Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime: The Creation of Private Property in Russia, 1906-1915

Overview

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, many speculated about the value of Russia's historical experience with market-oriented reform. Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime tells how, in 1906, on the eve of world war and cataclysmic revolution, the Russian government undertook perhaps the most sweeping "privatization" in history, radically changing the property rights regime faced by 90 million peasants.

Stephen F. Williams's examination of property rights reforms in Russia before ...

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Overview

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, many speculated about the value of Russia's historical experience with market-oriented reform. Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime tells how, in 1906, on the eve of world war and cataclysmic revolution, the Russian government undertook perhaps the most sweeping "privatization" in history, radically changing the property rights regime faced by 90 million peasants.

Stephen F. Williams's examination of property rights reforms in Russia before the revolution reveals the advantages and pitfalls of that radical transformation toward liberal democracy at the initiative of a government that could not be described as either liberal or democratic.

As he sets out the key features of the changes, the author also explores the process of liberal reform. He raises key questions: Can truly liberal reform be established effectively from above, or must it be won from the bottom up, by forming groups that extract concessions from the state? Or is liberal democracy simply the product of exceptional historical circumstances and unlikely ever to be fully attained by much of the globe? Examining how the reforms affected productivity, he explores whether they actually aggravated social tensions, pushing Russia away from liberal democracy. And he looks at the pitfalls of top-down liberal reform: laws emerging from a legislative process that largely excludes the most-affected groups, unclear baseline rights, illiberalism, and the risk of half measures.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Many scholars, journalists, and political leaders have discussed the Stolypin agrarian reforms (1906-1914), the most ambitious change introduced in the Russian Empire in the four and a half decades preceding the Revolution of 1917, but no one has focused, as does Williams, on the intriguing question of whether an autocratic regime can unintentionally undertake measures that promote liberal democracy. Williams's work, based on thorough research and judicious analysis, can be read as history or as a case study of a critical question that has relevance for much of the developing world at the present time. Interestingly written and mercifully free of jargon, this excellent book should attract a wide readership."

—Abraham Ascher, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Graduate Center, City University of New York

"Williams probes the obstacle course that a true reformer like Stolypin must run in trying to establish the property rights essential to the rule of law and liberal democracy."

—Hon. Jack Kemp, Founder and chairman of Kemp Partners, former vice presidential candidate, Secretary of HUD, and congressman

"Stephen F. Williams's book provides an authoritative account of the last important reform undertaken by the tsarist government prior to the Revolution. It is thoroughly researched and capably analyzed, thus providing the latest word on the subject."

—Richard Pipes, Baird Professor of History Emeritus, Harvard University

"Fascinating, scholarly, illuminating. Williams tells a truly remarkable tale-one that has considerable interest in itself and that is also full of implications for the institution of private property in general."

—Cass Sunstein, The Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Chicago Law School

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Judge Stephen F. Williams, a Harvard Law School graduate, worked in private practice and then served as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in the 1960s. He taught at the University of Colorado School of Law until his appointment in 1986 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

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