Liberty, Equality, Fraternity-In What Order?
The Idea of Fraternity in America, by Wilson Carey McWilliams (University of California, 1973, 695 pp., $14.95), is reviewed by George M. Marsden, professor of history, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Fraternity,” in the liberal slogan “liberty, equality, fraternity,” seems the most innocuous and ambiguous of these three ideals. Yet according to Professor McWilliams it is precisely a misguided concept of fraternity that has led inevitably to the bankruptcy of the dominant liberal tradition in America. McWilliams supports this original interpretation and indictment of American liberal culture with impressively well-informed and competent (though sometimes by his own admission “torturous”) analyses of a remarkable number of topics in American political and literary history. Liberals, he says, have repeatedly made the mistake of assuming that brotherhood would automatically emerge once liberty and equality were achieved. This accusation applies not only to those who today might call themselves “liberals” but also to twentieth-century “conservatives,” both of whom share the assumptions of the Lockean tradition concerning the moral freedom and natural rights of individuals. “Liberals” may place more emphasis on equality, and “conservatives” more on liberty, but both assume naively that their programs are shortcuts to achieving fraternity. Contemporary radicals, with whom McWilliams has only a “lover’s quarrel,” reflect similar naïvetè in their extravagant but unrealistic proclamations of “brotherhood.” “Under modern conditions,” McWilliams ...1
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