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On the day before my first interview with Arthur Koestler I mentioned his name to a professor of physics at a leading British university with whom I was having lunch. He rose to it with great interest.
Surprisingly, he had not read Darkness at Noon or any of Koestler's other novels or his essays. He was not even aware that many people, including me, consider Darkness at Noon one of the great political novels, indeed one of the great novels, of the century and Koestler's two-part autobiography one of the great autobiographies. And he knew nothing of Koestler's extraordinarily eventful life, save the fact that, like most intelligent people, he was born Hungarian.
But my luncheon, companion had read one of Koestler's nonfiction books, The Sleepwalkers, which touched on his own field, and it was this that aroused his enthusiasm.
The story goes that when Jimmy Carter heard that a man named Menachem Begin had won the Israeli elections, he asked: “Menachem who?” Menachem Begin did not come out of nowhere. He directed one of the most stormy chapters of twentieth-, century history: the Jewish underground Irgun's war against British rule in Palestine in the 1940's. Afterwards he was for twenty-six years Israel's most prominent opposition leader and, for three years following the 1967 Six-Day War, a minister in the National Unity government. However, when the stunned world heard the news that Menachem Begin was about to become prime minister of Israel—a critical country in a critical region at a critical time—its governments and media had no idea who this man was. The frightened cry, “God Almighty, who is Begin?” echoed in a hundred languages in editorial offices, in foreign ministries, offices of heads of government, and intelligence headquarters.
Who discovered human rights, not as a U.S. policy, but as a fundamental aspiration of human beings everywhere, to which all are entitled? If the challenging thrust of President Jimmy Carter's human rights policy is meeting resistance in his own country, is it perhaps because of conveniently comforting doubts about the universality of human rights—for instance, the notion that in too many places on this planet, rights have not yet been “discovered“?
I call this collection of doubts and fears the BHK syndrome, because it is suggested by three principal sources, the first two predictable—William Buckley, Jr., and William Randolph Hearst, Jr.—the third not quite expected—George F. Kennan.
The BHK syndrome would begin by dismissing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, that inventory of the rights of man that is the total substance of democracy, as a document not quite fully understood by people from its non-Western signatories.