"Declaration Des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen" a French document from 1789 that forever causes a stir of joy and pride in the depths of my heart. My dear reader, you may know this but its even my Zoom background!
Rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of expressing dissent are all enshrined for eternity in this marvelous little document that we do not discuss often enough.
I thought perhaps it would be helpful to write a little article, expressing why I believe this document is vital to our liberal democracies today. I promise I shall keep it brief and to the point, and this shall be nothing like an academic essay but a short tribute to one of the most important documents in the history of mankind.
I was informed that today in Colombia its the national day of freedom of the press to commemorate Antonio Nariño's printing of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen. In 1794, a Colombian intellectual by the name of Antonio Nariño got his hands on a copy of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen. Nariño was only 29, and a lover of all knowledge. He had a gigantic library filled with around 2,000 books and busts of his heroes from the American and French Revolutions. On a regular basis, Nariño invited friends over to discuss politics, religion and philosophy. He was a firm believer in knowledge and open discourse. Sadly, the Spanish Colonial government was not appreciative of this. One day Nariño translated the French Revolutionary Human Rights Declaration from French to Spanish. This immediately got Nariño in trouble and he was brought before the court.
Nariño argued that none of these rights should be considered controversial. He pointed out that even famous philosophers such as Aquinas and Aristotle would have agreed with all of the points expressed in the declaration. Furthermore, Nariño argued that it was important to gain knowledge from a vast variety of courses and to compare and contrast arguments. Nariño was arrested as the court made it clear there was no freedom of speech or the press allowed. Thankfully this story has a happy ending, Nariño lived to see Simon Bolivar liberated Colombia from Spanish oppression- in fact it was Nariño himself who recognized many of Bolivar's talents.
Alas, this little story is threatening to take me over the 500 words I promised you my dear reader! There is so much more to the life of Nariño and all of his archives are digitized. What got me thinking was, how foundational these rights are. Reflecting on my own personal library, many of the works I have could very well be considered "controversial" but I have the freedom to have it. These rights are foundational to the human experience- and should be praised and celebrated. While the United Nations Declaration of Universal Rights is a wonderful piece, we must talk about the history of the precursor of that declaration- the Declaration Des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen. This document was forged in pre-revolutionary France, a land where one could not even think in their heart a different conviction than the king held. When it was translated into another major language and brought across the sea- an intellectual was arrested. These examples go to prove that we cannot take these rights for granted, and must openly discuss them and this declaration.
As a disclaimer before we part, I do not think this means we have a license to do whatever we want. As Nariño and numerous others realized- rights come with responsibility, we do not have the liberty to endanger the health, safety or well-being of our fellow citizens. But in time of peace- let us all believe what we desire to believe when it comes to religion and share our beliefs in public, let us be allowed to write what we please and produce great arguments and insights to the world around us. Let us discuss our rights and the history of the human rights struggle which captivated the world stage.
Alas my dear reader, I have officially gone over my word limit! I hope that you read the declaration and perhaps tonight with some friends or family discuss the points and what they mean to you. May we forever uphold open discourse as the path to a better world, and may this declaration serve as a light before us.