Kings as Judges: Power, Justice, and the Origins of Parliaments

Kings as Judges

This event will present the recently published book by Deborah Boucoyannis, Kings as Judges: Power, Justice, and the Origins of Parliaments. The book offers a new explanation of how representative institutions become the central organs of governance in Western Europe. The answer has typically reflected the belief that representation resulted from weak ruling powers needing to concede rights to powerful social groups. This has generated a polarity between a constitutional West with weak rulers constrained by parliaments and an absolutist East, ruled by over mighty rulers suppressing rights. Boucoyannis shows instead that representative institutions in the West were a product of state strength, specifically the capacity to deliver justice across social groups. Enduring and inclusive representative parliaments formed when rulers could exercise power over the most powerful actors in the land and compel them to serve and, especially, to tax them. This perspective, however, also revises some widely held stereotypes about the failure of constitutionalism in the East, especially the role of collectivism and the unconstrained power of rulers in Russia.


Deborah Boucoyannis teaches Comparative Politics. She is the author of Kings as Judges: Power, Justice, and the Origins of Parliaments. She has also published on the political theory/economy of early liberalism and in international relations. Her work has appeared in Perspectives on Politics, Politics and Society, and other journals. She is currently teaching at George Washington University, was previously an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia, and prior to that, a fellow at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. Her Ph.D. is from the University of Chicago.


Amel Ahmed is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her main area of specialization is democratic studies, with a special interest in elections, voting systems, legislative politics, party development, and voting rights. She examines these issues in historical and comparative perspective and her work combines a regional focus on Europe and the United States. She is author of Democracy and the Politics of Electoral System Choice: Engineering Electoral Dominance (Cambridge University Press, 2013) which won the Best Book Award from the European Politics and Society Section of the American Political Science Association. She is currently completing a new book entitled Conflict and Cooperation: Institutional Sequencing, Legislative Politics and Democratic Stability, which examines the long-term impact of institutional sequencing on party formation, legislative dynamics, and political development. Her work has appeared in various journals including: Comparative Political Studies, Perspectives on Politics, Democratization, Studies in Comparative International Development, and Journal of Politics

Sebastián Mazzuca is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He graduated in Political Science (MA, PhD) and Economics (MA) from the University of California at Berkeley and has been a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Academy for International and Area Studies. His work focuses on state formation, regime change, and economic development. On state formation, he published the book Latecomer State Formation: Political Geography and Capacity Failure in Latin America with Yale University Press (2021). On democratization, he co-authored Middle-Quality Institution Trap with Gerardo Munck (Cambridge University Press, 2020). His articles have been published in the American Journal of Political Science, Comparative Politics, National Bureau of Economic Research, Studies in International Comparative Development, Journal of Democracy, Hispanic American Historical Review, Qualitative & Multi-Method Research, and the Oxford Handbook of Political Science.


Harris Mylonas is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University and Editor-in-Chief of Nationalities Papers. He is the author of The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

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This event is on the record and open to the media.