Study Guide

Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen Themes

By The Marquis de Lafayette

  • Dissatisfaction

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was born out of the unhappiness of the French people. In case it wasn't clear, ordinary French men and women were no longer amused by their government, which basically consisted of a king and queen who'd never heard of a spending limit and a nobility that had never heard of paying taxes.

    The people were dissatisfied and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was the first step in maybe getting some well-deserved change.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. On a scale of one to death-by-guillotine how dissatisfied do you think the French people were when the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was written? What about at other points during the French Revolution?
    2. Do you think that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen adequately addresses the dissatisfaction felt by the ordinary French citizen in 1789? Why or why not?
    3. If you could add one article to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen to better calm the fears and anger of the French people, what would it be?

    Chew on This

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen does nothing to help the common, poor French people struggling to afford bread; it is merely a document for the benefit of the bourgeoisie alone.

    The disappointment of the French people toward their king gave the world its first list of basic human rights with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Okay, it's Real Talk time: the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen didn't actually do anything.

    It was written based on the hopes and dreams of a bunch of representatives who'd grown up reading the works of Enlightenment philosophers and watching what those crazy Americans were doing on the other side of an ocean. These wannabe congressmen had bold plans that they were laying out in their Declaration—plans for an actual French constitution someday.

    They didn't know if it would work, they weren't sure if their hopes would be realized, but dang it, they were going to dream big and see what happened next.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. If the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen had included more than just male property owners do you think that the French Revolution would have turned out differently for France?
    2. Which of the articles in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen need additions made to them before they can be enforced? Explain your answer.
    3. Based on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, what do you think society would look like if the representatives and authors had succeeded in transforming the French government?

    Chew on This

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen is an unfinished document that reveals only the outline of a plan for a government, but is nowhere close to a completed project.

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was the foolish dream of politicians too blinded by Enlightenment theories to understand the necessities of creating a real government.

  • Rules and Order

    France was kinda lacking rules and order at the exact moment that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was written.

    They had an absolute monarch who was reluctant to impose rule and order, especially when it came to taxes. And they had angry mobs in the street burning down prisons and starting to send people to the guillotine. (Yeah, not a great situation.)

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was intended to restore a little stability in France and give them all something they could get behind.

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. Which of the rules proposed by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen do you think is most important, and why?
    2. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen suggests that to have order a nation must have a military and collect taxes. Do you agree or disagree with this assertion? Explain your answer.
    3. What punishments would you suggest for breaking the rules implied in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen failed to achieve order in France because instead of providing a rebellious populace with rules, it supplied only vague ideas of freedom.

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen is among the greatest list of rights because it attempted to oppose rule and order on a monarch without first removing him from his position.

  • Rights and Privileges

    It's probably not surprising that a document with the word "rights" in the title would take on the theme of rights and privileges. (That's kind of the whole point.)

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen is a list of rights and privileges that, according to it, all men are born with and governments should stop trying to take away. The Enlightenment thinkers of this era were obsessed with the idea that there are natural laws that have always existed, but that people weren't clever enough to list them until now.

    Aren't we lucky they finally put quill to paper?

    Questions About Rights and Privileges

    1. Why do you think multiple titled aristocrats were willing to approve the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen despite the fact that it aimed to strip them of their inherited privileges?
    2. Should the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen have extended the rights listed to people beyond land owning men, or would this have been too revolutionary and negated the entire document?
    3. How have the rights within the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen withstood the test of time? Do they still apply today, or do they need extensive updating to be relevant?

    Chew on This

    Because it fails to include the emancipation of slavery, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen cannot be taken seriously or ever raised up as a serious list of human rights.

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen replaced one type of privilege (that of the nobility) with another (that of the voter), and for this, it has earned its place among the greatest achievements of the modern world.

  • Equality

    One-third of the French Revolution motto, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," equality was a trait that France was seriously lacking in the late 1700s.

    They had a social system that was based on inequality, where people with noble titles enjoyed immense privileges that fully separated them from even well-off professionals. The only way to truly get ahead in Old Regime France was to convince the king to give you a title—and good luck with that, because that guy was stingy.

    The representatives who approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen wanted to get rid of the system of nobility and make everyone equal. (Well, okay: not everyone, but all men who owned property, which was still a big deal at the time.)

    Questions About Equality

    1. Why do you think that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen mentions both equality and liberty, but neglects fraternity?
    2. Is it possible to have an egalitarian society and still preserve the monarchy and titles of nobility or are the two ideas entirely contradictory?
    3. Based on their ideas of equality is it fair to call the representatives of the National Assembly the world's first communists? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen did nothing to bring France closer to an egalitarian society as evidenced by the fact that the revolution ended with Napoleon in charge as emperor creating an even more structured class system.

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen brought the world one small step closer the equality by simply suggesting that it could exist for anyone not born into privilege and power.