Political Science | Intro to Comparative Politics
Y107 | 13639 | Wilkening


A brief analysis of the daily headlines should be enough to inform
the casual reader that the world contains a dazzling variety of
political systems. Far from being the norm, the American system,
with its fifty states, two dominant political parties, and
separately elected president, is rather quite unique. In this
course, we will explore the diverse ways in which political power is
organized in different countries around the world. Why is it that
the U.S. has only two main parties, whereas a number of European
countries have upwards of ten parties in their legislatures? What is
the difference between the American presidential system and the
British prime ministerial system?

Why have countries such as Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia erupted
in ethnic violence, whereas other countries with heterogeneous
populations have been relatively free of inter-ethnic violence? To
answer these questions and others, we will study a number of
particular countries.

Before we turn to specific cases, however, we will look at various
concepts and theories that will help us to cope with and make sense
of the tremendous amount of facts and details that confront us. We
will examine questions like: What is power and why is it exercised
in different ways in different political systems? What is democracy
and why do some countries have more of it than others? What was
communism and what are some of the problems that formerly communist
countries have faced in transforming their political systems? Why
have so many countries in the third world failed to deliver their
citizens from poverty? What role does ethnic and religious identity
play in politics, and in what settings is ethnic cleansing more or
less likely to occur?

Countries that we will look at in helping us to answer these
questions include the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia,
China, Iraq, Iran and others. Grading will be based on regular
reading quizzes, a couple of short writing assignments, and a final
exam.