Who Are the Legal Nihilists in Russia?

41 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2012

See all articles by Kathryn Hendley

Kathryn Hendley

University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School; University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science

Date Written: January 30, 2012


Post-Soviet Russia is generally thought to be a hotbed of legal nihilism. Yet no one has ever studied the level of legal nihilism systematically. In this article, the author uses data from two rounds of the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey of the Higher Economic School (RLMS-HSE) to explore the level of legal nihilism, and the identity of Russian legal nihilists. As to the identity of nihilists, three hypotheses are explored. First, the author probes the link between well-being and nihilism. Second, the author looks whether those who hold various political beliefs are more or less likely to be nihilists. Finally, she looks at the role of age. The analysis confirms some aspects of the common wisdom, but also provides some surprises. Those at the two ends of the economic spectrum emerge as more likely to hold nihilistic attitudes. The rich have been able to bend the law to their pleasure, and the poor are resentful of being unable to do so. Those who are hostile to democracy tend to be nihilists, as do those who support Putin. A bigger surprise lies in the generational hypothesis. Typically it is argued that the oldest generational cohort, namely those born before 1940, who lived through the worst excesses of the Soviet era, are the most cynical about law. Yet the data shows just the opposite. This oldest generation emerges as the least nihilistic. Those who came of age under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, many of whom were devastated by the economic turmoil of the 1990s, turn out to be the most nihilistic.

Keywords: Russia, legal culture, legal nihilism

JEL Classification: K40, P3

Suggested Citation

Hendley, Kathryn, Who Are the Legal Nihilists in Russia? (January 30, 2012). Post-Soviet Affairs, Forthcoming, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1187, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1995525

Kathryn Hendley (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School ( email )

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University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science ( email )

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