The Ecclesiastical Roots of Representation and Consent

The Ecclesiastical Roots of Representation and Consent

by Jørgen Møller, Aarhus University

Recent attempts to explain the development of medieval representative institutions have neglected a long-standing insight of medieval and legal historians: Political representation and rule by consent were first developed within the Catholic Church following the eleventh-century Gregorian Reforms and the subsequent “crisis of church and state”. These practices then migrated to secular polities in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This was facilitated by the towering position of the Church in medieval society in general and the ubiquitous “areas of interaction” between religious and lay spheres in particular. I document these processes by analyzing the initial adoption of proctorial representation and consent at political assemblies, first, within the Church, then in lay polities. These findings corroborate recent insights about the importance of religious institutions and diffusion in processes of regime change, and they shed light on the puzzling fact that representation and consent—the core principles of modern democracy—only arose and spread in the Latin west.

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Perspectives on Politics, Volume 16Issue 4, December 2018, pp. 1075-1084