Friday, July 15, 2005

Post Number Forty-One: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!

Of the French Revolution

Yesterday was the 14th of July. On the 14th of July, 1789, the population of Paris, exasperated by Aristocracy and the Church, finally revolted: in one of the most famous pages of world history, the Parisiennes, helped by the National Guard, sieged and captured the prison called La Bastille.
This was the first act of a glorious Revolution that toppled the French Aristocracy and led the people of Paris to the creation of the first Republican government of their history.
Although a dozen years later the Republic was turned into an Empire by Napoleon Bonaparte, the French people had changed the Western World forever. When Louis XIV referred to himself, he was the King of France. Napoleon addressed himself as Emperor of the French.
The difference is subtle yet immense. For Louis XIV, the land mattered the most. He was the King of all the lands within the borders of France. He owned the land, therefore the inhabitants, of whom he could dispose according to his whims.
For Napoleon Bonaparte, the people mattered the most. For the fist time in Central Europe, Napoleon was not the Emperor of the land that fell within the borders of France, but the Emperor of the People that lived inside those borders. Thanks to the French Revolution, the People had returned to be the center of interest of the leaders; as it had previously been during the Roman history. Rome addressed itself as S.P.Q.R., "Senatus PopulusQue Romanus", The Senate and the People of Rome.
But what changed history the most was the Declaration of the Rights of Men, based on the Declaration of Independence of the United States, signed in 1776. A Declaration that the French people signed with but one mot in mind:


Freedom. The first of three simple yet immense words. Freedom.
Freedom means to be allowed to think and speak openly, in public, and uphold your ideas. It means that no one can tell you what to do, that your desires lead your life and not those of the King.
Freedom is this blog you are reading. I am free to type it, you are free to read it.
Freedom is going out at day and at night, walking the street without the worry that some policeman might convict you because he doesn't like your face. Freedom is paramount. Freedom of speech is the first motor of culture. I tell you my ideas, freely, you answer me telling me yours, and we both grow together: my ideas enriched by your comments, and viceversa.
Freedom nowadays is often taken for granted, but it's not to be forgotten that, as it was stated during the early years of the Twentieth Century, "Freedom is like Air: you understand its importance when it's missing".
In the world the French people knew in the 1700's, Freedom didn't exist. The French fought for the ideal of being free, and today this Continent can call itself liberated. The European people are free, sometimes even more so than the Americans.
Freedom, I value above all things: there are things I won't do, like smoking a joint, and yet I still fight for the freedom others deserve of smoking their joints in peace.
Freedom must be always fought for. Those in charge don't like free people and free speech. Freedom is dangerous. It can lead people to think with their head and perhaps claim their leader is wrong. In the likely hypotesis they are right, the leader might have to stop exploit his subjects.
As Voltaire put it: "I don't agree with you, but I will fight to death to let you state your opinion". This is the essence of Freedom: being ready to fight to let those you disagree with speak their opinion.

Equality. For the French people of the 1700's people weren't equal. The King was best of all. Aristocrats were better than merchants. Priests were as noble as the Dukes and Archdukes. The laymen were nothing but servants. Laws differed depending on your social status. There was inequality.
But Jefferson had stated a new, immensely powerful claim: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
Equal. We are equal. This is more than just an ideal: we are human beings. Of course some of us are beautiful and some are ugly, some are good and some are evil, some are smart and some are dumb, some are tough and some are weak. Don't think the French didn't know there were males and females in the world! But they thought, like I do today thanks to their Revolution, that what makes humans equal counts more than what makes them unequal. Despite the difference, we are ultimately similar. We suffer and we rejoice, we love and laugh and suffer and weep, we feel pain and pleasure, we eat and drink... we are all humans, and therefore members of the same great family. We are equal hence we share the same rights.
My friends, my enemies, my neighbors, and all those who live and lived on this planet, all the saints and sinners, all the lovers and warmongers, all the emperors and shephers, and every poet, musician, greedy manager, painter, sportman, beautiful and intelligent girl... every human being that was ever born in this small planet of ours is equal to us and shares my same rights.
It is an ideal the French thought worthy of dying for, and it truly is: for by being equals, we are taught to ignore the differences and stress the similarities. And by saying that, we will finally be led to realize that all living beings on this planet are equals. Because we share the same planet. We live side by side, sometimes one off the other, but in the end, we are equal.
Watch another human, and you'll see the mirror of yourself in her.

This is where the two previous ideals lead us to.
We are all free, we are all equal, and therefore we are all Brothers. The pain of one man is our pain. The joy of another is our joy. This is particularly poetic for it's not the result of some religious dogma, but the natural, rational consequence of the fact that all humans are Free and Equal. All together, we thrive on this world of ours as members of a one great human Family.
Today we take Freedom for granted, tend to forget Equality with great ease, and never ever glance at Brotherhood.

Yet, on the 14th of July, 1789, thousands of French people rallied under the ramparts of the Bastille under the spell created by these three grand ideals. The three ideals that even today the European Constitution has defined as the foundation of our Continent's culture. And they trascend the borders of Europe to extend across the oceans, uniting all the people of the world. It strikes me with awe and almost moves me, to think of so grand ideals sprung off the minds of a people that suffered for the whims of bored Aristocrats.

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Even today, the grandest ideals ever conceived by human minds.