Sie sind hier: FRIAS Fellows Fellows 2020/21 Prof. Dr. Benjamin Nathans

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Nathans

© Mark Meyer
Universität Pennsylvania
External Senior Fellow
Marie S. Curie FCFP Fellow
Februar - Juli 2020

Raum 02 007
Tel. +49 (0) 761-203 97396
Fax +49 (0) 761-203 97451



  • 2008-12 Chair of Content Committee, Ralph Appelbaum Associates (New York),
    a museum design firm hired to create the Jewish Museum in Moscow
  • Spring 2010 Professeur invité, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
  • 1998-2003 Assistant Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
  • 1995-98 Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies, Indiana University
  • 1992-95 Teaching Fellow, Program in History & Literature, Harvard University
  • 1985 Research Assistant, Wissenschaftlicher Dienst des Bundestags
    (Research Service of the West German Parliament), Bonn


  • 1987-95 University of California at Berkeley, M.A. (1989), Ph.D. (1995) in History Summer, 1989 Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

  • Spring, 1987 Leningrad State University, USSR

  • 1984-85  Universität Tübingen, Germany

  • 1980-84 Yale University, B.A. in History (1984)

Publikationen (Auswahl)

  • “The Real Power of Putin,” New York Review of Books vol. 63, no. 14 (Sept. 29, 2016): 88-92
  • “Talking Fish: On Soviet Dissident Memoirs,” Journal of Modern History 87 (September 2015):579-614
  • “Soviet Rights-Talk in the Post-Stalin Era,” in Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, ed., Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011): 166-190
  • Culture Front: Representing Jews in Eastern Europe (Philadelphia, 2008) 323 pp. Co-edited with Gabriella Safran.
  • Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Late Imperial Russia (Berkeley: 2002; ppb 2004) 426 pp. [Russian: 2007; Hebrew: 2013]


To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause: A History of the Soviet Dissident Movement

My research explores the idea and practice of rights and the rule of law in an unlikely setting: the “mature socialism” of the Soviet Union from Stalin’s death to the system’s collapse. I am interested in understanding the historical contexts in which a diverse cohort of Soviet citizens found their way to the doctrine of inalienable human rights - the world’s first universal ideology - and employed its language in an attempt to transform the USSR from within. Invoking Soviet law to limit the authority of the state, and eventually harnessing international covenants signed by Moscow, Soviet dissidents sought, as one of them put it, “something simple to the point of genius: to live like free citizens in an unfree country.” 

Not surprisingly, that project turned out to be anything but simple. Unlike many of those who have written about them, I do not treat Soviet dissidents as avatars of Western liberalism, nor do I measure their significance primarily by their role in the USSR’s implosion in 1991. Not only did they not intend that outcome, they were, like virtually everyone else, scarcely able to imagine it. Rather, the central goal of the “rights defenders” (pravozashchitniki) was to promote a kind of containment of state power from inside the Soviet order. 

I seek to understand how and why Soviet dissidents - themselves products of Soviet civilization - arrived at a conception of law and human personality so at odds with regnant ideology and practice. Understanding  how orthodoxies contain the seeds of their own heresies promises to shed new light not only on the origins and consequences of rights-based dissent inside the Soviet superpower, but on the broader problem of how citizens of authoritarian societies conceive and act on options for political engagement.