Roots of comparative politics
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Roots of Comparative Politics. Aristotle:. Sees the importance of equality of conditions and the middle class to achieve freedom and friendship between the people.

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  • Sees the importance of equality of conditions and the middle class to achieve freedom and friendship between the people.

  • “a city ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars; and these are generally the middle classes. Wherefore the city which is composed of middle-class citizens is necessarily best constituted in respect of the elements of which we say the fabric of the state naturally consists.” (308)

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Aristotle, Politics, Book IV

  • “…government... Is the subject of a single science, which has to consider what government is best and of what sort it must be, to be most in accordance with our aspirations, if there were no external impediment, and also what kind of government is adapted to particular states.” (Aristotle)

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Plato (normative political theory, or the ideal city)

Aristotle (normative+empirical investigations)In Book II of his Politics, Aristotle depicts both the ideal (Ch. 1-8) and “the best existent states” (Ch. 9-12), in which he considers Sparta, Creta, and the Carthaginian.

Comparative study of 158 Greek constitutions

The Origins

The combinatin of both theory and empirical studies makes Aristotle the founder of Western political science

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Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, Ch. 1:

“All states and all dominions that have had and continue to have power over men were and still are either hereditary… or they are new. And the new ones are either completely new, as was Milan for Francesco Sforza, or they are like members added to the hereditary state of the prince who acquires them, as is the Kingdom of Naples for the King of Spain.”

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Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, Ch. 1:

“Dominions taken in this way are either used to living under a prince or are accustomed to being free; and they are gained either by the arms of others or by one’s own, either through Fortune or through cleverness.”

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Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, Ch. 1:

  • “I shall set aside any discussion of republics, because I treated them elsewhere at length. I shall consider solely the principality... And I shall discuss how these principalities can be governed and maintained.” (79)

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Alexis de Tocqueville:

“The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that the equality of conditions is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived...”

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Alexis de Tocqueville:

“I then turned my thoughts to our own hemisphere, where I imagined that I discerned something analogous to the spectacle which the New World presented to me. I observed that the equality of conditions is daily progressing towards those extreme limits, which it seems to have reached in the United States... It is evident to all alike that a great democratic revolution is going on among us” (Introduction, p.3)

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John Stuart Mill, The System of Logic (1843)

“The aim of practical politics is to surround any given society with the greatest possible number of circumstances of which the tendencies are beneficial, and to remove or counteract, as far as practicable, those of which the tendencies are injurious. A knowledge of the tendencies... gives us to a considerable extent this power. It would, however, be an error to suppose that, even with respect to tendencies, we could arrive in this manner at any great number of propositions which will be true in all societies without exception.” (John Stuart Mill)

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Systems Theory

Communication Theory

Structural Functionalism


Rational Choice

Institutional Analysis

Statistical Analysis

Political Development

Dependency Theory

Political Culture

Political Attitudes

Political Cleavages



Behavioral Revolution


The Return of the State

(Historical and Rational Choice) New Institutionalism

Main Approaches

They differ in the way of posing

problems, the choice of relevant

dimensions, and their

methodological orientations

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Giovanni Sartori: “Concept Misformation in comparative politics.”

  • Concepts are our “Data containers”

    Despite the “computer revolution” and the availability of increasingly sophisticated statistical methods,“We cannot measure before conceptualizing”

  • “Concept formation stands prior to quantification”

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Concepts & Classifications in Comparative Politics

  • Curtis’ Dimensions:

    • Background factors that influence politics

    • Political process,

    • Political institutions, and

    • Public policy

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Party systems

  • One party

  • Two-Party

    • Two party qualified (there is a 3rd important party)

  • Multi-party

    • Multi-party with dominant party

    • Multi-party with dominant party

Can democracy flourish within a one-party system?

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Types of authority/leadership according to Max Weber:

  • Charismatic

  • Traditional

  • Rational (Bureaucratic)

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Contemporary Classification of Regimes

  • Constitutional Democracy

    • Free elections, party competition, civil and political freedoms, subordination of the military, rule of law, judicial review

  • Authoritarian Systems

    • (minoritarian elites, generally military or supported upon the military, with no popular support; economic but not political freedom)

  • Totalitarianism

    • Party regime supported on a strong leader. Totalizing controls over people’s behavior and activity, even economic

  • Communist Regimes

    • One party rule, state or collective ownership of the means of production

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Division of Powers (Functions)

  • Legislative:Involves discussion of public affairs and enactment of general rules and laws.

  • Executive: Involves the application of general rules to specific cases and the formulation of policy based on those rules.

  • Judicial: Involves resolution of disputes between individuals or between individuals and the state.

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Forms of the Executive

  • Parliamentary-Cabinet government: the executive power derives from the legislative (exercised by a prime minister with the aid of a cabinet whose members belong to the parliament).

  • Presidential System: the head of the executive is elected independently of the legislature, and s/he appoints the cabinet.

  • Consociation Democracy: Sharing of government between different groups (coalition). Each group keeps autonomy in certain issues.

  • Council Government: Colective executive leadership, elected by the legislature.

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Political Representation

  • Functional. Individuals are represented as members of a group. Ex: French “Third Estate,” Corporatism and Neo-Corporatism, ethnic and linguistic groups.

  • Territorial.

    • Single Member Constituencies. Small geographic areas that elect only one representative. Ex: U.S. Advantage: more direct accountability. Disadvantage: Tends to create a two- or even one-party system. Paradox: the absolute # of votes can be turned into a “minority” by this system

    • Multimember Constituencies. Larger areas where representatives are chose according to the size of the population. (PR) Seats are allocated according to the share of the electoral vote. Advantage: more political views are represented. Disadvantage: Direct access to representatives is more difficult.

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Basic Methodologica Jargon(Chart)


Unit of


Indicator (i.e. Question: “How much money do people in your household make every year?”)

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Basic Methodological Jargon

  • Unit of analysis.Objects on which we collect data. Ex: countries, households, individuals, protests, etc.

  • Variable.Concepts whose values change over a given set of units (ex: sex, wealth, economic growth, party identification, etc.)

    • Dimensions.sub-variables in complex variables whose values contribute to define the value of the variable (ex: indicators of Human Development) .

  • Valor.It is the state the variable assumes for each unit, and may be expressed in a number, a word, or an image (ex: “female,” “poor,” “$34,000 per year.”)

    • Indicatoris the procedure used for generating a value for the variable (ex: a question in a survey)

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Variables: Levels of Measurement.

  • Nominal Variables: Qualitative properties that characterize the unit of analysis (ex: gender, nationality).

  • Ordinal Variables: qualitative properties that we can rank (ex: poor, middle-class, rich; grades A,B,C,D,E,F)

  • Interval Variables: the distance between the attributes is meaningful (it can be measured). (ex scores: 92, 87,85, 65,56).

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Levels of analysis (units)

  • Macro: countries, governments, social classes, revolutions.

    • (holism)

  • Micro: individuals

    • (methodological individualism)

  • We can always aggregate data collected on a lower level of analysis, but we cannot disaggregate data collected on a higher level

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    Dependent and Independent Variables

    • Dependent variables are those whose variations we are trying to explain.

    • Independent variables are those we use to explain portions of variation in the dependent variable.

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    Quantitative /Qualitative Methods

    • Quantitative methods show differences between units of analysis expressed in numbers.

    • Qualitative methods show those differences expressed in kind.

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    Many Cases

    The majority of studies that compare many countries use quantitative methods.

    • “Variable-oriented”: examine the relationship between variables at a global level of analysis.

    • The more cases we have, the stronger the inferences we can make.

    • Helps to identify “deviant” cases.

    • The qualitative study of many cases is difficult (generally historical, requires A LOT of data)

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    A few Cases

    • Need of carefully selecting the cases.

    • 2 main approaches (drawn from John Stuart Mill’s

      • Most similar systems design (MSSD): seeks to identify the key features that are different among similar countries and which account for the observed political outcome. Suited for Area Studies (ex: Latin American Democracies).

      • Most different systems design (MDSD): comparison of cases that only share a certain political outcome, and one or two explanatory factors considered crucial to generate the outcome. Comparisons accross different regions

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    Single Case Studies

    • The study of a single case is considered comparative if it uses or develops concepts applicable to other cases, and/or seeks to make larger inferences.

    • Contextual description

    • =clinical studies in medicine.

    • Ideal to examine “deviant cases,” to generate hypotheses, to develop new classifications.

    • Inferences based upon one case are less secure