The Conditions, Criteria, and Dialectics of Human Dignity: A Transnational Perspective


Kelman, Herbert C. 1977. “The Conditions, Criteria, and Dialectics of Human Dignity: A Transnational Perspective.” International Studies Quarterly. International Studies Quarterly. Copy at
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Date Published:

Sep 1, 1977


Human dignity refers to the status of individuals as ends in themselves rather than means to extraneous ends. To be consistent with dignity, institutions must provide for their constituencies’ identity and community – the two components of dignity. These correspond roughly to individual freedom and social justice, which are seen as interdependent conditions of dignity. Achievement, extension, and preservation of human dignity are to a large extent a transnational enterprise.

The paper addresses three issues in the realization of dignity in which the transnational dimension plays a significant role. It proposes (1) that the conditions for realizing human dignity (which include international peace in addition to social justice and individual freedom) must be created through worldwide efforts, given our increasing global interdependence; (2) that the criteria for assessing whether policies and institutional arrangements are consistent with human dignity must be universalistic, while remaining respectful of cultural and political difference; and (3) that the social processes whereby human dignity is extended and protected are inherently dialectical, since they require both the fulfillment and the inhibition of nationalistic demands.


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