The Sacredness of the Person

The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights

Hans Joas
Alex Skinner Translator
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Sacredness of the Person
    Book Description:

    What are the origins of the idea of human rights and universal human dignity? How can we most fully understand -- and realize -- these rights going into the future? InThe Sacredness of the Person, internationally renowned sociologist and social theorist Hans Joas tells a story that differs from conventional narratives by tracing the concept of human rights back to the Judeo-Christian tradition or, alternately, to the secular French Enlightenment. While drawing on sociologists such as Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Ernst Troeltsch, Joas sets out a new path, proposing an affirmative genealogy in which human rights are the result of a process of "sacralization" of every human being.

    According to Joas, every single human being has increasingly been viewed as sacred. He discusses the abolition of torture and slavery, once common practice in the pre-18th century west, as two milestones in modern human history. The author concludes by portraying the emergence of the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as a successful process of value generalization. Joas demonstrates that the history of human rights cannot adequately be described as a history of ideas or as legal history, but as a complex transformation in which diverse cultural traditions had to be articulated, legally codified, and assimilated into practices of everyday life. The sacralization of the person and universal human rights will only be secure in the future, warns Joas, through continued support by institutions and society, vigorous discourse in their defense, and their incarnation in everyday life and practice.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-970-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book deals with the history of human rights and the problem of their justification. But it provides neither a comprehensive intellectual or legal history nor a new philosophical justification for the idea of universal human dignity and the human rights based upon it. Anyone harboring such expectations will be disappointed. This is not for essentially trivial reasons, such as the fact that—despite all the impressive preparatory work that has been done—further in-depth research is needed for any comprehensive history of human rights. Nor is it because any of the existing philosophical justifications, those put forward by Kant,...

  5. 1 THE CHARISMA OF REASON The Genesis of Human Rights
    (pp. 9-36)

    If we look at the vast literature on the prehistory and history of human rights, the defining impression is that “success has many parents.” The triumphal march of human rights is undoubtedly one of the great success stories in the realm of values and norms. Even those inclined toward skepticism in light of the many conspicuous cases of empty human rights rhetoric or the cynical, legitimizing misuse of the term will be able—to quote an old dictum—to discern in such cant a compliment to morality and its central importance. The triumphal march of human rights gives the lie...

  6. 2 PUNISHMENT AND RESPECT The Sacralization of the Person and the Forces Threatening It
    (pp. 37-68)

    The first step in developing my argument was to examine in detail the emergence of the first human rights declarations in the late eighteenth century. I suggested that while we must understand these declarations as concretely as possible in light of their highly contingent contexts of emergence, we will do justice to them only if we also grasp them as expressions of deeper processes of cultural transformation. But how can we adequately conceptualize these processes? It is by no means self-evident that the answer is to refer to the “sacralization of the person” as I propose.¹

    In this chapter I...

  7. 3 VIOLENCE AND HUMAN DIGNITY How Experiences Become Rights
    (pp. 69-96)

    A commitment to values may stem from experiences that fill us with enthusiasm. When we have a sense of having clearly recognized what is good, we feel the urge to bestow this knowledge on others, to get them to rethink or change how they act; we also wish to translate our ardent belief into actions. But it is not just galvanizing experiences that give rise to value commitments. Experiences of powerlessness also shape us profoundly. When we come up against our limits and experience how little we can steer our fate or that of others, or when we become radically...

  8. 4 NEITHER KANT NOR NIETZSCHE What Is Affirmative Genealogy?
    (pp. 97-139)

    I briefly explained the concept of “affirmative genealogy” in the introduction to this book. In the following chapter, which presents a number of intermediate methodological reflections, I aim to flesh out this concept and thus the method used in this book. Within the context of contemporary debates in the philosophy and history of human rights, it is vital to explain why we should be attempting to produce a “genealogy” of human rights in the first place, as opposed to a rational justification for their validity claims or a simple history of their ascent and spread. We must also explain why,...

  9. 5 SOUL AND GIFT The Human Being as Image and Child of God
    (pp. 140-172)

    The key thesis underlying the three historical-sociological discussions presented in this book is that we should understand the rise of human rights and the idea of universal human dignity as a process of the sacralization of the person. Inherent in this thesis is a rejection of all notions that this rise can be regarded as the product of a particular tradition, such as the Christian—a product that was more or less bound to emerge from the seed of tradition at some point in history. Traditions as such, I suggest, generate nothing. What matters is how they are appropriated by...

  10. 6 VALUE GENERALIZATION The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Plurality of Cultures
    (pp. 173-194)

    So far in my attempt to construct an affirmative genealogy of human rights I have placed great emphasis on the importance of subjective certainty, the sense of self-evidence and affective intensity of the kind characteristic of the sacred. I have portrayed the genesis and development of human rights as a history of the relocating of such self-evidence, a process that straddles the spheres of practices, values, and institutions. So experiences are an important driving force in this history—everyday experiences, but above all experiences that transcend the everyday, that fill actors with enthusiasm or affect them profoundly as their horror...

    (pp. 195-214)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 215-217)