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Article 1: Human dignity

Nia Künzer, football world champion and educationalist: We have come a long way, but we still have much to do.

Nia Künzer, 20.04.2019
Nia Künzer, football world champion 2003
Nia Künzer, football world champion 2003 © privat

The Basic Law begins with the words "Human dignity shall be inviolable" - and not without reason. I consider this sentence central because it shapes the spirit of the Basic Law and thus of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, it goes far beyond any legal text; it forms the basis for peaceful coexistence in general, in other parts of the world as well as here.

Human dignity shall be inviolable.
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 1

For me, this sentence is the legal or collective continuation of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. If everyone adhered to it, a good many of our problems would be solved. I therefore look upon Article 1 of the German Basic Law as a tremendous achievement. With it, the fathers and mothers of the Basic Law made a major civilizing leap.

That human rights are referred to in paragraph 2 as inalienable and as the basis of every human community is a logical clarification of Article 1, but should also be understood in terms of the historical situation on which the Basic Law rests: the disaster of Nazism surely made such a formulation necessary; also the reference to peace and justice in the world, although that should all really be clear.

Have we realised Article 1, do we live in accordance with it? We have come a long way, but we are also far from being perfect: think only of poverty in Germany, inequality of opportunity in education, arms sales to dubious countries, development cooperation with states where human rights are not respected, and much more.

Article 1 of the Basic Law is as topical and urgent today as it was 70 years ago.
Nia Künzer, football world champion, educationalist and UNICEF ambassador

As familiar as Article 1 seems to us, as much as we have internalized its wording, it is not a matter-of-course. We have to keep struggling to realise it over and over again, politicians as well as all other citizens. Work on it never stops. In this way, Article 1 of the Basic Law is as topical and urgent today as it was 70 years ago, even though since then there have been several decades of good democratic tradition in between. Article 1 has lost nothing in its importance and attraction, but above all nothing in the mission to which it commits us.

Basic Law Article 1

(1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.

(2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.

(3) The following basic rights bind legislation, executive power and jurisdiction as directly applicable law.


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