The Dictatorship of the Popes


  • Paper presented at the 2007 EPCS Conference, Amsterdam, at the UCSIA Workshop on “The Political Economy of Theocracy”, at a Lunch Seminar of the Department of History, Università Roma Tre and at the meetings of the Public Choice Society. We would like to thank the participants in those seminars and especially Alberto Aubert, Geoffrey Brennan, Mario De Nonno, Emma Galli, Leopoldo Nuti, Frederic L. Pryor and Renato Moro, as well as anonymous referees for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper.

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This paper takes the view that theocracies are essentially a form of dictatorship and verifies whether this interpretation is empirically supported when applied to the longest lasting example of theocracy, the temporal power of the Popes. The length of its record and the many historical shocks it had to face reveal information about the incentives and constraints that characterize it. We use this information to test some of the predictions of a theory of dictatorship about the durability of, and the source of opposition to the various regimes on data about the Papacy. The results appear to support the theory.