Mainstreaming human dignity as a core societal value


How can we mainstream human dignity as a core societal value?

Our current political debates tend to center around economics and rights. Both are important. Societies need economic systems that allow us to create, distribute, share, buy, and sell. We also need legal systems that establish, maintain, and protect rights.

But broader moral values must be present to drive and shape these economic and legal systems. I can think of no better starting place than human dignity.

UN Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, provides rich ground for us to anchor this value. Its 30 major provisions, or “Articles,” are worth reading in their entirety, but these are especially relevant to topics discussed on this blog:

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.


Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

A challenge to the dignitarian movement

To my American readers, especially, a question: How often has human dignity come up during any of the presidential candidate debates hosted on behalf of either major party? The answer to that question raises more questions, and one of them is how to make human dignity a centerpiece value for our society.

This coming week I’ll be traveling to New York City to participate in the annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict sponsored by Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, a global, multidisciplinary network of scholars, activists, practitioners, and students dedicated to advancing human dignity and reducing the experience of humiliation. I have served on the HumanDHS global advisory board for several years, and recently I agreed to join its board of directors.

During my opportunities to share ideas with the group, I’ll be raising this question of mainstreaming human dignity. Among my points will be the critical importance of spreading this message beyond our friendlier constituencies. How do you reach people whose first reactions may be dismissive, or even derisive? If the tone of conventional public rhetoric these days is any indication, then we will have plenty of chances to try out different approaches.

I’ll be sharing more ideas on this theme during the week to come.


Relevant posts

Workshopping human dignity (2014)

Making human dignity the centerpiece of American employment law and policy (2014)


2 responses

  1. As long as we’re talking about human dignity (and not just men’s dignity), it seems like the language of Article 23, Part B could use some revision in order to both be more inclusive and as an acknowledgement that the old model of men being the primary breadwinners no longer reflects the current reality (nor should it).

    (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for him or herself–and his or her family–an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection

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