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GOVT 121 Comparative Political Systems (Fall 2005)

Lectures: Monday, Wednesday, 1:15-2:30pm, ICC Auditorium
Professor Charles King, School of Foreign Service and Department of Government
Office: ICC 658, tel. 7-5907,

Discussion sections: Eight different sections, all on Fridays. You were automatically registered for a section when you registered for the course. See the registrar's page for details.
Teaching assistants: Greg Baldi (gcb5), Aaron Boesenecker (apb27), Matthew Schmidt (mjs64), and Sara Wallace (sbw7), all PhD students in the Department of Government.

Prof. King's office hours: Monday 10:15-12:15 or by appointment.

O'Neil, Essentials of Comparative Politics, textbook website (password required)
Password codes for O'Neil case studies
Link to first five O'Neil textbook chapters (in PDF format, zipped). Save to your computer and then click on the icon to unzip.

Please report nonperforming links on this page to


This course provides a general introduction to the concepts, methods, and substance of comparative politics. The focus will be on “doing” political science: using theories to help explain individual cases, and using cases to refine our theories of political behavior. In the first part of the course, we will discuss the nature of political science as a scholarly discipline and explore themes in comparative politics such as the relationship between ideology and political behavior, the articulation of political interests, group decision-making, and regime types. Next, we will use our knowledge of these concepts to help us understand current developments in a variety of geographical settings.

Background and Objectives

The focus throughout the course will be on understanding the core ideas in political science and applying those ideas to particular cases. You should come away from the course with both an understanding of the diversity of the world’s political systems, as well as an appreciation of the questions and concepts that inform the work of professional political scientists. 

This course stresses the importance of comparison. Thinking comparatively within political science means continually asking yourself two questions: 

  • How do “big ideas” relate to particular cases? That is, how can we use the various theoretical tools available to us to explain political behavior in particular countries and regions?
  • How do individual cases relate to the goal of creating broad theories of political behavior? In other words, how can we compare a number of different cases and extract their common elements in order to create general theories?
Throughout the lectures and in your own reading and writing, you should keep both these questions in mind. 

The aim of this course is clearly not to turn every student into a professional academic political scientist. (There are too many of us already.) But by thinking comparatively and using the many intellectual tools that political scientists have developed over the last several decades, we can better understand the determinants of political behavior, the driving forces behind the political process, and the dynamics of policymaking.

Requirements and Grading

  1. Five surprise quizzes (roughly 5% each). The quizzes will be in a short-answer format. They will assess how closely you have followed the required readings. The quizzes will be administered during discussion sections and will be graded on a pass-fail basis. (An unexcused absence from a discussion section on a quiz day is a fail.) If you have done the reading, the quiz should be straightforward.
  2. Two examinations (roughly 25% each). The first examination (midterm) will cover the first half of the course and the second (final) the second half. Exams will be administered during regular class hours and at the time designated for the final examination by the registrar's office. The final exam for this course is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 15, 12:30pm to 2:30pm. Place to be announced.
  3. Attendance and participation in discussion sections (roughly 25%). The discussion sections will be directed by PhD students from the Government Department. Attendance and active participation are required. The discussion section leaders may require additional assignments beyond those given as part of the lecture portion of the course.
For more information on letter grades and standards, click here. 

Discussion Sections

Attending discussion sections is required. If you cannot attend because of illness, a university-related activity or similar legitimate reasons, tell your TA ahead of time. Students without excused absences will not be allowed to make up quizzes that they have missed. Discussion sections WILL NOT meet on the Friday BEFORE a Monday holiday. The sections WILL NOT meet on the first Friday of the term, Sept. 2, but WILL meet for the first time on the second Friday, Sept. 9.

Policy on Make-Ups, Extensions, Incompletes, and Academic Integrity

In principle, deadlines cannot be changed. However, allowance will be made for cases in which genuine emergencies prevent students from completing work on time. Such emergencies might include medical treatment or bereavement. Having a heavy work load, impending deadlines for other courses or extra-curricular commitments cannot normally be considered emergencies. Each instance will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Students should let the instructor know as far in advance as possible about any potential problems. 

Georgetown University is an honor-code school for undergraduates. Cases of suspected academic dishonesty will be handled according to the university’s honor code

Course ListProc

In order to encourage discussion outside class, the professor has set up a ListProc discussion list on the university computer system. The list’s name is GOVT121CK-L. The ListProc system enables subscribers to send email messages to a central server, which then distributes the messages to all other subscribers on the list. Such a system will allow the entire class to carry out “virtual” discussions and will help the professor to communicate with the entire class outside lecture periods. Subscription to the ListProc is required. 

In order to subscribe to the list: 

  1. Get an email account on a university server. (As a GU student, you already have one.) 
  2. Send an email message to LISTPROC@GEORGETOWN.EDU. Leave the subject line blank, and in the text portion of the message type: 
    1. subscribe GOVT121CK-L YourFirstName YourLastName 

      For example: subscribe GOVT121CK-L Vanilla Ice

      You will then automatically receive information about the list, as well as postings from other subscribers. 

To send a message to the list, so that it can be read by all other subscribers, simply send your message to: 


The following books have been ordered for the course and may be purchased at the Georgetown University Bookstore in the Leavey Center. Texts are also easily available from other sources such as
  • O'Neil, Patrick. Essentials of Comparative Politics. New York: Norton, 2004. Plus the O'Neil and Rogowski, Essential Readings in Comparative Politics (Norton, 2004) and a password for the online case studies.
  • Levitt, Stephen D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics. New York: William Morrow, 2005.
If you do not already own copies of Strunk and White's Elements of Style and Turabian's Manual for Writers, you should arrange to purchase these books as well. They are indispensable guides to writing, grammar, and punctuation, and will be useful in all your university courses.

The basic texts will be supplemented by required readings from other ources. All required readings will be available either via this website or on the Lauinger Library electronic reserves site. 

Topics and Readings

The instructor reserves the right to make changes to the readings and discussion topics during the course of the semester. Readings that are underlined below are accessible with a simple click of the mouse.

Discussion sections: The reading item marked with an asterisk below will form the core text to be addressed in the discussion sections.

Recommended readings: These readings are intended as supplements for students who wish to pursue a particular topic in more depth. They are not on reserve, but links are provided to some of them; they are also easy to find in Lauinger or through other channels. They are not required, but you should at least browse a few of these readings over the course of the semester.

Lecture slides: PDF versions of slides used in lectures will be posted to the website after the lecture.

Wed., Aug. 31    Introduction to the Course


Mon., Sept. 5    NO CLASS--LABOR DAY

Wed., Sept. 7    How to Study Political Science

1. This syllabus--please read it carefully.
2. Charles King, "How to Think"
3. ---, "The Six Evil Geniuses of Essay Writing"
4. ---, "Writing a Political Science Essay"
5. Macridis, "A Survey of the Field of Comparative Government" in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 2-10.
6. Explore the website of the American Political Science Association
7. Begin reading Freakonomics

This would also be a good time to take the online academic integrity tutorial "Joining the Conversation." If you are a new student (first-year or transfer), the tutorial is required before you can register for spring classes. It is accessible via StudentAccess+.

Discussion section: Introduction to discussion sections

Mon., Sept. 12; Wed., Sept. 14    Defining "Politics" and "Political Science"

1. O'Neil, Chap. 1
*2. Aristotle, Politics, Book I, Parts 1-2; Book III, Parts 1-7
3. Skocpol, "Bringing the State Back In," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 40-47.
4. Continue reading Freakonomics
Mon., Sept. 19; Wed., Sept. 21    A Political Scientist’s Intellectual Toolbox

1. O'Neil, Chap. 2
2. Lave and March, "Observation, Speculation, and Modeling," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 10-31
*3. Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 34-40
alternative link for the Weber reading
4. Continue reading Freakonomics

Discussion section: What is a "theory" in political science?

Theory slide

Mon., Sept. 26; Wed., Sept. 28    Ideology and Culture

1. O'Neil, Chap. 3
2. Karl Marx , The German Ideology, Vol. 1, Preface and Part I, Sections A and B
3. Marx and Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party," in O'Neil nd Rogowski, pp. 323-335
4. Samuel Huntington, "A Clash of Civilizations?" Foreign Affairs (Summer 1993).
5. Collier, "Ethnic Diversity: An Economic Analysis," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 84-105
6. Almond, "Comparative Political Systems," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 106-113
7. Continue reading Freakonomics

1. Clifford Geertz, "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture" from his The Interpretation of Cultures (1973)
2. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905; 1930), especially Chaps. 1-2.

Discussion section: Do different cultures make different politics?

Social Capital lecture slide
Interest groups slide

Mon., Oct. 3; Wed., Oct. 5   Interests, Institutions, Mobilization: Olson, Condorcet, Arrow, and "Majority Rule"

1. O'Neil, Chap. 4
2. North, "Institutions," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 129-140
*3. Alesina, et al., "Why Doesn't the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State?" in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 141-151.
4. Continue reading Freakonomics

1. Learn more about Condorcet the person here.

Condorcet and Arrow lecture slides
Public and Private goods slide

Please note: There is a slight typo on the top of the slide called "Condorcet's Paradox (Part 2)." The second sentence should read "We will pit A against B and B against C and then the winners of these two votes against each other." The calculation is correct; it is simply the explanation that is slightly wonky.

Mon., Oct. 10    NO CLASS -- COLUMBUS DAY

Wed., Oct. 12; Mon., Oct. 17   Political Parties and Electoral Systems, or How Votes Become Seats
1. Charles King, "Electoral Systems"
*2. Duverger, “Constitutional Choices for New Democracies," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 230-238
3. Duverger, "The Number of Parties," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 301-305
4. Finish reading Freakonomics

1. Interested in electoral systems? One of the best resources on the web is the "PR Library," the website of Prof. Douglas Amy at Mt. Holyoke.
2. Benjamin Reilly, "Electoral Systems for Divided Societies," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2002): 156-170.
3. Richard N. Rosenfeld, "What Democracy? The Case for Abolishing the United States Senate," Harper's (May 2004): 35-44.

Discussion section: Which is the best electoral system?



Mon., Oct. 24; Wed., Oct. 26    Regime Types I: Regime Change and the Varieties of Authoritarianism

1. O'Neil, Chap. 5
2. Thomas Carothers, "The End of the Transition Paradigm," Journal of Democracy, 13:1 (2002): 5-21.
3. Linz and Stepan, "Modern Nondemocratic Regimes," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 154-165
*4. Diamond, "Thinking about Hybrid Regimes," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 166-177.

1. Thomas Carothers, "The Rule of Law Revival," Foreign Affairs (March/April 1998).
2. Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, "The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism," Journal of Democracy, 13.2 (2002): 51-65.

Discussion section: Are authoritarian systems doomed to failure?

Mechanisms of Control in Authoritarian Systems (PDF)
Some Traits of Authoritarian and Pluralist Systems (PDF)

Mon., Oct. 31; Wed., Nov. 2    Regime Types II: The Varieties of Democracy

1. O'Neil, Chap. 6
2. Lipset, "Economic Development and Democracy," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 287-300
*3. Schmitter and Karl, "What Democracy Is . . . and Is Not," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 220-229.
4. Fareed Zakaria, "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy," Foreign Affairs (November 1997) (from the website)

1. Adrian Karatnycky, "National Income and Liberty," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2004): 82-93.
2. Amartya Sen, "Democracy as a Universal Value," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 10, No. 3 (1999): 3-17.

Discussion section: Are there prerequisites for democracy--level of economic development, modernization, religion, geography, etc.?

Explaining Regime Change (PDF)

Mon., Nov. 7; Wed., Nov. 9    Advanced Democracies: The United Kingdom and the European Union

1. O'Neil, Chap. 7
2. O'Neil online case study "United Kingdom"
3. Explore electoral results for the United Kingdom and the websites of the UK Parliament and the Scottish Parliament
4. Explore the website of the European Union

Discussion section: Is the UK a federation? Is the EU one?

1. Michael S. Teitelbaum and Philip L. Martin, "Is Turkey Ready for Europe?" Foreign Affairs (May/June 2003).
2. Jan Zielonka, "Challenges of EU Enlargement," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2004): 22-35.

British Politics Terms (PDF)
EU Lecture (Boesenecker) Slides

Mon., Nov. 14; and Wed., Nov. 16    Russia and the Postcommunist World
1. O'Neil, Chap. 8
2. O'Neil online case study "Russia"
3. Explore electoral results and party websites for the Russian parliament
4. Przeworski, "A Prologue: The Fall of Communism," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 336-340
5. Michael McFaul, "Transitions from Postcommunism," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 16, No. 3 (July 2005).
*6. Marc Morje Howard, "The Weakness of Postcommunist Civil Society," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2002): 157-169.

1. Valerie Bunce, "Rethinking Recent Democratization: Lessons from the Postcommunist Experience," World Politics, Vol. 55, No. 2 (January 2003): 167-192.
2. Lilia Shevtsova, "The Limits of Bureaucratic Authoritarianism," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 15, No. 3 (2004): 67-77.
3. Timothy J. Colton and Cindy Skach, "The Russian Predicament," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 16, No. 3 (July 2005).

Baldi lecture slides (PDF)

Discussion section: Do the "legacies" of the Communist system matter in contemporary Russian and postcommunist politics?

Mon., Nov. 21; Wed., Nov. 23    Development and Political Change I: China's Postcommunist Communism

1. O'Neil, Chap 9
2. O'Neil online case study "China"
3. Andrew J. Nathan and Bruce Gilley, "China's New Rulers: The Path to Power," New York Review of Books (September 26, 2002).
4. Andrew J. Nathan and Bruce Gilley, "China's New Rulers: What They Want," New York Review of Books (October 10, 2002). Reserve
*5. Gallagher, "Reform and Openness," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 341-352
6. Buruma, "What Beijing Can Learn from Moscow," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 353-359

Discussion section: Are economic and political reform necessarily linked (based on the example of China)?

Sara Wallace lecture slides

Mon., Nov. 28; Mon., Nov. 30    Development and Political Change II: Islam and Politics

1. O'Neil online case studies "Iran"
2. Adrian Karatnycky, "Muslim Countries and the Democracy Gap," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2002): 99-112.
*3. Sayyed Vali Reza Nasr, "The Rise of 'Muslim Democracy'," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 16, No. 2 (April 2005).


<>1. Mark A. Tessler and Eleanor Gao, "Gauging Arab Support for Democracy," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 16, No. 3 (July 2005).
2. M. Steven Fish, "Islam and Authoritarianism," World Politics, Vol. 55 (October 2002): 4-37.
3. Alfred C. Stepan and Graeme B. Robertson, "An 'Arab' More Than a 'Muslim' Democracy Gap," Journal of Democracy, Vol. 14, No. 3 (July 2003): 30-44.

Turkey lecture terms
< style="font-weight: bold;">Mon., Dec. 5   U.S. Exceptionalism?
1. Constitution of the United States (If you haven't read it, read it. If you have read it, read it again.)
*2. Putnam, "Tuning In, Tuning Out," in O'Neil and Rogowski, pp. 239-266. For more on Putnam's ideas, see the website
3. Michael Alvarez, et al., "The Complexity of the California Recall Election," PS: Political Science and Politics (January 2004): 23-26. Reserve

Discussion section: In what sense (if at all) is the U.S. political system unique?

Wed., Dec. 7    Final Thoughts

Discussion sections WILL NOT meet on Friday, Dec. 9. The last section of the semester will be on Friday, Dec. 2.

Thursday, Dec. 15, 12:30pm to 2:30pm

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