The Origins of Democracy in England
Rationality and Society, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1991
Posted: 29 Aug 2012
Date Written: October 1, 1991
This article uses a rational choice model of the origins of democracy to analyze the political history of medieval England from the Norman conquest to the Hundred Years War. Why did a country just taken over by a ruler more autocratic than his predecessors develop a political system increasingly dominated by the rule of law and protodemocratic institutions? The authors argue that protodemocratic institutions such as the Magna Carta, Parliament, and an independent judiciary evolved as unintended consequences of the self-interested wealth-maximizing behavior of rulers and some of their subjects. The evolution of contractual relations between rulers and nobles, towns, and Jewish financiers is shown to be consistent with the theory. The article concludes with a discussion of why the rule of law was more secure and protodemocratic institutions were stronger and more enduring in England than in Continental monarchies.
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