Legal Nihilism

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nihilism, Legal


a trend in sociopolitical thought that denies the social value of law and considers it to be the least perfect means of regulating social relations.

The first to advance nihilistic ideas with respect to law were the Confucians in China. In contrast to the sociopolitical ideas of such Greek philosophers as Aristotle and Plato, who emphasized the important role of law, the Confucians maintained that society should be administered not with the aid of laws but on the basis of a system of traditional moral principles.

In modern times, juridical nihilistic ideas have been a feature of various theories attempting to justify absolute monarchy as a form of government; in response, thinkers of the 18th-century revolutionary bourgeois Enlightenment insisted that “the rule of men be replaced by the rule of law.”

Legal nihilism in its most extreme form is a feature of anarchism. M. Stirner, P. Proudhon, M. Bakunin, and other anarchists considered the immediate abolition of law and the state a necessary condition for the “liberation of the individual.” Bakunin and his followers extended their negative appraisal of bourgeois law to law in general; in so doing, they lost historical perspective and underestimated the role of law (and the state) in the construction of a socialist society.

In the 20th century legal nihilism has been an integral part of various ultraleftist and ultrarevolutionary programs, notably those of the left-wing (gauchiste) movements that emerged in the late 1960’s in all the major capitalist countries. The legal nihilism of these movements leads to the rejection of the legal means available to the toiling masses in the struggle against the political power of the monopolies; this idea has found expression in the works of Marcuse and others.

Contemporary bourgeois “sovietology,” manipulatively distorting Marxist tenets regarding the withering of law in the future communist society, has often declared legal nihilism to be a feature of Marxism. In reality, the classics of Marxism-Leninism rejected the legalistic world view as the quintessential world view of the bourgeoisie and of legalistic socialism. They have always stressed the important role of law in a class society and its state, calling upon the working class of the capitalist countries to use the law to strengthen its economic and political positions.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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