The Secret History of Constitutional Dignity

Samuel Moyn

Harvard University

October 9, 2012

In their 1937 constitution, the Irish gave human dignity foundational placement, as a religiously-inspired root concept connected (as in the later West German case of 1949) to the subordination of the otherwise sovereign democratic polity to God, and for many to the moral constraints of his natural law. This essay takes up this neglected but revealing fact. It is critical that dignity came to the world as part of the establishment of an alternative, religious constitutionalism; this newer constitutionalism crystallized precisely in the 1930s when it seemed to many as if secular liberalism had no future. To understand the original meaning of constitutional dignity, in summary, it is necessary to attend to the confusing years just before war and genocide, for it was a response to different circumstances. The most illuminating context for the move to constitutional dignity, it turns out, is not in the shocked conscience “after Auschwitz” but in political Catholicism before it, which remained its dominant framework for decades, when the Holocaust still did not figure in moral consciousness. Focusing on dignity's Irish constitutionalization shows why this matters.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 42

Keywords: Ireland, human dignity

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Date posted: October 9, 2012 ; Last revised: February 24, 2013

Suggested Citation

Moyn, Samuel, The Secret History of Constitutional Dignity (October 9, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2159248 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2159248

Contact Information

Samuel Moyn (Contact Author)
Harvard University ( email )
MA 02138
United States
2128543009 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://scholar.harvard.edu/smoyn
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