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COURSE NAME: "Comparative Political Systems"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2014

INSTRUCTOR: Michael Driessen
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 3:00 PM 4:15 PM
OFFICE HOURS: TTH 1:30-3:30pm


This course is designed to be an introductory exposé of the study of “comparative politics,” one of the four classic subfields of research in the American school of Political Science. The study of comparative politics is an exercise in categorization and understanding which attempts, heroically or tragically, to chart and even predict the multitudinous political trajectories of nation-states around the planet. This course will introduce the student to a basic set of concepts and ideas which comparative political scientists employ to analyze differences and similitudes in the present and future political life of any given country. Although we will meditate on the origins of modern political systems, much emphasis will be put on using these meditations to understand contemporary political life. The personal digestion of current political events by the student will be key to this enterprise. In general, therefore, the course will tell a story about the modern nation-state, what differences have emerged among nation-states over the last 150 years and why. Ultimately, we will attempt to understand something about how human organizations deal with power and peace and stability and poverty and money and the restraining and avoiding of wars and facing evil and the whole polyphonic mess of the human experience.



The course is divided into 3 sections which look at 1) Comparative Politics in Western Modernity; 2) Transitions, Revolutions and 3rd Wave Considerations; and 3) New Directions in Comparative Politics. Over 9 units, we will study 10 countries along a timeline and critically chart out how these states differ and converge in the ways in which they organize power and distribute goods to citizens. In order of appearance, they are Great Britain, Italy, USSR, USA, Chile, the Czech Republic, Congo, Iran, China, and Egypt. Each unit introduces one major 1)Regime Type; 2) Country Example 3) Political Idea or Theme. Along the way, the student will learn something about the dominant enduring topics of study of comparative politics, including liberalism, fascism, communism, democracy, democratic transitions, ethnic politics, civil war, political economies, identity politics, authoritarianisms, electoral systems, political parties and revolution.


My pedagogical hope is that students will finish this course equipped with a foundational set of tools to critically distinguish among modern political systems that will allow them to begin to analyze the relationships between the ideas, institutions, cultures and histories which underpin these systems. They will also learn the defining political characteristics of 10 modern nation-states. The essential goal will be to help students to begin practicing a higher level of political analysis and a more nuanced appreciation of the practical ways in which humans attempt to achieve common goods in modern times. When finished with this course students should expect to substantively answer the following questions about any nation: 1) what is the regime type? 2) what does the political economy look like? 3) What does the state look like? 4) What are the institutions, policies, and ideas that describe these three attributes? 5) Are there cultural, historical and religious affinities to all the above?   

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Essentials of Comparative Politics, 4th Ed. (International Student Edition)Patrick H. O’NeilW.W. Norton9780393920741  
The Communist ManifestoMarx and EngelsSoHo Books9781453704424 any edition is fine!
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of CapitalismMax WeberPenguin Books0140439218  
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
On LibertyJohn Stuart MillDover Thrift EditionsISBN-13: 978-0486421308  
The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings 1947-2005Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn (ed. Ericson and Mahoney)ISI BooksISBN: 978-1-935191-55-1  
Economic Backwardness in Historical PerspectiveAlexander GershenkronBelknap PressISBN-13: 978-0674226005  
The Wretched of the EarthFrantz FanonGrove PressISBN-13: 978-0802141323  
Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990Vaclav HavelVintageISBN-13: 978-0802141323  

Mid-term Exam 20%
Final Exam 30%
Short Reflections (7)1 page each, on any reading or set of readings within a section of the course. Reading reflections must be turned by the date specified in the course calendar. 40%
ParticipationAttendance and Presence of Mind are mandatory for this class. The goal here is to advance towards the art of asking good questions. Quality, not quantity of participation is what counts, although some quantity is better than no quality. Students will be allowed 2 unexcused absences. Each unexcused absence thereafter will result in the lowering of the attendance grade by 1/3rd a letter grade. More than 12 unexcused absences may result in a failure to pass the course.10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the cours
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

Attendance and Presence of Mind are mandatory for this class. The goal here is to advance towards the art of asking good questions. Quality, not quantity of participation is what counts, although some quantity is better than no quality. Students will be allowed 2 unexcused absences. Each unexcused absence thereafter will result in the lowering of the attendance grade by 1/3rd a letter grade. More than 12 unexcused absences may result in a failure to pass the course.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Course Outline:

Part I. Comparing Politics in Western Modernity

1. Modern Nation-States and the Rise of Political Liberalism

            Countries: England (and France)

2. Late Nation-State Builders and Liberalism in Crisis

            Countries: Italy (and Germany)

3. Liberalism in Crisis part II.

            Country: USSR

4. Liberal Revenge. 

            Country: USA

Part II. After the End of History: Transitions, Revolutions and 3rd Waves

5. 3rd Wave Transitions:

            Countries: Chile and the Czech Republic.

6. Identity Politics, Poverty, Civil War and Failed States

            Country: Congo

7. Theocracy and the Return of Religious Politics

            Country: Iran

8. Competitive Authoritarianism and Authoritarian Capitalism

            Country: China

Part III. New Directions:

9. Tahrir Square and the Future of Comparative Politics: Dealing with pluralism in the 21st century

            Country: Egypt


Course Calendar (Please note that this is not the final syllabus. A finalized schedule of readings, assignments and office hours will be distributed to students at the beginning of the Fall, 2012 semester).


January 13

Class 1

Course Introduction



Part I: Comparing Politics in Western Modernity

1. Modern Nation-States and the Rise of Political Liberalism: England (and France)

January 15

Class 2




O’Neil chapters 1 & 2


January 20

Class 3




Weber, The Protestant Ethic : First read chapters 1 & 2 (from part I “The Problem”): “Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification” and “The Spirit of Capitalism.”


Then read chapter 5, “Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism (from part II “The Vocational Ethic of Ascetic Protestantism”

January 22

Class 4




Fareed Zakaria, “A Brief History of Human Freedom,” Library Reserves  (chapter 1)


Fareed Zakaria, “Capitalism, not Culture, Drives Economics,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-capitalism-not-culture-drives-economies/2012/08/01/gJQAKtH9PX_story.html


J. S. Mill, On Liberty, chapters 1 & 2 (all of ch. 1 and pages 1-8, 22-26 of ch. 2) http://www.utilitarianism.com/ol/one.html


January 27

Class 5

(Reading Reflection 1 Due)



O’Neil chapter 5


Magna Carta (skim), http://www.constitution.org/eng/magnacar.pdf


France’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen” http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/declaration.html


2. Late Nation-State Builders and Liberalism in Crisis: Italy (and Germany)

January 29

Class 6




Mussolini, “The Doctrine of Fascism,” http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/reading/germany/mussolini.htm


The Futurist Manifesto, http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/T4PM/futurist-manifesto.html and paintings, http://www.cartridgesave.co.uk/news/20-dynamic-paintings-from-the-italian-futurists/


Hitler, “Triumph des Willens,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3C9iUaP51CI&feature=topics


February 3

Class 7




Alexander Gershenkron, “Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective,” (chapter 1): http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic572311.files/Mon%2022%20June%20-%201/Gerschenkron.pdf


Michael Mann, “A Political Theory of Nationalism and its Excesses,” in Notions of Nationalism, ed. S. Periwal 1995: http://www.march.es/ceacs/publicaciones/working/archivos/1994_57.pdf


3. Liberalism in Crisis part II: USSR

February 5

Class 8

(Reading Reflection 2 Due)



Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto (skip chapter III)

February 10

Class 9




Lenin, “The April Theses?”: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/apr/04.htm & “Lessons of the Revolution”: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/sep/06.htm


Stalin, “The Foundations of Leninism: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” chapter IV: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1924/foundations-leninism/ch04.htm


Recommended: O’Neil Chapter 9, pp.s 256-270 (in O’Neil 3rd ed. Ch 8, pp.s 197-210)

February 12

Class 10




Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: Part I: ch.s 1&4; part III: ch. 7; part IV: ch.s 1-2; Part VI: ch.s 2&7. [These selections correspond to pages 218-240; 253-273; 294-206 in The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005 (ed.s Ericson, Jr. and Mahoney) available in the Library Reserves]


4. Liberal Revenge: USA


February 17

Class 11

(Reading Reflection 3 Due)




Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History,” http://www.wesjones.com/eoh.htm



February 19

Class 12





Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” Journal of Democracy 6(1), 1995: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/assoc/bowling.html


Read through Putnam’s survey instrument and data: http://bowlingalone.com/?page_id=7


Sheri Berman, “Understanding Social Democracy,”




February 24

Class 13





O’Neil Chapter 8 (in O’Neil 3rd Ed. Ch. 7)



February 26

Class 14

Mid-term Exam




Part II: After the End of History: Transitions, Revolutions and 3rd Waves


5. 3rd Wave Transitions: Chile and the Czech Republic.


March 3

Class 15





Havel, “The Power of the Powerless,” sections I-X, XIV-XVI, XXI-XXII; and “New Year’s Address,” all in Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990: http://vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=clanky&val=72_aj_clanky.html&typ=HTML



March 5

Class 16





Samuel P. Huntington, “Democracy’s Third Wave,” Journal of Democracy, 2(2), 1991: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jod/summary/v002/2.2huntington.html


Steven Levitsky and David Collier, “Democracy with Adjectives: Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research,” World Politics, 49(3), 1997: http://kellogg.nd.edu/publications/workingpapers/WPS/230.pdf


Pablo Neruda, “A Call for the Destruction of Nixon and Praise for Chilean Revolution,” http://reddiarypk.wordpress.com/2007/06/12/pablo-neruda/



March 10

Class 17





O’Neil Chapter 9, pp.s 270-288 (in O’Neil 3rd Ed: ch. 8, pp.s 210-228)


Valerie Bunce, “Rethinking Recent Democratization: Lessons from the Post-Communist Experience,” World Politics, 55, 2003: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/wp/summary/v055/55.2bunce.html



6. Identity Politics, Poverty, Civil War and Failed States: Congo


March 12

Class 18

(Reading Reflection 4 Due)




O’Neil chapter 10, pp.s 290-308 (in O’Neil 3rd Ed: ch. 9, pp.s 230-247)


Frantz Fanon, “Concerning Violence,” chapter 1 from The Wretched of the Earth, Library Reserves


Leopold Senghor, “To New York,” http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/238778







SPRING BREAK March17 – 21st








March 24

Class 19





Economist, “Africa’s Great War,” http://www.economist.com/node/1213296?story_id=1213296


Filip Reyntjens, “Briefing: The Second Congo War: More than a Remake,” African Affairs, (98) 391, 1999: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/723629?uid=3738296&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21103195716251


James Fearon and David Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War” American Political Science Review (97) 1. 2003: http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/21459/fearlait.pdf



March 26

Class 20








O’Neil chapter 9, pp.s 247-259


Jeffery Sachs, The End of Poverty. 2005. Time Magazine Excerpt: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/docs/endofpoverty/time031405.pdf



William Easterly, “Was Development Assistance a Mistake?” http://williameasterly.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/50_easterly_wasdevelopmentassistanceamistake_prp.pdf


Good News from Africa:







7. Theocracy and the Return of Religious Politics: Country: Iran


March 31

Class 21

(Reading Reflection 5 Due)




Economist, “In God’s Name,” 2007


April 2

Class 22





Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” The Atlantic, September (1990): http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1990/09/the-roots-of-muslim-rage/304643/


Michael L. Ross, “Does Oil Hinder Democracy?” World Politics, 53(3), 2001: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/polisci/faculty/ross/doesoil.pdf


April 4

Class 23

MAKE UP CLASS for April 21st




Vali Nasr, “The Rise of ‘Muslim Democracy,’” Journal of Democracy 16(2), 2005: http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/article/rise-%E2%80%9Cmuslim-democracy%E2%80%9D

Gunes Tezcur, “Democracy Promotion, Authoritarian Resiliency, and Political Unrest in Iran,” Democratization 19(1), 2012: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13510347.2012.641296#.UsbeBrSOelo


8. Competitive Authoritarianism and Authoritarian Capitalism: China


April 7

Class 24

(Reading Reflection 6 Due)




O’Neil chapter 6


Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism,” Journal of Democracy, 12(2), 2002: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_democracy/v013/13.2levitsky.html


Ivan Krastev, “The Rules of Survival,” The Journal of Democracy, (April), 2009: http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/article/reading-russia-rules-survival



April 9

Class 25





Azar Gat, “The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers,” Foreign Affairs (86)4, 2007: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/62644/azar-gat/the-return-of-authoritarian-great-powers


Thomas Friedman, “Advice for China,” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/opinion/05friedman.html


Amnesty International, “Annual Report: China 2013,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/region/china/report-2013






Part III. New Directions:


9. Tahrir Square and the Future of Comparative Politics: Egypt


April 14


Class 26


(Reading Reflection 7 Due)




Economist, “Has the Arab Spring Failed” Special Report (2013) http://www.economist.com/printedition/2013-07-13

Samer Shehata, “In Egypt, Democrats v. Liberals” July 2nd, 2013, New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/03/opinion/in-egypt-democrats-vs-liberals.html?hp&_r=1&


Amnesty International, “Tunisia: Persepolis Trial Spotlights Attacks on Freedom of Expression,” http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/tunisia-2012-04-18


Jadaliyya, “The Future of Islamism,” http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/15112/roundtable-on-the-future-of-islamism_a-starting-po


April 16

Class 27





O’Neil chapter 11

“Indonesia Watches Closely Development of Eurozone Crisis, Hormuz Conflict to Save Economy,” http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-02/14/c_131410067.htm


The Economist, “The Euro-Crisis: The Recession Recedes,” http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/08/euro-crisis-recession-recedes





April 21st Classes Cancelled



April 23

Class 28

Conclusions and Review







Final Exam