Introducing The Reformer: How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution, by Stephen F. Williams

by Peter Conti-Brown — Monday, Nov. 13, 2017

I’m very pleased to introduce a series of posts this week on the fascinating new book, The Reformer: How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution, by Stephen F. Williams.

Regular readers might wonder why a blog on regulation and administrative law would spend a week on a book about Vasily Maklakov, a somewhat obscure intellectual and civil servant in Romanov Russia. Even for our wide-ranging enthusiasms, this might seem a little remote.

I’m glad you asked. The first and less important reason is that the book’s author is that Stephen Williams, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Judge Williams is a giant of administrative law who knows more than just about anyone about the plumbing of the government, especially when it comes to energy law. On a personal note, he is also my old boss and has clerks who have wielded more influence in the academy (and beyond) than those of any other jurist (here I defy clerks from other chambers to convince me otherwise!). His clerks’ intellectual vitality is a big part of Judge Williams’s legacy, which is itself a function of his own varied intellectual interests and the fact that he requires a significant piece of research for applicants’ writing samples. I’ll never forget, for example, telling a nervous candidate who only had the dreaded law firm memo that the judge said her senior thesis on 18th century French literature would meet the requirement beautifully.

The second and better reason is that Maklakov’s life, as told in this book, is the painful, tragic story of what might have been for 20th century history. The theme isn’t just about alternatives to statism and Stalinism, but about the rule of law itself and, yes, regulation and administration. Maklakov as a theorist of the administrative state is a fascinating figure. The book holds key lessons for any scholar, lawyer, or commentator interested in the ideas that justify or condemn different political and institutional arrangements. It deserves to be read widely. If you don’t believe me, surely you’ll believe political activist and chess legend Garry Kasparov, who writes that “The Reformer illuminates the life and times of Vasily Maklakov, one of the most remarkable lives during the most turbulent times in Russia’s history” and “is an essential book for anyone interested in Russian history, but its story is still all too relevant today, when freedom and the rule of law are under assault around the globe.”

Before we turn these digital pages over to Judge Williams, our own Sam Halabi will offer his review. Judge Williams will then take the week to write a series of posts on Maklakov and related topics, and I will offer some concluding thoughts. I hope you enjoy what I’m certain will be a fascinating discussion.

 

 

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About Peter Conti-Brown

Conti-Brown is an assistant professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. A historian and a legal scholar, Conti-Brown focuses on central banking, financial regulation, and public finance.

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