Putin's Dictatorship of Law Begins Lawlessly

BOSTON: Wide agreement exists among Russian intellectuals as well as foreign observers that one of the most important – if not the most important task – facing post-Soviet Russia is establishment of the rule of law, the foundation of democracy and a free market economy. Yet doubts persist whether President Putin and his associates realize this fact. Some of their actions and pronouncements suggest that in their pursuit of a "strong state," they may be willing to sacrifice law to political expediency.

During nearly all her history, Russia was a stranger to law as a principle binding ruler and ruled. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, tsars knew no legal constraints, such as impeded the absolutism of West European sovereigns. They did not have to respect private property in land because until 1785 they owned all the land. Nor did they have to honor the rights of the nobility, inasmuch as until the middle of the eighteenth century all nobles were their servants. The peasants, who made up nine-tenths of the population, consisted overwhelmingly of serfs of the Crown or the gentry and as such enjoyed no legal rights whatsoever. The first Russian legal codes were compiled in the 1830's and the first effective courts appeared in the 1860's.

Law, of course, did exist but it did not serve to protect people from the arbitrary authority of government: instead, it was an instrument of administration. Suffice it to say that tsarist officials could not be sued without the permission of their superiors. And as for private persons standing up to the government in court, the idea was utterly inconceivable.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in

  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now