Political science is the social science that is devoted to the study of politics and government.
Political science emerged as a distinct discipline in the 19th century from the study of economics, history, and philosophy.
Other modern social sciences include economics, geography, psychology, and sociology.
Comparative politics is the area of political science that seeks to understand how politics and government work within particular countries.
The term comparative is used because we are making comparisons with how other countries' political systems work.
The most obviously similar field of political science is called international relations.
Comparative politics is also similar to the study of American politics.
The building block of comparative politics is what political scientists call the nation-state (or modern state).
Nation states began to emerge in 17th Century Europe, as feudalism gave way to a more centralized system of government where most power rested with the king/queen and his or her advisors.
Some of these states were more absolutist than others: the power of British monarchs was reined in by aristocrats and wealthy commoners, while French monarchs ruled with an iron fist.
The Napoleonic Wars led to the emergence of many more nation-states over the next century, as a sense of shared national identity led some empires to fall apart while small kingdoms and princedoms were consolidated.
Creating the shared identity of a single nation and maintaining it over the years can be challenging.
Some countries are still trying to forge a shared identity, while others failed to do so, like the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia which collapsed in the 1990s.
Various institutions form the basis of governing nation-states.
In most modern states, the basic institutions are laid out in a written constitution that establishes the scope and powers of government institutions.
In some modern states, the constitution is “unwritten” or not a single document, such as Britain and Israel.
Modern democracies generally are classified by relationship between the executive and the legislature.
In a presidential system like the United States or Mexico, the executive (president) is elected separately from the legislature, and can only be removed under exceptional circumstances. The role of head of state and the role of head of government is vested in the president.
In a parliamentary system like Britain or Germany, voters choose representatives in parliament (the legislature) who then choose a prime minister and cabinet who serve as the executive as long as they maintain the confidence of a majority of parliament.
The prime minister serves as the head of government but not the head of state.
Parliamentary systems without a monarch (like Germany's or Israel's) have a president who normally serves as a figurehead and tends to have little political power.
Other parliamentary systems, like in Britain and Sweden, assign this role to the monarch or his/her representative, who by law or tradition does not exercise political power.
Many democracies have more than two major parties. Often this reflects the electoral system:
Other reasons for multiparty systems:
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