France keeps referring to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which it created in 1789. However, there is another subsequent declaration of Human Rights, that of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of 1948, which prevails everywhere else in Europe. This new Declaration of Rights adresses concerns of the modern post-war era, and leads to different mentalities, cultures and social behavior in Europe.
Declaration of 1789 (1)
Inspired by the declaration of American independence in 1776 and the spirit of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 marked the beginning of a new political era.
Article 1, the one that ranks first in the declaration, is:
“Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can only be based on common utility. »
Declaration of 1948 (2)
After the devastations of the Second World War, the international community decided to draw up a second Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948.
Article 1 of the declaration of 1789 has been rewritten:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and must act towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood. »
That article omits the notion of "common utility", but integrates the one of « dignity » and individualism, "towards each other", in a spirit of "fraternity" which induces profond variations in the social organisation.
National right versus individual & international right (3)
The Declaration of 1789 guarantees rights to man as a citizen. The definition and guarantee of these rights are conditioned by belonging to a particular state and subject to the power of that state.
By contrast, the 1948 Declaration conceives of man in a more realistic way than the philosophers of the Enlightenment did, recognizing in him a job, a family, a homeland, a religion. All of these affiliations are considered as dimensions prior to the state. Moreover, this same declaration intends to ensure the protection of man against the power of the State and the dictatorship. It seeks to protect people directly by offering them supranational protection and imposing the primacy of human rights over national law. International law establishes a supranational moral order at worldwide scale.
Common utility versus common interest (4)
Today, one can wonder about the meaning of this second sentence of article 1 of the 1789 text, while the market economy imposes social distinctions which seem to be based only on the economy and money.
The common utility seems inexorably to retreat behind the imperatives of market and financial economy responding to a logic of globalization and the over-indebtedness of the public authorities.
Undue wealth and privileges versus the freedom and dignity of individuals (5)
In 1789, the issue in France was the undue wealth of the privileged classes in a revolutionary context of class struggle. What was at stake was the raise of a people and its freedom within a nation, embodied and defended by the State.
In 1948, the issue was that of dictatorship, the ravages of poverty and exacerbated nationalisms which had led to war and appalling destruction. What was at stake was the affirmation of democratic principles, individual rights and dignity for everyone.
France remains attached to its national version of 1789, which also founded its state. The Protestant-inspired Nordic countries more readily refer to the spirit of the 1948 declaration, which is less part of a spirit of class struggle than of freedom and individual dignity. The Anglo-Saxon countries hold as cardinal values the 4 freedoms enacted by the President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt in his speech on the State of the (American) Union in 1941:
- freedom of speech
- freedom of religion
- the freedom to live free from want
- the freedom to live free from fear
In Anglo-Saxon countries, free and undistorted competition is perceived as a fundamental protection for individuals who can undertake, produce, buy and sell with equal opportunity.
Arrogance versus excellence (6)
J. Attali describes the downside of this French temper resulting from the spirit of the declaration of 1789.
« French culture, for which wealth is immoral, therefore differs from countries with a Protestant tradition, for which the opposite is true: poverty is unacceptable.
In fact, many people in France then confuse competence and arrogance, excellence and privileges, elitism and favoritism. Should a musician apologize for his virtuosity? A scholar of his discoveries? A painter of his talent? When we know, do we have to apologize?
This behavior is not harmless, and is at the source of what can destroy the soul of France. Because one is to blame success, even coming from hard work, as being undeserved privilege, as if all success was necessarily undue. »
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(5) C. Carreau
(6) J. Attali