Benjamin Nathans, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History
Nathans' current research explores the history of dissent in the USSR from Stalin's death to the collapse of communism. It traces the paths by which Soviet dissidents found their way to the doctrine of inalienable rights—the world's first universal ideology—and employed rights doctrine in an attempt to place limits on the sovereignty of the Soviet state. How did "legalist" dissidents (pravozashchitniki) appropriate a tradition grounded in conceptions of the human personality antithetical to Soviet ideology and practice? Was the turn to human rights a symptom of the globalization of moral individualism, or did Soviet dissidents in effect reinvent human rights on their own and in their own terms? Even as rights have become the dominant moral language of our time, this project seeks to de-familiarize and de-naturalize them by studying them in the unlikely setting of "mature socialism." It aims, in other words, to give human rights a history.