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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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Part IV Modern Sources


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Modern Sources

From the time of the French Revolution the idea that human dignity could be and perhaps should be a, or the, constitutional principle becomes awake to its own dynamism. Although the Declaration of the Rights of Man was soon to be denounced as discriminatory of women on the one hand and of workers on the other, the revolutionary pattern set the trend for vindication and organisation with the aim of vindication to be seen as a legitimate means to affirm rights. Abolitionism, backed by the Society of Friends and other Christian communities, spread to France during the revolution. It shared with the revolutionaries the ideal of social justice enshrined in law and envisaged, like the revolutionaries, legal means to socially engineer equality. The violence of the revolution helped to broadcast that political literacy was the means to accomplish this end, and that it was within the reach of the ordinary person, despite it costing many lives and livelihoods.

With the French return to Empire, the organisation of society at local, regional and national levels prepared the ground for industrialisation, marked by wage-earner produced goods and the increased importance of the labour market. In this new environment, democratisation was introduced by constitutional change, and therefore, the principles to govern constitutional law were now widely discussed. Proudhon is responsible for the clearest formulation of the constitutional principle of human dignity as well as for the most conspicuous denial...

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