Public Debt and the Birth of the Democratic State: France and Great Britain, 1688-1789

By David Stasavage | Go to book overview

7
The Stability of Representative Institutions
in France and Great Britain

1. Introduction

In Chapter 2’s theoretical discussion I assumed that political actors respect the basic rules of representative institutions. This has been a useful simplifying assumption to aid development of my arguments. Ultimately, however, the question needs to be asked: What happens if the losers from legislative bargaining are not obliged to respect the rules of the political game? Will the arguments developed in Chapter 2 hold up if one drops the assumption that those in the minority must accept a majority decision no matter how distasteful they find it? Another question involves the role of monarchs in their dealings with representative assemblies. What prevents a ruler from pitting different factions in an assembly against one another and subsequently subverting the legislature’s prerogatives? From an empirical point of view there are also important questions to answer. Why did the vast majority of Tories in England after 1715 accept the policies chosen by a Whig majority, rather than resorting to extraconstitutional tactics? Likewise, it would be useful to understand why British monarchs after 1688 did not profit more directly from the conflict between Whigs and Tories to pursue a strategy of divide and rule. Finally, in the case of France one would need to explain why factions within the French Constituent Assembly (1789–91) and the Legislative Assembly (1791–92) repeatedly resorted to extraconstitutional tactics.

This chapter explores the determinants of democratic stability by relaxing the assumption that politicians must accept the policies chosen by a majority. I extend the model from Chapter 2 by allowing the minority player an “outside option” of resorting to extraconstitutional measures to try and overturn majority decisions. Two main conclusions appear

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