If you sometimes wonder what’s wrong with modernity, look at the façade of any public building in France.
Proudly exhibited there is the calling card of modernity: liberté, egalité, fraternité. I regard it as the worst slogan ever, even though it sounds innocuous.
It implies a natural affinity among the three constituents, where none exists. For the centrepiece of the triad flagrantly contradicts the other two.
This isn’t just a point of semantics. For this contradiction in the adumbrating pronouncement of modernity is directly responsible for the ensuing social, intellectual and cultural collapse.
As blanket promises of a new order go, equality means nothing, certainly nothing positive. When first emblazoned on the revolutionary banners, it was shorthand for the on-going massacre of traditional hierarchies.
Even those who see little wrong with that (such wretches do exist) would struggle to describe mass murder as a positive goal. Necessary, yes; satisfying, possibly; richly deserved, definitely. Positive, no.
But we are talking about the intrinsic value of the slogan, not its practical application. So what kind of equality did the revolutionaries mean?
Equality before God? Surely not. The whole metaphysical premise of modernity was issuing a redundancy note to God.
Equality before law? Worthy as that promise was, it wasn’t new. Every European monarchy had made it. True, human nature being what it is, the promise wasn’t always kept, but it took a self-confidence nothing short of cretinous to believe that the new order would produce a new human nature.
Equality of condition designed to produce equal outcomes? This conveyed the supposedly self-evident truth that all men were created equal. Thus, if they all took off from the same starting blocks, they’d lunge at the finish tape together.
But that’s arrant nonsense. Moreover, it’s the kind of arrant nonsense that makes society impossible by atomising mankind into resentful individuals.
For no society can exist without a vertical structure, which concept implies hierarchy. In feudal societies, such structures were hierarchies of birth or learning, and, if manned by sage people, they didn’t automatically breed resentment.
This isn’t the case in modern democracies, for all the conformism they invariably try to shove down people’s throats. Democrats glorify common men because they know that uncommon ones threaten their raison d’être.
Yet for all their attempts, people don’t end up, and consequently their children don’t start out, as equal. The gaps of intelligence, drive and industry are too wide to bridge.
Hence, modernity finds itself in default of its promise of equality, and those who feel cheated resent that. To be true to its undertaking, the state has to step on the overachievers in an attempt to push them down a few steps in the hierarchy.
This, however, spells tyranny. The more conscientiously does a state enforce a semblance of equality, the more despotic it has to become. The difference in this respect between totalitarian and democratic states is that of the means deployed, not the ends desired.
This makes egalité incompatible with liberté by definition, as anyone other than a frenzied demagogue should agree. Yet fraternité fares even worse.
Brotherhood implies a familial relationship, and families are always arranged hierarchically, in tiers. The formative idea of our civilisation was that we are all brothers because we all have the same father, God.
That relationship is based on love, and the same holds true for the family. Brothers love one another, and the elder ones care for the younger ones until the latter grow up and can return the gift of care.
Love and care are both vectored outwards, away from oneself and towards others. Brotherhood is thus altruistic, which presupposes self-denial if necessary. The elder brother offers his love to the younger sibling out of an innate charitable impulse, not because he recognises the tot’s inalienable right to love.
Equality, on the other hand, is perforce selfish – it’s a demand for status and redress of grievances. Coming to the fore there aren’t basic virtues, but every one of the cardinal sins, most prominently pride, envy and greed.
Fraternity also comes in conflict with liberty, as distinct from freedom (this crucial distinction doesn’t exist in French). For the proto-modern revolutionary, liberté implied antagonism not just to royal or clerical authority, but to authority as such.
This condition doesn’t exist in families, which either enforce authority or disintegrate. Since brotherhood is a familial notion, it’s at odds with liberty – there go all three elements of the French triad, dropping out one by one.
Marginalising authority (other than that of the state) is a distinguishing characteristic of modern democracies, all erected on the subsiding intellectual foundation of the inaugurating triad. This includes liberty from intellectual authority too, and suspicion of those qualified to exert it.
Having politicised every walk of life, modernity has sold to the masses an awful canard, that political equality implies parity among opinions. Since the vote of a philosopher weighs the same as one cast by an ignoramus, the latter is encouraged to believe he’s equal to the former.
This creates a climate of widespread, practically universal stupidity, which alone can foster a modernity proclaiming liberté, egalité, fraternité as its slogan. Too few people are equipped intellectually to see this pronouncement for the pernicious, destructive nonsense it is.
Thus the much-touted Age of Reason was tantamount to an assault on reason. Reason nowadays operates mainly at the lowest level, as an instrument for satisfying materialist appetites.
This compromises the gift of humanity, indeed turning man into nothing but a cleverer ape. What a terrible waste.