The shrinking planet

Politics - Comparative Government and Politics
November 27, 1998

These two books have at least one thing in common: they succeed because they neglect some of the loftier objectives presented in their introductions. Rod Hague et al's text on comparative government, which first appeared in 1982, has been thoroughly revised. Its discussion of the foundations of political systems, politics and society, and the structure of government centres on three dimensions of variation between states: democracy versus authoritarianism; consolidated versus transitional democracy; and developed versus developing states. This framework allows reference to a wide range of country experiences without succumbing to the danger of arbitrariness in the choice of illustrative material. The chief merit of the new edition is that it introduces more recent literature on democratic transitions. It also gives prominence to the alleged shift from government to governance and the rise of globalisation. When analysing the institutional core of political systems, both are ignored and we get a well-informed analysis of key institutions of national government.

Globalisation is not necessarily conducive to analytical rigour. Hague et al's chapter "The Global Context" is uncharacteristically patchy, while Barrie Axford and his colleagues suggest: "The gathering pace of globalising pressures means that it is the world which is now becoming the appropriate unit for analysis." I suppose this will make it more difficult to set "compare and contrast" questions in comparative politics papers. The first chapter of their introduction to politics asks if "politics is really about people". Fortunately, this idea is not pushed too hard. The authors create an "interactive text" and the book contains many exercises and "think points". Some appear rather basic, for example students are invited to reflect on how thinking is involved in activities such as driving a car or doing housework. However, the authors assume a steep learning curve, for on the next page, readers have graduated to discussing Hegel's statement:

"What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational." Many of the chapters are informative and will be read by first-year students among others, but the book does lack a systematic framework of cross-national comparison (which its authors acknowledge), making it difficult to fathom the logic behind the choice of country examples.

Klaus H. Goetz is senior lecturer in government, London School of Economics.

Politics: An Introduction

Author - Barrie Axford, Gary K. Browning, Richard Huggins, Ben Rosamond and John Turner
ISBN - 0 415 11074 2 and 11075 0
Publisher - None
Price - £55.00 and £14.99
Pages - 544

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