The Mandate of Dignity: Ronald Dworkin, Revolutionary Constitutionalism, and the Claims of Justice

The Mandate of Dignity: Ronald Dworkin, Revolutionary Constitutionalism, and the Claims of Justice

The Mandate of Dignity: Ronald Dworkin, Revolutionary Constitutionalism, and the Claims of Justice

The Mandate of Dignity: Ronald Dworkin, Revolutionary Constitutionalism, and the Claims of Justice


A major American legal thinker, the late Ronald Dworkin also helped shape new dispensations in the Global South. In South Africa, in particular, his work has been fiercely debated in the context of one of the world's most progressive constitutions. Despite Dworkin's discomfort with thatdocument's enshrinement of "socioeconomic rights," his work enables an important defense of a jurisprudence premised on justice, rather than on legitimacy.Beginning with a critical overview of Dworkin's work culminating in his two principles of dignity, Cornell and Friedman turn to Kant and Hegel for an approach better able to ground the principles of dignity Dworkin advocates. Framed thus, Dworkin's challenge to legal positivism enables a theory ofconstitutional revolution in which existing legal structures are transformatively revalued according to ethical mandates. By founding law on dignity, Dworkin begins to articulate an ethical jurisprudence responsive to the lived experience of injustice. This book, then, articulates a revolutionaryconstitutionalism crucial to the struggle for decolonization.


When Ronald Dworkin passed away in February 2013, those of us who are committed to a more just world, and to the great aspirational ideals that represent the very best of liberalism, lost one of our most ardent, insightful, and determined warriors. We dedicate this book to him to celebrate his life and mark the impact of this loss, as well as to explain the significance of his work for current debates about the Constitution of South Africa.

The book was prompted at least in part by our specific history of engagement with Dworkin. For more than twenty years, Drucilla Cornell had the privilege of attending the seminar in jurisprudence and political philosophy at the New York University School of Law, convened by Ronald Dworkin and Thomas Nagel. More recently, prior to the publication of Justice for Hedgehogs (the manuscript of which Dworkin kindly shared with us), the authors began to review the arc of his work and to think about what contributions it could make to the development of South Africa’s still nascent constitutional jurisprudence. Some of that thinking appears in an article of the 2010 Malawi Law Journal, on which some of the chapters of this book are based. It was Dworkin himself who encouraged us to pursue the book, generously commenting on various drafts as we proceeded. We are in his debt for the time and energy he gave us in critical commentary.

We want to thank our two reviewers, Morris Kaplan and David Richards, both of whom made themselves known to us, for their thought-provoking, critical comments on the manuscript. Their insights and criticisms led again to considerable redrafting of the book. As always, the two authors want to thank the women in their lives: Nick’s mother, Rita, and Drucilla’s daughter, Sere="intro">

Introduction: Spectral Life
and the Rhetoric of Terror

SURELY THERE COULD NOT BE, in our time, a book about 9/11 that did not originate in shock. Even the confession of a conspirator, one hypothesizes, would record somehow in its texture the impact of an event outstripping the imaginings of its perpetrators—even though one easily imagines the perpetrators imagining the attacks as precisely the kind of cinematic spectacle they went on to achieve. The shock of the attacks, inseparable from spectacle but irreducible to it, was registered (and thus partly absorbed) by the emergence of a name for this event: a bare name-date, “September 11,” “9/11.” Very quickly the name-date became a slogan, a blank little scar around which nationalist energies could be marshaled.

The two essays that comprise this book try to analyze how “9/11” unfolded and continues to unfold as a haunting event and why the language of war—of a putatively new kind of absolute war, a “war on terror”—so definitively closed down other possibilities for official response to this atrocity. Of course there are immediate and persuasive answers to those questions. The attacks haunt us because they were horrific; because they involved planes and skyscrapers, which form an essential part of modern life and in which we can feel particularly trapped and vulnerable; because they took place in the capital cities of a nation unused to suffering invasive violence; because they targeted and in one case utterly destroyed two prominent military and commercial symbols of the world’s superpower. As for the idiom of war, since this superpower is famously jealous of its sovereignty, highly if erratically militarized in its culture, and, at the time of the attacks, governed by bellicose leaders, one would hardly expect it to have denied itself military acts of vengeance.

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