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Article

Петражицкий и современные социально-правовые исследования

Коттеррелл Р.
Translator: В. Дорохин, И. Осветимская.
Editor of translation: M. Antonov.

Leon Petrażycki’s work from the early decades of the twentieth century holds a strikingly paradoxical position in the literature of juristic and socio-legal scholarship. Indeed, the polarisation between available indicators of its status – on the one hand, lauded as a supremely valuable contribution to knowledge and, on the other, widely neglected and little known – may be the most extreme in modern legal theory.

It is true that ‘past and ever new generations of scholars have been drawn to his heritage. Almost all who have devoted serious study to his writings, – and there have been very many throughout the century since they were produced – hold them in high respect. He was called ‘possibly the greatest scholar of law in the twentieth century’ by one of his leading followers at that century’s mid-point. His work ‘unexcelled, even hardly rivalled, by any other theory of law and ethics’ in that era. Reading Petrażycki carefully today, it is hard not to be dazzled by the ambition, imagination and perceptiveness of his thinking and its rigour over an unusually vast intellectual terrain.

He offers not only a systematic and intricate legal theory, utterly different from those that now dominate juristic thought, but also an original system of psychology to underpin it. In addition he provides a blueprint for a new policy science to direct legislation far beyond its usual pragmatic objectives. In doing this he also looks back to identify long-term, scientifically-explicable, historical tendencies of legal development and he looks forward with a morally rich vision of what a truly civilised society of the future might be. He provides many subtle, psychologically-informed insights into the relations of law and morality. And he clearly foreshadows contemporary concerns with legal pluralism, developing one of the most elaborate discussions of this phenomenon in the literature of legal thought. Finally, his distinctive ideas on the nature of social science, developed mainly in unpublished manuscripts and in his teaching, have been publicised by his followers.

Yet this vast intellectual project has not attracted the scale of international interest one might expect. Petrażycki’s contribution to the study of law and society has justifiably been called ‘unrecognised’ and in international debates in socio-legal studies (systematic, empirically-oriented studies of law as a social phenomenon) his name is hardly mentioned. His theories are entirely unknown to most jurists and socio-legal scholars in the English-speaking world. He surely belongs to the intellectual cultures of the main countries where he pursued his career – Russia (in St Petersburg between 1898 and 1917) and subsequently Poland (in Warsaw until his death in 1931). But he does not yet belong to the intellectual cultures of the Anglophone countries where socio-legal inquiries have notably flourished in the past half century.

It has been suggested that ‘literature about Petrażycki is scarce but this is a strange comment. It is true that much of his writing is available only in Russian or Polish, so scholars not having access to these languages cannot hope to evaluate his work in any comprehensive way. But they can hardly be excused for remaining ignorant of his main ideas. Even though the only work by Petrażycki easily available in English is Hugh Babb’s translati (published in 1955) of approximately one fifth of his two primary Russian works, Russian and Polish scholars have written extensively in English and other languages explaining Petrazycki’ s ideas. Nevertheless, the literature of commentary is very scattered. Often it devotes much space to re-iterating the central elements of Petrażycki’s thought. This ceaseless repetition seems necessary because, even after much effort over many decades up to the present day, the ideas are still not internationally established.

This paper asks how far Petrażycki’s theories, as expressed in writings by and about him available to an international readership, might provide insight for contemporary socio-legal studies – not as historical background but as living ideas. What aspects of his work can speak to major current issues and inform current debates? What obstacles stand in the way of this? In trying to answer these questions it is also necessary to ask why most international scholars have been deterred from engaging with his theoretical legacy. The paper starts from this last issue before addressing the others.