Dignity qua human being or Dignity qua persona?

Dignity is the condition but also the consequence of human rights (article 22 UDHR).
But what exactly is dignity? The intuitive definition of dignity would be “worthy of respect”… but why is one “worthy of respect”? Then again, the natural answer would be “because he or she is a human being”.
However, Alain Supiot’s ”The Human being as Imago Dei” seems to offer a different perspective. Indeed, in this chapter, we understand that the notion of personality finds its origins in Ancient Rome and initially meant “the death masks of the ancestors”, the imago. It is only later, with the Humanist/Enlightenment surge that the concept of “personality” was progressively bestowed upon every human being as a result of the King ceasing to be the only incarnation of God on Earth. From then on, all human beings were to be equals – because all made in the image of God- and unique- because God is one. Therefore, all human beings were to have “dignity”.
What it means is that human beings have dignity because they wear the mask of their ancestor, the mask of God. They do not hold dignity qua human being but qua persona, qua Imago Dei; because they represent God on Earth. More importantly perhaps, human beings have dignity because they represent the Christian God. Following the Modern era, law, Supiot argues, has become “the authority that vouches for human identity and symbolizes that they are not to be treated like a thing”. However, despite the apparent objectivity the Law claims to have, scholars, such as Anthony Angie, have also made evident the links between Christianity, natural law and positive law and revealed the embedded eurocentrism of modern international law.
This account of the Christian origins of the concept of dignity is at odds with its traditional understanding and raises issues with regard to the universal project of human rights. I am by no means implying that not all human beings must have their dignity respected. My interrogation rather lies in the consequences that such a conceptualization of dignity can have when applied universally: the refugees’ crisis, treatment of indigenous populations in land eviction cases…. How, if at all, does a Christian-western concept of dignity impact on how the Law understands the dignity of others?


Digression on the responsibility to protect: “The inevitability of Law and Economics”?

Digression on the responsibility to protect: “The inevitability of Law and Economics” ?

In “Protection in the shadow of empire”, Anne Orford gives a post-colonial critical account of the concept of “responsibility to protect”. As suggested in the title, a quite clever pun, she argues that the R2P only comes as a theory schematizing already existing practices carried on by former imperial powers. Although a change to “sovereignty as control” to “sovereignty as responsibility” appears like a novelty, it is in fact a long established tradition, especially in the political theory of the social contract. Convening Hobbes and Carl Schmitt, she points out that both theories arose when the State’s legitimacy was being questioned by external forces (the Church or the Bolshevik revolutions). My questions very much deal with the concept of responsibility to protect but placed in a different context.
Indeed, Orford says that “the turn to protection does not have a predetermined political effect and can give rise to a range of projects directed towards quite different ends”. If protection is the raison d’être of a State, then, recourse to the “state of emergency” when the security of the State and the safety of its people are threatened makes perfect sense. It enables the State to take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the nation during a limited period of time. It also entails the suspension or limitation of some civic and political rights such as the freedom of assembly. Following the “Paris attacks”, the French President announced that France was at war and the emergency state was declared. However, a few months later, during his New Year’s speech, he also mentioned a second type of emergency state; a state of “economic emergency”. This is mainly so because of the aftermaths of the crisis and the high unemployment rate. In Venezuela, a country that recently made the same statement, “state of economic emergency” is enshrined in the constitution. But in France, it is not.
In my opinion, what it does is to place economy on an equal footing with security, and consequently, opposing it to the more general concept of “right”.
If the state of security emergency requires the suspension and/or limitation of civil and political rights, does its economic counterpart require suspension and/or limitation of economic and social rights? From where I stand, this statement seems paradoxical for the reason that there is an emergency situation precisely because social and economic rights are not being respected/ implemented as they should be.
So according to what standard the emergency of the economic situation is being evaluated? The welfare of the people OR, similarly to the political state of emergency aiming to protect the state’s interests, the State’s economic interests? By whom are these interests being set up? The people? The State? A supra-national entity? Or an invisible hand?
After the securitization of the State raison d’être as theorized by Foucault, should we consider this a symptomatic instantiation of an “economization” of the State raison d’être? As legal scholars, I think these questions are worth asking in order to understand the context in which law operates: as Frank Easterbrook rightly said, the connection between law and economics do seem inevitable.


Law as an ideology: the first hints of a personal ethic

Reading through the Law & Humanities corpus of texts brought about a slight but essential, at least to me, change in the relationship I have towards law. Coming from a civil law background, I always felt like law was imposed upon me. I had to learn “how law is and how to apply it accordingly”, whether I liked it or not. In this sense, it is possible to say I adopted an attitude of “double surrender” as David Kennedy would call it. Law has to be cold, amoral and/or immoral. Law is not about being just, law is about law.

Now, law is no longer something I endure, passively but a subject of which I have a better understanding and therefore, a subject I can actively engage with and that I can accept, or not. I find this of particular importance as an aspiring international human rights lawyer because of the strong ideological stance it involves.
By being aware of the ontological contingency of law, I can embrace a more ethical position by choosing to adhere to it or not. Acknowledgment of this ideological constraint, on the other hand, encourage me, if not force me, to adopt an attitude receptive to challenges and admit the possibility that my principles might not be the same or understood differently by others. Having said that, I do not think it forces me to sink into strict relativism but rather that it enables me to make a conscious and enlightened choice as to what principles I chose to abide to. From an inner perspective, it changes the way I will interact with “others”, it means that my attitude cannot be dogmatic anymore for it would defeat, and in fact, contradict the very idea of universalism.
Indeed, if human rights and liberal values are understood as a rebellion (révolte, in French) – in an “camusian” sense- against the oppression of the absolutist power, and aim ultimately to “free the whole humanity”, it necessarily entails the risk of “losing itself”: “A rebellion that loses the truth of its origins will give birth to a close totality, universal crime, an aristocracy of cynicism and a wish for apocalypse” ( Albert Camus, “L’Homme révolté”).