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  • File Size: 521 KB
  • Print Length: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 23, 2012)
  • Publication Date: October 23, 2012
  • Language: English

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What question is an appeal to dignity supposed to answer? In the mid-twentieth century, the question was perhaps: ‘What is the fundamental moral feature of human beings – the feature on which all the other moral and political considerations depend? ’ Thus, the UN Declaration of Human being Rights appeals to the ‘inherent dignity … of all members of the human family’ as ‘the foundation of freedom, rights, and peace in the world’. The first article of the German Grundgesetz (The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany) says: " Human being dignity will be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the work of all state authority. " These documents treat individual dignity as the meaningful bedrock on which modern legal–political structures are to be built. Dignity is actually explains why people have human rights and describes the standard limits of express authority. In " Pride, Rank, and Rights", Waldron disagrees with all this. In a bold reversal, Waldron denies that pride explains or conditions legal and political orders and instead argues that legal and political orders constitute dignity. On this view, what the law states constructs the pride individuals instead of the pride individuals existing independently of and prior to the law.

Waldron commences his defense of this state by recovering features of dignity through reflecting on the history of dignity. The particular period during which dignity is most familiarly represented as a part of daily life is the period of the ascendance of nobility as a political order. Reflecting on dignity in this era reveals that dignity is a few the " rank or position that a person may occupy in society, display in his bearing and self-presentation, and exhibit in his speech and actions" (p. 28). The members of nobility or royalty who occupied these ranks performed and guarded their pride by making claims against one another and the state of hawaii, as well as by oppressing commoners. Their position was constituted by designs of deference owed for them by those of lower ranks, privileges they got in relation to others of the same and higher ranks, claims they had against the express, and finally the open public honors they enjoyed. Waldron takes this historical characterization of dignity to reveal not just in what the dignity of the aristocrat consisted but that this dignity was also creature of what the law states. For the aristocrat made his noble claims on others and had honors bestowed upon him only in advantage of the law. Nobility and its concomitant dignity are creatures of a juridical order. Therefore , to understand aristocratic dignity, we should appreciate the role of what the law states in establishing the nobility. If the law is crucial to understanding noble dignity, then we should expect the same for today’s dignity. And, indeed, Waldron finds dignity mobilized in moral discourse most prominently in those legal texts that suggest understanding dignity as something outside the law. This is where Waldron makes his most creative dialectical move. Although legal documents like the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Grundgesetz, among the many other regulations out there that use the language of pride, suggest that dignity is something independent of the law, Waldron argues that we must resist this suggestion. For, just as the status and rank of aristocratic dignity is constituted by aristocratic regulation, modern egalitarian dignity is constituted by modern egalitarian law.

In today’s egalitarian legal orders, all subjects have the same legal rank, the same legal privileges, and the same status. This particular is also not really a low status, but is instead the status of the aristocratic. For example, formerly, not all folks could vote or participate in government. That required a status of a certain sort – a position denied in people on the basis of race, sexual category, insufficient property ownership and so on. But , today, all folks (of a certain age) have the position such that each has a claim to involvement in their own government. There have been a flattening and leveling up of position: not only do all folks have the same status but that position is quite high. In particular, the main feature of egalitarian dignity is the equal standing to make legal claims on each other, the state, and what the law states itself. Such standing quantities to more than merely the standing to point out it would be better were something or other to happen, and certainly is more than merely begging for charity or, worse, mercy (p. 51). Rather, the standing up one has in virtue of one’s dignity is the standing to exercise your legal authority by giving directives to others who are, in turn, legitimately required to answer. This particular occurs across the regulation, from tort law and contract law to the heights of constitutional regulation. In all cases, the plaintiff has the legal status at least to initiate a case and always has got the legal responsibility (and the status that implies) to answer legal claims made against the girl. Waldron writes that a crucial feature of pride is the fact that " it is the status of somebody who can demand to be heard and taken into account; it is :. the status of someone who issues commands [more] than :. the status of somebody who merely obeys them" (p. 60). This legal capacity of all to engage one another as equals within what the law states and the legal requirement that all reply to this engagement is, Waldron believes, section of the substance of modern dignity.

Waldron is at pains to dispute that dignity is not really a matter of mere formal equality. For, we could all be equally disempowered by the law. What exactly is striking, Waldron argues, is the fact that each of us has quite high legal status. He goes so far as to claim that modern egalitarian dignity invests every person with the status of the nobleperson with respect to the law. That is, each person has the legal status once reserved to nobility to use the law in her very own pursuits and defend herself (and, of course, it is now equally open to us all to try to abuse the regulation for gain). This might be hyperbole. It is hard to see how a status that depends upon the capacity to denigrate others, as the status of the nobility did, can be recapitulated in conditions of total formal equality. But , the spirit of Waldron’s point remains: many of the legal prerogatives of nobility are now extended to all persons, and everything in the name of pride. One might object that this picture of pride is ridiculous given the massive abuse states number upon individuals. How can the best order constitute pride when the law is simply as often used for demeaning, silencing, and even torturing people? Waldron must address this issue without moving dignity outside the law, i. e. without rendering it a condition on the content of regulation instead of a creation of the law. Following Lon Fuller and Ronald Dworkin, Waldron argues that what the law states is more than merely a assortment of rules. Rather it is ‘an institutionalized ordre order’ and the dedication to dignity within that normative order " is evinced in our legal practices and institutions [and] may be thought of as immanently present even though we sometimes fall short of it" (p. 66). The particular law, in constituting pride, also constitutes its own grounds for critique: ‘We evaluate law morally using … law’s personal dignitarian resources" (p. 67).

Accumulated in the book, one also finds three excellent comments on Waldron’s spiel, one by a personal theorist, one by a literature professor, and something by a law professor. Each comment is insightful and probing. Michael Rosen’s discussion, erudite and lively, difficulties Waldron’s secularization of pride, finding the roots of the idea, especially as at present constituted in the global legal order, in the Catholic tradition. Wai-Chee Dimock gives a gripping interpretive problem to Waldron’s account of dignity through a reading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Finally, Don Herzog’s remarks mainly invite Waldron to be careful not to allow the worst elements of the old aristocracy into his account of egalitarian dignity. Waldron’s response to Herzog is illuminating. Waldron argues that Herzog may be too quick to dismiss certain aristocratic features of dignity. We should hope, Waldron argues, that folks would be quick to defend themselves when confronted with honte to their dignity. In fact , Waldron argues, " one has a responsibility to maintain one’s dignity – to be, as it were, a faithful steward of human dignity in your person – and many of the rights associated with dignity are tinged with this responsibility" (p. 140). Complimentary to the, " there will be some haughtiness – horizontal haughtiness … – and custom and even ritual in the way dignified people bear themselves … we will expect [dignity] to be associated with a furious sense of one’s own rights and a willingness to stand up for them included in what it means to stand up for what is best and most important to oneself" (p. 145). This picture of the dignified protester, perhaps declaring her right to free speech and challenging the legal authority of the state to stop the girl or even to smash her, is one of the most enduring modern images of egalitarian pride. In particular, it phone calls to mind some of the best moments of the past century, such as when African-American sterilization workers, on strike in Memphis in 1968, quietly and bravely marched through angry White streets transporting signs with the concept, " I am a man".

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