The Secret History of Constitutional Dignity
42 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2012 Last revised: 24 Feb 2013
Date Written: 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.
Keywords: Ireland, human dignity
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