Niko Nikoladze: Liberal Nationalism, the Constitution of the United States and International Law

In 1865, when he was a student, young Niko Nikoladze met Karl Marx in London. The latter offered him the opportunity to be the representative of the First International in Transcaucasia, which Nikoladze delicately refused. 
As early as 1863, Niko went to France to continue his studies at the Sorbonne University, where he learned about French socialism. According to one Georgian author, “Nikoloz Nikoladze is our Proudhon, Louis Blanc, Gambetta, Mikhailovsky and others” (Chichinadze 1897, 4). Nikoladze wrote a lot about Proudhon from a critical point of view, although he has never been a Proudhonist or, in general, a leftist. On the contrary, he criticized utopian political theories, such as Bakunin’s anarchism.

Later, Nikoladze moved to Switzerland to continue his studies. In 1867, together with Léon Metchnikoff, he founded the magazine of “Sovrennost” in Geneva. The following year, he graduated from Zurich University with a degree in law. He was the first Georgian who defended his doctoral thesis at a European University (on the topic of “Disarmament and its economic and social consequences”). Since April 1873, he used to publish the magazine of Drosha (“the Flag”) in Paris. Niko Nikoladze had friendly and working relations with famous people of his time, such as Alphonse Daudet, Alexander Herzen, Nikolay Chernyshevsky, Élisée Reclus, Louis Blanc, Karl Marx and Arthur Leist. 

Coming from the third estate, Nikoladze attached great importance to the introduction of capitalist relations in Georgia. He was the first to develop industry and railway transport in Transcaucasia (in 1867-1872. It was on his initiative that the first railway line was created in Georgia). In a previous article, we have already said that the father of Georgian liberalism is considered to be Ilia Chavchavadze, who was often called “Georgian Gambetta”. Ilia was the founder and leader of the Pirveli Dasi (“the First Group”) in Georgia. This was the first generation of the Georgian intelligentsia, who fought for Georgia’s autonomy and separation from the Russian Empire. Nikoladze was a representative of the Second Group, that is, radical democratic current of national-liberation movement. After his return to Georgia, in 1875, Niko Nikoladze worked out the program of municipal reform for Tiflis (the old name of Tbilisi) and went back to the idea of a noble land bank. He “was able to persuade enough nobles to pool their resources to capitalize the bank at a meager 170, 000 rubles” (Suny 1994, 132). There was a serious difference between the views of Chavchavadze and Nikoladze: “As Nikoladze moved toward orthodox liberalism and advocacy of capitalist development for Georgia, Chavchavadze worked to prevent the further decline of the Georgian nobility” (Suny 1994, 132). 

Moreover, Niko Nikoladze is a well-known figure of liberal nationalism.  “For him, nationalism and liberalism are a single concept” (Jijeishvili and Chkhikvishvili 2013, 353). In this regard, he particularly emphasized the importance of protecting human rights and individual freedom. He examined the example of the United States of America, where “there is a complete freedom of speech, of the press, and of conscience, where the citizens are all equal in justice, where one has no advantage over another in descent, the citizens are so careful and jealous of their constitution that they do not allow even their representatives to touch its foundations” (Nikoladze 1962, 385). In fact, he focused on citizenship and self-government. 

Niko Nikoladze discussed issues such as forms of government, rule of law and democracy. Like Montesquieu. He also talked about the principle of separation of powers: legislative, executive (or administrative) and judicial (Nikoladze 1962, 370). As for the forms of government, Nikoladze considered two main ones – monarchy and republic (on the example of England, France and the United States). In 1866, he published his work entitled “Brief Discussion of Various Forms of Government”.  While discussing the republics, Nikoladze preferred the American system. He wrote: “Nowadays, the United States of North America is more excellent than all the republics. The rule and organization of this state is an example for other republics” (Nikoladze 1962, 382). And then he concluded: “the three rights: legislative, executive and judicial are better and more correctly defined in the United States than in the constitutional states of Europe” (Nikoladze 1962, 383). He elaborated on the political system and constitutional arrangement of the United States, and emphasized that “all three rights of the State are defined by the Constitution in such a way that the rights of one cannot subjugate and usurp the other. Therefore, no right can be so strengthened as to abridge the liberty of the people. The President and all civil servants in the United States are accountable to the people for their actions” (Kavtaradze 2012, 70). 

Nikoladze also expressed his opinions about some issues of international relations and international law. According to him, the most convenient principle for separating modern states from each other is European – they would be sorted according to nationality (Jijeishvili and Chkhikvishvili 2013, 355). Later, American President Woodrow Wilson expressed the same opinion (that Europe should have been made up of nation-states). His vision of international law, which should be above the state sovereignty, is important too. At the same time, Niko also supported the idea of humanitarian intervention: if a state violated international humanitarian norms, then other states should have the right to intervene and prevent such an action. He also interpreted the “Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen” of 1789, arguing that the principle of national self-determination should be extended to all peoples, not only to “civilized countries”. 

The work of Niko Nikoladze, of “a person who was ahead of his time”, was truly versatile and fruitful. He witnessed different times and remained faithful to his European ideas: he lived in the Tsarist Russian Empire (1843-1917), then in the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921), and finally in the Soviet Union (1922-1928). On October 31, 1919, the words spoken before the Constituent Assembly of the First Republic of Georgia well express the life credo of “Great Niko”: “If you know history, you will also know that the bourgeoisie created democracy. Socialism created nothing but demagogy and despotism” (Civil Georgia 2023). 


Chichinadze, Zakaria. “Nikoloz Nikoladze”. Tiflis, 1897.

Civil Georgia. “Niko Nikoladze Criticizes the Georgian Government”. 30.06.2023,

Jijeishvili, Keti, and Giorgi Chkhikvishvili. “Niko Nikoladze as One Outstanding Representative of Liberal Nationalism”. In: Niko Nikoladze 170: The Proceedings of International Scientific Conference. Tbilisi, 2023, pp. 353-358.

Kavtaradze, Giorgi. “The Western Values in Georgian Social and Political Thinking (The Sixties of XIX Century and the Beginning of XX Century)”. Ph.D. Dissertation. Saint Andrew the First-Called Georgian University of Patriarchate of Georgia.

Nikoladze, Niko. “Niko Nikoladze, the Life of Europe”. Works, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1962.

Suny, Ronald G. “The Making of the Georgian Nation”. 2nd Edition. Indiana University Press, 1994.