Carolingians at the Doorstep? The Maturing Limited-Access Order of Early Medieval Europe

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North et al. (2009) argue that accounting for different development outcomes requires understanding how different societies manage violence. Almost all societies have been limited-access orders where elites constrain violence to preserve their rents. Alternatively, in open-access orders, violence is constrained by a government characterized by widespread political participation. Open-access societies were the first cases of sustained economic development; almost all of them have been Western European or offshoots. Understanding why is important. North et al. elaborate on three necessary conditions for achieving open access: (1) rule of law for elites, (2) support for perpetually-lived organizations, and (3) centralization and consolidation of violence. These constitute the “doorstep” to an open-access order. I argue that significant progress towards this doorstep was affected by the Carolingians of the early medieval era. I emphasize their large-scale distributions of confiscated/conquered lands to vassals, cultivation of bonds with the Church, and regularization of assemblies. The Carolingians introduced governance innovations that impersonalized relationships between elites and encouraged their enforcement under the rule of law.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
JournalInternational Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society
StatePublished - Mar 2021


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