The Origins of Democracy in England

Rationality and Society, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1991

Posted: 29 Aug 2012

See all articles by Edgar Kiser

Edgar Kiser

University of Washington - Sociology

Yoram Barzel

University of Washington

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.

Suggested Citation

Kiser, Edgar and Barzel, Yoram, The Origins of Democracy in England (October 1, 1991). Rationality and Society, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1991, Available at SSRN:

Edgar Kiser (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Sociology ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States
206-543-7290 (Phone)
206-543-2516 (Fax)

Yoram Barzel

University of Washington ( email )

Box 353330
Seattle, WA 98195-3330
United States
206-543-2510 (Phone)
206-685-7477 (Fax)

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics