The Lost Consensus: Unanimity Rule in the Institutional Context

23 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2012

Date Written: November 15, 2012


Beginning in the second half of the 17th century any deputy could dismiss a session of the Polish-Lithuanian parliament by shouting: I do not allow. This political device came to be known as liberum veto, an unceasing subject of controversy. Historians blame it for the decline and subsequent collapse of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In contrast, public choice economists defend unanimity as an optimal rule of collective decision-making and a standard for policy evaluation in a free society. I argue that the role of formal rules depends on the institutional context in which they operate. As the historical circumstances evolved, so did the role and understanding of unanimity. I conclude that the rule of law cannot be protected by formal rules as these are subject to institutional erosion.

Keywords: unanimity, liberum veto, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, self-governance, rule of law, regime drift, formal and informal institutions

JEL Classification: B52, D72, N43, P48

Suggested Citation

Podemska-Mikluch, Marta, The Lost Consensus: Unanimity Rule in the Institutional Context (November 15, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Marta Podemska-Mikluch (Contact Author)

Gustavus Adolphus College ( email )

800 West College Ave.
Saint Peter, MN Mn 56082
United States
(507) 933-6120 (Phone)


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