BRICS Law Journal

Advanced search

Constitutionalism and Political Culture in Imperial Russia (Late 19th – Early 20th Century)

Full Text:


This article analyzes the possibility of development of liberal constitutionalism in the Russian Empire during the post-reform period in the late 19th – early 20th century within the context of European history, of which Russia was an integral component. It argues that the Russian autocracy had the potential to transform itself into a constitutional monarchy during the period that followed the Great Reforms of the 1860s (1861–1881) and, second, during the Revolution of 1905–1906 and in its aftermath. This promising evolutionary process was cut short by World War I and rejected by the Soviet period of Russian history that followed. Obstacles to constitutional government were mostly objective in character, but perhaps the most significant problem was the fragmentation and insufficient development of Russian political culture, or better said, cultures that failed to produce the consensus required for effective creation and functioning of a constitutional regime. This failure was further exacerbated by an evolutionary radicalization of revolutions in modern European history that culminated in October 1917. The author concludes that the events of the late 1980s and the Revolution of 1991 changed the character of the Russian historical landscape and provided the potential for renewed development of a pluralistic political system and a strong civil society that is its precondition.

About the Author

T. Taranovski
University of Puget Sound
United States
Theodore Taranovski – Professor of History, Emeritus, Department of History (retired), 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, Washington, 98416, USA


1. Chapman B. Police State (London: Macmillan, 1970).

2. Dorwart R. The Prussian Welfare State Before 1740 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971).

3. Krieger L. The German Idea of Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957).

4. Kucherov S. Courts, Lawyers, and Trials Under the Last Three Tsars (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1953).

5. Lincoln W.B. In the Vanguard of Reform: Russia’s Enlightened Bureaucrats 1825–1861 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1982).

6. Polunov A. Russia in the Nineteenth Century: Autocracy, Reform, and Social Changes, 1814–1914 (T.C. Owen & L.G. Zakharova (eds.), Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2005).

7. Raeff M. The Well-Ordered Police State: Social and Institutional Change Through Law in the Germanies and Russia, 1600–1800 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983).

8. Rosenberg H. Bureaucracy, Aristocracy and Autocracy: The Prussian Experience, 1660–1815 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958).

9. Russian Officialdom: The Bureaucratization of Russian Society from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century (W.M. Pintner & D.K. Rowney (eds.), Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980).

10. Szeftel M. Personal Inviolability in the Legislation of the Russian Absolute Monarchy, 17(1) American Slavic and East European Review 1 (1958).

11. Taranovski T. The Aborted Counter-Reform: Murav’ev Commission and the Judicial Statutes of 1864, 89(2) Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 161 (1981).

12. Wagner W.G. Marriage, Property, and Law in Late Imperial Russia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

13. Wortman R.S. The Development of Russian Legal Consciousness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).


For citations:

Taranovski T. Constitutionalism and Political Culture in Imperial Russia (Late 19th – Early 20th Century). BRICS Law Journal. 2019;6(3):22-48.

Views: 809

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

ISSN 2409-9058 (Print)
ISSN 2412-2343 (Online)