By George Kateb
Belknap/Harvard University Press – £16.95
If the world were ideal, it would be intrinsically hard not to argue with author and Professor of Politics, George Kateb, when he writes: ‘’Every human being is unique and individual without having to try to be.’’ Clearly he’s right, but in the B-I-G scheme of things, one has to try, if not fight excruciatingly hard if said ‘’individuality’’ is to be truly recognised and allowed to remain – let alone be enabled to soar the sublime height(s) of ‘’unique’’ potential.
The premise upon which individuality is defined (within the parameters of human dignity at least) is lucidly wrought with bare-knuckle conjecture. A conjecture that is more oft than not, steadfastly aligned to that of an alliance which relentlessly purports to be right. That’s right as in correct; rather than any suspect, political persuasion. Although the political right – whether governed by Franco or Pinochet, Mussolini or Cameron – has never exactly shied away from beating the living individuality (as well as human dignity) out of the individual. And in a dry, didactic sort of way, it could be argued that Kateb hints at this under the heading ‘’Human Dignity Is an Existential, Not a Moral, Value’ in the very first chapter of Human Dignity (‘The Idea of Human Dignity’): ‘’The pathetic fact is that the only enemies of human dignity are human beings.’’
Indeed, the heading itself ‘’Human Dignity Is an Existential, Not a Moral, Value’’ might have Jean-Paul Sartre spinning in his Montparnasse grave, were it not for the fact that current moral validity is as vague as it is indelibly vogue. Be it the Sunday Supplements, the irksome Bono or the wretched Jeremy Kyle. For moral validity, or severe lack of with regards the latter, is the brazen new topic of chaotic conversation.
It’s hip. It’s glib. It’s insane.
What’s more, it’s here to stay; especially if either moral validity or human dignity fall(s) within the legal, regal radar of rights itself (itself, open to colossal conjecture): ‘’The theory of rights, however, must be more than partly, pragmatically, or grudgingly accommodated. The notion of equal status prescribes the imperative that role and function should not define any person, essentially or exhaustively. The potentialities of any person can become actualized unexpectedly, and jump over boundaries or, at a minimum, push the boundaries back by converting the role and function into a vocation that is creatively pursued.’’
Other than being weighted in the unquestionable trajectory of dense deliberation, the above can easily be broken into two rather distinct parts. Kateb’s ‘’theory of rights’’ may well on occasion be ‘’grudgingly accommodated,’’ but it might not always lend itself to good feeling. Let alone human dignity. For instance, might it be said that the recent avalanche of asylum seekers into much of Western Europe (The Netherlands and Great Britain in particular) are very good at stoking the fires of so-called human dignity, while simultaneously bending the rules beyond recognition to suit their own needs. As such, ‘’equal status’’ is invariably exhaustive when needs must.
But so far as jumping and pushing ‘’over boundaries’’ is concerned, the human dignity of another doesn’t even get a look in pal.
The manifestation of which is the gradual compartmentalization and eventual segregation of moral dignity. Period. The us and them. The right and wrong. The inevitable left and odious right. Hence, the recent surge towards the political right throughout much of Western Europe – which really is horribly worrying.
The consequences of which, don’t even bear worth thinking about.
Human Dignity is something of a literary, double-edged sword. It says, as well as questions, ALL the right things. But it does so as if we were all living in a pristine, ideal world. We don’t. We live in a world where greed and corruption are, if anything, on something of a relentless rise; the result of which entails human dignity isn’t even given a second thought.
Lest it be said that money (and power) doesn’t talk, it swears.