Liberté Égalité Fraternité


For Hugo, the single guarantee of inviolable peace was the normal state of work, that is the exchange, the offer and the demand, the production and the consumption, the vast common effort, the attraction of industries, the circulation of ideas, the human flux and reflux. Indeed, this confidence in the rationality of the market, in what Adam Smith called the invisible hand, this certainty that economic freedom engenders or consolidates civic freedoms are typically Anglo-Saxon. They are not part of the French tradition, although France had its own brilliant defenders, especially in the encyclopaedic movement of the 18th century with Quesnay and Turgot. But we should remember that the Former Regime was extremely directive: today, each time the French State launches great initiatives in order to stimulate the economy, we speak of Colbertism.

Traditionally, the French right is itself only slightly liberal; we witness today, in the perspective of future presidential elections of 2007, an internal conflict within the right itself between the liberals, admirers of the Anglo-Saxon model, and the neo-gaulliens, supporters of a French social model, in which the State preserves the role of judge of the economic field, even though it is a small one in comparison to the past. By tradition, the French spirit has no trust in the economic freedom: the left sees in it the enemy of the class, while a part of the right sees it as a danger of a type of internationalism that would eventually come to menace the sovereignty and even the identity of France. And it is precisely this coalition of these two mistrusts, of the right and of the left, that has caused the failure of the Referendum on the Constitutional Treaty in May, this year (2005).

Hugo will borrow happily the fundamental optimism of the Anglo-Saxon, that is American, liberalism. The devise E Pluribus Unum, marked on the one-dollar banknote, was quite convenient for his United States of Europe, but with the sub-textual idea that this Unum would be more or less French. The metric system, one of the most lasting contributions of the French Revolution, for all the member states; as far as the unique idiom to be used for the federalization of the European family is concerned, one can easily imagine that it would be more likely to be that of Molière and not of Shakespeare. Moreover, the idea was not that pretentious in 1849, as it would be now. At the middle of the 19th century, the French language still enjoyed considerable international prestige, and English had not yet been imposed as lingua franca.

Hugo’s thought on Europe does not develop in isolation, of course: it is organically linked to his general philosophy of history and human existence, that he developed in The Legend of the Centuries, this great epic in verse the first part of which had initially been published in 1859. We can summarize Hugo’s philosophy of history as it follows: the universal Progress is wanted by God, the latter had been betrayed by the institutional religions and all the diverse Churches, that have petrified the truth in dogmas serving as a pretext for despots to maintain people in a state of servitude.

The sense of the history, in accordance with the divine providence, is the progressive self-liberation of the human being from the chains of fatality, this Ananke engraved, according to the prologue of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in the stone of the cathedral. In another prologue, that of Toilers of the Sea, a novel published in 1866, Hugo attributes to the human being the task to liberate oneself from three Ananke: that of dogmas (the institutional religion that has falsified the idea of God), the Ananke of laws, that is the political oppression and the rule of tyrants, and, finally the Ananke of nature. Hugo confides in the progress of sciences and technology for the realisation of the liberation of all humans, and the surpassing of material miseries. For him, the United States of Europe would be the ideal historical instrument for the accomplishment of this triple liberation. The united Europe is at the same time daughter and mother for the progress of technologies, and especially those of transport:

How the matter lets itself be tamed more and more by humans! … How the distances become shorter! And closeness, this is the beginning of fraternity! Due to its railways, Europe will soon become no larger than France was during the Middle Ages!

It is also the best hope for the disappearance of two other great historic fatalities that burden the human being. At the Peace Congress of Lugano in 1872, on addressing those that he called ”My European compatriots”, Hugo prophesized a bright future:

We will have these great United States of Europe, that are the crown of the old world just as the United States of America are the crown of the new one. We will have … a country without frontiers, a budget without parasitism, a commerce without duties … youth without barracks … justice without scaffold … truth without dogma. Peace Congress, Lugano, 1872

In other words: a united Europe will put an end to nationalism, corruption, barriers to prosperity, militarism, clericalism, and finally, a new element, the abolition of the death penalty. We know that since the publication in 1829 of The Last Days of a Condemned Man, Hugo had always been fighting for this cause, a minority phenomenon during the 19th century.

End to the nationalism, stopper of war. Indeed, Hugo does not want a European nationalism to replace the one of the nations. This is why, far from opposing the United States of Europe to those of America, even in the form of a peaceful competition, as many of today’s French intellectuals would like it to be, he thinks of the two continents in terms of partners whose task is to disseminate in the world the benefits of civilization:

One day, these two enormous groups, the United States of Europe and the United States of America, placed one in front of the other, will stretch out their arms above the seas, exchanging goods, their commerce, their industry, their arts, their geniuses enlightening the world, colonising the deserts, bettering the creation under the eyes of the Creator, and combining together, for the well-being of all, these two infinite forces, fraternity of humans and power of God!” (1849)

This Atlantic “optimism” is a forerunner to that confirmed 27 years later, in a message towards the French workers delegates to the universal exposition in Philadelphia, in 1876. The poet, fallen in love with words and symbols, insists on the signification of the name of the town that had been the federal capital of the USA for 10 years and whose name in Greek stands for “fraternal love”.

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