Representative Institutions, History, and The Origins of Pluralism

Deborah Boucoyannis, George Washington University

What lessons does history offer about how pluralism was first achieved within political institutions, especially representative ones? This question has informed in varied ways most studies of the emergence of democracy and representation. Yet most of these studies focus on the desired outcome: the inclusion of ever greater number of social groups into the democratic fabric, especially of the non-privileged orders, typically either the middle or the working class. Recent works have highlighted the role of trade, artisans, and other commercial activity to explain how representation first emerged (Abramson and Boix 2019; Boix 2015; Stasavage 2011). This follows on a long and venerable tradition dating back to Adam Smith, French nineteenth century liberal historiography, Marx and most modern social scientific classics on the topic, for instance Barrington Moore (1967). Inclusion of non-privileged social orders is of course definitive of both representation and democracy, so understanding this process is fundamental. However, by allowing a functionalist logic to prevail, such accounts have retrojected onto an account of origins a logic that only became operative once institutions were already formed. A closer look at key European cases shows that the most important predictor of whether an inclusive representative institution emerged was the compelled inclusion—and therefore also taxation—of the nobility as the most economically and politically powerful actor. A comparison of England, France, Castile, Catalonia, Poland, and Hungary identifies the superior capacity of the ruler to compel the nobility as a critical factor. The less the crown could compel the nobility to service and taxation, as in France and Castile, the less inclusive its representative institutions turned out to be. No taxation of the elites, no inclusive representative institutions. The paper will present the conclusions of the research presented in my recent book, Kings as Judges (CUP 2021).

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 107. Institutions and Social Change