Throughout history, Rulers have always faced challenges to their rule. These challenges came either from outside aggressors, popular uprisings or Elite conspiracies. The ability of Rulers to respond to these challenges has varied a lot across countries and across time. In our EDI working Paper “A Theory of Power Structure and Institutional Compatibility: China vs. Europe Revisited”, we propose a theory of power structure based on the relative powers of three main actors: the Ruler, the Elite and the People. Our theory is based on two important variables: 1) the absolute power of the Ruler, 2) the level of asymmetry in the power and rights of the Elite vs. the ordinary People.
In the paper, we apply this theory to the historical context of feudal Europe vs. Imperial China, focusing on the period between the 9th-14th centuries. Despite the fact that this research is historical in nature, our framework can fruitfully be applied to today’s world. Most countries do not have a monarch (Emperor, King) anymore, but political power is often held by a smaller group of people who can be challenged any time by the broader group of the elite (the more wealthy, educated, socially connected) or by other groups, especially in autocratic regimes, so our framework can easily be applied to the modern world.