Richard Thornburgh

Essay
Spring
1990
Richard Thornburgh

"Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet leadership have recognized the need for fundamental legal reform in the USSR, and their emphasis is well placed. Law is the lifeblood of any democratically organized polity. It shapes social and economic structures and relationships, and provides normative rules for private and public conduct. Moreover, given the tradition of Russian absolutism and some seventy years of Soviet totalitarianism, a requisite component of democratization in the USSR must be the development of some form of limitation on government power. This suggests, among other things, a legal system independent of government control". An examination of the importance of establishing the rule of law as a central goal of Soviet reformism, based on a visit to the USSR in Oct 1989, during which "legal, political and even philosophical issues", including pluralism, separation of powers and legal code revision, were discussed at the highest official level. US attorney general, whose visit was the first of its kind. A very important article, despite a lack of detail as to substantive law, as it exposes a basic superficiality in much merely political argument as to whether the West should render massive financial aid to assist post-communist Russian economic recovery, by addressing the key issue of the fitness of the Russian political elite to receive it. It also exposes a truth rarely acknowledged in the security literature, of the high value of a sound jurisprudence as a national strategic asset. A defect of the piece, however, is that it focuses on public law at the expense of private law.