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Faces of the Enlightenment

Philosophical sketches

Series:

Zbigniew Drozdowicz

The author of this book speaks out again in regard to the Enlightenment. His inspiration comes not only from new observations occasioned by own studies, but also from the recently read material as well as opinions and appraisals of the era articulated lately at academic conferences. Although they have not led the author to perform a fundamental revision of his views in regard to the nature of Enlightenment and its crucial contributions to the Western culture, they did afford a better understanding of its complexity. They also made him more aware that his interpretation and presentation of that era depends considerably on what its prominent representatives had to say, as well as on the worldview-based assumptions and methods of appraisal adopted by its later observers and interpreters.

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The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

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There have been few documents in history that one may confidently describe as epochal. Where the Enlightenment is concerned, they include various declarations of human and civil rights, and in particular the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted by France’s National Constituent Assembly on 26 August 1789. It was not actually the first such epochal achievement (the American statute of 1776 came earlier), or even a totally original achievement (owing certain aspects to the likes of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws published in 1748). Yet despite its derivative nature and dependence, it was to become initially for the French and later also for those representing other nations an expression of modern thought about man and the citizen, while also constituting a characteristic magna carta for successive generations of liberals (as confirmed, among other things, in its principles being laid out in the manifestos of various liberal parties). It does of course have its bright points and its aspects of a darker hue. I shall attempt to point these out in the first part of these deliberations. In the second, on the other hand, I shall recall the declaration from 1793, in which several of the entries either questioned one of the entries of the previous declaration, or at least made significant amendments to them. People tend today to prefer referring to the first of them rather than the second, although in my opinion it is worth talking about both, as each provides...

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