Coming Out of the Shadows: The Non-Western Critique of Dignity

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In legal and philosophical literature, dignity is often praised as the great equalizer, providing a conceptual framework for the moral advancement from hierarchical to egalitarian societies. The past few decades have witnessed the consolidation of dignity, both in U.S. constitutional law and around the world, within the transnational grammar of “global constitutionalism.” This Article challenges this portrayal of dignity, uncovering the potential for cultural and racial bias rooted in its mainstream conceptualization. Specifically, this Article argues that the construction of dignity as the antithesis of honor is rooted in Enlightenment-era binaries of East versus West, binaries which construct dignity around exclusionary and elitist values. This claim is examined herein via the case study of Israel. The Israeli case study offers a unique opportunity to appreciate the cultural wars at the core of dignity. By applying close reading and critical race methodologies to the analysis of various Israeli legal cases, this Article illustrates judicial mechanisms that join in the racialization of dignity. This non-Western critique of dignity highlights possible blind spots in American legal critiques of its constitutional applications, thus offering a cautionary tale for its potential perils.
Original languageEnglish
JournalColumbia Journal of European Law
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Dignity
  • Honor
  • Israel
  • Palestine
  • Mizrahi Jews
  • Global Constitutionalism
  • Orientalism


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