Comparative Politics

Course Description

“ Those who know only one country know no country.”
Seymour Martin Lipset  

Like it or not, we can’t escape politics. We experience politics in action, for example, in international negotiations, government policy choices, our workplace, and even in our own families. As a branch of Political Science, comparative politics attempts to explain the political world: how political system across the world are organized, how they affect the lives of their citizens, and how they change. With its long history, comparative politics has covered many different topics. Political systems and our study of them have both evolved dramatically over time. Despite that progress, political scientists who study comparative politics have not been able to settle on a coherent and comprehensive presentation of their discipline or the sort of agreed upon repertoire of methods for advancing it. Instead, there exists a variety of theories and methods, which often seem to be mutually incoherent and in conflict with one other. However, for want of better, we may consider them as an intellectual toolkit for understanding the contemporary world. During the course we make an effort to explore the formal, public sphere of politics and power relations through a systematic study and comparison of types of government and political systems. The goal of the comparative method is to identify the factors and categories of analysis to effectively compare and contrast different political phenomena. Using the comparative method, we can tackle broader, more complicated questions like these: Are certain forms of representative democracy more effective than others?  Why are some countries extremely prosperous, while others are extremely poor?  How does the degree of authoritarian control by a government drive economic development?  Does culture impact on the quality of governance?

The course proceeds as follows:


 Unit I: The Methodological Core of Comparative Politics

1. What is comparative politics?
What are the main approaches to study of politics as an acedamic discipline? What roles do concepts, models and theories play in political analysis? What is actually comparative politics?

Major Techniques in Comparative Politics
How to compare? Comparative  methods: case studies and  large-N analysis.

Unit II: Governmental Systems    

3. State
Rival theories of the state. What are the main roles of a modern state?
Case-study discussion: Somalia and Liberia

4. Democratic Political Regimes
What are the major regimes of the modern world? What is democracy? How can one measure democracy? Which government systems more democratic, or more efficient?
Case-study discussion: UK, USA, German, and French

5. Non-Democratic Political Regimes
What is autocracy? Why do people support or choose authoritarian regime voluntarily? Why do autocracies have elections?
Case-study discussion: Russian, China, and Iran

6. Political Transition: Regime Change
What lead a country to democratization? What causes autocratization? What makes a country to swing between two regime types?
Case-study discussion: South Africa, Modes of  democratic transitions in Latin America and Eastern Europe, Weimar Republic, Iran, and Hungary

***  Midterm Exam ***

 Unit III: Making and Breaking Governements

7. Legislature and the Executive
What are the main functions of assemblies? How are assemblies organized? What are the essential determinants of parlamentary power? What are the principal functions of political executives? What are the main forms of  goverments? The Politics of Leadership.

8. Multilevel Politics
Does  decentralization   strengthen   or   weaken  good  governance? What  should  be  centralised  and  what  decentralised  to  lower  levels  of government? How do we ensure that the resulting system is as efficient and as democratic as possible?

9. Representation, Elections and Voting
What is representation? How can representation be achieved in practice? Why countries have different electoral system? Are elections democratic/fair? Does election reflect the voice of the majority? What are the features of good electoral system? How can voting behaviour be explained?

10. Political Parties and Party Systems
What is a political party? How can parties be classified? What kinds of party system are there? How does the party system shape the broader political process?

 Unit IV: Economics and Culture as Shaping Factors of Political Regimes

11. The Economic Determinants of Democracy and Dictatorship
What drives economic growth? Does regime type matter? Why the richest countries are democracies? Why some authoritarian countries are wealthy?

12. National Identity. Groups, Interests and Movements
How important is ethnicity, relgion, political attitudes in modern politics? What are the interest groups, and what different forms do they take? Why have new social movements emerged, and what is their broader significance?

Educational Resources

Lecture Notes  József Zoltán Málik: Comparative Politics. Budapest: ELTE, 2016. (forthcoming)


There will be two exams: a midterm and a final examination. The midterm exam will be an essay question, the final exam will consist of short-answer questions covering the entire range of material. They will be as homeworks what you need to write and submit them within 1 week. The weights of both examinations are equal in the final grade. Late homeworks and team works are not accepted. That is to say, collaboration on homeworks is permitted, you may discuss and think over the homework together, but each student has to write his own paper individually and send it to me via e-mail.

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