Human Rights, Law, Philosophy, recent

Human Dignity and Human Rights

My forthcoming monograph for the University of Wales Press, Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law: A Critical Legal Argument, discusses a number of topics, ranging from the state of critical legal scholarship to international relations. However, much of what I might have written even a year earlier was profoundly altered by the rise to power of postmodern conservatives. Frequently agitating for a nationalist agenda, and opposed to universal human rights, this development lent my book a more cynical edge. Nevertheless, I still consider it an optimistic text—one that defends an emancipatory conception of human dignity and the steps we might take to realize it.

Dignity’s Unusual History

Conceptions of human dignity go back a very long way. Many of the great religions of the world—including the monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—offer human dignity as something bestowed by God. Buddhists argue that the locus of human dignity lies in our capacity to pursue self-perfection. The term itself arose in the thirteenth century from the Latin dignitas, which referred to the “worthiness” of individuals. Initially, it often had an elitist connotation. People who possessed dignity typically occupied some high rank in society. It is for this reason we still occasionally speak about the dignity of a given position. However, with the advent of Renaissance humanism, many religious scholars increasingly called for some notion of dignity to be extended to all individuals since they were equally God’s creation. Perhaps the paradigmatic example is the “Oration on Human Dignity” by Pico Mirandola. Imagining a dialogue between God and Adam, Mirandola has God exclaim:

We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which we have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance Origins and Orientation round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.

Mirandola began the process of tightly connecting dignity to notions of human freedom and political society. God himself decides that the dignity inherent in his creation means that Adam will be free to develop his own nature and power. While thinkers such as John Locke and Adam Smith continued to employ the concept of dignity in a more elitist sense, late in the Enlightenment Immanuel Kant gave it an almost canonical interpretation that remains hugely influential to this day.

For Kant, dignity is integrally related to the basic freedom enjoyed by all. While everything else in nature is in some respects purely governed by causal laws and is thus only contingently good, only human beings possess worth in themselves. This is because we are free to will moral laws without subordinating them to our cruder, more primal impulses. The power to choose our own ends—to be good rather than wicked—raises us above nature (although it also means our wrong actions attain a “radically evil” quality not found in other creatures). This elevated status means it is immoral to simply use people as one might deploy other objects in nature to pursue our own selfish ends. While everything else has a value which can be quantified and traded off against other concerns, human beings possess a dignity which puts them beyond all price. As Kant put it in the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals:

What is related to general human inclinations and needs has a market price; that which, even without presupposing such a need, conforms with a certain taste has a fancy price; but that which constitutes the condition under which alone something can be an end in itself has not merely a relative value, that is, a price, but an inner value, that is, dignity … Morality, and humanity insofar as it is capable of morality, is that which alone has dignity.

The Kantian conception of dignity as related to human freedom is very powerful and rightly influential, and in my book I largely agree with its broad contours. But I also contend that Kant’s understanding of freedom and dignity is too abstract to entirely get to the heart of the matter. In particular, he is unable to explain how, if dignity is intrinsic in every individual, it can ever be fundamentally violated. This is an exceptionally important question; the totalitarian monstrosities of the twentieth century demonstrated how capable human beings are of stripping freedom and dignity away from their victims. Dignity is not inviolable, and to understand why, we need to start recognizing it not as an intrinsic status but on a continuum.

Dignity, Expressive Capabilities, and Self-Authorship

My position on human dignity draws heavily on the work of critical legal theorist Roberto Unger. Unger argues that all human beings exist as individuals embedded in particular socio-historical contexts. These contexts—whether they are traditions, religious faiths, or nations—provide us with a tremendous amount of material with which we shape our identity. Unfortunately, Unger says, we all too often become alienated from these socio-historical contexts when they are presented as naturalized features of the world. We come to think of socio-political, economic, and cultural arrangements as permanent and operating according to an inner necessity which cannot be challenged. However, Unger points out that this is a “false necessity” which is inevitably demonstrated through the flow of time. Human beings are capable of using their creative “context transcending powers” to reform and even entirely reshape the socio-historical contexts they live within. This ability is the most profound exercise of human freedom and creativity and it is integral to the rejuvenation of life.

In the book, I argue that human dignity is best realized through the amplification of such context-transcending powers, which I call expressive capabilities following Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. This is because dignity lies in our total capacity to engage in self-authorship, which I characterize as defining ourselves by redefining the world around us. To the extent someone is capable of such context-transcending acts of self-authorship, they can be said to enjoy a robust degree of human dignity. The downside to this is that many individuals are not really very capable of such acts of self-definition, since they are highly limited by the imperatives of the socio-historical contexts around them. Societies which impose serious limits on the capacities of their citizens to enhance or exercise their expressive capabilities to engage in self-authorship therefore severely curtail their human dignity.

This argument also has a very serious material dimension to it. Expressive capabilities are related to the standard package of classical liberal rights to freedom, since a state which enables individuals’ free expression, association, and so on is amplifying their capacity for self-authorship. However, it is also fundamentally related to social and economic factors which impact someone’s overall capacity for self-authorship. For instance, without access to decent food and water, individuals are seriously curtailed in their capacity to change the world around them. In many respects, they are forced to live a life of severe precariousness which makes it impossible to authentically enjoy even a right to life. States which have the resources to provide all their citizens with access to food and clean water and do not do so are therefore seriously impacting the dignity of their citizens. To invoke Kant, they are effectively saying that the “price” of amplifying even basic dignity for all is too high to pay.


Nothing in my book is meant to suggest that individuals should exercise their expressive capabilities to change the world purely for the sake of it. Many may regard the socio-historical contexts in which they live to be “reasonably just” and only in need of tinkering around the edges. But I argue that many societies today fall short of what is possible in the amplification of human dignity, and many can even be characterized as deeply unjust societies. This is where the more concrete dimensions of my argument come in.

I argue that for socio-historical contexts to be considered just, individuals need to be capable of changing them where necessary through acts of civic freedom. To secure this freedom I argue two basic rights are necessary. These basic rights operate at a higher level of abstraction than the legal rights usually found in constitutions for a reason; they operate like general principles that should guide the formation of more specific positive legal rights and laws. The first right is to democratic authorship of the laws which govern individuals. The second right is to an equality of expressive capabilities except where inequalities flow from non-arbitrary circumstances.

What the first means is that individuals should enjoy a robust capacity to influence law and policy in their society. As Martin Gilens points out, this is often not the case today in nominally democratic societies. Everyone from exceptionally powerful individuals to large corporate entities often wield outsized political influence relative to the mass of people. This has led to speculation that countries like the United States are better categorized as plutocracies rather than democracies. Truly respecting a right to democratic authorship would require a reversal of this trend and offering individuals more ways to participate in governing themselves.

The second right means that individuals should have an equal capacity to exercise their freedom to define the world around them. This would mean rectifying the inequalities which increasingly define many societies, and giving everyone a fair shot at the good life as they understand it. This does not mean that we should aspire for equality of outcome for all, since morally significant factors like the choices of individuals will impact how their life turns out. But it does mean that arbitrary factors, such as whether one is born into a wealthy family or happens to be part of some historically elevated demographic, should not determine where people end up. As the liberal theorist John Rawls might put it, such arbitrary background factors have little to do with the choices individuals may make, but can tremendously impact a life for better or worse depending on how the lottery of life pans out. Realizing the second right would entitle people to counter this arbitrariness when and where it is possible to do so.


Matt McManus is currently Visiting Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey. His forthcoming books are Overcoming False Necessity: Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law and What is Post-Modern Conservatism? He can be reached at or followed on Twitter @MattPolProf

Photo by Sven Przepiorka on Unsplash


  1. dirk says

    How many people on earth would have the urge to “engage in self authorship”, in the Kantian and Matt meaning? I fear, very few, the chosen ones maybe, the elites, a happy few educated and intellectual Westerners.

    How many of presentday and happy, abundantly consuming Chinese would have this urge? Maybe none, or just only a few dissent artists, no longer living there, but somewhere in the US or Europe.

    • Metamorf says

      A phrase like “engaging in self-authorship” is just more of McManus’ crude attempts to give his political prejudices a faux sophistication (see, e.g., the laughable “postmodern conservatism”). At bottom, McManus comes across as a guy that has never gotten over a reading of Rawls, and the myth of cosmic or divine justice he promulgated. McManus thus gives his game away in his last paragraph, where he proposes we do away with “arbitrary background factors”, presumably through the use of state enforcement — see Kurt Vonnegut’s depiction of the results of such a levelling of cosmic injustice in “Harrison Bergeron”:

      • dirk says

        Yes, metamorf, talents are dangerous, and very arbitrary, undeserved, no good reason for respect and selfworth, and, you never can attribute any rights to them, that would be unfair and unjust.

        How come that some philosopher (and disciples such as Matt) comes up with such silly ideas? I know I’m much better off without that veil of ignorance.

        Also, I wonder how Matt’s lessons fall on Mexican grounds .
        It’s all arbitraryness there what moves the heads and the morals: talents, class, birth, networks, you name it. He probably is a strange gringo in that Monterrey!

  2. Geary Johansen says

    Interesting article. Have to go away and think about it.

    On Trump, I think liberals don’t understand how well they are being played- the intention is to use hyperbole, exaggeration and sometimes outright lies- in order to ‘trigger’ his political opponents and the media into a frenzy that he can point to and laugh at. His supporters love it.

    On the adequate provision of food and water, the Guatemala study proves that, at the extreme end, diet has a profound biological impact on cognitive development, which is crucial to lifetime outcomes.

  3. bumble bee says

    What a load of total drivel. Not that the topic of human dignity is not one of great importance, but this whole article (and possibly the book itself) has zero to offer since it is based on platitudes. It is an egg without a yolk.

    The author can cite all the past scholarly individuals they wish, in an attempt to add credence, but nothing offered here even touches on defining human dignity in any plausible way. In fact, I will go so far as to say there is nothing new discussed here concerning human dignity that most do not already know and understand.

    Then of course there is the introduction. Ah, that first paragraph that either should have no business attached to the rest of the article, or is purposely used to initiate assumptions, to identify the enemy. You know, the liberal standard bearer of how conservatives are the cause of all the misery in this world. Where conservatives have no regard for human dignity, have no ability or want for freedoms and personal determination. Total and utter codswallop.

    Each and every time these types of political commentaries arise, I cannot help but be embarrassed for the person knowing full well they have neither the intellect, nor the willingness to understand their so called other they live to demonize falsely. Their dog whistle to prove what ever topic they want, is no longer the call to affirmation, but like a car alarm has become irritatingly annoying and easily ignored.

    Then of course, there is nothing discussing what exactly the author considers human dignity as there is no real definition. Using examples from scholars from times that no longer exist is like explaining telecommunications by way of two cans and a string. In today’s world, where civil rights can included whether or not someone got enough sprinkles on their ice cream, a clear discussion of how the author envisions today’s human dignity must be born out. It is the definition within the context to today’s societies that is the issue. What is happening today, that is denying human dignity, and conversely what is happening that is affirming. Or is this just another attempt the use an important issue and by leaving it as an amorphous blob undefined, it can be wield like a sword for any perceived “denial” of dignity like we have seen done to civil rights, and equality?

    Words of caution, if anyone cannot define their basic concepts with specifics, their concepts are usually either half-baked or deceiving.

    • dirk says

      A definition for human dignity ???, are you serious, bumble bee? Better look at all those other colleague bumble bees flying around, going from one flower to the other, but rather specific (no red or yellow, only the bluebells), because, there is more between heaven and earth, as they all know!!

      • bumble bee says

        In this day an age, where up is down and down is up, human dignity is not necessarily what one believes it to be. As we have seen in the current manifestations of civil rights and even equality, what has been the longer agreed definition is not longer the case. It has even gotten so bizarre that equality is not really about equality, but about a new form of nth degree equality where if one does not have what the other has, then there is no equality.

        I have become more critical and suspicious of those who use term, especially in this new political paradigm we live in to not take them at their face value any more. Since it was not clearly defined by the author, I am suspicious about what they are truly speaking to.

        Feminism today is one such concept that if we are to take it on face value would mean that women are able to choose their lives direction, but as we can see today feminism is less about being self determining and more about the radical side.

        My whole point being, this article does absolutely nothing to elucidate on human dignity from what everyone already understands it to be, so I am wondering what the author is leaving out especially when they open with an anti-conservative rant to imply that conservative do not believe in human dignity which is utter balderdash.

        • Matt says

          Firstly, I never saidl conservatives were opposed to human dignity. I said postmodern conservatives specifically often invoked a nationalist agenda to oppose committing themselves to universal human rights. Secondly, there is a pretty clear definition of my conception of dignity in section 3. Dignity “lies in our total capacity to engage in self authorship, which I characterize as defining ourselves by redefining the world around us.”

          • bumble bee says

            ‘I said postmodern conservatives specifically often invoked a nationalist agenda to oppose committing themselves to universal human rights.’

            Again, what universal human rights are the postmodern conservatives opposing? Is this about the issues at the border? Is this about LGBTQ, the homeless, medical care, undocumented immigrants, the environment, globalism, etc? That is the whole issue I have here, there is no specifics given in your claims about postmodern conservatives, nor in general about human dignity.

            Is this a third wave, or even higher, definition with regard to human dignity that is happening today to make a point about a topic everyone but a fraction already holds dearly? Are you speaking globally where there are countries that have no sense of human dignity, or are you speaking specifically to the US since you point out conservatism.

            Please, give some examples where human dignity in the US is failing and how postmodern conservatives are lacking in support of it.

          • derek says

            Universal human rights? You mean prosecuting Bridgette Bardot for hate crimes for expressing her distaste of halal slaughtering techniques?

          • NashTiger says

            Sounds like a prescription for dangerous delusional thinking.

            Entreprenuership s the quickest way to engage in ‘self authorship’. Redefining the world around us gives us license for body modification, inventing new pronouns, and and endless search to stamp out microagressions

          • Geary Johansen says

            @ Matt

            I’ve read your both your articles, and I am ready to comment. The fundamental flaw of any system based on postmodernism, or intersectional feminism, is that it makes the assumption that Western systems are based on Power. They are not- the foundation of the West is Trust, not Power, power is merely a useful by-product. It governs every level of human relations from family to friends to casual acquaintances. In the corporate sector, at the most basic level this trust is purely trust in competency, the ability to follow basic instructions. Over time this trust evolves to the trust implicit in an employees ability to operate in a semi-autonomous fashion, showing initiative where appropriate. At the highest levels this trust, is trust in reciprocity and representing the truth on the ground whilst advocating your own position.

            On the subject of human dignity, I think it’s problematic to argue for dignity as a human right. It might be possible to argue that certain preconditions to dignity can and should be protected. But to designate it as a right, ignores the fact that dignity is so closely tied to vocation, especially for men- for evidence, one only has to look to rates of suicidallity amongst older white males in Montana who have lost their role as providers, and across America in general.

            And here’s where the problems with Intersectional Feminism really begin to emerge. Because any human being is the sum of their nature and their nurture, and both affect the lifetime outcomes of all individuals. Now you can make the argument that there are many systems in society that function sub-optimally or are to a certain degree are unfair and need fixing; you can make the argument that their are ‘missing Einsteins’ at every strata of society and we should devote more effort to finding them and nurturing them and you can even argue that children born into a high socio-economic background enjoy an inherent advantage, in that they have access to the contacts and embedded knowledge-networks their parents social network affords them, and that we should give the talented disadvantaged access to mentoring and network-training in help them offset this advantage.

            But whilst greater effort should be made to finding talent amongst the poor and finding ways to nurture it, you cannot argue that their should be any provision made to select candidates on any basis other than merit- the argument that diversity of race, gender and sexuality, fall flat under scrutiny because if you examine any individual in detail, these will inevitably be the least interesting and valuable aspects of their identity. There are specific exceptions, sometimes individuals have knowledge of specific communities which is commercially viable and sometimes shared race, gender and sexuality can be valuable in establishing trust- but this is the exception, not the rule.

            And here the thing- the inherent talent and ability of any individual, their value to an employer is based both on their nature and their nurture, which inevitably becomes more fixed as we progress through childhood and to adulthood. Worse still, all human systems rely on fairness, and even in the most liberal countries in the world, in Scandinavia, students asked to participate in paired maths quizzes, disproportionately reward the successful with the lion share of financial rewards and brutally punish the less successful with only a consolatory token. This is because fairness is built into us on an evolutionary level, it’s a survival mechanism so strong that the most able amongst us, even in a social context, are disproportionately rewarded with attention, popularity and romantic offers. And any attempt to violate this principal will degrade any university’s, institution’s or company’s social cohesion so quickly that they will become disfunctional in a matter of years. I would posit that only the tech giants are somewhat immune, in that they operate with a surplus of raw human ability unique in human history- and even they will have problems both with litigation and as their most talented disgruntled employees migrate to their own start-ups.

            Now, in universities and publicly funded institutions, any attempt to alter the nature of meritocracy will only damage the integrity and effectiveness of the institution. But for any commercial enterprise this process will result in job losses, and rob valued employees of the most crucial aspect of their dignity, their employment. It’s the nature of the Pareto principle, that moving from the most able candidate for a job, to the next most able will inevitably result in losses of productivity and commercial opportunities. To shift three or four positions down the hierarchy of functional ability to fit some arbitrary group identity would, in the worst cases, deprive hundreds of employees of the most significant aspect of their human dignity, as work is lost and belt-tightening is the natural order of the day in such circumstances.

            On a more positive note, the recent early promotion of women to many boards in the West, seems to have had neither particularly positive nor negative impacts. Some critics and supporters of this policy have noted that cultural meritocracy for women, beyond basic legal equality, only really began in the 90’s. The only real dimension in which men and women differ in this respect, is whilst men are asked to leave at a rate of 22% within 5 years, women are asked to leave at the rate of 38%. This really is quite impressive on the part of the women, and shows that women have exactly the same abilities and natural talents as men- as often these women have been pulled up the corporate ladder 5 to 10 years ahead of their normal progression, sometimes missing one or more key steps and the experience this entails in their natural ascendancy.

          • Conservative Simpliciter says

            “I said postmodern conservatives specifically often invoked a nationalist agenda to oppose committing themselves to universal human rights.”

            Problem: Freedom of association is generally regarded as a universal human right. But freedom of association is by necessity freedom of non-association too. From which proceeds the right of people to associate in nationalist groups and to refuse to associate with other people who they do not regard as being qualified to claim membership in their national group. A nationalist agenda is not, eo ipso, in opposition to universal human rights.

        • dirk says

          Could it be, bumble bee, that human dignity depends more than anything else on culture, history and geography?? So, meaning that for a Hindoo, a Brahman, Chinese, Fin, Muslim or Hottentot it is completely different, and undefinable?

          I wonder what Matt thinks about that. But, of course, he is living, like all of us, in a special bubble, and that’s maybe the best way to find oneself to be in. At least, that’s what it is for me!

          • Matt says

            @Bumblee. I provided hyperlinks to two explanatory pieces in the article. The first one is a video prepared by my previewing a book on mine on PMC. The second is an Amnesty International report on Brazil, which I argue is currently governed by a hybrid PMC regime. In an American context you can readily extract numerous examples where the current regime is failing to uphold the two rights I argue are necessary to amplifying human dignity. The first right to democratic authorship of the laws which govern the citizenry is certainly compromised by policies imposed to electorally favor the ruling party; everything from restrictions on prisoner’s voting rights, to allowing state legislatures to design districts and so on. The second right to an equality of capabilities is obviously comprised by the substantial inequality present in the United States along several metrics; healthcare being a particularly aggregious one.

          • @Matt
            A believe that disparities in health care outcomes are prima facie evidence of discrimination implies that Tay-Sachs disease must lurk primarily within Shuls and Mikvehs, hunting down innocent victims to attack. Is the low rate of sickle cell mutations in people without a Subsaharan African background a consequence of slavery, or colonialism?

          • NashTiger says

            The fact that you blame “the current regime” for the restriction on felons voting rights and the drawing of congressional districts at the state level, and not, say, the previous 44 Administrations, or the US Constitution, or the 50 state legislatures that govern voting – this should be all you need for a serious wake up, to look at yourself in the mirror and your words on the screen long and hard, and realize that you have a Stage 4 case of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

            Likewise, nothing “the current regime” has done caused the opioid epidemic, or published a food pyramid 50 years ago that promoted diabetes. Our Health care System is unquestionably the best in the world (as evidenced by all the foreigners who come here seeking treatments they cannot get at home), including for homeless addicts who wander in for treatment.. That has nothing to do with Health Care outcomes, which are a result of a few social pathologies. Social pathologies enabled, if not promoted by, your ilk.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @bumble bee

          For once you give us an incoherent rant bee. So you didn’t like the article. It says nothing. It was bad, bad, bad. Well then, say something. Give us some indication of what it should have said.

        • Stephanie says

          Well said, bumble bee, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to not get much out of this article.

          First, the opening slap about “post-modern conservatives.” There has been no clarity on what is meant by this in this article or any of the ones on this subject that have appeared on Quillette before. It is inappropriate for the author to drop it without adequate explanation. Nationalist sentiment impeding universal human rights can mean anything. Are these post-modern conservatives saying we should enslave people from other countries? Or is the accusation merely that they don’t support an open-borders policy whereby all rights enshrined in the American constitution apply to everyone in the world, and that everyone is entitled to American citizenship and a good life at taxpayer expense?

          This becomes all the more problematic when the author makes clear that universal human rights and the concept of dignity itself requires the government to provide everyone with a certain standard of living. He says he’s not advocating for equality of outcome, but in the next breath employs the same euphemisms for equality of outcome that the left uses. How does he proposed we make sure all races and economic classes achieve similar outcomes? Government, of course. Can’t possibly expect the lesser races and the plebs to improve their lot through hard work, commitment to family, and sacrifice.

          This is just communism wrapped up in softer language, and the same patronizing attitude the left has for all their victim groups.

    • NashTiger says

      +1, but worse, I am angered and will look back on my deathbed at the precious time I wasted reading this nothingburger

  4. Scott says

    The tone for this screed is set at the beginning as the author states:

    “However, much of what I might have written even a year earlier was profoundly altered by the rise to power of postmodern conservatives. Frequently agitating for a nationalist agenda, and opposed to universal human rights, this development lent my book a more cynical edge.”

    Clearly indicating a disdain in his view of conservatism and nationalism; neither of which is inherently bad but the author would seem to view them as such. This is no different that saying that free speech is bad because it can be abused and cause harm which is obviously hogwash. Nationalism and belief in human rights are NOT mutually exclusive. As the previous comment so rightly points out, the article is full of platitudes and little to no data or evidence for the conclusions.

    Move on, nothing to see here …

    • NashTiger says


      Interesting, isn’t it, that Nationalism became inherently bad almost 3 years ago. Before that, it was treated neutrally, to mostly positive (at least when practiced by non-anglos)

      When I think of Nationalism, I think of, in no particular order; Cato the Elder, DeGaulle, Churchill, Franklin, Ben Gurion, Hitler, Washington,, Bolivar, Gandhi, The Greats (Alfred and Catherine), Reagan, Bismarck, Elizabeth I, Santa Ana, Sadat, Attaturk, Lincoln, Pinochet

      Mostly positive examples. I guess Nationalism is only OK for brown folks now.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ NashTiger

        I think that the Right unfortunately missed a trick when they allowed the Left to rebrand simple Patriotism as Nationalism.

  5. Farris says

    An interesting prelude to what appears to be an interesting book. The statement below was an unfortunate inclusion.

    “However, much of what I might have written even a year earlier was profoundly altered by the rise to power of postmodern conservatives. Frequently agitating for a nationalist agenda, and opposed to universal human rights, this development lent my book a more cynical edge.”

    This statement contains an inference that Mr. McManus is not as committed to human rights when his political choices are out of power or for persons with opinions different than his own. To stand for democracy means to stand for the results, even when one disagrees. The same can be said of jury verdicts. One can not only support a right to trial by jury in cases where the supporter approves of the verdict. In other words the rights to democracy or trial by jury can not only be just when one’s side prevails. Being a defender of human rights sometimes means being a good loser.

    “This has led to speculation that countries like the United States are better categorized as plutocracies rather than democracies”

    Which was disproven by the election of Donald Trump, who was the choice of the deplorable masses (Hillary’s definition). Where as the tech, media entertainment and other corporate giants favored Hillary.

    “But it does mean that arbitrary factors, such as whether one is born into a wealthy family or happens to be part of some historically elevated demographic, should not determine where people end up. As the liberal theorist John Rawls might put it, such arbitrary background factors have little to do with the choices individuals may make, but can tremendously impact a life for better or worse depending on how the lottery of life pans out. Realizing the second right would entitle people to counter this arbitrariness when and where it is possible to do so.”

    This is somewhat vague. Would Mr. McManus be satisfied with equality of opportunity or is he proposing something more proactive? Would a meritocracy suffice? If something beyond equality of opportunity or meritocracy is required how is that not taking steps to procure equality of outcomes? Hopefully the book answers these questions.

    • Matthew McManus says

      There are a number of discussions on the former topic, though admittedly the rise of nationalist and post-modern conservative movements isn´t the main focus. My other two books do discuss that in far more detail.

      I do discuss the realization of the second right with far more nuance in the book. Hopefully that will clarify your lingering questions.

      • NashTiger says

        “the rise of nationalism” – LOL

        You do realize that the culture, including the Democrat Party, was decidedly much more “nationalistic” in the recent past.
        Everything will look extreme from the point of view of someone who has ridden the cresting wave of SJW Identity Politics that has swelled the last decade out of seemingly nowhere. The problem is, you are so far out there, you think it is everyone else that has moved.

        One need only Google the past statements on illegal immigration of Senators Feinstein, Schumer, Pres Clinton, and even 1st term POTUS Obama, which are identical, if not, in the case of Feinstein, even more virulently Nationalistic, than anything Trump has ever said.

        I know an elected Democrat who used to tour schools and civic organizations with his (talented) family, giving talks on the American founding, singing patriotic songs, and teaching reverence for our flag and institutions. He still says he is a Democrat, but cannot logically reconcile everything he was taught, believed, and taught others with today’s Democrat party. AOC would call him a Nazi

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ Matt

        On a more human note, I liked your article- it made me think- which should be the true purpose of any writer. But I would argue that where ‘inequalities flow from non-arbitrary circumstances’, and whist structural and systemic disparities do exist, in almost every instance these disparities exist for perverse, rather than pernicious reasons. They should be fixed, not redressed through some system of just as arbitrary preferential treatment or advancement.

        Because the single biggest inheritance you will ever receive is the wisdom, experience and support encoded into you by your parents. It may be a harsh reality, it may even seem unfair- but it’s not, because the process by which that inherited wisdom, shared compassion and human connnectivity is passed and embedded from one generation to the next is a deeply spiritual aspect of human existence and beyond the abundant, but cold, fruits of intellect and reason, is the only mechanism by which we progress as civilisations.

        Now cynics may argue that it’s systemic, an arbitrary phenomena that emerges as nations and peoples acquire the magical $5,000 a year per person in modern terms that makes us more moral. But this ignores the fact that we ever able to claw our way up from the sheer human brutality, depravity and poverty which was the almost universal human condition in pre-industrial societies, excepting those rare societies that never fully abandoned their hunter gatherer roots and lived in rarer circumstances of natural abundance, free from human predation.

        In unusual conjunctions of humans with exceptional gifts, born into somewhat comfortable conditions, a few visionaries and thinkers were able to use that wisdom embedded by their culture and their parents, to point the way to the far brighter future we live in today. Most of it was luck, happy circumstance and the peculiarities of history, but it happened nonetheless. And to think that government can somehow enforce such circumstances, when really the only means the social context can be changed is from the ground up, parents to children, really does deny the nature of how we ever managed it, and worse, could possibly close down the possibility of it happening again.

      • Fran says

        I’m not going to buy your book.

        As regards ‘nationalist’ movements which you appear to deplore, another view is that humans are group-forming animals, and with it they need a group identity. The woke view that only ‘deplorables’ need such an identity ignores the fact that the woke adhere to a culture and identity that glorifies globalisation, but very much in the abstract. A central aspect of the identity of the woke is deploring the ‘deplorables’.

        On the second issue in @Farris, the paragraph quoted suggests that you favour handicapping anyone born with above average advantages. How will this help the human condition??? Take away Bill Gates money, and you have a lot less research on controlling malaria. I really do not care if someone can afford to spend $ 4k on a handbag. I do care that the Greens have blocked both coal and nuclear as options for Africa.

    • Ray Andrews says


      “Which was disproven by the election of Donald Trump, who was the choice of the deplorable masses (Hillary’s definition). Where as the tech, media entertainment and other corporate giants favored Hillary.”


      Democracy, red in tooth and claw.

    • Stephanie says

      “But it does mean that arbitrary factors, such as whether one is born into a wealthy family or happens to be part of some historically elevated demographic, should not determine where people end up.”

      Quillette ran an article a few weeks ago I believe that discussed how the correlation between parental wealth and child outcome is not the result of the wealth itself, but because wealthy people are more likely to have higher IQs and IQ is highly heritable.

      As for the second point on demographics, the most successful demographics in the US are Indian immigrants, Asians, and Jews, hardly the most “historically elevated.” Adjusted for parental income, black and white women have the same economic outcomes (black women actually slightly outearn white women), and so do black and white men if and only if the black men grew up in communities with a high proportion of fathers in the home. Otherwise they tend to fall into gang culture, end up in jail, and take a serious hit to their income.

      Together, it becomes clear that there is nothing arbitrary about the disparities mentioned. They are the function of biological and cultural constraints that the government has no ability to fix and no business meddling in. This again goes to show that the author is arguing for a dangerous equality of outcome even though he claims he is not.

  6. Mr. McManus

    Allow me to momentarily lower my IQ to room temperature and respond to your article using the framework of the radical left, but from a rightist position.

    The fact that you are writing here on Quillette, a hub of the intellectual dark web, two days after publishing a piece on MerionWest where you called the IDW shallow and unable to understand the arguments of the intersectional left, demonstrates that you are not here to argue in good faith. Therefore, you deserve no platform as you are only here to waste our time. Not only do you not deserve free speech, you are frankly quite lucky we are not throwing you out of a Chilean military helicopter into the Pacific Ocean at this very moment. Furthermore, any free speech absolutists who might claim that you do deserve a platform can be safely considered alt-left adjacent and should be brutally beaten in the street by masked men and doused in milkshakes at a minimum.

    Or am I being shallow and showing an inability to comprehend leftist arguments?

  7. codadmin says

    Was there even one clear sentence used in this article? What does this mean?…“But it does mean that arbitrary factors, such as whether one is born into a wealthy family or happens to be part of some historically elevated demographic, should not determine where people end up.”

    It sounds very sinister.

  8. Ray Andrews says


    “the American Nazi Party has engaged the services of a Berkeley trained diversity coordinator”

    Take a bow, that’s beautiful.

  9. Ray Andrews says

    Yikes. Matt was not sufficiently Right this time so he has had his eyes scratched out. This kind of pile-on is no different from the same thing done by the nasty, woke Twiterii. But it is more hypocritical because ‘we’ usually march under the banner of freedom of speech and classical liberalism and merit and intelligent behavior. The Twits are at least honest about opposing all that DWM stuff.

    • codadmin says

      Really? Can you summarise this article in a defined way?

      The most polite you can be is to say it’s nebulous bollocks.

      • Ray Andrews says


        Without taking the time to polish this, yes, I think I can. He describes several conceptions of human dignity with emphasis on Kant’s idea that we have the dignity that comes with being moral agents. He expands on that with his idea of ‘self-authorship’ and then he concludes by saying that economic security and political freedom are necessary to achieve that. It is ‘nebulous bollocks’ to the extent that all philosophy is such.

        The author says several things that I think are questionable such as:

        “postmodern conservatives. Frequently agitating for a nationalist agenda, and opposed to universal human rights”

        ‘Frequently’ I grant on charity, but the insinuation is that to be nationalist is to be opposed to universal human rights (however defined). However this does not impact on the subject tho we might conclude that Professor M. is not a fan of Trump or Orban.

    • NashTiger says

      He was not sufficiently right the same way that Seth Moulton was insufficiently right by blaming Stacey Abrams’ 50,000 vote deficit in the GA Governors race on ‘gerrymandering’.

    • @Ray Andrews

      Classical liberalism obligates one to listen to and consider leftist drivel, not agree with it. The logical conclusion that the powerless lack human dignity could just as easily be extermination instead of empowerment. Further, we must take into account the leftist game of changing the definition of words to reach a predetermined outcome.

      Consider how we have been told by the left that racism does not mean prejudice against racial groups, but was rather now defined as “power” plus prejudice. Such a definition requires us to conclude that an unemployed semiliterate coal miner in Appalachia who called President Obama a nigger during his presidency was either not being racist, or somehow more powerful than a man with unquestionable authority to launch a nuclear strike at any given moment. Given the “n-word” itself is enough to trigger histrionic fits among them, even in the absence of malicious intent, it is reasonable to assume they reach the latter conclusion, a position that puts them at odds with the remaining sane human population.

      These word games are why intersectionality cultists are not worth debating in earnest.

      • Ray Andrews says


        But what do your examples of leftist excess have to do with this article or Dr. M himself? I seen no indication that he’s even Correct let alone an intersectionality cultist. Where do you draw that conclusion? In one sentence his thesis seems to be that the disempowered have less dignity than the powerful. Is this reason enough for crucifixion?

        • dirk says

          My thesis: in the most abject and hopeless situations, such as shipwrecks or the gulag, dignity among some will be encountered, as often described in fiction (Dostoyefski) and non fiction. In the most successful careers of artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, managers, politicians, dignity by no means is more abundant, though certainly also possible. In fact (but would be a matter of a social study) I guess in the first extreme cases, dignity is more common . Anyhow, in both cases, it is the exception rather than the rule.

  10. Andras Kovacs says

    States which have the resources to provide all their citizens with access to food and clean water and do not do so

    States do not provide resources to their citizens: citizens provide resources to each other in exchange for other citizens’ resources.

    • NashTiger says

      But, but, but it is their RIGHT, dontcha know. They have a Right to food, and healthcare, and a single family dwelling, and a university education, and a good paying job, and 6 weeks paid vacation, and a pony, and…

      • @NashTiger

        Recent advances in leftist economics have conclusively proven the natural law that arbitrarily declaring something a human right automagically renders that thing immune to economic scarcity.

        It’s settled science.

        • NashTiger says

          It never occurs to them to take the second step in thinking, claiming something as my “right” , something that must necessarily come from another, thereby deprives that other person of their rights, and makes them my defacto slave.

      • Ray Andrews says


        I don’t think that Theodore R. would be considered woke enough by AOC, but he did believe that workers had the RIGHT to a job — to have work available to them. That ‘rights’ can become a joke is not a good argument that no rights at all should be granted. Every political view can be caricatured, even yours. Reasonable people should avoid such methods.

        • NashTiger says

          I don’t care what Teddy believed, that is the weirdest appeal to authority imaginable.

          True rights aren’t granted (except by our creator), they are inherent, and do not depend on anyone else’s actions. I have the right to think, say, or worship any way I want to, to be secure in my person, to defend myself as best I can, and to tell anyone of who is repressing me.

          People stuck in the Sahara dont have a Right to water. Layabouts with no skills have no right to a job. That negates the employer’s rights.

          • Ray Andrews says


            Many care what past statesmen have thought, it anchors current discussions. What’s weird about this?

            “True rights aren’t granted (except by our creator), they are inherent”

            That’s debatable. Who then says what the list is? What if my inherent list is different from yours? Even if we believe in a sort of idealistic way that rights are inherent, in practice laws will need to be passed, no? You deny AOC’s ‘right’ to the GND, and AOC denies your ‘right’ to say ‘hateful’ things. Surely it comes down to law. Some women think that they have the ‘right’ to murder a newborn. I don’t think they do. Appealing to god gets us nowhere cuz god isn’t in the legislature.

          • Existentialist says

            True rights aren’t granted (except by our creator), they are inherent

            You’re wrong about that. Firstly, a right is but one side of a coin the obverse of which is a duty and the substance of the coin is obligation. Since Hume’s gap prevents you from deriving that coin, which is a moral proposition, from the facts of our existence you must trot out at least one axiom of value. Such axioms are conceptual and constructed, and represent potential alternatives to fact, and so are not inherent. If you believe in free will then you are obliged to choose your axioms of value from among all the logically possible ones available. If you don’t believe in free will then “rights” are illusory.

          • NashTiger says


            I’m not going to indulge your tautology. As you may have noticed, I was referring to Natural Rights.

            There are other rights, Legal rights, enshrined in the US Constitution, (legal counsel, search warrant, trial by jury, due process, double jeopardy) that are only there because the state may take it upon itself to act to deprive someone of their property, liberty, or even life. In which case the state assumes the responsibility for providing counsel when the accused cannot provide it for themself. This is an extreme example, to be sure, and not a common occurrence

            It is quite the leap from there to having The State provide the basic necessities for everyone. You still dont address the conundrum of what happens to Rights (your Positive Rights view) when there are scarcities the state cannot easily remedy? What happens to your Right to Healthcare when there is a shortage of doctors. nurses, or medicine? Do we enslave the doctor and the nurse, and steal the medicine? What happens to Teddy’s Right to a Job when the economy collapses and no business are hiring, indeed most are closing?

            You are paving a way toward Venezuela, and you dont even realize it

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Andras Kovacs

      The government of a state has nothing that is not first given to it by its citizens, but the resources which they access to turn into stuff are ‘provided’ by the geographical state in which they live, unless of course they are stolen or traded for. But the government of every country in the civilized world does some amount of ‘providing’. My water is provided by the SCRD and I pay for that with my taxes. I am quite happy with this arrangement. In short one of the ways that citizens exchange resources and stuff with each other is via the government. Is there a single exception in the civilized world?

      • Andras Kovacs says

        one of the ways that citizens exchange resources and stuff with each other is via the government

        Why? They want to exchange the goods made by them with each other: what value does the government adds to this process? (Unlike the investor whose savings, invested in production ‘machinery’, indeed adds value to the product.)

        My water is provided by the SCRD and I pay for that with my taxes. I am quite happy with this arrangement.

        Maybe other people are less happy with this arrangement. For example, the citizens living in Flint were definitely unhappy with their govt.-provided water.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Andras Kovacs

          “Maybe other people are less happy with this arrangement.”

          But find me an advanced country that does NOT have state regulated water. Almost always the water is supplied by the state too, but some have privatized. Yet state regulation in universal. Why might that be? Yes there have been disasters. Someone should calculate this but let me speculate that one in a billion glasses of water have some sort of problem.

          “what value does the government adds to this process?”

          Many. Uniformity, natural monopoly efficiency, safety from private entities going bust. I like free enterprise and I’m a businessman myself, but I am very glad the water is not supplied by a profit seeking entity. Almost everyone agrees with me.

          • Andras Kovacs says

            But find me an advanced country that does NOT have state regulated water.

            That only shows that the regulatory state grows beyond all bounds.


            To the extent uniformity is desired, entrepreneurs are perfectly able to provide that on the free market. For example there are numerous private standards organizations which work out standards within an industry; then these standards are subjected to the same evolutionary market acceptance processes as other goods are.

            Way back in 1987, IBM released the PS/2 line of PCs. Several new standards came with it: one of them was the Micro Channel bus architecture, the other the keyboard connector. Well, AFAIK no one manufactures any devices w/ Micro Channel bus connections anymore; but my computer’s motherboard does have a PS/2 standard keyboard connector (which I’m actually using with my very old ALR keyboard).

            natural monopoly efficiency

            ‘Natural monopolies’ do not exist; all monopolies are created by state fiat (i.e. through statutes). As Lord Coke has said:


            blockquote>A monopoly is an institution or allowance by the king [sovereign], by his grant, commission, or otherwise . . . to any person or persons, bodies politic or corporate, for the sole buying, selling, making, working, or using of anything, whereby any person or persons, bodies politic or corporate, are sought to be restrained of any freedom or liberty that they had before, or hindered in their lawful trade.



            safety from private entities going bust

            Private entrepreneurial entities going bust is what ensures that every product is produced by those who are most competent to produce it. If a state entity ‘enterprise’ doesn’t go bust because the state props it up with (net) taxpayers’ monies, then it means that the state entity operates at a loss: it wastes resources. Air Canada is the classic example of such a process.

            I am very glad the water is not supplied by a profit seeking entity

            You’re an economic fool: the profit motive is the key to wealth creation, profits measure how much value was created by the entrepreneur. Lack of profit is the precise indicator that producing the product is uneconomical, that the inputs used to produce the product should be used for the production of other product, one which the consumers value enough to pay a price for it which creates profit for the entrepreneur.

            Almost everyone agrees with me.

            Which is bad news for almost everyone.

          • NashTiger says

            That’s odd, when the state run water company in Flint Michigan began poisoning people, one of the solutions was to bring in lots of extra bottles water sold by profit seekers

            I can’t recall the time when the profitseekers poisoned their water and people had to rely on more state supplied water

        • Geary Johansen says

          @ Andras

          Ray is right in some ways about localised monopolies. There really is no way for the market to induce competition and the efficiency benefits and lower prices this generates, for consumers in other areas of the economy. Indeed, sometimes the profit motive can degrade the utility over time through a failure to complete basic maintenance and budget for essential upkeep sufficiently. Third parties and localised monopolies are something that markets have always dealt with somewhat poorly.

          I think the answer is to ‘limit’ government in it’s application of regulatory powers. First make regulators independent from government. Second, make it a mandatory duty for them to publicly correct political demagogues when they start going on about greedy capitalists, or make unjustified charges of rent-seeking. Third, give auditors the statutory power to remove and replace regulators, when they fail in their mandatory duty to correct politicians.

          Plus, I don’t really think that utilities make sufficient use of ‘floats’ in order to increase profitability and improve services. The British insurance industry only charges about a 6% surplus to expected claims, when underwriting. By far the largest portion of their profits, is generated by what they do with this fund whilst they are holding this fund in trust. Given that utilities inherently possess a similar need to pre-assess future expenditure and plan infrastructure to reduce costs and improve services, there should be much greater latitude for higher profit margins than currently exists. Perhaps Government acts as a barrier to effective functionality in this respect, and a better definition of the roles and responsibilities of regulators could push back against the structural problems of Government intervention.

          • Andras Kovacs says

            There really is no way for the market to induce competition and the efficiency benefits and lower prices this generates, for consumers in other areas of the economy. Indeed, sometimes the profit motive can degrade the utility over time through a failure to complete basic maintenance and budget for essential upkeep sufficiently. Third parties and localised monopolies are something that markets have always dealt with somewhat poorly.

            In reality:

            Six electric light companies were organized in the one year of 1887 in New York City. Forty-five electric light enterprises had the legal right to operate in Chicago in 1907. Prior to 1895, Duluth, Minnesota, was served by five electric lighting companies, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, had four in 1906. … During the latter part of the 19th century, competition was the usual situation in the gas industry in this country. Before 1884, six competing companies were operating in New York City … competition was common and especially persistent in the telephone industry … Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, among the larger cities, had at least two telephone services in 1905.


          • Geary Johansen says

            @ Andras Kovacs

            Great comeback. Touche. On reflection, my position might have more to do with my long-running disgruntlement with my local water company, than any logic or reason on my part. An acquaintance in the village, had to spend £6,000 to connect a new house he’d built to the drains and water- £6,0000, no wonder houses are so expensive, everyone’s on the make!

            A friend in nearby village has complained to the same company, about sewage rising up onto the road, in the event of heavy rain. But they won’t come out unless it’s happening when you call, and they won’t come out unless you book in advance.

      • Ray Andrews says


        “It is quite the leap from there to having The State provide the basic necessities for everyone.”

        I quite agree. By grounding Rights on problematical grounds one risks not knowing what they are, how they got here, how they can be amended or updated and so on. For example the Natural Rights you mention as being distinct from legal rights, is a distinction that can and is often obfuscated.

        “You are paving a way toward Venezuela, and you dont even realize it”

        Exactly to the contrary, by attempting to make it more clear what Rights are, and where they come from, I’m trying to establish clear bulwarks of defense against the sort of Rights that AOC and Kamala Harris are peddling. To the point, I don’t think that Natural Rights is a defensible position. One might properly discuss what these might be, but they are null until someone passes a law protecting them. Do not assume that my views on Rights are less conservative than yours, I merely want to establish firm grounds for them and unfortunately IMHO the firmest available are that the citizenry assent to the list in their constitution. Everything else is theology.

  11. codadmin says

    Ok, I’ll Summarise the article:

    I want the best for people. Therefore I am the best of people.

      • codadmin says

        I want the best for people…therefore, CONCRETE MILKSHAKES IN THE FACE!

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Andras Kovacs

      “Natural monopolies’ do not exist”

      “You’re an economic fool:”

      And happy to remain so, along with 99% of the rest of us. I haven’t seen a statistic, but I wonder if people who hold your view break 1% of the population.

      • Andras Kovacs says

        [link to ‘natural monopoly’ article on Wikipedia]

        They don’t know what they’re talking about: Lord Coke’s definition is the precise one.

        happy to remain so, along with 99% of the rest of us

        Nah, everybody and their dog is whining about the economy, even when things are flying high like right now. And when the inevitable crash comes, then the whining becomes a crescendo of the economically ignorant mob.

        wonder if people who hold your view break 1% of the population

        If you would have looked into the linked book then you would know that in certain circumstances that 1% can make all the difference.

  12. The problem is that “dignity” can only be a particular quality of recognition by the other. One sees the dignity of the other, or fails to see any dignity in the being or the conduct of the other (e.g. Jeffrey Epstein has no dignity in the eyes of most). Thus, what accords dignity is based on the normative framework of the other, and it matters whether they are merchants or warriors or priests (which I can only presume is McManus’ caste) or even members of the thieves guild or Political Grifters Inc.

    Moreover, the concept of dignity (besides being always relational to some normative group’s notion of human excellence) is only meaningful if it is a scarce quality of the few, as one with arete is accorded dignity, and it is the nature of the mob to lack dignity. (Which all acknowledge when confronted with the mob, but few acknowledge when they sit down to write philosophy). If there was no such thing as a lie, there would be no meaning to the concept of truth or truth-telling. If there was no human condition lacking in human dignity, there can be no meaning to the concept of human dignity. The idea that all humans possess dignity is semantically equivalent to saying all humans lack dignity, the result is the same, the abolition of a basic normative distinction that forms of the basis of civil society (that one aspires to live in accordance with dignity and grace).

    To claim all people have dignity is similar to claiming all people have beauty, e.g. the beauty of the harlot is the same as the beauty of Sophia. This notion is contrary to all the books of wisdom of mankind, and the speaker is either a liar or someone consumed by a hatred of Sophia, e.g. she has spurned him, so he insults her by comparing her charms to a common street harlot. While it is true that this may be the existential condition of the modern philosopher, whether we are talking of Kant or Sartre, it is based on a pathetic and debased condition of the philosopher, and we would be better served to ignore such people.

    The reality is that most people, left to their own devices and without coercive and involuntary social norms, end up in personally and socially self-destructive behaviors, hence why the invention of “society” was necessary if human social organization was going to move beyond homicidal hunter gatherer tribal bands. The clearly observed result of the extreme expressive freedom enjoyed today, rising deaths of despair, rising rates of child abuse and neglect, rising rates of mental illness, etc., is that the extreme expressive freedom pushed by our Cathedral produces the exact opposite of dignity or freedom. It is almost as if the wages of sin were literally death.

    • NashTiger says

      Wrong, I try to conduct myself with dignity in public, on most occasions, whether it will be recognized by anyone other than myself, or not. ESPECIALLY if i somehow find myself in a situation amongst a group of the very undignified who are predisposed toward non-recognition.

    • The only freedom that is ever worth having is the freedom to do good. The only way to guarantee a free society is rule by free men and women, those who voluntarily choose to embody the good. To these belong dignity. As to the rest, even on their best day, they merely have utility.

      • codadmin says

        Isn’t ‘doing good’ the problem we have in society? What is ‘good’ and how exactly do you achieve ‘good’, and especially on the behalf of others?

        ‘Do gooding’ is inherently narcissistic, which is why the practice always leads to a variation of tyranny.

        Not harming the self with vice, is maybe the best ‘good’ any human can ever really do to help others.

        • Ted says

          ” ‘Do gooding’ is inherently narcissistic.”

          Please elaborate. Are you referring to a systemic activity parameterized and entitled, or does your stated definition extend, also, to random acts of kindness?

          • codadmin says


            I’m referring to both. Obviously, welfare states, for example, have created just as many problems as they have solved.

            All tyrants, big and small, are ‘do gooders’ in their own minds.

            On a personal level, why do you want to help people? How can you be certain, outside of an emergency situation, that your ‘help’ has actually helped them?

            Maybe your act of random kindness purchased the overdose that killed off a nameless homeless person?

            helping people feels good. So you have to ask yourself is it about them or you? Is ‘dob gooding’ juts another destructive vice humans engage in.

        • Ray Andrews says


          A couple of weeks ago I helped a lady who had locked her keys in her car. (I’m a natural B&E artist). I’ll admit to being pleased with myself but I don’t see how this would lead to tyranny.

          • codadmin says


            That’s not pre-mediated ‘do gooding’ though.

          • Ray Andrews says


            Supposing it was premeditated, what would go sour then? I have been on premeditated garbage collection hikes. A couple of days ago, with malice aforethought, I went over to West Van to help my nephew get his boat running. Altruism in the 1st degree (premeditated). No doubt Ayn Rand would have me jailed or at least fined. Again, how does this feed totalitarianism? Ayn might point out that since I was not forced to do this, I did it voluntarily and that thus it was selfish. Fine. Selfishness in the service of others is called altruism and selfishness in the service of selfishness is called selfishness.

        • Social agreement on the nature of the “good” is the fundamental problem of political philosophy as well as the practical political problem. But the freedom to “do good” is not the same thing as being a “do gooder”, anymore than the quality of righteousness is related to the quality of self-righteousness. They are actually near enemies of each other.

    • David of Kirkland says

      No, most people are good. The law tends to create loopholes that bad actors take advantage of. The law creates injustice and unequal protection because humans with power tend towards corruption.
      Society wasn’t for the benefit of the individual, but to allow a large number of individuals to cooperate. It’s why most societies are not about liberty and equal protection; those are the rare ones, and even the USA and most western democracies have only come closer than other nations in terms of these ideals, but remain distant from those goals because the nature of humans is to submit to authority (parents, teachers, police, government, religions/gods) and to force others to live the “dignity” they claim is correct. That is, if you hate gays, then gays are bad and should be stoned to death. If you love gays, then they should get special protections. Or if you believe in Liberty and Equal Protection, it doesn’t matter if you love or hate them as they get to be as they are.

      • codadmin says


        “Or if you believe in Liberty and Equal Protection, it doesn’t matter if you love or hate them as they get to be as they are.”

        That’s a really nice way of describing a free society.

        • Ray Andrews says


          Agree. David put it as well as it can be put.

  13. David of Kirkland says

    If the US is a plutocracy rather than a democracy, that just proves the point that politicians cannot be entrusted in a democracy, that government corruption is to be expected, that central planning is corrupt no matter how they find themselves in power.

    “such as whether one is born into a wealthy family or happens to be part of some historically elevated demographic, should not determine where people end up.”
    What nonsense. The only way to do this would be for government to take all children and raise them together.

    Life is arbitrary. Bill Gates born today wouldn’t necessarily be the lucky man he was at his time and place in history. Some poor people grow up rich. Some rich people die young from drug overdoses or flying about their properties in helicopters that crash. Hoping that centrally planned coercion can fix the arbitrary world denies reality. Some people are born smart, others not so much. Some are healthy and strong, others not so much. Some are dedicated, persevere and perhaps are even stubborn, others not so much. Some think in novel terms, others are stuck in mental ruts.

    The Enlightenment resolves this already. Liberty and equal protection are key. Government doesn’t need to force outcomes because no particular outcome is a known good. We move fresh water for many miles to help Los Angeles, but that harms farmers who might otherwise use that water. Trade offs must take place, and whether it’s better to grow vegetables or house more people in a dessert has no clear answer as both seem to suggest they are misguided.

    We need government to protect us from those who would harm you. To protect the commons from externalities. But humans find liberty and equality too hard, and thus we end up with unequal tax laws, unequal justice, never-ending undeclared foreign wars, massive deficits, etc.

    • Matthew McManus says

      I don’t think that is much of a response to Rawls, or myself for that matter. No left liberal or deliberative social democrat denies that “life is arbitrary.” Far from it; there is extreme emphasis placed on the contingency of most forms of social success. Whether due to being born with significant natural talents or social advantages, or due to having abilities which are valued for contingent reasons, many of the reasons people get ahead or fall behind are arbitrary from a moral point of view. The point is that we needn’t accept this as a mere fact of life, but can organize individually and socially to ameliorate the impact of such contingencies. Indeed Rawls´ point, and my own, is precisely that the measure of a just society is determined by the efforts it takes to create conditions of fairness which mitigate arbitrariness so long as it respects the individual freedoms of its members. As Rawls puts it in Theory of Justice:

      “We may reject the contention that the ordering of institutions is always defective because the distribution of natural talents and the contingencies of social circumstance are unjust, and this injustice must inevitably carry over to human arrangements. Occasionally this reflection is offered as an excuse for ignoring injustice, as if the refusal to acquiesce in injustice is on a par with being unable to accept death. The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts. Aristocratic and caste societies are unjust because they make these contingencies the ascriptive basis for belonging to more or less enclosed and privileged social classes. The basic structure of these societies incorporates the arbitrariness found in nature. But there is no necessity for men to resign themselves to these contingencies. The social system is not an unchangeable order beyond human control but a pattern of human action. In justice as fairness men agree to avail themselves of the accidents of nature and social circumstance only when doing so is for the common benefit.”

      indeed you could even go so far as to claim the insight of liberalism, including and perhaps especially Enlightenment liberalism, is the more general contention that human beings are characterized by using their insight and creativity to transcend the natural arbitrariness of life and improve their lot. People with significant health deficiencies don´t usually say “thats life” and accept their lot lying down. They use medical advances and technologies to artificially change the situation to improve health outcomes. The same is true when people genetically modify foods to make them healthier and more aesthetically pleasing, when they strip forests to build highways and so on. Life may be arbitrary, but the human story is in no small part about rising above that. There is no reason similar principles can´t be applied to human institutions and dynamics.

      • codadmin says


        But, everyone wants what you want. So what are your specific ideas to get there?

        How about an oppressed white working class community who has seen their community destroyed by enforced mass immigration, do they get to ‘rise up’, or is their ‘rising up’ proof they need to be crushed even further?

        When you said ‘historically elevated communities’ we all know what you meant.

      • A Mortal says

        “In justice as fairness men agree to avail themselves of the accidents of nature and social circumstance only when doing so is for the common benefit.”

        A more envious proposition it would be hard to find. What injustice is there in availing ones self of an accident of nature or a social circumstance for ones individual benefit so long as one does not positively harm another? My benefit is by no means necessarily your harm, and your “failure” to share in my benefit is not your injury.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ Matthew McManus

        I’ve been looking at the work of Dr Raj Chetty on this issue, specifically in relation to social mobility, and believe I have some answers for you as to how to attain more dignity for marginalised groups. The first is fathers. His data shows that fathers are incredibly important to social mobility. But crucially, a child born to a single parent born into a neighbourhood with a high number of fathers will have greater chances of success, than a child born into a two parent family living in a neighbourhood with a smaller proportion of fathers. So fathers are important at a community level, more than at a family level.

        Second, African American women achieve at exactly the same level of social mobility, as white women born into similar circumstances. This does not mean that African American women do not face unique challenges and obstacles, but rather that they are able to overcome them and attain whatever natural ascendancy they might otherwise have possessed. Unfortunately, the same is not true for African American men and a high proportion of fathers in the community they grow up in, is the one thing that seems to alter their destiny for the better.

        I think this happens for three reasons. First, fathers probably exist as both a mentoring resources and a distributed model of ways in which they could see themselves achieving status and a positive role for themselves in society. Second, peer group must act as an amplifier for whatever worldview they adopt, positive or negative. Thirdly, the belief that the system is rigged against them, seems to have an inordinate and pernicious influence in affecting boys, when their female counterparts seem able to negotiate whatever obstacles they face. Indeed, this is probably the reason why it is an anthropological human universal, that all primitive and ancient societies used rites of passage with teenage boys falling under the jurisdiction of older males, as a means of socialisation and a way of articulating them onto a healthy life path.

        The takeaways are twofold. First, that society should make whatever adjustments it reasonable can to provide a fairer feeder system of schools and child-centred institutions. Second, that the problem is overwhelmingly a narrative one. In the absence of fathers, bad narratives seem to have an incredibly potent influence on boys in terms of academic outcomes, levels of morale-induced apathy and even criminality. So we must make every effort to de-emphasis ideas of victimhood, oppression and systemic inequality by race in the modern context. By all means acknowledge historic wrongs, but do so by framing them as something that has been largely overcome. Because in the case of boys, the narrative itself appears to far more harmful than whatever adverse circumstances they may face.

        • Lightning Rose says

          If “African-American women” didn’t persist in a 70%+ rate of unmarried births, with the dole becoming the de-facto “daddy,” they could stop all the “systemic inequality” tomorrow. The choices we make DO matter! If one JUST finishes high school, gets a job (any job), and marries BEFORE having children they have only about a 2% lifetime chance of ending up in poverty. Just those 3 things, you’d think we’d teach this in school, right? Don’t you wish!

          Then you’ve got Hollywood providing generations-deep bad examples of what “real men” are all about–committing murder of course, cooking meth, womanizing and blowing things up when not rapping and pimping or dropping F-bombs on pro sports commentators. Right, because those things equal success for the rising generation to emulate, right? Be careful what you ask for, because we’re now getting it.

          We used to talk about personal responsibility, economic initiative, the work ethic, loyalty and the Golden Rule in this country–in school, in the movies, on the radio, in political speeches.
          Instead today we seem bent on inculcating perverse anti-values, convincing everyone that they’re “victims” who are owed a free ride by somebody, and to be angry and oppressed and keep looking for that lightning rod.

          The entire equal-outcomes argument needs to be loudly denounced as absurd; people have radically differing IQ’s, interests, energy levels and aspirations. Mao went full-Commie and we know how that worked out; do we REALLY need to wreck the best country on earth by performing that experiment AGAIN? Isn’t it easier to tell the 4% malcontents to STFU and go make something of themselves?

      • Geofiz says

        What happens when these two statements:

        1)… so long as it respects the individual freedoms of its members.


        2) In justice as fairness men agree to avail themselves of the accidents of nature and social circumstance only when doing so is for the common benefit.”

        Are mutually exclusive?

        I do many things that are for the benefit of myself or my family that are not for the common benefit. I live in a house that is bigger than I need, I have a nicer car than I need. I paid for my kids’ college educations. My family and I take a skiing vacation every year. I did and do all of these things not for the common good but for the good of myself and my family. I also do them because I can afford to. I can afford to do things because, in-part, I was born to upper-middle class parents of above average intelligence and I share both their economic class and their intelligence. Both parents also imbued me with a strong work ethic My birth to them was “an accident of nature”

        So, what if I do not agree to avail themselves of the accidents of nature and social circumstance only when doing so is for the common benefit.” What if I still want to go skiing every year? Do you then use the coercive power of the state to take away my freedom to do these things? Should I instead, be forced to give these things to the state “for the common benefit” What happens to my freedom then?

        And what about the unintended consequences? If I don’t go skiing, the lift operator loses his job. Same for the waitress at the restaurant I will not be eating at. If I don’t buy my new car, the assembly worker loses his job. What about their dignity? You obviously have never read Adam Smith.

        Your essay is filled with lofty platitudes and peppered with academicspeak? But specific proposals as to how you accomplish your lofty goal are curiously absent. It is also clear that you have no real idea of what dignity is. Dignity comes from pride in your family, your nation, your culture, your religion and your work. Dignity cannot be given by the state. It has to be earned. We can and should set up conditions to make dignity easier to earn for all the citizens of our country. We do that by ensuring that they have the opportunity to get good jobs that do not require a college education, superior intelligence, or migrating to the coasts. We do that by protecting American industry from predatory state-sponsored competition and limiting illegal immigration of low skills workers.

        Study after study shows that the best anti-poverty program is a mommy and a daddy. We should work to encourage institutions, such as the church, that strengthen family bonds and to eliminate government programs that disincentivize family units. We can eliminate onerous zoning requirements and environmental laws in cities such as San Francisco that have resulted in the the average home price rising to over $1.6MM. We can set up tax incentives for companies to relocate in depressed communities in flyover country.

        All of these are populist initiatives. I understand that this is a hard concept for you to understand, but if you get out of the bubble and talk to the people you want to help, you might actually learn something. Not everyone who can teach you is WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic). Put down Kant and take a field trip to Toledo Ohio or Houma Louisiana. Talk to the people and take notes. Listen, don’t preach.

        • Geary Johansen says

          @ Geofiz

          Great comment. About you last paragraph, in the UK the divisions are all the more stark by being side-by-side. In most of Britain, you can get in a car, travel 30 miles and be in the other half of the knowledge divide. I live in a leafy little village called Upton, halfway between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. Go to Norwich and you will find a thriving economy, a building boom, a knowledge economy built off the UEA and the overspill from Cambridge and an old historic market centre, rich on the wealth created from trade with the Hanseatic League and agricultural supply to London. In the old days, once a year, they used to drive the geese down to London on foot, in time for Christmas.

          Go to Great Yarmouth and you will find an old seaside town, much in decline. The domestic tourism it once ran on, is all but gone, as Brits fly to Southern Europe for Sangria, Pinot Grigio, Retsini and sun. The oil business might still maintain a small office presence, but it’s heyday in Yarmouth is long gone. The main industries in Yarmouth now are cheap housing for portuguese Bernard Matthews employees, and accomodation for benefits recipients. It’s the nature of knowledge clusters on housing, that makes the valuable unaffordable, and the modestly-priced worthless.

          • Geofiz says

            C.K. Murray talks about “super-zips” in his book “Coming Apart” In the U.S. all areas have a “zip code” attached to their address which defines a specific area. The super-zips are areas that are highly affluent and/or culturally isolated. They include many college campuses and very wealthy areas. Many of the cultural elite live in super-zips. Many who live in these enclaves know little about the world outside of them.

            In the interest of full-disclosure, I live in a “super-zip” . However, it is plurality Asian. Of the eight houses that surround mine, only one is owned by a white family. So much for “historically elevated races”

      • Metamorf says

        “… the measure of a just society is determined by the efforts it takes to create conditions of fairness which mitigate arbitrariness so long as it respects the individual freedoms of its members” — aye, there’s rub. You’re not respecting the individual freedom of a society’s members if, for example, you seize money from them that they’ve legitimately earned. Similarly, the myriad regulations modern day “progressives” (might these be “premodern liberals”?) put in place to “mitigate arbitrariness” are largely DISrespectful of individual freedoms. If you want to say, nevertheless, that they’re all necessary for the Greater Good (see “Hot Fuzz), then here’s the kind of satire you invite and deserve:

        • Metamorf says

          P.S.: The point, by the way, isn’t that there shouldn’t be taxation (seizing people’s money that they’ve legitimately earned) or regulation — the point is simply that the whole Rawls approach, for all its elaborate machinery of “social contracts” and “original positions” and “veils of ignorance”, is fundamentally flawed.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Less social parasitism would be a “known good. . . ” 😉

  14. ga gamba says

    If we accept the definition of dignity being the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect, then the call for dignity is a demand we honour or respect someone or some group not for what they have done and we (subjectively) find worthy of such lofty esteem, but simply for them existing. Compelled respect for air breathers. I honour the space which you take. I reckon this will be left to the favoured person/group to decide whether or not s/he has been respected and honoured with sufficient groveling and supplication. That’ll go well.

    This is the application of lese majeste law, such as that found in Thailand, or an update to blasphemy law expanded beyond religion to include certain people and their artifacts into the realm of sanctity. If not in words then in enforcement, I presume this will be stacked in favour of certain groups, probably the ones screaming and convulsing in front of our faces about being “silenced” and “erased”.

    I find this an assault on my dignity. And sanity.

    • Andras Kovacs says

      This is the application of lese majeste law, such as that found in Thailand, or an update to blasphemy law expanded beyond religion to include certain people and their artifacts into the realm of sanctity.

      Excellent observation.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ ga gamba

      Great comment. Especially given that the recent Grievance Studies scandal (see rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks), shows that intersectional feminism is the new religion, and privilege the new original sin.

  15. Andrew Scott says

    As a principle to promote human dignity: “The first right is to democratic authorship of the laws which govern individuals.”

    That’s a nice concept, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to the desired result. Why, then, would it be the first principle?

    There is one and only one law that can result in dignity for all: Love others as yourself, which includes doing to them as you would want them to do to you.

    Nothing short of that will suffice. Here’s the hard part: Other laws, whether authored democratically or otherwise, can only address certain outwardly visible violations of that law. But no government on earth can or will enforce that law. It’s impossible. Those who violate that law will succeed at subverting any other.

    Democracy is as powerless as any other form of government to overcome selfishness and a lack of love. If that was not true, it would have already eliminated corruption and the abuse of power – if not in one country, than in another. It hasn’t happened, and it won’t. It’s just a system. It’s an attempt. It’s a nice try with good intentions. If it could work miracles we would have seen them already.

  16. Geofiz says

    If there ever was an article that illustrated the impenetrability of the academic bubble and the cluelessness of those inside it this article is it. I actually agree with the premise. But you mistake the cure for the disease.

    Let’s begin with the term “post-modern conservatism” No one and I mean NO ONE outside the academic bubble would ever actually use this term. “Post-modern conservatism” refers to the populist movements that include Brexit, the ascendance of Salvini in Italy, the Front National in France and of course the election of Donald Trump in the United States There is nothing new or different about populism. It has been around as long as civilization. It is not “post-modern”, nor is it automatically racist and evil as you imply. Most importantly, you completely and totally miss the reason for the rise in populism – It is the loss of dignity among those left behind in the move of elites towards globalism. This is what makes your essay so unintentionally clueless.

    If you are a member of the cognitive elite (term from C.K. Murray’s Coming Apart), you have benefited greatly from globalism. My house, like many others, is filled with cheap shit from China. Most of the components in the computer that I am writing this on were manufactured in China, or Vietnam or some other third world country. As for immigration, it benefits me (and you as well. I get my yard cut for less money today that It cost me ten years ago. In fact, I pay only five dollars more than I did 30 years ago. Here in Texas, home improvement costs are way down. The more illegal aliens, the cheaper labor costs are.

    So who loses? Those who lack the cognitive skills of you and I. When the factory moves to China everyone loses their jobs, regardless of race, creed color, sex, or sexual orientation. America has for a long time been rotting from the inside out with the enthusiastic help of elites on both sides of the political aisle. If you are a Facebook employee you make an average salary of $120K. If you write code you probably make a heck of a lot more. But if you are a forklift operator in Portsmouth Ohio, you don’t make anything at all. Your job is long gone. It does not matter if you are white or black. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman. It does not matter if you are straight or gay. There are no jobs. The factories are gone. Without a job, you have no dignity. There are only opiates to ease the pain.

    And even if you live on an area that is flourishing, more illegal immigrants means more competition for low skills jobs. When I was a graduate student, I used to work late at night and became friends with many of the janitors. They were probably 80% African American. They had good jobs with health care and pensions. Now they are all gone. My alma mater signed a contract with a company that provides janitorial services at a fraction of the cost. They hire Hispanics as contract workers. Since these workers are contract labor, it is not necessary to ensure that they are citizens. The university is happy. They are putting “undocumented immigrants” to work AND they are saving money. No one cares about the workers they laid off. Do you care about their dignity?

    Like most who are safely ensconced in the bubble you see populism as racism. But it is not. Survey after survey shows that many of the blue-collar Trump voters voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. This about class – the class that has been left behind. Some in that class are white. Some are black. Some are men. Some are women. You carry on about “dignity and yet you treat those who lack that dignity with contempt. You demean their “nationalist agenda (we used to call that patriotism) and accuse them of being opposed to “universal human rights”

    Let’s parse that “universal human rights” remark. What exactly does that mean? What happens when your universal rights conflict with mine? Does a deeply religious baker have a right not to design a custom cake for a gay couple? Does a parent have a right to insist that their child does not share a bathroom with a member of the opposite sex?

    When I was in my 30’s I was an upper-middle-of-the pack powerlifter. Not bad but hardly world class. However, if I elected to call myself a woman (not an option back then), I would have had three world records. Do biologic women athletes have the right to compete only against other biologic women? Does a fundamentalist church have a right to preach that abortion is sinful? Does a mosque have a right not to admit gays? What about the “dignity of those who do not want to go along with your utopian state. How much dignity do you take away from them in order to assign to those whom you feel deserve it more? How much force will you use? How much of their dignity are you willing to strip away?

    Who decides who gets what “universal rights? Who handles the process of “rectifying the inequalities which increasingly define many societies, and giving everyone a fair shot at the good life as they understand it” Obviously you intend for “the state” to handle this. But can the state mandate dignity? I recently finished Chris Arnade’s excellent book on exactly this subject. He noted that in many cases the poor refused to accept aid from both nonprofits and welfare agencies. When he asked about that, they answered: Too many rules to follow. Ever renew your driver’s license? Bureaucracies treat no one with dignity. I am sure welfare is far worse. Arnade observed that they found dignity in a place that accepted them as who they were- the church – something you see as a relic of the past.

    You need to read three books.
    1) Chris Arnade: Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America
    2) C.K. Murray: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
    3) Arlie Hochschild: Strangers in Their Own Land Anger and Mourning on the American Right

    And for you own good, get out of the bubble and talk to someone who is not an academic. Maybe be even talk to someone who lives in a small town and never went to college. You might actually find them to be nice. Amazingly they may not fit your deplorable stereotype. But clearly, you do not know what you do not know

    We live in a “knowledge economy” Your class is defined by your intelligence, not your bank account, although the two are commonly correlable. You need to understand that before you solve the problem of dignity for the cognitively disadvantaged. You need to understand that what gives the cognitively disadvantaged dignity may not be what you believe gives them dignity You will never understand this until you leave the bubble and do some real research on those whom you propose to speak for..

    ‘As who I am: a prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God.'” From Chris Arnade quoting Takeesha

    Being a homeless junkie, I often get offered people who want to buy me lunch. But very rarely does anybody ever ask me who I am.’ ” Chris Arnade

    • Vassos Zem says

      Much appreciated, Geofiz. Common sense corresponding with observed reality; something of a rarity these days.

  17. “The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which we have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature.”

    So, God favors nurture over nature! End of debate. Next question please?

    But seriously, Mr. McManus disappoints by regurgitating the standard complaint about inequality. Inequality is NOT a problem. INSUFFICIENCY is the problem. The obsession with inequality is based on belief in Zero Sum Gain and lends itself all too well to jealousy and equalisation by levelling down. Redistributing wealth all too easily becomes the redistribution of misery.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Spot on.
      I would add that a lot of people don’t know the difference between rights and privileges. Rights are what we have by the very fact that we are human. In nature they are unlimited. In society they are necessarily limited by government. When government creates “rights” what it is really doing is bestowing privileges.
      The people can of course create rights by contract, and governments when they enter into contracts with private firms or individuals are then creating rights. But regulation and legislation just creates privileges.
      There is nothing inherently wrong with the creation of privilege by government. But it is wrong to assume that these privileges are “rights” that are somehow inherent in the person or group that has them.

      • Andras Kovacs says

        There is nothing inherently wrong with the creation of privilege by government.

        What is right with the creation of privilege by government?

        • Peter from Oz says

          Well, all government is about creating privileges. The whole idea of government is to ensure that we all have the privilege of the rule of law. You seem to be under a misapprehension that privilege must be a negative thing.
          I am a solicitor because I obtained a law degree and met all the requirements for admission to practise. The government won’t allow anyone without those qualifications to practise law. The privileges given to lawyers in this regard ensures the benefit that we can be sure that those who offer legal advice are properly trained.

          • Andras Kovacs says

            Ah, you’re a member of a guild. Now I understand your commitment to governmental authority in doling out privileges.

            I don’t personally condemn you but I most emphatically disagree with you on the govt’s legitimacy to discriminate between citizens by handing out privileges.

            As far as the enterprise of law goes, please see this article: it is chock full of very interesting observations.

          • Geary Johansen says

            @ Peter from Oz

            The rule of law is not a privilege. It is a sacred duty passed from Monarchs to Parliaments and Congresses throughout the world, through the mechanism of English Common Law. It predates the Magna Carta and can be traced back in principle to the Venerable Bede.

            I do take your point on the practice of law, but surely that’s simply a matter of the government fulfilling their duty to provide citizens with the rule of law, through effective implementation.

  18. Closed Range says

    Most of the article didn’t give me a sense of how these concepts tie to physical reality, to be polite about it. For instance, if we imagine it is the duty of the state to provide food, how should it be done? Who decides how much of which kind of food needs to be made? Who decides who should farm and where? What should the price be in relation to other goods?

    Every example of centrally planned food production and distribution I can think of, from the controlled production and pricing of wheat under Louis XVI in pre-revolutionary France, the collectivisation of farms in Soviet russia to Mao’s green Revolution, ended up in disaster and produced shortages and famine instead of providing food. This is one of the most blatant cases of how communism does not work

    Ultimately, it is these questions above which ultimately kill off this theory. I would suggest that instead, the main responsibility of the state is not to undermine the production of food, goods and services in a fundamental way. The only solution that appears to work is that the state provides some benefits to people out of work, and those people decide how to spend that on food and other goods.

    The problem with this kind of article is that nobody ever came up with a good policy for development from Kantian categorical imperatives and abstract thought alone. It’s a futile exercise.

    Also, I agree with other commenters that pointed out the unnecessary and misguided attack on nationalism and conservatives. The introduction presents it as though being a nationalist is against human dignity. Let’s look at a today is counter-example involving someone today who is truly a nationalist. Consider Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish Nationalist Party, or even the Catalan movement for nationhood. Are they against human dignity? Certainly not. Are they even conservatives? In the case of the SNP they are most definitely not. Therefore clearly you cannot assert that nationalism is at odds with human dignity.

    Might I suggest that the author try to open his eyes a bit and think about things before making off the cuff comments like that?

  19. dirk says

    Anecdote: descrptions of dignity among the Aztec nobility as described by de las Casas, 16th century:
    – how to walk in a street: not too fast, not too slow, and not looking around or over your shoulders in case of some funny sounds or events.
    Would that still be rcognized as a case of dignified behaviour by us now?

  20. Mark says

    I have not read all of the comments but… one of the challenges with this type of piece is that its really about two very big concepts one of which (i.e., dignity) rests upon the other (I.e., human rights) and the author does not, IMO, lay out what he believes are human rights. IMO, human rights are those rights that any human would have if there were no political system (it’s more nuanced than that but I’m not presently inclined to invest the time required to go deeper on this idea here). These rights are, IMO, the right to: 1) breathe, 2) think, 3) talk, 4) walk, 5) associate, 6) create, and 7) own what we create. Take away any of these rights from almost any human and s/he will feel wronged. Dignity is not a human right. It’s something we strive for as individuals and something that healthy tribes aspire to provide all of their members so that the tribe flourishes.

    • dirk says

      Neither is happines Mark, though, the pursuit of happines and dignity, yes, these are. But there is nothing easier than having rights (streetboys of the slums of Nairobi have them even), though, for a start, yes maybe, it’s at least something.

      • dirk says

        And, talking about rights, what the hell is meant then? Customary and family rights (as is the only relevant one in most of the nations on earth), or national and international rights (as of the UN).

  21. Lightning Rose says

    Lemme make it simple for ya. Remember Star Trek’s “Prime Directive?” It stated we have no right to interfere in the natural development of other civilizations we encounter. Which means it’s not the purview of the USA to dictate how the citizens of China, Russia or Luxembourg are governed. That’s on THEM to fix if they don’t like it. We have our own problems to solve. THAT’S “nationalism!”

    Because–how well would WE take it if the Chinese decided our society doesn’t meet THEIR exalted Confucian standards of orderliness, therefore we’re all to be on their Social Credit system or no trade and maybe they’ll invade and colonize us “for our own good?” Sound like a place we want to go? Flip LOTS of these intellectual hockey pucks over and what they really are is manifest condescension.

    We have NO right to decide that OUR definition of “human rights” is to apply to evey other culture on the globe. The very expression of this betrays an unspeakable level of arrogance. The air must be mighty thin up there at the tip of Maslow’s pyramid, because its denizens get loopier every day. Down here in Deploraville, we live and let live and try not to stir up unnecessary international shit in the name of some made-up boogeyman.

    • dirk says

      Right, L.R., all this (Matt and most of the commenters here, myself included of course) is just only playing in the top of the Maslow pyramid. Important as it may be for the bubble inhabitants, for the majority of world citizens of little relevance.

    • Bill says

      The inconvenient truth is that the Prime Directive cuts both ways. You correctly point out that the US has no role in establishing the rules that govern society in other countries. What is missed is that those other societies have no role in the reverse either (as the UN and foreign pols seem to think). Now, both are fully welcome to have their opinions to view the societies and rules of the other as horrible and making them sh*th0les, but that doesn’t give them the “right” to impose change. The President Obama correctly (in my opinion) stayed out of Iran, didn’t fully stay out of Egypt, and most definitely didn’t stay out of Libya. Of those 3, the most stable is Iran (like them or not) because while we may hear about how terrible the Iranian gov’t is, and how the people are kept in check — the reality is we don’t know if the uprising that occurred years ago really was the bulk of society there or just their version of Antifa in Portland propped up by the news media as a popular uprising.

      • dirk says

        What we know is, the majority wanted their hero Khomeiny back (from Paris), and with him the chador, at the expense of a Westernised Sjah. Just read Foucault, as one of the few Westerners,he knew it all beforehand.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ Lightning Rose

      Great comment as usual. On both, sovereign rights and Maslow’s pyramid. For years, cosmopolitan liberals believed that if you just gave people cheques, they would be happy with government- they were very surprised to find out that what people actually wanted was jobs, not some government hand-out.

      And this is the flaw with all wealth redistribution by government. You can transfer down enough to make sure people have enough to exist, but you can never transfer down the status and dignity people need to thrive- that they need to earn for themselves.

  22. Sarka says

    Given that this author has written a book with “dignity” in the title, I would really like some definition of this concept.
    “Rights” I more or less understand, together with the myriad controversies and tensions relating to them, but “dignity”?
    The term “dignity” conjures up issues of social respect, honour and shame, rather than civic or civil, or even human rights as normally understood in political theory or liberal rhetoric. Of course, I understand that the expression “human dignity” has quite a long tradition in ethical thought, and I certainly can understand the force of complaints that “human dignity” has been violated in quite a number of drastic situations…except that usually assaults on “dignity” take place in the context of already serious violations of rights more classically understood. And of course if they don’t – i.e. dignity is violated (a person feels humiliated or disrespected) when no substantial right to life, liberty, property has been violated, then we are in the murky area of everything from libel to “micro-aggressions”, and the whole area of free-speech curtailment on identitarian grounds, that is proving so thorny today.
    Perhaps in his book this author bothers to discuss the concept specifically of “dignity” (surely not quite the same as the right or desire of humans for self-expression, self-realisation, which can be formulated without recourse to the concept of “dignity”) but he hasn’t managed to do it here.

  23. X. Citoyen says

    Societies which impose serious limits on the capacities of their citizens to enhance or exercise their expressive capabilities to engage in self-authorship therefore severely curtail their human dignity.

    You say that as though all self-authorings were possible without impeding on the self-authorings of others—as if an infinite number of flowers could bloom without ever casting shade on the others. But this is not possible, which is why societies limit or discourage many forms of self-authorship. As others have pointed out, choosing to author children out of wedlock cuts into the self-authoring budget of others. Moreover, societies have traditionally discouraged such self-authoring because of the cost to the children who must pay for their mothers’ choices.

    I could go into all the self-stories that should never be written because the costs borne by the rest of us would be far too high. A man who can’t add, for example, can’t be made a doctor. So do we really want to think of him as having been robbed of his dignity by society?

    Let’s add another dimension: Is a hothouse flower a real flower? If your self-story cannot be written without the sacrifices and indulgence of people around you, are you really self-authoring? And how in the world do we reconcile the state forcing people—in the name of dignity of course—to indulge hothouse flowers in their story?

    All this leaves out a rather dubious assumptions in self-authorship, namely, that people have perfect or near-perfect self-knowledge. I find this unbelievable on its own.

    This argument also has a very serious material dimension to it. Expressive capabilities are related to the standard package of classical liberal rights to freedom, since a state which enables individuals’ free expression, association, and so on is amplifying their capacity for self-authorship. However, it is also fundamentally related to social and economic factors which impact someone’s overall capacity for self-authorship. For instance, without access to decent food and water, individuals are seriously curtailed in their capacity to change the world around them.

    You can only call self-authorship (or “expressive capabilities”) an “amplification” of the “standard package of classical liberal rights” because you’ve conflated rights and liberties. Liberal democratic states do not “enable” free association; they simply don’t interfere or otherwise hinder or regulate it. So expressive capabilities and liberties are apples and oranges.

    Second, you’re using “capability” in an ambiguous sense. It could refer to a person’s ability to do something (e.g., write a novel) or to the material needed to do something (e.g., the time and resources required to write a novel), which are very different things.

    • X.Citoyen

      Your “hothouse” metaphor is right on.

      Egalitarians see the world as a hothouse to be managed by those in the know producing row after row of happy little flowers each in own dignified little pot..

      In contrast, democrats only presume to lightly manage a forest – conflict, growth and failure are allowed with minimal pruning and interference to avoid the complete dominance of one species.

      As for John Rawls – he is probably the most influential thinker of the latter 20th century that most people outside of academia never heard of. He, in effect, provides a counter answer to State of Nature teachings of Rousseau, Hobbes, etc. Rawl’s answer: there is no nature. There is no such thing as a forest, get over it and let the hothouse managers rule.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ X. Citoyen

      Very interesting point on the Hothouse flowers. Because, it would seem that the current formulation for the progressive education of children from upper middle class families may be sub-optimal at best, and at worst bloody awful. The work of Katherine Birbalsingh at Michaela Community School in providing highly structured, knowledge-intensive learning, with a strictly enforced system of low-level discipline, may well finally point the way to a method which systemically advantages the disadvantaged. As I can’t really see all those upper middle class mothers, putting there precious darlings into a system that enforces either learning or good behaviour… can you?

    • X. Citoyen says


      Rawls had a European partner in being unknown-but-very-influential in Alexandre Kojeve.


      Thanks, I’ll look into Katherine Birbalsingh.

      • X. Citoyen

        Interesting about Kojeve, who I know a little about but mostly second hand. I’ll have to check this out.

        The problem with Rawls and Kojeve, as near as I can tell, is that they both presume history to have ended (reality is indeed a hothouse). This is why Alan Bloom ridiculed Rawl’s Theory of Justice as a kind of Bible for the Last Man.

        Has history indeed ended? I don’t know if Quilllete editors or contributors explicitly think about this, but I believe this is the elemental question around which many of their articles dance. And, by the way, I appreciate that you seem to have a clear understanding of this issue.

        • X. Citoyen says

          Has history indeed ended?

          That’s the million-dollar question. Ultimately, the end of history is a sophisticated way of saying that liberal democracy is the best form of gov’t. Is that true? I suspect the only practical answer is the Platonic one: it’s the best gov’t for a certain kind of civilized people, who might also be the only kind of civilized people possible.

          • X. Ciutoyen

            I think the end of history is the same as “the end of nature”, “the end of metanarratives”, “the end of metaphysics”, “the end of art” and many other end ofs. It’s also, in my view, the fulfillment of nihilism (and the triumph of the last man}.

            I don’t know about liberal democracy being “the only kind of civiliszed people possible” but it may be the only kind of civilized people left.

        • X. Citoyen says


          By the way, none other than Allan Bloom himself wrote the editor’s intro to my edition of Kojeve’s interpretations of Hegel.

  24. dirk says

    ” changing social contexts in order to have a more just and dignant world to live in for all, poor and rich”, freely translated, after my Latin years. I recognize here a wish quite often heard from young intellectuals in Peru and Mexico. Maybe difficult to understand what is meant by it for Americans and Europeans with reasonably uncorrupt and just democracies. However, very often felt as severely missing in Latin America, and certainly so in Venezuela right now.

  25. Urusigh says

    I frankly question the good faith of writing an entire book on the basis of defining a commonly used word in a way not currently used by anyone else. If the purpose of a book is to comprehensibly communicate your thoughts, starting from a position of playing semantic sleight-of-hand with the language seems disingenuous. That said, I’ll move on to more specific critiques of your proposed laws :

    “The first right is to democratic authorship of the laws which govern individuals.”

    This law, followed to the letter, smuggles in an awful lot of presuppositions about how society ought to be structured. If I’ve understood the rest of your article correctly, this essentially contradicts itself. First by requiring what amounts to direct democracy (aka “mob rule”) since any alternative arrangement (even such as a republic) necessarily grants more weight to some votes than others (even if only through such voluntary factors as geography, population density, or the simple fact that any elected representative has more direct authorship over laws than the diluted votes of the many people who elected him). Second, it thus necessarily denies authorship to any who prefer to change the laws in ways counter to direct democracy (such as preferring a republic). “Choice” is an odd concept in that if you only have one, you really have none. Third, this would also imply that either children lack human dignity or that uneducated, immature children must be granted the right to vote. It gets even more absurd if this really is interpreted as a higher conceptual principle, since that really implies that it applies just as well to rules that are not explicitly legal, such as parentally-determined bedtimes or employee codes of conduct. You seem to have designed a definition of dignity that inherently rejects any hierarchy of authority as an affront to dignity, no matter how voluntary the arrangement.

    “The second right is to an equality of expressive capabilities except where inequalities flow from non-arbitrary circumstances.”

    First, define “non-arbitrary circumstances” in a way that could be practicably applied as a legal standard written into policy and enforced equitably by courts. I’m betting that you can’t. Second, even as a conceptual guideline, this runs into the “Equality of cut grass” problem (I. E. Music artists compete for limited audiences with limited time, would compensating for “arbitrary circumstances” require that every wannabe music star be subsidized/penalized in some way to offset their genetic disparities in inherent vocal range, ear for pitch, and other markers of inborn “talent” or would it be the audiences constrained to prevent them from favoring the arbitrarily blessed talents?) Given that “expressive capabilities” are in many contexts commercialized, this Right seems directly contrary to both capitalism (which would give preference to the profitable) and meritocracy (which would give preference to the best) quite regardless of whatever extent to which “arbitrary circumstances” contribute to the aforementioned. You profess that you don’t require Equality of Outcome, but you neglected to specify what metric might actually be used other than outcome to measure Equality (and thus Dignity). Third, since Free Speech is undoubtedly an expression, you run into the same controversies raging now regarding deplatforming, Censorship, and “Hate Speech” but with all the added trouble of determining which components are “arbitrary” and must therefore be compensated to avoid injuring Dignity. Fourth, to mention another controversial topic this would bear on, it’s rather unclear what interpretation of this concept would mean in regards to forms of self-expression that might be regarded by some as insulting parody (I. E. Halloween costumes) or cultural-appropriation (I. E. White guy dreadlocks) or transgender identity (would you require someone who authors their own gender identity as biological sex based to use a pronoun contradicting their own expressive right to address someone who authors their own gender identity as contrary to their biological sex?). To the extent that a person defines and expresses their identity as part of a group identity with particular features , there is an unavoidable conflict with others who likewise author themselves as part of that group identity despite lacking those features and those who possess those features but author themselves as not being part of that group identity.

    All of which is the merest tip of the iceberg in pointing out that your high conceptions attempt to impart to individuals an unparalleled expansion of autonomy and expression without accounting for the necessarily reduced scope of the social contexts and actual communities in which they will live, nor the inherent prejudice your definition implies against those whose authorship express their preference for living integrated in a strongly defined and consistent social structure that is not mutable to the temporary whims of other people in it. Your version of the Right to Dignity seems to relegate the Right to Free Association to a 2nd class status.

    It is a reality, both biological and political, that many people prefer stability to novelty and clear rules and expectations to free-form anarchy. Your customized conception of Dignity, your rules, and the rest of your article all reinforce my impression that you don’t see much Dignity in those who value and preserve the status quo or author themselves in accord with existing historical social structures (E. G. Conservatives).

    I find your vision dystopic, as misguided as a lunatic that throws passengers off his boat in the middle of the ocean simply so that they will be “free” to swim in whichever direction they choose rather than be carried along to the boat’s destination. We are not Ubermensch. Human beings unmoored from predictability in our social context and given nigh unlimited choices nearly always respond not with joy and self-certainty, but with crippling anxiety and depression from the overwhelming uncertainty of what is the best course and near certainty that whatever course they actually chose will be less than the best and they will have no one but themselves to blame. You may have intended merely to remove metaphorical straightjackets, but your proposal logically ends with leaving everyone metaphorically naked to the elements because you did not recognize any limiting principles to the form of Dignity you proposed.

    • dirk says

      But, Urusigh, you yourself are also tightly wound up in a straightjacket, the bubble of a relatively free, fair and just democracy, where conservatism is a luxury, not just for a few, but for a majority of the average citizen. Matt teaches in Mexico, where the political situation is different. Though, you are right, he better has that explained and defined in the first chapter of his book.

      • Geofiz says

        I meant


        Great comment.


        I spent quite a bit of time in Mexico at an earlier stage of my life and taught several classes to PEMEX personnel at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). Mexico is a democracy. Like many third-world countries, that democracy is VERY rough around the edges but the system actually creaks along. Despite what you may have heard. Mexico has a growing and thriving middle class

        Mexico is NOT Venezuela.

        • dirk says

          I mentioned it also as an extreme, Geo. Besides, the situation certainly must have improved, I was there in the 1980s in a village in Veracruz, and spent most of my time with the landowners there, padrinos of many indians and villagers, where we went for horseriding, whiskeys and enchiladas in the huerta rural homes in the weekends, great times, but, maybe not any more the normal and the average situation now. Maybe I go back there once more, to see how it changed!

  26. Chris Martin says

    The concept of human “rights” gave us democracy. For this reason alone I am up for discarding the idea. A system of bonds and obligations (both voluntary and involuntary) existed before “rights” and is worth rediscovering.

  27. Chris says

    “Realizing the second right would entitle people to counter this arbitrariness when and where it is possible to do so.”
    Run. Run and don’t look back.

  28. Morgan Foster says

    “… postmodern conservatives. Frequently agitating for a nationalist agenda, and opposed to universal human rights …”

    No respect from this author, for my self-authored sense of dignity.

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