AP COMPARATIVE GOVT
THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS
Presentation based on
Patrick O’Neill’s
Essentials of Comparative Politics, 3rd Edition
What is Comparative Goverment &
Politics?
POLITICS: basically is all about power, the
struggle in any group for power that will giver
them the ability to make decisions for the larger
group
 POLITICS is everywhere!
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– Office Politics, sexual politics, family politics, politics
in academia, national politics, global politics...
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Comparative Politics—compares this stuggle for
power across countries
The Comparative Method
QUANTITATIVE METHOD (empirical data):
gathering of statistical data across a large
number of countries to look for correlations and
test hypotheses about cause and effect. More
“objective” and breadth over depth.
 QUALITATIVE METHOD (normative value
judgments) Mastery of a limited number of
cases through the detailed study of their history
and culture, can’t be limited to numbers. Depth
over breadth.
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Quantitative v. Qualitative Methods
Limits of Quantitative Method: “What is
important to study cannot be measured
and what can be is not important to
study”
 Limits of Qualitative Method: studies are
mere description and story telling, and too
biased
 We need a little of both...
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Comparative Govt
as a Social SCIENCE
Uses scientific method—hypothesis, variables
(independent and dependent) and we look for
correlation and causation
 Problems:
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– Political scientists can´t control for the variables bc
they are a function of real world politics, hard to
establish causation
– Variables are too varied! Countries are SO diverse in
economics, culture, geography, resources, and
poltiical structures—you can’t possibly control for
these differences
– Limited number of cases...not a large enough sample
size (political world not like the natural world)
Correlation v. Causation
Correlation: when a change in one
variable COINCIDES with a change in
another. Causation may be present, but
not necessarily.
 Causation: One variable causes or
influences another
 Example: Golden Arches Theory of Conflict
Prevention (correlation—yes,
causation???)
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Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics
Aristotle (384-322 BCE): not concerned with
ideal political system, but instead with analyzing,
comparing and understanding the way different
poltical systems worked and understand their
relative strengths and weaknesses.
 Empirical science of politics with a practical
purpose STATECRAFT (how to govern)
 Separated study of politics from philosophy
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Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics (cont)
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Machiavelli (1469-1527): first modern political
scientist
Pragmatism—mechanics of govt, diplomacy,
military strategy and power.
It’s all about POWER, how you get it, how you
keep it, how you lose it, etc.
Ideals have no place in politics—quest for power
will always conflict with moral values
Machiavellian: referring to someone cunning,
devious, ambitious, unscrupulous, with no moral
standards, etc.
Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics (cont)
16th and 17th centuries: Thomas Hobbes and
John Locke...advocated particular political
systems on the basis of empirical observation
and analysis, social contract, consent of
governed, etc.
 18th century: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Baron
de Montesquieu...writings on separation of
power and civil liberties impact the American
Constitution and other subsequent ones...
 19th-20th centuries: Karl Marx and Max
Weber...analyses of nature of poltical and
economic organization and power
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Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics (cont)
In early 20th cent, field was limited and
ethnocentric, Europe, description over
explanation or prediction...how not why
Traditional Approach
 REALITY CHECK: rise of fascism & communism,
WWII, Cold War... New questions for this new
world
 Post WWII scholars believed the field must
become a true science...science would lead
politics and like all things in the Cold War,
political science became part of the battle
between the new superpowers.
 Largely conservative discipline...
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Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics (cont)
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Political science becomes a very conservative
discipline
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MODERNIZATION THEORY: As societies
develop, will become capitalist democracies.
The US & West were ahead, the others would
catch up, unless their evolution was sabotaged
by alternative systems like communism.
– MODERNIZATION THEORY is a set of hypotheses
about how countries develop
Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics (cont)
BEHAVIORALISM no longer descriptive study
of politics, no we talk about causality,
explanation and prediction. Look at rational
choice theory as predictor for individual political
behavior...quantifiable, use logic.
– BEHAVIORALISM is a set of methods with
which to approach politics.
– Deductive, large scale research over the
single case study common in inductive
reasoning (more scientific
 Quantitative over qualitative method.
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Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics (cont)
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POST BEHAVIORALISM
– Rejection of a grand theory of politics;
criticism of modernization theory as Western
biased and inaccurate; diversity of methods
and politicla approaches, emphasizing issues
as gender, culture, environment and
globalization.
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Now the big arguments are over:
– Methodology quantitative vs qualitative
– Rationality rational choice/ game theory as valid predictors for
human behavior vs. historical complexity and idiosyncratic
behavior
Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics (cont)
1960s: questioning behavioralism, ideological
bias (don’t want to understand, just impose
Western model)
 1970s – 1980s: lots of fighting within the
discipline—ideological and methodological
debates
 Three major events shake up the field:
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– Rapid industrialization in Asia
– Collapse of communism in Eastern Europe & USSR
– “Third Wave” of democracy—mainly in Latin America,
Asia and Europe
– Also...rapid spread of democracy
Disciplinary History
of Comparative Politics
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Where are we today???
– Fukuyama’s “End of History”
– Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”
– Benjamin Barber “Jihad vs. McWorld”
– GLOBALIZATION debate...yes, it’s happening,
but its results are very different.
– Continued integration and trade, inequalities,
destruction of local cultures, indigenization of
elites, backlash against globalization
Comparative Government =
Comparative Institutions
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INSTITUTIONS organizations or patterns of activity
that are self-perpetuating and valued for their own sake,
rules, norms, values that give meaning to human
activity, stable, long lasting organizations that help turn
political ideas into policies.
Ex: Football is a Brazilian institution, Baseball is an
American institution but soccer is not; democracy can be
an institution, taxes in US vs. Nigeria, NHS in Britain, etc.
People ususally defend institutions...glue of society
Institutions are good because they persevere, but they
often resist necessary change...its hard to get people to
change institutions (Ex: 2nd Amendment in the US,
Electoral College).
Some political institutions: army, elections, the STATE!
Reconciling Freedom and Equality:
A core political issue
Politics is struggle for power, but what are
we fighting for?
 Individual freedom vs. Collective equality
 These are both viewed in terms of
JUSTICE.
 The big question: Does one necessarily
come at the expense of the other? Is this
really a zero-sum issue?
 Maybe these should reinforce each other...
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Matrix of Freedom and Equality
THE MATRIX OF FREEDOM AND EQUALITY
High Freedom
High
Equality
Low
Equality
Low Freedom
EQUALITY IS EQUALITY?
EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY (the ideal of
equality championed by capitalism, everyone
has an equal opportunity to succeed...but does
this really exist? Or do some people have more
opportunities? Or do some people just have to
do more to get to those opportunities?
 EQUALITY OF RESULT (the ideal of equality
championed by socialism—everyone will share
through wealth redistribution to eliminate
inequalities, all have 1 house (not you have 5, I
have none)
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States
Weber: “State is the organization that maintains
a monopoly of violence over a territory”
 Highly institutionalized, not easily changed
 Has Sovereignty: ability to carry out policies
within their borders independently from
interference from inside or outside forces
 Usually has institutions like army, police,
taxation, judiciary, social welfare system, etc.
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Nation
Group of people bound together by a
common political identity
 Nationalism—sense of belonging and
identity that distinguishes one nation from
another...patriotism is pride and loyalty
 Stateless nations: Palestinians, Native
Americans in US, Quebecois?
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Regime
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Rules that a state sets and follos in exerting its
power are referred to as a REGIME
Endure beyond individual govts and leaders,
institutions and practices
Institutionalized, but can be changed by
dramatic social events like a revolution
Often embodied in a constitution
Regimes: Democratic or Authoritarian systems,
Baathist regime in Iraq, France and all its
republics—each is a regime, etc.
Government
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Leadership or elite in charge of running the state
Weakly institutionalized
Elected officials, like president or PM, or
sometimes unelected officials in authoritarian
regimes
Limited by the existing regime
(USSR-State, Communist Regime, Khruschev
govt, Gorbachev govt...then revolution and
regime change!)
State-Regime-Govt
State is the Computer, the CPU, the
machinery, the hardware
 Regime is the operating system or the
software that determines how it will
operate
 Government is the operator or user, that
tells the institutions what to do,
implements policies, etc.
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Political Organization
If you believe in the institutions of democracy...
Political organization is viewed as a consensus,
with people willingly surrendering some of their
power in order to gain greater security and
prosperity Democratic rule
 Politics is by its nature coercive, the state is
domineering and it creates unequal relations.
Individuals are brought together by a ruler who
imposes authority and monopolizes power.
Security though domination Authoritarian rule
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Legitimacy
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Right to rule—as viewed by their citizens
Max Weber—three forms of legitimacy:
– TRADITIONAL: tradition should determine who should rule and
how, monarchy, based on heredity, myth, legend, rituals and
ceremonies reinforce authority. Ex: Prince in Saudi Arabia,
Queen of England
– CHARISMATIC: based on dynamic personality of indiv leader or
small group. Ex: Napoleon, Jesus, Mohammed, Martin Luther
King, Gandhi, Lenin, Castro, Che, Chavez still in power, etc.
– RATIONAL-LEGAL: based on system of well-established rules
and procedures, highly institutionalized, you accept ruler bc you
accept the rules of the game that brought them into office
andbecause they accept rule of law (elected presidents, Bush,
Tony Blair, Sarkozy, Lula)
Factors that encourage legitimacy
in all types of regimes:
Economic well-being
 Historical tradition or longevity
 Charismatic leadership
 Nationalism/shared political culture
 Satisfaction with the government’s
performance/responsiveness
What are some issues that could cause a
regime to lose legitimacy?
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Centralization or Decentralization?
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UNITARY STATES: invest most political power at
the national level, centralized national govt and
allow only limited local power.
– You can still have local representation at the natl
level, and federalism weakens state efficiency by
dispersing power among many local authorities...it
can also weaken govt, make populations more unruly
to govern
– Most states are Unitary states (UK, Mexico, Iran,
China)
Centralization or Decentralization?
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Federalism: significant powers (like taxation,
lawmaking, security) are devolved to regional
bodies like states in the US or Brazil, provinces
in Canada or Argentina. Powers defined in the
national constitution.
– Federalism represents local interests (good for larger,
very diverse populations), checks the growth of
central power (threating to democracy or to regional
interests)
– Ex: Nigeria and Russia
Do states work?
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Strong states: can fulfill basic tasks, can defend their
territory, make and enforce rules, collect taxes, manage
the economy, rule of law, etc.
Weak States: Cannot execute basic tasks well, rules are
haphazardly applied, tax evasion and corruption or
noncompliance is rampant, rebel movements or
organized crime may control chunks of territory or
economy, state officials lining pockets, economic
problems, not very institutionalized and lacks authority
and legitimacy.
Failed States: extreme where the structures of the state
may collapse resulting in a complete loss of power,
anarchy and violence or inability to control parts of
country. Afghanistan pre-2001 under Taliban, etc.
Capacity v. Autonomy
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Capacity: ability of the state to wield
power to carry out basic tasks.
– High capacity requires not just $, but
organization, legitimacy, effective leadership,
etc. (Roads get paved, schools built, rules created and followed, if you break
the law you are punished, etc.)
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Autonomy: ability to wield its power
independently of the public
Look at the matrix of autonomy
and capacity
What are the benefits and dangers of high
autonomy? High capacity? Low
autonomy? Low capacity?
 Can you think of states that would fit each
of these descriptors?
 Why do some countries develop higher
degrees of autonomy or capacity than
others? Ex: the case of Argentina
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