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Article

The rise of the comparative approach in Russian legal scholarship as a factor in the modernization of civil legislation, from Svod Zakonov of 1833 to the Draft Civil Code of 1905

Legal History Review. 2019. Vol. 87. P. 629-650.

In the second half of the 19th century Russian positive law underwent a rapid and profound reform. It is best illustrated by the legislation in the domain of civil law, as one compares the pre-reformed casuistic and inconsistent Svod Zakonov (Digest of Laws) of 1833 and the ‘westernised’ Draft Civil Code of 1905. This transition was largely facilitated by the emergence of a fully-fledged comparative legislation in Russia. 

In this paper I investigate the decisive role of Russian legal scholarship in developing a comparative approach using an original synthesis of several streams of European legal thought, namely Savigny’s Historical School, German Pandectism, the French école de l’exégèse, and Jhering’s sociological approach. I argue that such legal scholars as Meyer, Pobedonostsev, Pakhman, Shershenevich, Annenkov succeeded in overcoming the limits of the pre-reformed, literal knowledge of the Svod Zakonov and began to study Russian civil law as part of the law of the ‘civilised nations’ through dogmatic comparison which resembled the comparative legislation in Western Europe.

The evidence for this claim is taken from the main doctrinal works between 1840 and 1910 which represent both streams of comparison and it is analysed in the framework of comparative legal history. Special attention is paid to the contribution of dogmatic comparison in developing the general part of contract law as a recognisable hallmark of civil law in continental Europe which came to be adopted in the doctrinal writings and the draft legislation of the late Russian empire.