Govt 130:  Comparative Politics
Fall 2019

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An introduction to our course

Mondays and Thursdays 8:10-9:25am
Mondays and Thursdays 12:55-2:10pm

James M. Quirk, Ph.D.

Politics is the art of the possible. – Otto Von Bismarck

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. – John Kenneth Galbraith

All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. – Winston Churchill

no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
– Warsan Shire

I grabbed a book at random from a bookstore, and it was Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. All I knew about Hamilton was that he died in a duel. So I thought, “This will have a good ending at least.”  – Lin-Manuel Miranda

Welcome!   Welcome to Comparative Politics.  We will explore the evolution and various approaches to the field of comparative politics, with illustrations from various countries and examination of the field’s current themes.

Comparative politics is both an analytical approach (with a variety of evolving models) and the subject matter of (usually non-U.S.) governments and politics.  You should be able to (1) identify, evaluate and employ various approaches of comparative politics and (2) demonstrate knowledge of various nation-states, non-state actors and global issues within the context of current themes in comparative politics.  That is, you will actively seek to:

∙ learn (at an introductory level) the historical development of a major field of political science;
∙ understand and appreciate the current issues and debates in the field;
∙ develop a relevant question and apply the tools of comparative politics to explore it;
∙ closely follow current events and consider them with respect to our study of comparative politics;
∙ demonstrate that you can eloquently discuss all this in written and oral formats.

Learning outcomes

AU’s Department of Government outlines common learning outcomes for Govt 130 as follows:

  1. Demonstrate familiarity with some major questions, themes and issues in comparative politics and define key political concepts
  2. Analyze how dynamics of identity (e.g., class, race, ethnicity, religion and gender) structure political systems and govern their functioning
  3. Apply theory to specific case-studies, analyzing the relationship between economic, political and social features of political systems
  4. Locate and employ appropriate empirical evidence to evaluate claims and draw conclusions about the structures and functions of political systems
  5. Convey coherent analytical arguments about comparative politics in writing and in speech.

Course Outline

We will begin with a review of comparative politics as a field of study. Some of you may find this challenging, because (to grossly oversimplify) instead of thinking about Country X, we will look at the evolution of ways to think about Country X.  In fact, this is a good introduction to some kinds of graduate-level work.

During the second part of the course, we will introduce current concepts in comparative politics in two ways: (1) we will examine original scholarship on a variety of topics, and (2) we will look at specific case studies that apply to these concepts.

The idea is that by first looking at different ways to do comparative politics, you will be better equipped to do so.  Your full, active, attentive, inquisitive approach to this course should broaden and deepen your understanding of a wide range a political science topics and policy issues.  You will strengthen your written and oral communication skills, your critical thinking skills, and your appreciation of ethics in policy discussions.

In a course of this type, difficult choices have to be made about areas covered.  Some topics are necessarily treated too briefly, or omitted entirely.  We will address this in a number of ways.  Some topics or countries not directly treated in the readings we will cover in our on-going discussion of current events – more on which below.  Additionally, you will have your choice of issues to consider when formulating a question that will serve as your paper topic.  Finally, you will find off-campus opportunities to learn more about comparative politics.  Washington offers one of the world’s best places to do this. You will be responsible for five three short reports/reflections on the practice of issues in comparative politics; we will discuss this.

A particular note on this course is that it does not require higher mathematics.  I urge you, however, to take at least one statistics course during your college coursework.

Finally, ask me about the three numbers you should always know, and why they matter.

You are responsible for all of the specific readings assigned below, whether we discuss them in class or not, and everything we discuss in class, whether it relates to a particular reading or not.

Office hours 

I will hold regular office hours; we will discuss in class.  I would like to meet with each of you at least once during September. In addition, I will hold online “midnight office hours” during certain parts of the semester.   You can reach me at, which I will check each morning, or by fb msg.  You should join our Facebook group listed on Bb, which includes students from my other courses [find on Bb].  The group is “closed” – your classmates and I can only see what you have as “public” (maybe this is a good time to check your privacy settings).  We’ll use it to post announcements on campus events, internship postings, etc.  (We’ll also talk about whether it would be easier for future students if I used a different app for this.)

Required texts

O’Neil and Rogowski.  Essential Readings in Comparative Politics, 4th edition (2012)

Ayn Rand.  Anthem. Any edition or free in full online easier

Additional readings will be posted here and on Bb.

Course requirements

Your responsibilities include class attendance, thorough reading of the assignments before class, and class participation.  You are responsible for all the reading material regardless of whether we discuss it in class, and for all class discussions regardless of whether the material relates to an assigned reading.  Attendance is not optional; you need to meet with me to discuss any absences, before class.  Unexcused absences will count against your grade.  Additionally, there may be required attendance for guest lecturers at times other than the normal class schedule.

Each class may begin with at least one student selected, without prior notice, to discuss and answer questions about the readings or current events.  The pedagogy here is to prepare you for meetings when you are, unexpectedly, asked to give a presentation to a client, boss, etc., not just to ensure you do the readings.  Notice: Pop quizzes may be assigned.

You are expected to complement your study of comparative politics with an increased awareness of current events. At a minimum, you should be familiar each morning with the front page of the New York Times (, the Washington Post (, and the international edition of London’s The Guardian spending significant time with at least one of them.  The NYT and WP have pay walls for some articles but you may have unlimited access from on-campus computers.  The Guardian has no pay wall.

In this course we will also pay particular attention to the Monkey Cage, the Washington Post’s column on political science research,  We will discuss a number of other academic, news, and punditry outlets as well.

Our Best Selves

In the classroom, online, and elsewhere, we will approach each other and our material with humility, generosity, and what we’ll call micro-benevolences.  We will all assume best intentions among each other, and we’ll approach disagreements and misunderstandings with respect, honesty, integrity, and the intention that we will grow together as a community in the classroom, on campus, and in Washington.

Nota bene. This syllabus is flexible and may be changed at any time. You are well advised to keep up with the readings. You will be expected to have them completed before the beginning of class.


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