The comparative approach to study of politics and government takes on a systematic study and comparison of diverse political systems. Rather than focusing on a particular object of study, comparative politics focuses the inquiry on the method, asking the deeper ‘why’ questions. This allows for a greater comprehension not only into the subject matter, but various worldviews, differing opinions, and sometimes clash of facts. However, the comparative approach also helps to push the inquiry further and explore pertinent questions. This paper will focus on applying the comparative approach to a key question of ‘what makes Democracy.
Comparative politics seeks to use method in order to make arguments about cause and effect through systematic and comprehensive comparing and contrasting of cases. These causes and outcomes are defined as variables (Dickovick and Eastwood 2019). In the research question posed which is to explain the factors of success of democracy in America, there is already a set outcome, dependent variable, which is in itself the “success of democracy in America.” Albeit an opinionated statement, there are evident facts to support this, such as the US being one of the oldest modern democracies, the tremendous economic, social, and geopolitical growth of the country, and the success of the Constitution as a guiding document for centuries. Therefore, the inquiry is focused on the independent variable, identifying factors which have led to this outcome. In comparative politics, the comparison and contrast of cases helps to determine differences otherwise known as variations. In order to determine why the US is a successful democracy, it should be compared to other prominent world democracies.
It is important to consider that the comparative method is vital to political sciences. Experiments are difficult to conduct since there is not a level of recurrence seen in the natural world, and while the statistical method is used, it requires manipulation of large sets of data over large amounts of cases. In many instances in political science where there is a smaller number of cases, such as number of democratic countries, the comparative approach offers significant analysis between variables. One common method if the Most Similar Systems Design (MSSD), which is based on comparing similar cases that differ in their dependent variable, or outcomes. Similar cases imply a number of nearly identical control variables, and very few dissimilar elements. Among the dissimilar elements is the independent variable which results in the presence or absence of the certain outcomes (dependent variable) (Steinmetz n.d.).
Therefore, when applying to this case, a study of the success of democracy in the US may want to compare forms of democracy and representative government between countries. However, results may be drastically different, with some countries successful in producing policy and development while others are not, some may shift towards authoritarian rule while others maintain the rule of the people and Constitution, some countries have successful records of compromise and consensus among lawmakers while others stall in partisan disagreement. The MSSD comparative approach is effective for the specific research inquiry investigated in this paper, as the success of US democracy can be determined by comparison to other global democracies historically which share a set of similar characteristics. However, the comparison highlights the innate differences (IV) which then affects the outcome (DV).
However, as Dickovick and Eastwood (2019) note, the MSS simplified comparison in itself does not necessarily provide a true image of the situation and requires further analysis of variables and factors involved. They call to use the technique of comparative checking, which is the process of checking conclusions from the previous comparison against additional cases under various conditions to determine generalizability. Therefore, after comparing democracies in US and India, as an example, it was determined that the US is more successful and does not drift towards authoritarianism due to better population literacy and political awareness. Then a subsequent comparison to a modern democracy supports that premise as most modern democracies first became industrialized and improved population literacy and civic participation, and then reached a point of democracy (van Noort 2021). Comparative analysis is vital to ensuring validity of the argument from an academic standpoint and highlights the complexities of comparative politics which takes into account multiple factors.
Prominent Questions, Facts, and Comparisons
As discussed previously, it would be highly pertinent to compare the United States to other democracies, both Eastern such as India or South Korea and Western-based such as Europe and Australia. Those contexts are crucial because many of the Western democracies were based off or influenced by the American democracy, at the same time their structures and organizations are uniquely different. Democracy has taken on many forms around the world in modern times, so it is viable to compare them effectively.
It is also necessary to examine in detail the history of the United States. The country has gone through many stages, through many types of leaders, through eras of highs and lows. At each point, democracy withstood the test of time and political pressure, it prevailed. Democracy served the US as a key factor in passing strong social and economic policy. It is also what attracted and continues to appeal to millions of people around the world, as Democracy contributes to a free and developing society. While the US does face its share of issues, it is the principles of democracy that provide the long-standing supporting foundation for its continuance as a government and nation (Lührmann et al. 2019).
Finally, one of the most effective and contributive structures to the success of US democracy has been its Constitution and institutions. The benefit of the Constitution is that it is fluid, allowing for amendments, but at the same time establishing a vital framework of governance and the well-known system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. The US Constitution despite its power, often does not have answers or delegates for branches such as Congress to decide policy or procedural questions for themselves, forcing the political discussion and compromise. Similarly, the dual political party system in the US, it is both highly beneficial, but also highly partisan (Lührmann et al. 2019) Sometimes, that results in stagnation and political locks, but at other times it results in brilliant policy which everyone supports. It is a complex and multifaceted system that should be examined as the foundation of US democratic success and endeavor.
Martin (2006) argues that a worldview’s answers and perspectives to key philosophical and existential questions ultimately determine its institutional structure and procedure. Such as from a religious standpoint, the Christian worldview suggests a vertical arrangement structure with life on the basis that God and His rule are in ultimate control. Modern democracy in itself is also a worldview, for most countries including the United States, it is the capability of people to choose their leaders and political representatives. Involved in the study of democracy are also worldviews of political philosophies, such as that of Plato and John Locke. They argued about the nature of man and society, supporting the idea that individuals are equal, free, and born with certain inalienable rights. Democracy directly challenges many worldviews that support elements such as authoritarianism, populism, and isolationism prevalent in many areas of the world. Democracy is based on a range of ideals ranging from religious to scientific to social, but is a system which can bring together many perspectives to work together and to compromise.
The US democracy has been built on Judeo-Christian values. Despite the Constitution calling for separation of church and state, American politics and democratic institutions have been dominated by the Judeo-Christian worldview from the early days. The Founding Fathers sought a secular government based on a religious foundation, with Washington emphasizing religion and morality as vital principles for preservation of free government. Religion has been a key factor in creating and sustaining American democracy and serving as guidance in various policy debates to serve the public good. That is also regarding the role of religious institutions, primarily Christian in influencing multiple leaders, as well as the political philosophies on which the Constitution was founded, such as the works of Plato and Aristotle, and later Burke and Locke, emphasizing free government with an emphasis on religion. As written in Deuteronomy 1:13, “Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.” Religion has had a historical impact, first on the European civilization, and eventually Puritanism and other Christian values in the US. Political freedom and subsequent preservation of democracy requires a strong moral foundation that religion has played a role in supplying (Holloway 2016).
Comparative politics and its methods allow for a broad line of inquiry in many subjects in the subject matter. It allows to identify variable and determine variations, while also finding key information and supporting its validity with comparisons and analysis. This paper demonstrated how the topic of the success of US democracy can be examined from a comparative perspective.
Dickovick, J. Tyler, and Jonathan Eastwood. 2019. Comparative Politics (3rd ed.). New York, NY.: Oxford University Press Academic US.
Holloway, Carson. 2016. “Tocqueville on Christianity and American Democracy.” Web.
Lührmann, Anna, Sandra Grahn, Richard Morgan, Shreeya Pillai, and Staffan I. Lindberg. “State Of the World 2018: Democracy Facing Global Challenges.” Democratization 26, no. 6 (2019): 895–915. Web.
Martin, Glenn R. 2006. Prevailing Worldviews of Western Society Since 1500. Marion, IN: Triangle Publishing.
van Noort, Sam. 2021. “Industrialization and Democracy.” Web.
Steinmetz. Jay. n.d. Politics, Power, and Purpose: An Orientation to Political Science. FHSU Digital Press. Web.