Mike Rossi


Actual Position

Courses » Comparative Politics

Content: Comparative Politics

Table of Contents


This course is an introduction to the comparative study of politics within nations. More specifically, it surveys the institutions of government and the development, or lack thereof, of democracy.  In general, three overarching questions dominate the countries we will study:

  1. Why are some countries democratic and others are not?
  2. Why are some countries more democratic than others?
  3. How did countries get to where they are today?

These may seem like vague questions, particularly for an introductory course but people do not simply “choose” to be democratic or non-democratic. Rather, historical circumstances and the interests of political elites shape political institutions to reflect certain interests to the larger population, and to the world. Thus, while we will be looking at the politics of different countries around the world, we will also be looking at a more general triad relationship between

  1. Political Culture
  2. Political Institutions, and
  3. Political Economy.

Target Group

This introductory course is primarily designed for first and second year undergraduates who are interested in studying international politics and societies. Like most studies on comparative political systems, it utilizes qualitative methods of study such as the comparative method and comparative historical analysis to examine the development and functionality of socio-political institutions. Additionally, the course provides historical backgrounds to countries under study to supplement what is increasingly a student's first exposure to other parts of the world.

Again, while the course is designed for incoming students, the use of scholarly readings has not been a problem when linked with case study materials through class lectures and discussions. Also, I treat this course as a stepping stone for more advanced classes on European political systems, theories of democratic transitions, and studies of political culture. Many readings used here are offered in these higher classes and students have noted the development of a set of arguments and models originally cultivated here.

Course Structure

This course also seeks to blend theory with case study analysis. Thus to avoid simply studying one country after another in survey fashion with little cross-analysis, the course is divided into three main sections: general comparative theory, democratic countries, and non-democratic countries. The two country case study sections are further structured to examine theories and approaches to democracy, democratic consolidation, and reasons why non-democratic governments endure; often with a significant degree of popular support.

The course is divided into three parts, though all will overlap and intersect.

  1. The first part will introduce students to a number of important conceptual and methodological issues of comparative analysis, the primary research method inn comparative politics. We will discuss the classifications of political regimes, examine “empirical” and “normative” definitions of democracy, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the comparative method.
  2. The second part of the course examines democratic country studies. We will cover three country cases: Great Britain, Germany, and India.  Within these cases, we will explore major concepts such as representation of interests; parliamentary versus presidential systems; majoritarian and consensus democracy; accomplishments and setbacks of democratic transformation; and the state’s role in the economy.
  3. The third and final section synthesizes both theoretical approaches with additional country case studies, focusing on the issues of transition to democracy and stability of democratic regimes. We will cover three country cases: Russia, China and Venezuela. Taking what we have learned from the previous two sections, we will examine why some countries become democracies while others do not, and why some democratic countries are more stable than others.

All three sections will examine different structural and process-centered explanations including modernization theory, political culture, history and historical memory, and institutional designs on government.

Work Material

Much of the theoretical material has been adopted from upper level and even graduate level courses. Selections from Robert Dahl's Polyarchy, and Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan's Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation are provided alongside more historical normative observations by Alexis de Tocqueville. The objective is to develop dynamic understanding of what democracy is and how a liberal democratic system functions.

Author Bibliographic Data
Burns, Ric New York: A Documentary Film. Steeplechase Film Productions, 1999 [Bur99]
Dahl, Robert Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. Yale University Press, 1971
Huntington, Samuel “The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century”, in The Global Resurgence of Democracy, Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner eds. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993: 3 - 25 [Hun93]
Kesselman, Mark, Joel Krieger, and William A. Joseph, eds. Introduction to Comparative Politics, 6th ed. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2013 [KKJ13]
Levitsky, Steven and Lucan Way “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism”, Journal of Democracy, vol. 13, no. 2 (April 2002), pp. 51 - 65 [LeWa02]
Lijphart, Arend “Comparative Politics and the Comparative Method”, American Political Science Review, vol. 65, no. 3 (1971), pp. 682 - 693 [Lij71]
Linz, Juan J., and Alfred Stepan Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 [LiSt96]
Ottaway, Marina Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism. Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2003 [Ott03]
O'Rourke, P.J. “The Godfather Decade: An Encounter with Post-Soviet Corruption”, Foreign Policy, December 2000 [Rou00]
Paxton, Robert The Anatomy of Fascism. New York: Vintage Books, 2004 [Pax04]
Tocqueville, Alexis Democracy in America. Penguin Books, 2003 [Toc03]
Wiarda, Howard J. “Comparative Politics Past and Present”, in Howard Wiarda, ed., New Directions in Comparative Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985: 3 - 25 [Wia85]


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