Civic Attachments & Sibling Attractions: The Shadows of Fraternity
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Civic Attachments & Sibling Attractions:
The Shadows of Fraternity

Presidential Address

The official website for the European Union explains its choice of the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as the EU anthem in terms of universality:

For the final movement of this symphony, Beethoven set to music the “Ode to Joy” written in 1785 by Friedrich von Schiller. This poem expresses Schiller’s idealistic vision of the human race becoming brothers—a vision Beethoven shared. . . . Without words, in the universal language of music, this anthem expresses the ideals of freedom, peace and solidarity for which Europe stands.1

While this exegesis leans on the universality of a musical language, it also acknowledges the role of the lyrics to Schiller’s ode in the choice of the anthem. The connection between brotherhood and freedom comes across as self-evident, enshrined as it is in the familiar slogan of the French Revolution, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Like the ode and the French slogan, however, the EU web text manifests a series of paradoxes in the understanding of fraternity. Europe, it seems, in spite of its status as a politically discrete unit, here becomes the symbol of the universal. In fact, the web site calls the symphony the anthem “not only of the European Union but also of Europe in a wider sense.” In addition, the language of brotherhood is gendered in Schiller’s German just as it is in the English description above. As a reading of Schiller’s ode, moreover, rather than as a piece of political rhetoric, the passage leaves much to be desired. The actual text of the ode raises serious doubts about just how universal the celebrated “brotherhood” was intended to be. While toasted as universal in the first verse of the ode, brotherhood is also revealed to be a “Bund,” a band, a privileged circle: “Schließt den heiligen Zirkel dichter” (Schiller NA 1:172) the ninth verse counsels. Among its first exclusions, unsurprisingly, are potential sisters; “Wer ein holdes Weib errungen” (NA 1:169) has completed one of the qualifying universal experiences for membership. The women themselves therefore lurk at the margins of the club and the political fellowship it represents, beyond its boundary and yet constitutive of belonging in their very subordination to their victorious suitors. [End Page 205]

The paradox we have arrived at may seem expected, familiar, not to say tiresome already: fraternity cannot serve as a symbol of inclusive politics when it blatantly excludes half the population. Such a problem may also look easy to solve—with a simple switch to the gender neutral language of universal siblinghood. But in fact, the fraught ideal of fraternity both screens and marks another problem that reveals the hidden depths of the first. The concept of liberal democracy, a political organization governed by liberty and equality, is built upon a foundation of atomized individuals concerned primarily with self-interest. What the byword of universal brotherhood hopes to correct or at least obscure is the complicating factor of the particular attachments, specific loyalties, and emotional bonds that isolate pairs or groups within a society. While equality and liberty can theoretically operate without such affective qualities, fraternity as a codeword signals an attempt to recognize their existence and to redirect them, divorcing the citizen from exclusive ties of passion and kinship in favor of more inclusive ties to the nation, a sublimation of eros noted by Freud eighty years ago. And yet, the very rhetorical force of fraternity derives from the acknowledgement of particularistic passion and sets two limits to universal equality of feeling—at the gender boundary and at the national border.

Annette Timm and Joshua Sanborn declared in their 2007 book, Gender, Sex and the Shaping of Modern Europe that “Fraternity . . . is the least studied of the great principles of the French Revolution.”2 This lacuna is still evident in spite of excellent work since the eighties by Carole Pateman, Juliet Flower MacCannell, Lynn Hunt, Jacques Derrida, and most recently Timm and Sanborn themselves.3 The studies that do exist focus predominantly on France. As evidenced by the Schiller ode, however, it was not only in France that fraternité, fraternity, brotherhood, or Br...