Comparative Politics
II. Classifying governments
Luca Verzichelli / Filippo Tronconi
Comparative Politics
Academic year 2014-2015
Classifying governments: an old puzzle
(too) many applications. For instance
• Democratic vs non democratic regimes
• Monocratic vs. collegial governments
• Nature of head of state in different democracies
Three main branches of comparative government
This classification recalls the three
institutionalism, applying the classification to the
study of contemporary democratic government
• Classic (historical/sociological) institutionalism
(Weber, Aron, Almond …)
• Legal constitutionalism (Bagehot, Duverger,
Friedrich, von Beyme)
• Rational institutionalism (Olson, Downs,
Buchanan, Riker…)
Long term dynamics of world regimes
1) World regimes before the late 18th century; traditional monarchies and a few republics;
2) The ‘invention’ of the presidential system in the United States in 1787 after the failure of the
1776 ‘confederal’ system;
3) Success of American presidentialism, spread of the idea in Latin America and its failure
(1820s onwards);
4) Development of parliamentarism in Europe under monarchical rule from the early 19th
century to 1914. First exception: France (parliamentary republic in 1875, the first ever);
5) Difficulties experienced by parliamentary government in Europe from 1918 to 1945;
6) Spread of presidentialism in Africa from the 1960s and its major problems: instability and
military rule;
7) The emergence of another political system, communism in 1918, its growth and its decline:
spread of presidentialism to replace communism in the ex- Soviet Union;
8) Presidentialism is thus the majority ‘model’ across the world, typically in new countries, but
with many different forms, most of which are vastly different from the original American
model, the main alternative being parliamentarism (both monarchical and republican),
which tends to characterise European (and Commonwealth) countries;
9) American presidential model has been successful in America, but almost exclusively in
America: does it deserve the criticisms it has received (Linz, Riggs)? If parliamentarism is
praised, why has it not spread markedly beyond European (and Commonwealth) countries
(except to a limited extent in Asia)?
Parliamentary democracy as a system of government
• Paradox: parliamentary government as “prime ministerial”
government. Fusion between parliamentary majority and
executive. Relative weakness of legislatures as autonomous
• Long history of focus on the executive-legislative relationships.
Traditional distinction based on the separation of powers vs.
fused power systems
• Then: Congressional vs. Parliamentary government (Wilson
1885): a warning against the transformation of a too centralised
federal system and too strong committee-based congress
New classification of democratic regimes
Cheibub, J. (2007), Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy. CUP.
1. Executive responsible to an elective chamber?
2. Is the president elected autonomously from the rest of the Executive?
2. Is the cabinet responsible to the President?
Increasing importance of mixed democracy
(Cheibub 2007)
• New mixed
democracies (semipresidential
systems) in CentralEastern Europe, and
• Classic
above all in LatinAmerica
Varieties of parliamentarisms
(A. Siaroff, Varieties of Parliamentarianism in the Advanced Industrial Democracies,
International Political Science Review 2003; 24; 445)
• Cabinet dominance
• Polarized systems with central role for a
fragmented parliament
• Cooperative policy making diffusion with a
working parliament
Difficult agreement on what is semi-presidentialism
P. Schleiter & E. Morgan-Jones: Review Article. Citizens, Presidents and Assemblies:The Study of
Semi-Presidentialism beyond Duverger and Linz (BJPS 2009)
• Duverger defined semi-presidentialism as a new
political system model. What does it mean?
• Linz: the constitutional format shares many of the
‘perils of presidentialism’,
• Recent research has questioned the conceptual
status of semi-presidentialism as a distinct
regime type, and whether it has any distinct
effects on politics.
• New possible conceptual tools to clarify the
research agenda in the form of principal–agent
theoretical work of democratic constitutions.