‘Dignitarian Harm’: The Newest Thought Police Rationalization
Occasionally I warn people who share my point of view (or at least some of my values, like the importance of freedom of speech) of something that, from my perch in academic life, I see coming over the horizon. I’m going to do that again now.
As the left (with notable honorable exceptions) veers further in the direction of authoritarianism (what Jonah Goldberg calls “liberal fascism”), you will begin to hear a word (and a phrase) that will be the touchstone of justifications for cracking down on speech that violates norms of political correctness by criticizing conduct or behavior that has been condemned as immoral or degrading by classical, religious, and natural law ethics.
The word is “dignitarian.”
The phrase is “dignitarian harm.”
It will be in the name of “dignitarian harm” (harm to people’s dignity) that more and more people will be fired from or excluded from employment, or denied business, or educational opportunities, or otherwise disadvantaged. Similarly, religiously affiliated academic institutions, health care providers, and social services agencies will be targeted for allegedly causing “dignitarian harm.”
We have here a matter on which libertarians and conservatives (and even old fashioned liberals) can and must unite. The concept of “dignitarian harm” as a justification for restricting civil liberties is profoundly dangerous. It is a rationalization for speech and thought policing. But it’s already appearing in law review articles and even legal briefs. It must not be permitted to gain a foothold in our jurisprudence.
Robert George is Chairman at United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, McCormick Professor of Juriprudence at Princeton University, Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, and author of Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism.