My essay traces the genealogy of the notion of human dignity in modern French law. My goal is to explain how and why dignity has come to be associated with national belonging and public order, as evidenced by the 2010 law banning “face coverings” in public spaces or by the recent pleas to revive “national indignity” after the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. I argue that the definition of dignity circulating in French law since the 1990s is a corporatist one. Rather than promote abstract individual freedom, human rights, and democratic inclusion, this understanding of dignity (theoretically much closer to that of political Catholicism and personalism than to the Kantian or liberal understanding of dignity seen in American law) insists on the obligations that the individual has toward the community, toward the social, and, in its most recent formulations, toward France. I propose that human dignity in the French context be considered less as a value intrinsic to a person than as a project of biopolitical rule.

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