Liberté, égalité, fraternité  

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité, French for "Liberty, equality, fraternity (brotherhood)", is the national motto of France, and is a typical example of a tripartite motto. Although it finds its origins in the French Revolution, it was then only one motto among others and was not really institutionalized until the Third Republic at the end of the 19th century. Debates concerning the compatibility and order of the three terms began as soon as the French Revolution.

Paris Commune and Third Republic

Pache, mayor of the Paris Commune, painted the formula “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, ou la mort” on the walls of the commune. It was only under the Third Republic that the motto was made official. It was then not dissociated with insurrection and revolutionary ardours, Opportunist Republicans such as Jules Ferry or Gambetta adapting it to the new political conditions. Larousse's Dictionnaire universel deprived Fraternity of its "evangelistic halo" (Mona Ozouf), conflating it with solidarity and the welfare role of the state.

Some still opposed the Republican motto, such as the nationalist Charles Maurras in his Dictionnaire politique et critique, who claimed Liberty to be an empty dream, Equality an insanity, and only kept Fraternity.Charles Péguy, renewing with Lamennais' thought, kept Fraternity and Liberty, excluding Equality, seen as an abstract repartition between individuals reduced to homogeneity, opposing "fraternity" as a sentiment put in motion by "misery", while equality only interested itself, according to him, to the mathematical solution of the problem of "poverty." Péguy identified Christian charity and Socialist solidarity in this conception of Fraternity. On the other hand, Georges Vacher de Lapouge, the most important French author of pseudo-scientific racism and supporter of eugenism, completely rejected the Republican triptych, adopting another motto, "Déterminisme, Inégalité, Sélection" (Determinism, Inequality, Selection). But, according to Ozouf, the sole use of a triptych was the sign of the influence of the Republican motto, despite it being corrupted in its opposite.

See also

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