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Nikolai Berdiaev and the Russian Origins of Human Rights
In his recent controversial book, Christian Human Rights, Samuel Moyn contends that the twentieth-century international human rights movement emerged directly from the interwar philosophy of Christian personalism. Catholic personalists, according to Moyn, developed a conception of the “person” that centrally shaped the language of “rights” that dominated the post-World War II era. In focusing exclusively on French Catholics, however, Moyn misses the substantial contribution of Russian Orthodox thought to interwar personalism and human rights discourse. In particular, theRussian philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev brought to France a well-developed Orthodox philosophy of personalism and human rights, one which significantly contributed to interwar personalism and to the broader discussion of human rights in twentieth-century Europe. This paper is part of a larger project of recovering the influence of Russian thought on modern European intellectual history.
Ana Siljak is associate professor of history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at Stanford University. Her work and teaching focuses on nineteenth century Russia and intellectual history. Her book on nineteenth-century Russian terrorism, Angel of Vengeance: the “Girl Assassin,” the Governor of St. Petersburg, and Russia’s Revolutionary World (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) was shortlisted for the 2009 Charles Taylor prize in Canada. She is currently working on an intellectual history of the Russian Silver Age, entitled The Art of Life: Religion and Aesthetics in the Russian Silver Age, 1890-1917.