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.
Baird Professor of History Emeritus, Harvard University
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 the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and congressman
STANFORD— The United States has a set of property laws developed over a long period. By contrast, Russia in 1906 lacked a fully developed system of private property. “The rights were reformed from above," Stephen F. Williams said, "in an effort to establish something like what we have in the United States."
In Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime: The Creation of Private Proper in Russia, 1906—1915 (Hoover Institution Press, 2006), Williams tells the story of how, in 1906, the Russian government undertook perhaps the most sweeping “privatization” in history, radically changing the property rights regime faced by 90 million peasants.
As it sets out the key features of the changes, the book also explores the entire process of liberal reform, including
Whether a true move toward liberal democracy can be effectively accomplished from above by an elite group that sees economic and political advantages in more secure property rights for others but is not responding to pressure from the groups receiving additional rights. Alternatively, can liberal reform only be won from the bottom up, by new groups’ extracting concessions from the state?
How the reforms affected productivity; and whether they actually aggravated economic inequality, thereby pushing Russia away from liberal democracy?
The social gains of the reforms: to what extent did they free peasant farmers from artificial constraints and enable them to become more risk-taking, self-confident, and independent?
The pitfalls of top-down liberal reform: the usual perils of legislation when the most-affected groups are almost completely missing from the legislative process; the problems of unclear baseline rights; crude implementation arising from the regime’s illiberal character; the risk of half measures; and the simultaneous pursuit of policies tending to defeat the reforms.
Judge Stephen F. Williams, a Harvard Law School graduate, 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.
Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime:
The Creation of Private Property in Russia, 1906–1915
by Stephen F. Williams
ISBN: 0-8179-4722-1 $15.00 paperback
300 pages November 2006