RWAP: Joseph Warren

Wednesday, September 18, 2019
12:00pm to 1:30pm
119 Moses Hall - Harris Room
UC Berkeley

Title: Resistance and the Rule of Law

Abstract: Both preceding and following the American Revolution, 18th century America saw repeated outbreaks of violent protests, called regulator conflicts, directed by small-scale farmers against local colonial and (later) state or federal elites. Yet, after about 1800, these conflicts largely ceased. In this talk, I present a formal model to investigate the decline of these conflicts. In the model, elites can choose to expropriate from a targeted group. But if the targeted group resists expropriation, then elites require citizen support to enforce their policy. Law enters the model as a commonly known threshold beyond which expropriation is considered illegal, and citizens can coordinate around this threshold to constrain elites. But if elites have sufficient resources, then they can buy off citizens in order to make coordination around legal constraints ineffective. In the early republic, I argue, no group of elites had sufficient resources to overcome popular constraints, which facilitated the development of the rule of law and (mostly) peaceful political competition despite the plausible absence of society-wide agreement on constitutional norms. The model helps to explain why legal constraints were effective in the early United States but not other countries, such as in Latin America, with similar constitutional structures.

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