Jour Fixe: Tatiana Borisova: Power Politics and the Problem of the Originality of Russian Law in Late Imperial Russia

Jour Fixe

  • Date: Oct 17, 2016
  • Time: 12:00 - 13:00
  • Speaker: Tatiana Borisova
  • National Research University Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg
  • Topic: Power Politics and the Problem of the Originality of Russian Law in Late Imperial Russia
  • Location: MPIeR
  • Room: Z 01
Jour Fixe: Tatiana Borisova: Power Politics and the Problem of the Originality of Russian Law in Late Imperial Russia

The paper will examine two ways in which the idea of the “originality” of Russian law was exploited by elites in the late imperial period. First, originality was understood as “unlike western Europe” Russia had its own very specific legal path; the monarch was the living law in contrast to western institutionalization of representation and separation of powers. Second, originality was understood in opposition to natural law claims, and it embedded inequality before the law as a fair, legitimate, and even beneficial practice of imperial rule. This legal mythology was elaborated in the first half of the 19th century as a reaction to challenges of revolutionary innovations in the realm of law and power politics in both Old and New worlds. However, from the 1870s to the early 1900s, legal activists heavily criticized the originality of Russian law, as a window-dressing for the state’s bureaucratic law, which was irrelevant to the people, who used their unwritten customs. Within this critique the drawbacks of the procedures of continuation of the Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire - called at that time ‘codification’ - were used to illustrate the irrelevance of the state law both to legal professionals and the people. Legal professionals claimed their monopoly in expertise in the field of lawmaking and interpretation on the basis of ideal-typical Western models according to which they claimed that Russian law was not really law. It seems that both authorities and their critics manipulated the practical needs of the “uncivilized” Russian people. The underdevelopment of the people and their law was to some degree constructed and then to a large degree exploited by both the rulers and the opposition. This originality complex did not concern people themselves who frequently used written law in the courts. Instead it mirrored the rulers’/elites’ inner reflection on practices of law-making and governance, which since 1830s had been institutionalized as Russian legal tradition, different from ideal-typical Western law.

Picture: Count Kokovtsov's speech in Duma, 1912
Source: Wikipedia Commons

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