July 14th is French Independence day or the day of the Bastille. France celebrates on this day that the French people liberated themselves from an oppressive and autocratic regime and took their first towards the establishment of a republic. Liberty, equality and fraternity were the battle cries of the revolution. The spirit of the Enlightenment became a tangible reality for the first time in history. In fact, Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité were only officially declared the main goals of policy by the so-called Second Republic in 1848, but July 14 stands out as the main symbol.
It was no coincidence that the assassin of Nice had been waiting for this day. He did not strike during the European football championship. He waited for the day of “equality and fraternity.” It must have seem more appropriate to him. He showed the world with his terrible and frightening deed what he can do and what he thinks of this French Republic and the values of the Enlightenment.
This is why we should take stock at this moment. We must ask ourselves what we ourselves have done to the values of the Enlightenment. Freedom, yes, there is no question, has become the ultimate value. It has become the fetish of a society that has definitely renounced equality and brotherhood. To hide these facts, the song of so-called freedom is being sung with ever louder voice. After any such attack, no politician will walk past a microphone without declaring how important it is to have a “free society,” that we will defend it tooth and nail and that we will have to wage an open war on terror. When will the first politician appear who will say that we need to defend a society of equals or that we need to guard brotherhood – which in a modern society means solidarity, fairness and equal chances for people and their diverse communities?
There is no question that the free society in Europe, in America and in most developing countries has degenerated into a society of inequality and un-brotherliness. It is of no interest to any of these societies, or rather, to those who govern them, how many people in the world are suffering, are destitute and deprived of any prospects in life. It is of no interest to such society that hundreds of people, who want nothing else than to escape from the violence and hopelessness of their home countries, drawn in the Mediterranean. It is of no interest of this society that inequality grows day by day right in front of their door, so that we ended up in a situation in which a few can do everything and the others nothing.
The only answer that our politicians give to those who no longer know what to do is that of brute violence. We will defeat terrorism, the German Chancellor immediately announced. But, as I have already said after the attacks of 13 November 2015, there is nothing to win because the ‘terrorists’ cannot be defeated and the safety of the population at large cannot be guaranteed. We can secure airplanes and public buildings and public figures. It is not possible to guarantee the security of the citizens. Those who are determined to attack this system, which has become grotesquely unequal and broke many of the essential bonds that tie men, can strike anywhere and by any means. And here also lies the solution. We can only restore safety for your populations if we realise that the angry young men that go on a killing spray are a product of our world. They are not aliens, not inherently evil monsters, they are a product and a reflection of a society in which there is no longer solidarity, a sense of together or policies for the common good.
This means that we need to pay attention to equality and fraternity: they have to become goals again of our common world, of our political system and our society, because otherwise there is also no freedom. We have, in our freedom euphoria, created a completely perverted concept of freedom: the freedom of the privileged is sold to the population as freedom per excellence. It is the freedom to not care anything, the freedom to exploit, the freedom that money can buy. But this is what we are saying: if we want freedom for all, the freedom of some needs to be restricted. The freedom of the rich and powerful must be weighted democratically against the the unfreedom of the powerless. Otherwise the powerless have no freedom.
All of this raises many questions that our societies do not want to hear and that they certainly do not want to answer. It is freedom or is it sheer abuse of power when the developed countries impose economic systems upon the developing world which take away any perspective for the poor countries to catch up? Is it freedom or is it abuse of power when Europe’s brutally closes off its borders to refugees and continues to act as if there is a right to asylum left? Is it freedom or is it abuse of power when big corporations spread ignorance, manipulate public perception and employ spin doctors who will say anything whatsoever without any consideration to democratic rules, let alone the truth or the state of the world? Is it freedom or is it abuse of power when CEOs of corporations give themselves the opportunity to earn hundred or two hundred or three hundred times as much as the average worker?
The conclusion is clear. Genuine freedom cannot exist without equality and fraternity. Those who choose to concentrate upon freedom exclusively have already lost it. Only when we succeed to rebuild up a society in which freedom is as important, but not more important, than equality and fraternity will we stand a chance. Instead of hatred and violence, we will have a chance to reap respect, admiration and the willingness to work together. Will it be sufficient to stop the hatred? We do not know. But those who are not willing to even try are making themselves complicit to the carnage.