Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Igor L. Kavass

First Page



It would be a mistake to assume that the concept of human rights as an ethical precept is an invention of recent origin. The shelves of libraries throughout the world are filled with books which either endeavor to define the inalienable rights of individuals or record the sad history of their constant and relentless abuse. Many of the world's greatest literary creations, from the Greek drama onward, chronicle man's cruelty to man. What is more effective in evoking a feeling of indignation about the perversity of human misery and suffering than the unforgettable books of writers with such culturally and ethically different backgrounds as Dickens, Dostoevski, and Zola, or their modern successor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who in terms of his Weltanschauung stands closer to the 19th century religious mystics than the 20th century theoreticians.

With a few noteworthy exceptions, one of which happens to be Solzhenitsyn, there is an obvious distinction in the treatment of the human rights question between the earlier writings and the published works of the past thirty years. The earlier writers lacked a firm doctrinal base for their condemnation of human rights abuses. Instead, they had to rely on the compassion and fundamental humanitarian feelings of their readers. From time to time, they referred also to obscure natural law doctrines which, with their religious underpinnings, became increasingly unpopular in the wake of strong anticlerical sentiment in the 19th century.