Rights of Man


Rights of Man

Infobox Book
name = The Rights of Man
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image_caption = Title page from the first edition
author = Thomas Paine
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country = Britain
language = English
series =
subject =
genre =
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release_date = 1791
english_release_date =
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"Rights of Man" (1787), by Thomas Paine, posits that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard its people, their natural rights, and their national interests. It defends the French Revolution against Edmund Burke's anti-democratic attack upon popular government in "Reflections on the Revolution in France" (1790). [cite web|url=http://www.ushistory.org/paine/rights/index.htm|title=The Rights of Man ]

Concepts

Human rights originate in Nature, thus, rights cannot be granted via political charter, because that implies that rights are legally revocable, hence, would be privileges:

"It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few . . . They . . . consequently are instruments of injustice".

"The fact, therefore, must be that the individuals, themselves, each, in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist".

Government's sole purpose is safeguarding the individual and his/her inherent, inalienable rights; each societal institution that does not benefit the nation is illegitimate — especially the Monarchy, the Nobility, and the Military. The book's acumen derives from the Age of Enlightenment, especially from the "Second Treatise of Government", by John Locke; for placing the person supreme to the government, the English government declared author Thomas Paine a traitor.

Reformation of English Government

"Rights of Man" concludes in proposing practical reformations of English government: a "written" Constitution composed by a national assembly, in the American mould; the elimination of aristocratic titles, because democracy is incompatible with primogeniture, which leads to the despotism of the family; a national budget "without" allotted military and war expenses; lower taxes for the poor, and subsidised education for them; and a progressive income tax weighted against wealthy estates to "prevent" the emergence of an hereditary aristocracy.

Aristocracy

Principally, "Rights of Man" opposes the idea of hereditary government — the belief that dictatorial government is "necessary", because of Man's corrupt, essential nature. In "Reflections on the French Revolution" (1790) Edmund Burke (staunch aristocratist and disbeliever in true democracy), says that true, social stability arises if the nation's poor majority are governed by an exclusive, minority of wealthy aristocrats, and that lawful inheritance of power (wealth, religious, governing) ensured the propriety of political power being the exclusive domain of the nation's élite social class — the Nobility.

"Rights of Man" denounces Burke’s assertion of the Nobility's inherent "hereditary wisdom"; countering the implication that a nation has not a right to form a Government for governing itself, Paine defines Government: " [it] is a contrivance of human wisdom. . . .", and, recognizing that Government is a contrivance of Man, it follows that hereditary succession and hereditary rights to govern cannot compose a Government — because the wisdom to govern is not heritable.

Heredity

Edmund Burke's counter-revolutionary "Reflections on the French Revolution" delineates the legitimacy of aristocratic government to the 1688 Parliamentary resolution declaring William and Mary of Orange — and their heirs — to be the true rulers of England. Paine voids that argument in countering that the institution of Monarchy should not be historically traced from 1688, but from 1066, when William of Normandy forcibly imposed his Norman rule upon Englishmen.

Thomas Paine’s intellectual influence is perceptible in the two, great, political revolutions of the eighteenth century. He dedicated "Rights of Man" to Gen. George Washington and to the Marquis de Lafayette, acknowledging the importance of the American and the French revolutions in his formulating the principles of modern democratic governance.

Thus, the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen" (Déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen) can be encapsulated so: (1) Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights. Civil distinctions, therefore, can be founded only on public utility; (2) The end of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression; and (3) The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; neither can any individual, nor any body of men, be entitled to any authority, which is not expressly derived from it.

These capsulations are akin to the self-evident truths concept that the U.S. "Declaration of Independence" expresses.

Public impact

The publication of "Rights of Man" caused a furor in monarchist England; Thomas Paine was tried "in absentia", and convicted for seditious libel against the Crown, but was unavailable for hanging, having departed England for France, where the Revolution had just earlier exploded on 17 July 1789.

Thomas Paine was not the only advocate of the rights of man or the only author of a work titled "Rights of Man". The working-class radical, Thomas Spence, is amongst the first, in England, to use the phrase as a title. His 1775 lecture, usually titled "The Rights of Man", and his later "The Rights of Infants", offer a proto-communist government alternative to Paine's democratic offering. [cite web|url=http://thomas-spence-society.co.uk|title=thomas spence.co.uk - Home ]

References

ee also

*Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen - a fundamental document of the French Revolution, adopted in 1789


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