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Archive - AssoziationEn//Agora: What is human dignity and why is it inviolable?

Already prior to the founding of the association, some of the current members of Assoziation:E associated themselves in the form of Agora Munich, an open dialogue format in which the intolerability of the prevailing conditions was reflected upon and discussed on the basis of various scientifically founded contributions. In other words: the forerunner of Assoziation:E:n! With a corresponding archive series, we want to make some of the topics discussed in 2018 - 2020 accessible again and keep them present. We thank the authors for their agreement to continue using the texts as collective property.



"Human dignity is inviolable". This is not only the beginning of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, but probably also the intuition of a large majority of the readers of these lines. But what is this motto actually about? Who measured human dignity the last time, and in doing so also established that it is inviolable? Do we really understand what we are referring to - and what is the actuality of this concept, also and especially in its consequence?


This is what AGORA:MUC will be about in January 2019. In the following, some aspects of the question will be highlighted, without claiming to be complete, but in the hope of providing some basics for a productive discussion. Of course, this entry can be criticized and debated just as much as anything else! At the end of the text is a summary of the formulated aspects, for everyone who is too impatient to read the whole text.


Where does the idea of human dignity come from?

Classically, i.e. in the sense of the "Enlightenment" of European societies, the dignity of man is traced back to a Christian-Jewish figure of thought. Philosophy then tried to justify this idea without reference to a God, i.e. secularly. In Christianity and Judaism, man has a special status due to his being made in the image of God (God created man in his own image), which is expressed, among other things, in the soul: Every human being is unique, special, valuable, endowed with a soul and thus also with something like dignity. In this understanding of man we are all a product of divine creation, which makes this type of dignity ultimately a divine or God-given one.


In the 18th century came a current in European philosophy known as the Enlightenment, which initially represented a turning away from religiously fundamental explanations of the world. For enlightened thinkers (at that time almost exclusively men practiced philosophy), the question of how to access the world was no longer answered by a "ultimately everything is God's will, we have to recognize this and then it will work out", but by reason. This was not a matter of denying the importance of the great questions of religion, but rather of providing answers to them on a rational basis. A central example of this is human dignity. For the Enlightenment thinkers, the religious doctrine of the uniqueness of human beings is true, though wrongly derived. There is indeed human dignity, but not because of God, but because every human being can be considered to have the possibility of reasoning. The world can be understood through reason, and social relations, i.e. the totality of all potentially responsible people, can be rationally shaped.


In principle, every human being has access to the world-explaining reason; every human being can be trusted to interact with his or her fellow human beings in a potentially rational way so that all can live together in peace and freedom. In this understanding, other people become recognizable as individuals, as different people who can take part in each other and have themselves as a purpose: Every human being has desires and dreams. This is described as the subject quality of human beings. If one then starts from the general equivalence of humans and their requests, nobody may be treated merely as means to the end. One could say that the philosophy of the Enlightenment took over the idea from religion that every human being is unique and dignified, only it could justify this statement differently. Of course, the question of what this reason is at all is an immensely important one - and not easy to answer. Nevertheless, the basic principle of this consideration is effective - until today.


Human Dignity as a combat term

However, a lot had to happen before it got this far. The values of the Enlightenment, which we know today as basic principles of legal systems and which we take for granted and so often even disregard somewhere in the back of our minds, were the subject of a radical and socially transformative struggle - like the Enlightenment as a whole. "Enlightenment is the exit of man from his self-inflicted immaturity," as the famous Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant first put it, elaborating: "Immaturity is the inability to use one's intellect without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-inflicted if the cause of it lies not in the lack of understanding, but in the resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. [...] 'Have courage to use your own understanding!' is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment." What we recapitulated above about the philosophy of the Enlightenment - man has the potential to "make use of his own understanding" - becomes a demand here: he should do it! And this demand became the slogan of the replacement of the aristocratic-feudal authority by bourgeois-liberal states under the rule of law, and thus of said radical upheavals, for example in the shape of the French Revolution or the American War of Independence.


Human dignity as a point of reference for state law

For in the old, feudal systems, it was precisely the different value of people that was decisive: Most led a predominantly miserable life as serfs, while a few were rulers of state and church by virtue of birth and divine grace. The concept of individuality did not exist.

The newly emerged bourgeois liberal states based their legal systems on various declarations of human rights, thus providing the first institutionalization of human dignity. One such formulation of these rights with the claim to universal recognition is, for example, the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. And after German National Socialism led to a complete regression behind the values of the Enlightenment ("race," not dignity, was the decisive dimension), but was defeated militarily by Allied nation states, which in turn saw themselves as representatives of these values, human dignity finally found its way into German law.


The German Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG) assumes that human dignity is inherent in man by mere existence. It cannot be taken away from humans; however, the claim to respect, which results from the guarantee of human dignity in Article 1 I GG, can be violated. The claim to social value and respect, according to the Federal Constitutional Court, prohibits making man an object of the state or subjecting him to treatment that calls his subject quality into question.

In the constitutional order of the Basic Law, human dignity, in addition to its status as a fundamental right and as the basis for the other fundamental rights, also performs the function of a fundamental norm of the state. The relationship between human dignity and democracy is of central importance here. The individual self-determination of man, which is protected by Article 1 I GG, is at the same time the basis for collective self-determination, which determines the principle of democracy of Article 20 I, II GG. The historical admonition associated with Art. 1 I GG is clear: never again should inhuman conditions such as those under the National Socialist regime be able to become the reason of state.


Human Dignity as a Justification for State Violence

We have seen what can be understood by human dignity. And we know that its inviolability is a strong normative demand, now set in stone in some legal systems - but it is therefore by no means fully established.


Precisely the Western bourgeois constitutional states, which call themselves enlightened and liberal and institutionalized the realization of universal human rights and dignity as a fundamental claim to themselves, also stand for the perversion of the basic idea of these rights in recent history. Examples of this are the relatively late abolition of slavery and equality of "dark-skinned" Americans in the USA or French or British colonialism. In this context, voices were increasingly raised that saw in the concept of human dignity and other universal rights only narratives that Western states adopted to legitimize their international supremacy. Thus, the universalism of Enlightenment values, which was originally intended to guarantee dignity and individuality to every human being and precisely not to place one culture, one way of life above all others, is today for many a mere ideology of domination.


Human dignity in crisis?

And indeed, not only historical, but also current examples show that the basic idea of human dignity is perhaps legally and formally, but in its full scope, not yet realized anywhere. Not only are there still people (groups of people) who are almost completely excluded from the rights of human dignity and have no authority that could guarantee them. Even where human dignity, equality and freedom are already firmly anchored, at least legally, the real realization of humane conditions has so far failed to materialize. For the idea of human dignity includes more than the ("negative") right to integrity - it also implies a truly humane condition. And that means, in every respect as a utopian demand: the establishment of social conditions that allow individuals to live without physical and psychological suffering, as well as the realization of individuality, far from existential hardship and material coercion.


At the same time, more and more people are looking for other concepts to demand a good life for all, or are giving up this demand or the search for clues to it.


What is our position in this debate? Do we understand the real scope of this concept, which is so "normal" for us, and if so, are we aware of the demands it entails, which may go beyond what we have come to know as common life? What are the consequences for our view of the world and our general attitude?




SUMMARY


1 Where does the idea of human dignity come from?

Enlightenment philosophy took over the idea from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition that every human being is unique and worthy of dignity, only it was able to justify this statement without reference to a God, i.e., in secular terms: Through a figure of thought that concedes to every human being the possibility to think rationally.


2 Human dignity as a combat term

"Enlightenment is the exit of man from his self-inflicted immaturity. [...] Have courage to use your own understanding!" (Immanuel Kant) What we have recapitulated above about the philosophy of enlightenment becomes a demand. And this demand became the motto of the replacement of the aristocratic-feudal system of rule by bourgeois-liberal constitutional states, for example in the form of the French Revolution.


3 Human Dignity as a Point of Reference for State Law

The newly emerged bourgeois-liberal states based their legal systems on various declarations of human rights and thus ensured the first institutionalization of human dignity. In the constitutional order of the German Basic Law, human dignity, in addition to its position as a fundamental right and as the basis for the other fundamental rights, also unfolds the function of a fundamental norm of the state.


4 Human Dignity as a Justification of State Violence

Precisely the Western bourgeois constitutional states, which call themselves enlightened and liberal and institutionalized the realization of universal human rights and dignity as a fundamental claim to themselves, also stand for the perversion of the fundamental idea of these rights in recent history. Therefore, the universalism of Enlightenment values, which was originally meant to guarantee dignity and individuality to every human being and precisely not to place one culture, one way of life above all others, is today for many a mere ruling ideology of Western states in their struggle for international dominance.



5 Human Dignity in Crisis?

What is our position in this debate? Do we understand the actual scope of this concept, which is so "normal" for us, and if so, are we aware of the demands it entails, which may go beyond what we have come to know as common life? What consequences does this have for our view of the world and our general attitude?



Contact us any time with your questions and remarks: info@assoziation-e.org


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