Positive political science

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Principles of politics, political systems and scientific method

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This course will introduce you to central issues in political science such as sources of conflict and power, problems with group decision making, or the influence of institutions on political outcomes, with plenty of examples from around the world that will help you grasp the importance of comparison for understanding the causes of things. The course will also present you with tools such as decision theory, social choice theory, and game theory, that will help you understand the logic behind some of the most important political phenomena observed today. It will also introduce you to empirical research methods that will help you select which theories work better than others in explaining the political world. What is the state and where did it come from? Why are some states democratic and others authoritarian? Are some cultures incompatible with democracy? Do natural resources and foreign aid help or hinder democracy? How can we explain democratic transitions? What explains the different types of dictatorships we observe in the world? Are people materially better off in democracies or dictatorships? How do institutions influence who get to rule and with what consequences? Why do some countries have many parties whereas others have only a few? Are there institutional solutions to ethnic conflict? Do parliamentary or presidential democracies last longer and why? In this course you will study the nature and causes of different regimes and institutions, as well as how they drive variation in the economic and political outcomes on the issues people care most about, from wages and inflation to migration and security.

The course is divided in four parts. The first part introduces politics, political science and the structure of the course. The second part of the course discusses the origins of the modern state, the economic and cultural determinants of democracy and dictatorship, and democratic transitions. The third part deals with varieties of democracy and dictatorship, including topics on selectorate theory, group decision making, presidential and parliamentary systems, elections, party systems and constitutions. Finally, the last part focuses on the relationship between democratic institutions and political outcomes.

The problem-based approach followed by this course resembles what political scientists actually do, namely constructing and testing theories to try to explain the varied political phenomena they observe in the real world, rather than simply memorising country-specific facts. The ultimate goal is to be able to understand the causes of all things political, rather than merely describe them, in order to be able to forecast them, prepare for their consequences, or even learn how to promote or avert them. But unlike other introductory courses in political science in which the student is a consumer of the theories and evidence produced by others, in this course you will be at the driving seat from the start. Weekly seminar questions will present you with actual problems for whose resolution you will need to draw on some of the analytical tools, theories and evidence introduced at the lectures, and supplement this with your own research. In this fashion, you will not only experience first hand how a political scientist works, but also gain invaluable general skills in logic- and evidence-based analysis that you will help you long after the course is over, both in further academic endeavours or directly in non-academic professions.


PART I: What is Comparative Politics? 1: INTRODUCTION. Overview of the course. The approach taken in this course. Key concepts. 2: WHAT IS SCIENCE? What is Science? The Scientific Method. An Introduction to Logic. Myths About Science. 3: WHAT IS POLITICS? The Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (EVL) Theory of Politics. What Happens in the EVL Theory? Insights from the EVL Theory. PART II: The Modern State: Democracy or Dictatorship? 4: THE ORIGINS OF THE MODERN STATE. What is a State? Syria: A Failed State. How Unusual Is Syria? The Contractarian View of the State. The Predatory View of the State. 5: THE ECONOMIC DETERMINANTS OF DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP. Democracy in Historical Perspective. Modernization Theory and Democracy. A Variant of Modernization Theory. 6: THE CULTURAL DETERMINANTS OF DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP. Classical Cultural Arguments: Mill and Montesquieu. Does Democracy Require a Civic Culture? Are Some Religions Incompatible with Democracy? Experiments and Culture. 7: DEMOCRATIC TRANSITIONS. Bottom-Up Transitions to Democracy. Top-Down Transitions to Democracy. PART III: Varieties of Democracy and Dictatorship 8: VARIETIES OF DICTATORSHIP. A Common Typology of Authoritarian Regimes. The Two Fundamental Problems of Authoritarian Rule. Selectorate Theory. 9: PROBLEMS WITH GROUP DECISION MAKING. Problems with Group Decision Making. Arrow's Theorem. 10: PARLIAMENTARY, PRESIDENTIAL, AND SEMI-PRESIDENTIAL DEMOCRACIES. Classifying Democracies. Governments in Parliamentary Democracies. Governments in Presidential Democracies. Governments in Semi-Presidential Democracies. 11: ELECTIONS AND ELECTORAL SYSTEMS. Elections and Electoral Integrity. Electoral Systems. Legislative Electoral System Choice. 12: SOCIAL CLEAVAGES AND PARTY SYSTEMS. Political Parties: What Are They, and What Do They Do? Party Systems. Where Do Parties Come From? Types of Political Parties and Social Cleavages. Number of Parties: Duverger's Theory. 13: INSTITUTIONAL VETO PLAYERS. Federalism. Bicameralism. Constitutionalism. Veto Players. PART IV: Varieties of Democracy and Political Outcomes 14: CONSEQUENCES OF DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS. Majoritarian or Consensus Democracy? The Effect of Political Institutions on Fiscal Policy. Electoral laws, Federalism, and Ethnic Conflict. Presidentialism and Democratic Survival.

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