Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
A translation of
Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen du 26 Août 1789
 

The Representatives of the French People, formed into a National Assembly, considering ignorance, the lapse of memory or contempt of the rights of man to be the sole causes of public misfortunes and the corruption of Governments, have resolved to set forth, in a solemn Declaration, the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man, to the end that this Declaration, constantly present to all members of the body politic, may remind them unceasingly of their rights and their duties; to the end that the acts of the legislative power and those of the executive power, since they may be at every moment [continually] compared with the aim of every political institution, may thereby be the more respected; to the end that the demands of the citizens, founded henceforth on simple and incontestable principles, may always be directed toward the maintenance of the Constitution and the happiness of all.

Consequently, the National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man [i.e., all persons] and the citizen.

  Article 1  Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on common utility.

  Article 2  The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man. These rights are personal freedom [liberty], the [ownership of] property, personal safety and resistance to oppression [i.e., the ability to resist tyranny].

  Article 3  The principle of any sovereignty lies primarily in the nation as a whole. No body nor individual can exert authority which does not emanate from the nation expressly.

  Article 4  Freedom consists in being able to do anything that does not harm others. Thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has limits only to the extent of those which ensure that the other members of society possess the pleasure of these same rights. Such limitations [on personal actions] can be determined only by the law.

  Article 5  The law has the right to proscribe actions harmful to society. All that is not forbidden by the law cannot be prevented, and no one can be constrained to do what the law does not specifically order.

  Article 6  The law is the overt expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to contribute personally, or by their representatives, to the formation of the law [i.e., to the legislative process]. The law must be the same for all, either that it protects, or that it punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, are also acceptable by all dignitaries, in all places and in all measure of public employment, according to their capacity and without other distinction than that of their virtues and their talents.

  Article 7  No man can be indicted, be arrested or held in custody except under those circumstances determined by the law, and according to its forms which are prescribed. Those which solicit, dispatch, carry out or make others carry out arbitrary commands must be punished; but, any citizen summoned or seized under the terms of the law must obey immediately; [otherwise] he makes himself guilty by resistance.

  Article 8  The law should establish only such strict penalties as are obviously necessary; and, no person can be punished except under the terms of a law established and promulgated before the offense, and which is legally applicable.

  Article 9  Every man is supposed innocent until having been declared guilty; but if it be considered essential to arrest, any action, which is not necessary to secure the person, must be severely repressed at law.

  Article 10  No person should be afraid to express opinions, even religious ones, provided that the manifestation of their opinion [advocacy] does not disturb the established law and order.

  Article 11  The free communication of thought and opinion is one of the most valuable rights of man: any citizen can thus speak, write, print freely, except that he must answer for his abuse of this freedom in such cases determined by the law.

  Article 12  The guarantee of human rights and of the citizen requires a police force: this force is thus instituted for the advantage of all, and not just for the particular utility of those [officials] to which it is entrusted.

  Article 13  For the maintenance of the police force, and for the expenditure of administration, a common contribution [tax] is essential: it must be also distributed among all citizens, according to their abilities [to pay].

  Article 14  All citizens have the right to vote, by themselves or through their representatives, for the need for the public contribution, to agree to it voluntarily, to allow implementation of it, and to determine its appropriation, the [amount of] assessment, its manner of collection and its duration.

  Article 15  Society [the Public] has the right to require an account by any public agent of their administration.

  Article 16  Any society in which the guarantee of [these] human rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers set forth, has no legal constitution [basis].

  Article 17  Property [rights] being inviolable and sacred, one cannot lose the private use of property, if there is no public necessity, legally noted, required obviously, and under the condition of a just reimbursement as a predicate [to the taking].


This is an edited version of the translation from the French by an anonymous translator given here.


It is interesting to compare this original Declaration of Human Rights with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

Firstly note that the UN Declaration concerns only the rights of individual human beings, and does not refer to rights and duties of public institutions or political associations.

Article 4 of the original declaration defines freedom, quite simply, as “being able to do anything that does not harm others.” One is free, in this sense, if one has a right to do anything that does not harm others. Or in other words, that the state (that is, the law) may not prevent one from performing an action if that action does not harm another.

The UN declaration does not say this. It uses the word ‘freedom’ 21 times but nowhere defines this term. Instead it refers several times to particular kinds of freedom, namely, five cases of freedom of, two of freedom to, and one of freedom from. (The other 13 uses of ‘freedom’ being non-specific as in references to “rights and freedoms”.) It thus appears that according to the UN declaration one has a right to do only what it says one has a right to do, and thus that one's rights are only those that are ‘granted’ by the UN declaration. This is not consistent with the original declaration, which says that one has a right to do anything (whether or not it is specifically mentioned in the declaration) which dos not harm another.

The kinds of freedom referred to in the UN declaration are as follows:

The rights stated by the original declaration are ‘natural rights’, that is, rights which one possesses simply as a human being, and more particularly, as a human being within a human society. Fear and want are natural concomitants of being human, so it is highly doubtful that “freedom from fear and want” qualifies as a human right.

The human rights asserted in the UN declaration are frequently violated by signatories to it.

Many natural human rights are not acknowledged in UN declaration, or are implicity denied under the usual interpretation that whatever is not explicity cited as a human right in that declaration is not a human right. For example, the natural human right to alter one's consciousness — subject, of course, to the restriction that doing so does not harm others. This is a natural right which is implied by Article 4 of the original declaration: “Freedom consists in being able to do anything that does not harm others. Thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has limits only to the extent of those which ensure that the other members of society possess the pleasure of these same rights.“

The natural right to change one's consciousness implies that one is free to cultivate cannabis plants in one's own garden, and in one's own home to smoke the prepared cannabis plant to enjoy its effects. Nowhere in the UN declaraton is this right acknowledged. And it is explicitly violated by all 189 countries which (as of 2014) are signatories to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. A page of the website of the Transnational Institute says:

Although the protection of health and welfare might be considered the basic principles of the [United Nations] conventions [outlawing prohibited drugs], in practice the drug control system has resulted in human rights abuses across the globe. The treaties do not suggest that human rights principles should be infringed, but in the name of drug control fundamental rights (as established in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights) are being violated all over the world, including the right to life and to health, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel treatment, the right to due process, the right to be free from discrimination, the economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples, and children’s rights, among others.
Thus the 189 countries which are signatories to the UN drug conventions, routinely cited as the legal basis (if any) of the ‘War on Drugs’, are all in effect violators of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and are particpants in one of the great crimes against humanity of modern times.

Article 4 of the original declaration says: “The exercise of the natural rights of each man has limits only to the extent of those which ensure that the other members of society possess the pleasure of these same rights. Such limitations [on personal actions] can be determined only by the law.” Thus it might be thought that the original declaration implies that one does not have a right to cultivate cannabis for personal use because to do so is against the law (in most Western countries). However, Article 6 states: “The law is the overt expression of the general will.” And Article 3 states: “The principle of any sovereignty lies primarily in the nation as a whole. No body [including the legislature] nor individual can exert authority which does not emanate from the nation expressly.” Prohibition of the use of recreational drugs has never been part of “the general will”. Prohibition began in the U.S. in the early 20th C. and was always, and to the present day, imposed upon an unwilling population. It thus has no place in the law except as having been inserted by a tyrannical legislature, and is a violation of the natural rights of citizens.

Finally note that Article 16 states: “Any society in which the guarantee of [these] human rights is not assured ... has no legal constitution [basis].” In other words, a government which does not respect and acknowledge the natural human rights expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, or which enacts laws which violate those rights, has no legitimacy, is a tyranny, and its citizens are under no obligation to respect it or to conform to its laws.


The State of Victoria in Australia has a law, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, which “sets out the basic rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people in Victoria.” It is a 46-page document obviously written by lawyers and one has to be a lawyer to understand it fully. While admirable, it suffers from the defect mentioned above, namely, that it does not allow that one has a right to do anything which does not harm another. Under the heading “Human rights — what they are and when they may be limited” it says: “A human right may be subject under law only to such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, and taking into account all relevant factors including ...” But (unlike the original declaration) it does not define ‘freedom’ and it basically says: One has a right to do anything which is not prohibited by law, ignoring the fact that the law may (and sometimes does) violate one’s natural rights. (In Victoria, although smoking cannabis in one's own home harms no-one, it is a criminal offense to use or possess it.) So this Charter, while well-intentioned, is in fact quite consistent with a tyranny, in which one can, without retribution, do only what the state (without regard for one‘s natural rights) permits one to do.

John Stuart Mill's Essay on Liberty
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