This will seem rather small to many — and I will say that I’m open, I think, to *a lot* of ideas about What Is To Be Done?, both from left and right — but what about some kind of community or regional activity like what Sweden and Finland have? Something that actually involves the *physical body*, and not just watching or spectating; something that requires people to compete and push themselves; something that doesn’t divide us between the celebrities (a tiny few) and the nobodies who passively consume the entertainment. A phenomenon of Today’s Young Men is the felt need to do something about one’s own body (lifting weights is big); this is a response to the addictions and self-destructive behaviors I was writing about earlier — the playing video games all day and night, the internet porn, the weed — it’s an attempt to regain mastery over one’s own body. But so many men today are doing the same things, facing the same things — alone. And that is the problem. We have to find ways to be together. Or we will choose fighting as the only way we can figure out how to be “together.”

Here’s a short passage from the Chesterton essay:

The atmosphere of this book and what it stands for can be very adequately conveyed in the note on the book by Lord Macaulay, who may stand as a very good example of the spirit of England in those years of eager emancipation and expanding wealth — the years in which Liberalism was turned from an omnipotent truth to a weak scientific system. Macaulay’s private comment on Hard Times runs, “One or two passages of exquisite pathos and the rest sullen Socialism.” That is not an unfair and certainly not a specially hostile criticism, but it exactly shows how the book struck those people who were mad on political liberty and dead about everything else. Macaulay mistook for a new formula called Socialism what was, in truth, only the old formula called political democracy.

As ever, this is the part where I say that Matt in VA really needs to have a blog.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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