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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 Nature to Nation: French Revolutionary Rights

From Nature to Nation: French Revolutionary Rights

(p.172) VII From Nature to Nation: French Revolutionary Rights
On the Spirit of Rights

Dan Edelstein

University of Chicago Press

When the French themselves began drafting their own Declaration, they clearly had American models in mind: two-thirds of the final French articles have antecedents in American texts. But this family resemblance is also misleading. The French did not have the same judicial tradition to draw on. Instead, they adhered to the continental natural law tradition and sought the perfection of civil law on the basis of natural law. Rights, in this perspective, did not always trump laws. Critics who fault the 1789 Declaration for succumbing to légicentrisme are thus misguided. The French concern with la loi is not a legacy of Louisquatorzian centralization, but rather of a venerable, pan-European discipline of natural law. But the French did have their own constitutional legacy, which would come into conflict with this doctrine of social naturalism. Absent from the Declaration itself, the demand for protections of national rights would come to dominate political discourse after 1789. As France lurched from crisis to crisis, these collective rights came to be seen as more critical than individual ones. Those who violated these rights became the worst kind of enemy: l’ennemi du peuple, who would be the target of violent legislation during the Terror.

Keywords:   Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, Cahiers de doléance, national rights, droits de l'homme, droits du peuple

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