Chapter 11: Dignity at the margins: the contestatory dynamic of the principle of human dignity
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Human dignity is sometimes viewed as a static, curatorial concept - an idea which is focused on preserving individual status, rather than having a wider transformative social impact. However, this view undersells its dynamic potential. This chapter analyses how the concept of human dignity is often invoked in the legal systems of liberal democracies to challenge the status quo, to undermine embedded assumptions about the legitimacy of existing state practice, and to justify the expansion of existing human rights law. In European legal systems, this 'contestatory dynamic' currently plays out with particular force in the context of state social welfare policies. Courts increasingly cite dignity concerns to justify extending the reach of human rights law into traditionally non-justiciable socio-economic terrain - albeit in cautious, incremental, sometimes marginal ways. Some view this expansionary dynamic with concern, arguing that it risks diluting the status of human dignity as a legal principle. However, I argue that its dynamic impact can help to 'humanise' social provision in liberal democracies - which is a good thing.

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