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On the Spirit of Rights$
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Dan Edelstein

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226588988

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226589039.001.0001

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From Liberalism to Liberty: Natural Rights in the French Enlightenment

From Liberalism to Liberty: Natural Rights in the French Enlightenment

(p.61) III From Liberalism to Liberty: Natural Rights in the French Enlightenment
On the Spirit of Rights

Dan Edelstein

University of Chicago Press

In France, with the exception of the exiled Huguenots, natural rights were rarely discussed before 1750. Even then, their revival at the hands of the philosophes was slow and weak. Stylistically, the erudite works of the seventeenth-century natural lawyers offended Enlightenment sensibilities; these earlier texts were granted little attention. It was a group of economists, the Physiocrats, who ultimately did the most to revive the preservation regime of rights. For François Quesnay, the key right to retain in political society was property. But through their ties with philosophes in the salon of the baron d’Holbach, this economic focus gave way to a political one. By the 1770’s, nearly all the philosophes were criticizing states and laws that violated our natural rights. Another idea of rights also gained prominence in the 1770’s. This was the older constitutional theory of national rights, which members of the Paris Parlement brandished in opposition to Maupeou’s coup. This collective theory of rights rested on an idea of the nation as a natural entity. National rights were not produced through a transfer of individual rights, but had their own autonomy. These two concepts of rights were not incompatible, but there was a tension between them.

Keywords:   Physiocracy, Physiocrats, Holbach, Philosophes, Mirabeau, Paris Parlement, Raynal, Quesnay

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