Dignity of an Individual vs. Dignity of a Group

I will concentrate on two main understandings of dignity of a human being. The first one stresses that humans were created in the image and likeness of God, and hence their dignity cannot be violated. This Christian understanding goes from the Patristics to Renaissance and modernity and, as Sam Moyn has recently argued, via the Christian personalism of authors like Maritain has become enshrined in such documents as the UN Charter or Germany's Grundgesetz. The second one that I will deal with is dignity conceived secularly, as an upward equalization of rank: e.g. what was before avaiable to aristocrats only (e.g. not being put in prison for debt) now became a right of everybody.

The picture gets more complicated when one has to consider juridical persons, collective bodies or even whole countries. Can one legitimately extend to them the notion of dignity? For example, during the last 10 years Russian government and those who oppose it in domestic street protests consistently invoked dignity as a main stance to justify their actions. If the government appeals to the dignity of the country, saying that “Russia should rise from its knees” after the humiliating years following the collapse of Communism, the opposition points out that this cannot be achieved if one keeps a citizen on his or her knees. Dignity arguments are central to Al-Qaeda and ISIS discourse also.

Drawing on insights from Dostoevsky and Berdiaev (whose personalism inspired Maritain a lot) the address will examine how a dignity of a collective agent may relate to a dignity of an individual, including the issue whether the two conceptions of dignity of an individual mentioned above are applicable to group agents at all.