Mackinder Forum Seminar #25: Dr. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, “Popes vs Kings: Competition and the Creation of Western Exceptionalism”

      Comments Off on Mackinder Forum Seminar #25: Dr. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, “Popes vs Kings: Competition and the Creation of Western Exceptionalism”

On February 7, 2021, 1:30-3:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time, Professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita delivered a remarkable and provocative talk entitled “Popes vs Kings: Competition and the Creation of Western Exceptionalism.” Given the subject of his forthcoming book, the significance of the Concordat of Worms, Bueno de Mesquita enters the debate over the religious and economic origins of the Western exceptionalism.

BIOGRAPHY: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is Julius Silver Professor of Politics at NYU, Senior Fellow Emeritus at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a partner in Selectors, LLC, a consulting firm that uses his game theory models to address government and business problems. His doctorate in political science is from the University of Michigan (1971). He received doctorates (Honoris Causa) from the University of Groningen (1999) and the University of Haifa (2016). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Council on Foreign Relations, a former Guggenheim Fellow, the 2007 recipient of South Korea’s DMZ Peace Prize, former president of the International Studies Association and recipient of many other honors. Foreign Policy magazine has designated Bueno de Mesquita as among the Top 100 Global Thinkers.

Bueno de Mesquita’s recent books include The Spoils of War (with Alastair Smith); The Dictator’s Handbook (with Alastair Smith); The Predictioneer’s Game, The Logic of Political Survival (with Alastair Smith, Randolph Siverson, and James Morrow) and the forthcoming Popes and Kings: Competition and the Creation of Western Exceptionalism. He is the author of 24 books and more than 140 articles, and numerous pieces in major newspapers as well as the subject of feature stories in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, US News and World Reports, The Independent, The Financial Times, Good Magazine, and a 2-hour documentary about his political forecasting.

THESIS: Why Europe and its settler offshoots became exceptionally posperous, free and tolerant compared to the rest of the world after 1100 can be reduced to a surprisingly simple claim: In Europe, the head of religion and the head(s) of state were different people who faced off against one another in long-standing, long-lasting, intense competition for political control. Everywhere else the head of state and of religion were either the same person or one was decidedly more powerful than the other. I propose that European “exceptionalism” is the product of agreements reached in 1107 between the Catholic Church and the kings of England and France and in 1122 between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope. Those Concordats established the rules for selecting bishops and, in doing so, created competition between the sacred and the secular over policy and revenue. The Church sacrificed policy control for money in wealthier dioceses and secular rulers accepted policies that were better aligned with Church interests in poorer sees.

The Concordat of Worms and its companion agreements stimulated the secularization of bishops in wealthier bishoprics and incentivized rulers to stimulate economic growth in order to gain political advantage vis-à-vis the Church. Conversely, the Church was incentivized to limit economic growth wherever it could so as to assure its political dominance. As it was easier to enforce punishments against recalcitrant kings in the dioceses they controlled that were relatively close to Rome, Southern Europe became poorer and Northern Europe became wealthier due to the terms of the Concordat. To achieve greater wealth and the accompanying greater secular control, kings were compelled to incentivize their subjects to increase productivity. This was accomplished by creating parliaments with veto rights over taxation and spending.

As wealth expanded, the new strategic environment translated into the final equilibrium outcome set in motion by the Concordats: divorce from the Church wherever there was sufficient wealth to be able to control both policy and revenue. This break from the Church first arose in France (the Avignon papacy of 1309-1376, 1378-1417 and then with the Protestant Reformation.

Looking across Europe we see that today’s modern countries that in 1122-1309 were signatories to the Concordat and were relatively wealthy now are wealthier, have more freedom, longer life expectancies, less corruption, greater production of patents and science Nobel Prizes per million population than the rest of Europe whether rich and not signatories or poor regardless of whether they were signatories. Today’s exceptionalism traces directly to the new institutions and incentives created by the Concordat of Worms.


Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, “From Investiture to Worms: A Political Economy of European Development and the Rise of Secular Authority,” under consideration with The Journal of Political Economy.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, “The Concordat Game,” Popes and Kings, Public Affairs Press, 2021, forthcoming: chapter 3.