Dignity isn’t stuffy. Dignity isn’t old-fashioned. Dignity is crucial to the idea of civilization. Dworkin worried that we have corrupted the word by allowing it to slip into every party platform or international covenant. But the basic concept, in both of its senses, should nevertheless be the centerpiece of political and ethical conversation.
This shouldn’t be a left-right issue. A closer attention to the concept of dignity would change only the terms of our debates, not necessarily their outcomes: Does abortion protect the dignity of the pregnant woman or invade the dignity of the unborn child? Do union seniority rules preserve the dignity of those who have put in long careers or curtail the dignity of those who are starting out?
A politics centered on dignity would mark a vast improvement over the kindergarten babble that passes for serious argument these days. Indeed, we could do a lot worse than choosing our leaders based on who carries himself or herself with the greatest degree of dignity. And we could do a lot worse than making policy based on its effect on the dignity of those whose lives and futures it would affect.