Felix ElsnerFelix Elsner

Grundgesetz – Article 1: Human Dignity and Rights

Articles 1 through 19 concern the fundamental rights of every citizen.

Art. 1 concerns human dignity, human rights, and the binding nature of human rights.

It stipulates:

  1. Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.
  2. Das Deutsche Volk bekennt sich darum zu unverletzlichen und unveräußerlichen Menschenrechten als Grundlage jeder menschlichen Gemeinschaft, des Friedens und der Gerechtigkeit in der Welt.
  3. Die nachfolgenden Grundrechte binden Gesetzgebung, vollziehende Gewalt und Rechtsprechung als unmittelbar geltendes Recht.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

The dignity of humankind is untouchable. To esteem and protect it is duty of all state power.

Coming out of the Second World War, the atrocities committed there let the drafters and signatories of the Grundgesetz place a high value on protecting the inviolableness of every single individual rather than nationalistic sentiment. Not liberty, but human dignity is the greatest good.

A piece of semantics: We’ll get to international law(‘Völkerrecht’) later, but “crimes against humanity” is not translated “Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit”, but rather “gegen die Menschheit”. Critics such as Hannah Arendth rightfully bemoan the degradation of the powerful language of “crimes against humanity itself” in the German version as “crimes against humaneness”; as if only proper etiquette was violated.

Paragraph 2 states:

The German people thus profess the infrangible and inalienable nature of human rights as basis of any human community, of peace, and of justice in the world.

The infrangibility and inalienability has limits in special circumstances, as laid out in art. 17a through 19 and art. 104, among others. Interesting is the inclusion of peace and justice around the world, if only as an observation as to effective guiding principles.

Paragraph 3 states:

The following basic rights bind legislation, executive power, and judicature as actual applicable law.

This paragraph translates the preceding two into justification for the following of the 18 articles concerning the Grundrechte.

In conclusion, Article 1 upholds humankind itself and stresses the duty of the German people to acknowledge and take responsibility for any action and inaction taken. The applicable reach of this law is local, the reach of responsibility bestowed upon the German people is global. The abstract concept of the dignity of man is set as the cornerstone of all justification of the Grundgesetz.

This article is part 2 of the “Grundgesetz” series.