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European Sources of Human Dignity

A Commented Anthology

Mette Lebech

This anthology brings together texts of significance for the conceptualisation of human dignity as a constitutional principle in Europe from the earliest evidence until 1965. It divides into four parts, respectively presenting the ancient, the medieval, the early modern and the modern sources. As far as human dignity is a constitutional principle, its history follows closely that of the constitution of states. However, various traditions of human dignity, understanding it to rely on features unrelated to the state, combine in the background to reflect the substance of the idea. The introductions to texts, chapters and parts narrates this history in relation to the texts presented to reflect it. The aim is to provide for scholars and students of law, philosophy, political science and theology a collection of texts documenting the history of the concept of human dignity that is sufficiently comprehensive to contextualise the various understandings of it. A structured bibliography accompanies the work.

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Chapter 11. Industrialisation and Democracy


← 264 | 265 →


Industrialisation and Democracy

As vindications and organised campaigns for the rights of slaves, women and workers unfold, a tendency to backlash makes itself felt, stemming from competing interests. Nietzsche, voicing a criticism of culture as such, throws his full weight against, so it seems, the idea that human dignity should be a constitutional principle. His motivations, commanding an important following otherwise, seem hard to follow, except as a conservative claim for the resurrection of some form of aristocracy based in the artistic genius. Nonetheless, the pluralism of the many voices itself makes for the consolidation of democracy. Democracy will soon come to constitute an argument by itself, in need of no further justification.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831)

Hegel gives a speculative version of the idea that human dignity is dependency on or conformity with the Absolute, thus prolonging a theme of the Classical, the Christian and the Enlightenment understanding.

Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1821–1831)

Text from Vorlesungen über der Philosophie der Religion I, Werke, vol. 16, eds Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1969), p. 301. My own translation. ← 265 | 266 →


Fifty years after the Revolution slavery is finally abolished throughout the empire.

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