Course of Human Events

Kevin Lewis

July 04, 2021

Pandemics and Political Development: The Electoral Legacy of the Black Death in Germany
Daniel Gingerich & Jan Vogler
World Politics, forthcoming


Do pandemics have lasting consequences for political behavior? The authors address this question by examining the consequences of the deadliest pandemic of the last millennium: the Black Death (1347-1351). They claim that pandemics can influence politics in the long run if the loss of life is high enough to increase the price of labor relative to other factors of production. When this occurs, labor-repressive regimes, such as serfdom, become untenable, which ultimately leads to the development of proto-democratic institutions and associated political cultures that shape modalities of political engagement for generations. The authors test their theory by tracing the consequences of the Black Death in German-speaking Central Europe. They find that areas hit hardest by that pandemic were more likely to adopt inclusive political institutions and equitable land ownership patterns, to exhibit electoral behavior indicating independence from landed elite influence during the transition to mass politics, and to have significantly lower vote shares for Hitler's National Socialist Party in the Weimar Republic's fateful 1930 and July 1932 elections.

The legacy of representation in medieval Europe for incomes and institutions today
Jamie Bologna Pavlik & Andrew Young
Southern Economic Journal, forthcoming


Why can some governments credibly commit to the rule of law and protection of property rights while others cannot? A potential answer involves deep historical traditions of institutions that constrain rulers. We explore whether experiences with representative assemblies in medieval/early modern Europe have left their mark on incomes and institutions today. We employ Stasavage's (2010) data on representative assembly activity in 30 medieval/early modern European polities and the Putterman and Weil (2010) data on descendancy shares from circa 1500 populations to construct country-level measures of historical assembly experience. We find that assembly experience is positively correlated with a measure of the rule of law and property rights and the Polity IV index that emphasizes constraint. Our estimates imply an important advantage for countries with assembly experience -- an increase in experience from zero to that of an average Stasavage country would improve the country's property rights score by nearly 1.5 points.

Rice farming, culture and democracy
James Ang, Jakob Madsen & Wen Wang
European Economic Review, July 2021


This paper proposes that societies with a rice farming legacy tend to be less democratic today than societies with a wheat farming legacy. We argue that rice cultivation is associated with the adoption of a collectivist culture, which in turn fosters greater conformity pressures on political norms and deters democratization. Conversely, a wheat farming legacy leads to the development of individualism, which in turn promotes democracy. Using the rice-wheat suitability ratio for a sample of 146 countries as an exogenous variable for rice farming culture, we find that the rice-wheat suitability ratio is a deep-rooted determinant for the formation of democratic institutions through a culture of collectivism vs. individualism.

How Legacies of Geopolitical Trauma Shape Popular Nationalism Today
Thomas Soehl & Sakeef Karim
American Sociological Review, June 2021, Pages 406-429


Geopolitical competition and conflict play a central role in canonical accounts of the emergence of nation-states and national identities. Yet work in this tradition has paid little attention to variation in everyday, popular understandings of nationhood. We propose a macro-historical argument to explain cross-national variation in the types of popular nationalism expressed at the individual level. Our analysis builds on recent advances on the measurement of popular nationalism and a recently introduced geopolitical threat scale (Hiers, Soehl, and Wimmer 2017). With the use of latent class analysis and a series of regression models, we show that a turbulent geopolitical past decreases the prevalence of liberal nationalism (pride in institutions, inclusive boundaries) while increasing the prevalence of restrictive nationalism (less pride in institutions, exclusive boundaries) across 43 countries around the world. Additional analyses suggest the long-term development of institutions is a key mediating variable: states with a less traumatic geopolitical history tend to have more established liberal democratic institutions, which in turn foster liberal forms of popular nationalism.

The Legacies of Atrocities and Who Fights
Soeren Henn & Connor Huff
University of Chicago Working Paper, June 2021


How do the legacies of atrocities shape who fights? We argue that past atrocities shape local grievances and economic incentives. Increasing grievances make individuals more likely to rebel, and less likely to fight for the perpetrator. When organizations use material incentives to recruit, worsening economic conditions increase the incentives to fight. We study how the atrocity of the 1845-1849 Great Famine affected whether Irishmen fought for or against Britain. Leveraging data on over 150,000 Irish combatants, we show that individuals in places more severely affected by the Famine fought in the pro-British Irish Militia and the WWI British military at lower rates. However, they rebelled against Britain at higher rates. Additional quantitative evidence suggests that historical grievances shaped the choice to fight for both sides, while increasing opportunity costs only mattered when organizations paid combatants. We demonstrate how the memories of the past, and economic conditions in the present, shape who fights.

Networks and Long-Term Cultural Change: How Communities Scale into Civilizations
Hilton Root
George Mason University Working Paper, June 2021


We analyze structure and function in the network design of historical regimes to build a theory for the development of societies and states from endogenous mechanisms of social change. We use historical evidence from China and Western Europe to show how their respective network structures evolved independently but share a global property: both are small world, meaning that any node in the network can reach any other node by a small number of steps. Probing the variations in network topologies and their role in diffusion and scaling, we account for differences in formal institutions, interpersonal trust, cultural norms, and moral protocols. Network analysis allows us to move the discussion of the divergence of East and West beyond the conventional, centralized China versus decentralized Europe debate.

Blood is Thicker than Water: Family Size and Leader Deposition in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Andrej Kokkonen et al.
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


Are large families a liability or an asset for an autocratic ruler? In this paper, we show that in medieval and early modern Europe, relatives protected monarchs from challenges from their elite groups, thus reducing their risk of being deposed. Women reduced the risk of both depositions from outside and from within the family, whereas men primarily reduced the risk of outside depositions (as well as the risk of civil wars breaking out). This is demonstrated in a statistical analysis of 27 European monarchies spanning the time period 1000-1799, which enlists new data on royal offspring, siblings, and paternal uncles and aunts. These findings not only elucidate power dynamics in the medieval and early modern world of dynastic politics, but also have implications for present-day authoritarian states where institutions are weak and personal relationships retain their importance.


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