Liberté, égalité & fraternité are not enough image

Liberté, égalité & fraternité are not enough

Two weeks ago my eldest daughter was meant to be going on a school trip to Paris. Inevitably, this trip was cancelled. I don’t think the school had much option, given the circumstances, but nonetheless I was disappointed they did so: it felt like saying “You win” to the terrorists.

A daughter’s cancelled school trip hardly registers on the scales of life’s disappointments when measured against the individual losses experienced in the Paris attack, or against the sense of collective grief that has enfolded that city since. But every visit to Paris cancelled, or school closed in Brussels, or extra security measure imposed upon travellers, is another victory for the terrorists.

By one of those odd coincidences, at the same time my daughter should have been heading for Paris I was reading philosopher Roger Scruton’s biographical musings, Gentle Regrets, and was struck by this passage:

[Burke] emphasized that the new forms of politics, which hope to organize society around the rational pursuit of liberty, equality, fraternity or their modernist equivalents, are actually forms of militant irrationality. There is no way in which people can collectively pursue liberty, equality and fraternity, not only because those things are lamentably underdescribed and merely abstractly defined, but also because collective reason doesn’t work that way…[people] need organization, hierarchy and a structure of command if they are to pursue their goal effectively.

The context for Scruton’s observation is how being in Paris during the 1968 riots turned him away from the fashionable left wing politics of his generation and towards conservatism. He may well be correct on that score, but I would draw his argument to a different point of focus: that any attempt to build society on the foundations of liberty, equality and fraternity, apart from Christ, is to build on sand. In the end, real resistance to tyranny can only find its foundation in Jesus.

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