European Problems in Understanding Human Dignity

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Constitutionalism (2022)
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(Introduction) Dignity is regarded today as a fundamental, or even the most fundamental, value across legal systems, at both international and national levels. It seems to be one of the values which provide a common axiological basis for different constitutional traditions across Europe (de Lange 2007: esp. 3-6). Moreover, taking account of its prominent place in the law of the United Nations, human dignity is one of the values on which the international community rests. The expression “human dignity” belongs to the vocabulary of the “common language” of the international community and constitutionalism at a domestic level. The common understanding of this expression is paramount. One of the crucial questions, and one that will lie at the heart of our considerations, pertains to the foundations of human dignity. Europe is facing an essential change in understanding of the foundations of dignity, and this seems to be happening unnoticed. At the core of this change lies an abandonment of recognition of the inherent character of dignity, which is among the crucial elements of a universal paradigm for understanding human rights (Piechowiak 1999). This paradigm is based on the international law of human rights established in the framework of the United Nations after the Second World War, and – it should be added – in the face of the terrible experiences of two world wars. The considerations here serve to explain some of the consequences of this change for the understanding of human rights, especially their claim to be universal. It is argued that recognition of the inherency of dignity is interrelated and interdependent with recognition of the universality and equality of dignity, and – in consequence – with recognition of the universality and equality of human rights. The exclusion of inherency from the qualities of dignity recognized by law results in a rejection of the universality and equality of dignity and rights, or at least in fundamental changes in the understanding of universality and equality (cf. Piechowiak 2012).
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