Show Less
Restricted access

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.

Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Part III Early Modern Sources


← 128 | 129 →


Early Modern Sources

The beginning of Modernity marks the increasing importance of the state and of positive law. As a result, the thinking about constitutional law, foundational for the making of positive law, becomes a theme along with international law, rendered necessary with the expansion of the known world. Both constitutional and international law are increasingly deployed through Modernity to address large-scale social problems, such as the political status of Jews, different Christian denominations, other nationalities, indigenous peoples, peasants, slaves, workers and women. The idea that human dignity could serve as a check on law was not new, but it occurs for the first time making use of those terms in Las Casas’ intervention on behalf of the American Indians. What was innovative in his approach was that he spoke for the rights of people not to be enslaved, citing their dignity as the reason. Pufendorf and Grotius, both familiar with the Ciceronian tradition, attempted to adapt it to contemporary conditions in the light of the controversies to which Las Casas’ intervention gave rise. They nevertheless came up against the problem that slavery existed throughout the Modern period on an industrial scale, which made it too unrealistic to insist on regarding human dignity as a constitutional principle.

During the early modern period, we find two parallel streams of literature harking back to the medieval tradition, one ridiculing or lamenting the human condition, and the other extolling the dignity...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.