For over a thousand years in Russia the rule of law was whatever the ruler ordered. Then, the interpretationand application of his decisions depended on those down the line, which in practice may not even be what he intended. It was more like what I call “The Rule of Thumbs.” Everyone had a thumb to put on top of another. Sometime I think nothing has changed. It is what happens in a “top down” bureaucracy. What is understood by “The Rule of Law” by one party, such as the Westerner, may often not be the same it means to another (such as in an autocratic regime, a dictatorship.) Indeed, today laws are being made, and step-by-step they are coming closer to the universal meaning.
In a democracy the laws are made by duly elected representatives of the people. Russia is not there yet. In many ways it is still “The Rule of Thumbs.” Often it seems that everyone seems to have his thumb on someone else, and under the thumb of someone above. Even the lowest guy on the totem pole looks for someone lower on whom he can put his thumb, maybe a parking attendant. As de Tocqueville says, ““The American struggles against the natural obstacles which oppose him; the adversaries of the Russian are men.”
Excerpted from “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia”