Date Posted: January 2012
The concept of human dignity provides a useful reference point for evaluating American exceptionalism in the context of welfare rights. Since World War II, human dignity has emerged as the preeminent value in many modern constitutions and various human rights documents. Particularly in countries that have extensive welfare states, dignity is often about being part of the community, being protected and provided for by the government. In America, however, political and legal discourse link dignity with individual rights and freedom from interference by the State. In this short Essay I explain how different concepts of dignity reflect fundamental disagreements about welfare rights and highlight aspects of American exceptionalism. The traditional American conception of human dignity may resist welfare rights, as can be seen in the current debate about whether and how government should expand healthcare coverage.