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Stephen F. Williams Book Talk: “The Reformer: How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution”

March 9, 2018 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

“Besides absolutists of the right (the tsar and his adherents) and left (Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks), the Russian political landscape in 1917 featured moderates seeking liberal reform and a rapid evolution toward towards a constitutional monarchy. Vasily Maklakov, a lawyer, legislator and public intellectual, was among the most prominent of these, and the most articulate and sophisticated advocate of the rule of law, the linchpin of liberalism.
This book tells the story of his efforts and his analysis of the reasons for their ultimate failure. It is thus, in part, an example for movements seeking to liberalize authoritarian countries today—both as a warning and a guide.
Although never a cabinet member or the head of his political party—the Constitutional Democrats or “Kadets”—Maklakov was deeply involved in most of the political events of the period. He was defense counsel for individuals resisting the regime (or charged simply for being of the wrong ethnicity, such as Menahem Beilis, sometimes considered the Russian Dreyfus). He was continuously a member of the Kadets’ central committee and their most compelling orator. As a somewhat maverick (and moderate) Kadet, he stood not only between the country’s absolute extremes (the reactionary monarchists and the revolutionaries), but also between the two more or less liberal centrist parties, the Kadets on the center left, and the Octobrists on the center right. As a member of the Second, Third and Fourth Dumas (1907-1917), he advocated a wide range of reforms, especially in the realms of religious freedom, national minorities, judicial independence, citizens’ judicial remedies, and peasant rights.” — Encounter Books

Stephen F. Williams graduated from Harvard Law School in 1961 and practiced in the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton and as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York; he then served as a professor of law at the University of Colorado and as a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, UCLA and Southern Methodist University. He was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by President Reagan in 1986. His first book on Russian history, Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime: The Creation of Private Property Rights in Russia, 1906-15, addressed an effort to enhance peasant property rights, launched in a brief surge of reformist activity.

Judge Williams will be joined in conversation with Joshua Rubenstein, Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University and Associate Director for Major Gifts at Harvard Law School, and author of The Last Days of Stalin (Yale U. Press, 2016) and also, with Alexis Peri, Assistant Professor of History at Boston University and author of The War Within: Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad (Harvard Univ. Press 2017). This talk is co-sponsored by the Harvard Russian Law Students Association.

Lunch will be served.


March 9, 2018
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Event Category:


WCC 2036 Milstein East B


Publicity Contact Name
June Casey
Publicity Contact Email