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March 28, 2004

The new Rights of Man

In 1789, the National Assembly of France approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. From a nation that was a monarchy, it was quite a step towards a just society.

1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

And so on. There are 17 simple articles and they lay down a very libertarian basis for a government.

Unfortunately, good government refused to sprout in the French soil and France lurched from tyranny to monarchy to a centrally organized bureaucratic state over the next 200 years. Jacques Chirac has just recently offered an update to France's Rights of Man:

The first human right is to eat, to be cared for, to receive an education and to have housing.
In my opinion, it's a little bit of step down from the lofty sentiments of the earlier declaration. He says you have the right to have your needs taken care of. By a large and powerful bundle of state agencies, I presume. French Economist Frédéric Bastiat said, The state is the great fiction by which everybody seeks to live at the expense of everybody else. It sounds like Chirac doesn't believe it's a fiction.

UPDATE: Dana at Canadian Comment looks over the history of Rights declarations and makes a good point:

So I guess in short, the utopian will create declarations and constitutions that are idealistic, not realistic. Because of this the utopian versions become not rights designed to protect individuals but instead tools used by those in power to advance their political or social causes. That may not be their intent but it is often the result.
He forgot to mention the proposed EU constitution, which definitely falls into the utopian column.

Posted by Bruce Gottfred at March 28, 2004 08:41 PM | TrackBack
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