Posts Tagged ‘Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest’

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen from the French Revolution

April 16, 2014

Artisan Washerwom pic

An artisan and a washerwoman toast the health of the French Revolution as members of the ignored and oppressed ‘Third Estate’.

I found this text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen made by the French Revolutionaries in 1789 in D.G. Wright’s Revolution and Teror in France 1789-1795 (Harlow: Longman 1974). Although it’s very much the view of patriotic French middle class, it is still one of the founding statements of modern democracy and political liberty. Here it is:

The representatives of the French people, sitting in the National Assembly considering that ignorance of, neglect of, and contempt for the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortune and the corruption of governments, have resolved to set out in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, constantly before all members of the civic body, will constantly remind them of their rights and duties, in order that acts of legislative and executive power can be frequently compared with the purpose of every political institution, thus making them more respected, in order that the demands of the citizens, henceforth founded on simple and irrefutable principles, will always tend towards the maintenance of the constitution and the happiness of everyone.

I Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can only be founded on communal utility.

II The purpose of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.

III The principle of all sovereignty emanates essentially from the nation. No group of men, no individual, can exercise any authority which does not specifically emanate from it.

IV Liberty consists in being able to do whatever does not harm others. Hence the exercise of the natural rights of every man is limited only by the need for other members of society to exercise the same rights. These limits can only be determined by the law.

V The law only has the right to prohibit actions harmful to society. What is not prohibited by law cannot be forbidden, and nobody can be forced to do what the law does not require.

VI The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part personally, or through their representatives, in the making of the law. It should be the same for everyone, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally admissible to all honours, offices and public employment, according to their capacity and without any distinction other than those of their integrity and talents.

VII A man can only be accused, arrested or detained in cases determined by law, and according to the procedure it requires. Those who solicit, encourage, execute or cause to be executed arbitrary orders must be punished, but every citizen called up or arrested in the name of the law must obey instantly; resistance renders him culpable.

VIII The law must only require punishments that are strictly and evidently necessary and a person can only be punished according to an established law passed before the offence and legally applied.

IX Every man being presumed innocent until he has been declared guilty, if it is necessary to arrest him, all severity beyond what is necessary to secure his arrest shall be severely punished by law.

X No man ought to be uneasy about his opinions, even his religious beliefs, provided that their manifestation does not interfere with the public order established by the law.

XI The free communication of thought and opinion is one of the most precious rights of man: every citizen can therefore talk, write and publish freely, except that he is responsible for abuses of this liberty in cases determined by the law.

The guaranteeing of the rights of man and the citizen requires a public force: this force is therefore established for everybody’s advantage and not for the particular benefit of the persons who are entrusted with it.

XIII A common contribution is necessary for the maintenance of the public force and for administrative expenses; it must be equally apportioned between all citizens, according to their means.

XIV All citizens have the right, personally or by means of their representatives, to have demonstrated to them the necessity of public taxes, so that they can consent freely to them, can check how they are used, and can determine the shares to be paid, their assessment, collection and duration.

XV The community has the right to hold accountable every public official in its administration.

XVI Every society has no assured guarantee of rights, or a separation of powers, does not possess a constitution.

XVII Property being a sacred and inviolable right, nobody can be deprived of it, except when the public interest, legally defined, evidently requires it, and then on condition there is just compensation in advance.

cameron-toff

David Cameron, whose government represents aristocratic privilege over the working classes, the poor, the disabled, and whose policies violate many of the rights the Revolution declared to be universal and inviolable.

Just reading this list shows how deeply reactionary the Tories and Tory Democrats are. They don’t believe that everyone should have equal rights before the law, nor can this government claim they represent ‘the general will’. They weren’t elected: they took power through a backdoor deal with the Tory Democrats, and were elected anyway on a severely diminished percentage of the population who legally have the right to vote.

They also do not believe in the freedom from arbitrary arrest and open public justice. There is the continuing scandal of the stop and search of Black men. The Tories and their Tory Democrat accomplices also passed a law providing for secret courts meting out a highly Kafkaesque brand of ‘justice’.

We have also seen a gradual diminution and erosion of our right to free speech and freedom of conscience and opinion, under the guise of national security.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen also provides for something like the Freedom of Information Act. As a citizen, it states that we have the right to have it explained to us how our taxes are spent, so that we can freely consent to them. Yet the Tories have consistently refused to issue the information on the number of disabled people, who have died since Atos declared them fit for work. Mike and the other bloggers, who have attempted to obtain this information, have been denounced as ‘vexatious’ for so doing. Johnny Void on his site today has also reported that the government is refusing to release a report documenting the shambolic failure of their ‘welfare-to-work’ programme. They have openly confessed before that they don’t want details of it to be released as this would make it unpopular and prevent it from operating.

And then there is the abomination of the Bedroom Tax. This is a tax, as Mike and the others have shown, and it has been levied on the very poorest to force them out of their homes.

As for the taxation being levied at the same rate so that people can pay according to their means, they have deliberately and flagrantly rejected it. They have awarded massive tax cuts to the rich, while the poor have seen the tax burden increase through indirect taxation.

There is precious little about this government which agrees with this founding document of political and civil liberty. And the Tories know it. They have always stood for privilege and the rights of the feudal and upper middle class elite. In 1789 the French Revolutionaries abolished feudalism, including the forced labour the aristocracy required their serfs to perform. The unpaid internships and workfare are its modern equivalents, and have been reintroduced under the Tories.

And so is democracy destroyed by this most undemocratic of governments.