Normative Orders Working Paper
- 2011, 01
The grounds of critique : on the concept of human dignity in social orders of justification
- Ernst Bloch pointed out in a particularly emphatic way that the concept of human dignity featured centrally in historical struggles against different forms of unjustified rule, i.e. domination – to which one must add that it continues to do so to the present day. The “upright gait,” putting an end to humiliation and insult: this is the most powerful demand, in both political and rhetorical terms, that a “human rights-based” claim expresses. It marks the emergence of a radical, context-transcending reference point immanent to social conflicts which raises fundamental questions concerning the customary opposition between immanent and transcendent criticism. For within the idiom of demanding respect for human dignity, a right is invoked “here and now,” in a particular, context-specific form, which at its core is owed to every human being as a person. Thus Bloch is in one respect correct when he asserts that human rights are not a natural “birthright” but must be achieved through struggle; but in another respect this struggle can develop its social power only if it has a firm and in a certain sense “absolute” normative anchor. Properly understood, it becomes apparent that these social conflicts always affect “two worlds”: the social reality, on the one hand, which is criticized in part or radically in the light of an ideal normative dimension, on the other. For those who engage in this criticism there is no doubt that the normative dimension is no less real than the reality to which they refuse to resign themselves. Those who critically transcend reality always also live elsewhere.