January 16, 2007

Kristeva on the French Revolution

The Rights of Man and Citizen

The Rights of Man and Citizen

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was designed to make everyone aware of rights and responsibilities.

1 Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
2. The aim of all 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 principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

Kristeva explains how rights are inserted into a grid of human institutions and within the scope of the nation. Thus later on the word, ‘man’, is replaced by the word, ‘citizen’.

6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.

The word citizen is used here significantly when the document directs us to civic responsibilities. Kristeva notes: ‘Never has democracy been more explicit, for it excludes no one—except foreigners’ (149). Natural man leads to political man which leads to political man and in fact there is some caution in dissociating natural and political man at all.

What happens to peoples without an adequate government to defend them (the Napoleonic expansion comes to minds, for instance)? What happens to peoples without a homeland (the Russians, the Poles, victims of destruction of their state; or, in more radical fashion, the Jews)? Generally speaking, how are those who are not citizens of a sovereign state to be considered? Does one belong to mankind, is one entitled to the “rights of man” when one is not a citizen? (150)

Kristeva is adamant that the French Revolution brought a call for national rights not human ones. She notes Arendt’s belief that the legacy of nationalism guaranteed the rise of Nazism in the twentieth century. For Kristeva, the composition of a world order in nation-states is barbaric, since only legal nationals are guaranteed rights. The only possible antidote to this could be what Kristeva calls the principle of human diginity: ‘Maintaining the dignity of the human being as principle and aim allows one to understand, to care for, perhaps to mollify its founderings’ (153).

Kristeva comes to a view on the kind of society that should emerge from the Declaration. It would be one that balances the rights and duties of citizens and non-citizens. She also demands an ethics based on education and psychoanalysis that would ‘reveal, discuss, and spread a concept of human dignity, wrested from the euphoria of classic humanists and laden with the alienations, dramas and dead ends of our condition as speaking beings’ (154).

Foreigners During the Revolution
1. Universal Brotherhood and the Birth of Nationalism
By 1790, Guy-Jean-Baptiste Target announced a proposal in the National Assembly of France for foreigners to be naturalized after five years. It was approved by the Assembly immediately. New societies for foreigners began to emerge in France and there were new newspapers catering for foreigners. Unfortunately as the nature of government began to change, the authorities began to be suspicious about foreigners who might be spies or plotters. They were also blamed for the economic crisis. “Hospitality certificates” and “civic examination” were invented and two parties emerged with different attitudes towards foreigners. Dantonists wanted peace but were anti-foreigners, while Hébertists desired war against Europe but supported immigrant patriots. Clubs for foreigners were banned and Robespiere’s Report on the Principles of the Revolution (1793) blamed foreigners for everything. In events that followed, the Terror brought about the arrest of the Hébertists and Hébert’s cosmopolitan ideas condemned many to death. Nationalism was the safest ideology to embrace. All foreigners, ‘were excluded from public service and public rights’ (161).

Anarchis Clootz

2. Anarcharsis Clootz: The “Speaker of Mankind” Against the Word “Foreigner”
Clootz was born in the Rhineland of Dutch origin and educated by Jesuits, but in 1790 he proposed to the National Assembly that the Declaration would be supported by the entire world. Allied with the Girondists, he believed in ‘expanding the rights of man to include foreign peoples, who would thus rise against their tyrants under the aegis of France’ (161). When the Terror began to emerge, Clootz did not take action against foreigners and continued to expound his ideas about a universal republic. He even deconstructed the term, foreigner. Clootz was accused of being a foreigner, incapable of feeling patriotism, and eventually, he was arrested and guillotined on March 20th 1794.

Thomas Paine

3. Thomas Paine: The “Citizen of the World” Wants to Save the King
Thomas Paine was key figure during the American Revolution. His Common Sense attacked the aristocracy and crown of England and demanded independence. Paine visited France during its revolution and answered Burke’s criticisms of the French (Reflection Upon the Revolution in France) with his own Rights of Man. Paine beli4eved in a social and democratic form of government and education and he displayed great idealism concerning human beings and the French Revolution. Paine was supported by English nonconformists like Mary Wollstonecraft and Nicholas de Bonneville in France.

Interestingly, although Paine was anti-monarchists, he also pleaded the case of the French king and was against his execution. However, Marat referred to the fact that Paine came from a Quaker family and suggested that his religious principles had clouded his judgement. After the execution of the Girondists, Paine was also arrested but eluded the guillotine.


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