Declaration of the Rights of Man 1789

I start this out with a Kierkegaard quote from Kierkegaard’s 1843 book Either/Or about his view of governmental responsibility, then go to his Journals written  1835  and then another quote from his 1846 book Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments about Kierkegaard’s view of rights and crowds at the bottom.

This is a short quote from Soren Kierkegaard’s 1843 book Either/Or –

It is still fresh in our memory that a French statesman, when a portfolio was offered to him for a second time, declared that he would accept it, but only on the condition that the secretary of state be made responsible. It is well known that the king of France is not responsible, while his minister is; the minister does not wish to be responsible, but will be minister with the proviso that the secretary of state become responsible; naturally, the final result is that the watchmen or street commissioner become responsible.

Would not this story of shifted responsibility really be a proper subject for Aristophanes! And on the other hand, why are the government and rulers so afraid of accepting responsibility, unless because they fear an attack from an opposition party, which equally seeks to evade responsibility? When, then, one considers these two powers in opposition to one another, but not able to come to grips with each other, because the one constantly vanishes from the other, the one only a duplicate of the other, then such a lay-out is certainly not without its comic effect.
Either/Or Part 1, Swenson translation p. 140

Kierkegaard is writing about the great revolutions in France of  1789 and 1830.

Our Journalistic Literature
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A study from nature in noonday light. Talk given to the Student Association
November 28, 1835

Revolutions follow the same course as illness. When cholera was endemic in Europe, the attacks were not very violent. The July revolution was distinguished, by, among other things, its elegance and refinement; it was a successful operation by an experienced surgeon. All the violent episodes that accompanied the revolution of ’89 were not present here, and thus the July revolution stands as a remarkable example of a clean, pure revolution, free of extraneous elements.

Meanwhile the rest of Europe stood like spectators to see, to use an expression children use, what was what. The news about it was played in every key, but since there was nothing but the name and few scarcely saw how well-balanced it had come off by and large, naturally such a folk-recitative with choir could not fail to influence the other governments and nations.

Here, too, it was not without influence, and although I cannot agree with a view expressed in an address of thanks — a view that also makes it unclear how the order to the chancellery concerning provincial consultative chambers could find the people prepared in any way — yet may I point out, since I am dealing only with journalistic literature here, that I am unaware of any Danish publications having expressed any wish or opinion on the matter prior to the official announcement of the order to the chancellery about provincial chambers.

Whether a number of people prior to that time had wanted such things clarified or whether it was rather something vague and obscure, one of those vibrations by which the French revolution agitated men all over, I do not know and am not concerned about here, but I doubt that such a wish got journalistic expression prior to that order. From then on the trail is clearer, in life — the Society of May 28 — as well as in journalism and in literature proper.

But just as we cannot deny here that the government was the active agent and that that order was the sunshine that called forth the flowers of literature, and just as, generally speaking, nothing in the world appears without two factors, so also the liberals, as I characterize them here, with an amused receptivity for such institutions, had their share in this; but I nevertheless believe that prior to that order the government and the liberals faced each other as two entities which, because of the July revolution, had a great deal to say to each other but did not know how to begin until the government broke the silence. To avoid misunderstanding, I repeat that I am speaking only about literature.


French Constitution of 1789 adopted in 1791

Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, (French: Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen)

The constitutions and other select documents illustrative of the history of France 1789-1901  by Anderson, Frank Maloy, 1871-1961, Published 1904

declaration_of_the_rights_of_man_and_of_the_citizen_in_1789The representatives of the French people, organized in National Assembly, considering that ignorance, forgetfulness or contempt of the rights of man are the sole causes of the public miseries and of the corruption of governments, have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, being ever present to all the members of the social body, may unceasingly remind them of their rights and their duties: in order that the acts of the legislative power and those of the executive power may be each moment compared with the aim of every political institution and thereby may be more respected; and in order that the demands of the citizens, grounded henceforth upon simple and incontestable principles, may always take the direction of maintaining the constitution and the welfare of all.

In consequence, the National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and citizen.

  1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be based only upon public utility.
  2. The aim of every 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 source of all sovereignty is essentially in the nation; no body, no individual can exercise authority that does not proceed from it in plain terms.
  4. Liberty consists in the power to do anything that does not injure others; accordingly, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has for its only limits those that secure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These limits can be determined only by law.
  5. The law has the right to forbid only such actions as are injurious to society. Nothing can be forbidden that is not interdicted by the law and no one can be constrained to do that which it does not order.
  6. Law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part personally or by their representatives in its formation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens being equal in its eyes, are equally eligible to all public dignities, places, and employments, according to their capacities, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and their talents.
  7. No man can be accused, arrested, or detained except in the cases determined by the law and according to the forms that it has prescribed. Those who procure, expedite, execute, or cause to be executed arbitrary orders ought to be punished: but every citizen summoned or seized in virtue of the law ought to render instant obedience; he makes himself guilty by resistance.
  8. The law ought to establish only penalties that are strictly and obviously necessary and no one can be punished except in virtue of a law established and promulgated prior to the offence and legally applied.
  9. Every man being presumed innocent until he has been pronounced guilty, if it is thought indispensable to arrest him, all severity that may not be necessary to secure his person ought to be strictly suppressed by law.
  10. No one ought to be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious, provided their manifestation does not derange the public order established by law.
  11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man; every citizen then can freely speak, write, and print, subject to responsibility for the abuse of this freedom in the cases determined by law.
  12. The guarantee of the rights of man and citizen requires a public force; this force then is instituted for the advantage of all and not for the personal benefit of those to whom it is entrusted.
  13. For the maintenance of the public force and for the expenses of administration a general tax is indispensable; it ought to be equally apportioned among all the citizens according to their means.
  14. All the citizens have the right to ascertain, by themselves or by their representatives, the necessity of the public tax, to consent to it freely, to follow the employment of it, and to determine the quota, the assessment, the collection, and the duration of it.
  15. Society has the right to call for an account from every public agent of its administration.
  16. Any society in which the guarantee of the rights is not secured or the separation of powers not determined has no constitution at all.
  17. Property being a sacred and inviolable right, no one can be deprived of it unless a legally established public necessity evidently demands it, under the condition of a just and prior indemnity.

Source: Click title below to open document below.

The Constitutions and other select documents illustrative of the history of France 1789-1901  by Frank Maloy Anderson, 1871-1961, Published 1904

Some people shout in antistrophic and antiphonal song every time someone persuaded him that now was the beginning of a new era and a new epoch, had howled his head so empty of its original quantum satis of common sense as to have attained a state of ineffable bliss in what might be called the howling madness of the higher lunacy, recognizable by such symptoms as convulsive shouting; a constant reiteration of the words “era,” “epoch,” “era and epoch,” “epoch and era,” “the System”; an irrational exaltation of the spirits as if each day were not merely a quadrennial leap-year day, but one of those extraordinary days that come only once in a thousand years; the concept all the while like an acrobatic clown in the current circus season, every moment performing these everlasting dog-tricks of flopping over and over, until it flops over the man himself.

Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, June 13, 1844 Preface Swenson translation 1936


Although the age is open-minded, liberal, and speculative, although the sacred demands of individual rights advocated by many a cherished spokesman are greeted with acclamation, it nevertheless seems to me that the case in point is not comprehended dialectically enough, for otherwise the efforts of the chosen ones would scarcely be rewarded with noisy jubilation, a triple hip-hip-hurrah at midnight, torchlight processions, and other disturbing interventions in individual rights.

It seems fair that in things permissible everyone should be allowed to do what he pleases. An intervention is accomplished only when what one person does will plane another under obligation to do something. Any expression of displeasure is permissible, because it does not intervene with an obligation in another person’s life.

If the crowd thus presents a man with a let him die, there is no intervention whatever in his freedom. He is not summoned to do something; nothing is demanded of him. He can lounge undisturbed in his living room, smoke his cigar, busy himself with his thoughts, jest with his beloved, make himself comfortable in his robe, sleep soundly-indeed, he may even absent himself, because his personal presence is not in the least required.

But a torchlight procession is a different matter; if the celebrity is absent, he must come home at once; if he has just lit up a fragrant cigar, he must put it down at once; if he has gone to bed, he must get up at once, scarcely has time to put on his trousers, and must then dash out bareheaded under the open sky to give a speech. What applies to prominent individualities in regard to such manifestations of the populace en masse also apples in the same way to us humbler folk on a smaller scale.

A literary attack is not an intervention in an author’s personal freedom; why should not everyone be allowed to express his opinion, and of course the one attacked can calmly tend to his work, stuff his pipe, leave the attack unread, its approval, however, is more dubious.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, A Mimical-Pathetic-Dialectical Compilation an Existential Contribution Volume I, by Johannes Climacus, edited by Soren Kierkegaard, Copyright Feb 28, 1846 – Edited and Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1992 Princeton University Press P. 6-7


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