Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité – How to Reconcile Liberalism and Socialism

This was the most well-known slogan of the French Revolution 1789 and it means freedom, equality and brotherhood.

I’ve been trying to understand #gamergate lately, thinking it’s a 21st century Western middle-class teenager grassroots protest and as such indicates where the entire world is heading. Whether that is wise or not is debatable. Either way, my idea of what needs to be done in society is centered around the notion that a lot of structures have been created, for various reasons, and that these structures are in part designed to prevent and slow down changes aimed at improving the living conditions of the general population, even including animals. In other words, those who are currently being favoured by the structures are fighting to maintain the status quo. This is not a simplistic view though, as not all structures are bad and not all progressive ideas are good.

Gamergate, in my view, is a liberal (liberté) struggle against a structure. This structure is a compound of nepotism and feminism. Nepotism is designed to maintain the status quo. Feminism was designed to challenge the status quo, a socialist (egalité) struggle against a structure, but according to gamergaters, feminism has become the establishment and thus become the enemy.

I think I can discern a light at the end of the tunnel is this discourse. What if liberalism and socialism could be fused? In France, this happened; they fought together against the aristocracy. However, just as Euromaidan in Ukraine, there were also elements of nationalists, this being represented by the idea of brotherhood (fraternité).  Even nepotism can be part of this idea. This is what the French constitution 1791 said about brotherhood:

“There shall be national holidays to preserve the memory of the French Revolution, maintain brotherhood among citizens, and attach them to the Constitution, Homeland [Fatherland] and the laws.”

Nationalism is a response to imperialism, in which an aristocracy governs a large number of ethnicities. The ethnic groups wanted, or were led to believe they wanted, a nation-state of their own to protect themselves against imperial discrimination. The nation-state has now become the established form of government throughout the entire world.

Karl Marx said fascism was the final reaction against socialism, a volatile last ditch effort of capitalism. “Fascism in power is the open, terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of finance capitalism.”

What are we to make of this hodge-podge of ideologies that seemingly ally with everyone and no-one depending on which ones are currently in power? In the case of e.g. religion, this is easy to understand, as religious ideologies tend to be independent of most worldly politics, but shouldn’t there be a clear dividing line between political ideologies? Isn’t that what politicians representing different parties are telling us? Yeah, and as we all know, their pants are on fire.

In my view, socialism is the general trend of fighting against the status quo, it is not an ideology as must as a process. This fight is driven in the name of equality, but the danger lies in dogmatism because once equality has been achieved in one area, that fight must end. Liberalism is in this view not an ongoing process, but an ideal, the maximum possible amount of individual freedom. The danger is again in dogmatism, clinging to an ideal despite it being impossible under current circumstances without first implementing changes. The antidote to dogmatism is compromise, in Buddhism called the middle-way, in Swedish called lagom (just enough).

The Menscheviks (minority) said that communism in Russia was impossible, the structures in place had to be changed or it would fail. They were correct, Stalin adopted and adapted the age-old imperial authoritarianism and the status quo was maintained. Similarly, the French Revolution failed, the new government was just as corrupt and violent as the former and as if that wasn’t enough, Napoleon then led a military revolt, took power and turned France into an empire. Many attempts have been made to justify the establishments of the past. Most scorned today are perhaps the attempts to justify monarchy by divine right; other attempts include Hobbes’ social contract, Plato’s three-classes-system and neoliberals dogmatically promoting only juridical equality despite an already established wealth disparity.

I think it’s possible to fuse the process of socialism with the ideal of liberalism by recognizing this distinction and defining the enemy not just as a simple and static structure, but as a dynamic structure in constant flux. Only then can the struggle lead to progress. Obviously, it is necessary to deal with the brotherhood, the nationalists, racists, social darwinists and other people who wish to maintain inequality, but it is certainly easier to find a compromise about the philosophical term equality if socialists and liberals unite under one umbrella. Even the brothers can join a common notion of equality. Regardless, in my view, the socialist struggle for equality is a prerequisite for the liberal ideal of individual freedom.

This is not a justification of any established structure, rather the opposite. It is not to be interpreted as support for representative democracy and political compromise between a liberal party and a socialist party. Not because I want to fuse liberalism and socialism, but because of the elitist structure of representative democracy, which is yet another artificially established hierarchy that needs to be criticized. Maybe politics could emulate science in being a method and at the same time have a goal. The goal of science is truth and the method has no regard for the establishment but is designed to challenge. Similarly, the goal of politics should be the well-being of everyone (this is Thomas Jefferson’s pursuit of happiness) but the method is less straightforward.

Currently, social progress can be achieved through military conquest, coup d’états, media pressuring politicians, demonstrations, voting and various other forms of legal pressure and civil activism. This is hardly as stringent or as satisfactory as the scientific method, but this is not a failure. Instead it is indicative of the complexity of reality and the need for diverse approaches to achieve sustainable goals.

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