A Hobbesian Existence

hobbesian011308.jpgThe author Simon Sebag Montefiore has a must-read op/ed in the New York Times about Russia’s lack of a mechanism to transfer power from one leader to the next.

Vladimir Putin wants his successes in Russia to be respected by the West; hence he did not simply ignore the Constitution and stay in the presidency. He and his grandees believe in the idiosyncratic style of authoritarian democracy that has restored Russian prestige (although his courtiers are also keen to preserve their power and wealth).(…)

If the Russians are happy with it, should their peculiar semi-modern, semi-medieval system concern us? A superb book called “Flawed Succession,” edited by Uri Ra’anan in 2006, examines four 20th-century Russian successions and suggests it does: “The absence of a transparent, consistently implemented, non-arbitrary transfer of power mechanism,” writes Professor Ra’anan, means that power is “transferred inevitably by coups, whether through covert opaque manipulations … or physical elimination.” Without such a mechanism, “a democracy cannot be established,” nor can rule of law or a civic society.

Clearly, this lack of civic society affects the way rulers rule. Russia is so feudal in its system of patronage and reward that it is virtually impossible for a leader to hand over power without controlling his successor or at least receiving an exemption from prosecution — something Mr. Putin granted his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, in 1999. Leaders, writes Professor Ra’anan, “are condemned to lead a Hobbesian existence, fearing the penalties that come with loss of power.”