This is not a cliché.

Every day a new story
15 May 2020


Michil and Mathias

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is how ‘brotherhood’ is interpreted in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, the third pillar of the French Revolution. Often it is said that the first two, Freedom and Equality, are incompatible. To solve this impasse of having to choose between one and the other, the third pillar, Brotherhood, was added. That may very well be true, but four years before the Storming of the Bastille, Friedrich Schiller said: «Alle Menschen werden Brüder», all men will be brothers, verses which were integrated in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which then became the Anthem of Europe. Today, the German exponent of Romanticism would be labelled as overly sympathetic, a dreamer. Schiller was, after all, the person who theorised the idea of a beautiful soul, referring to the Classic ideal of ‘beautiful and good’ (kalòs kai agathòs). But then again, ‘love thy neighbour’ is seen as a dangerous communist slogan by the same people who think they can do what they please in their own country, even worse than ‘proletarians of all countries, unite!’ (another facet of the idea we are all brothers). Besides rhetoric, what we do now is that today brotherhood or, in its modern feminist declination, sisterhood, means one thing: we are all family members, even though the best families are dysfunctional. So being different is just a reflection of who we are. That is why we sometimes envy it, other times we hate it but, at the end of the day, being considerate and kind to our neighbour means helping oneself. Hillel the Elder, founder of the Jewish ethic, was paraphrased by the Gospels as saying, ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself, what am 'I'?’

Wlodek Goldkorn, journalist and novelist of Polish origins