Comparing Government Structures & Political Systems

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  • 0:01 What Is Comparative Politics?
  • 1:02 Structure
  • 1:57 Function
  • 2:27 Political Culture
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

How do we really compare different governments? Some have kings and some have presidents. But wait, some have prime ministers. Luckily, political scientists have a structure to compare governments, as this lesson shows.

What Is Comparative Politics?

Since the time of Aristotle, we have tried to compare different governments. For the Greeks, it was about trying to find some form of ideal government. For us, it is often about telling others why they don't have the ideal form of government. After all, Winston Churchill said that democracy was the worst form of government, that is …except for all the others.

But how do we compare the governments of different countries in a truly systematic way? Sure, we can say that the U.S. has a president and the UK has a prime minister, but how can we go deeper than that? Better yet, what can we find out about the people who framed a government when we dig deeper?

Political scientists can compare governments with respect to everything from the size of their legislative bodies to the absence of wigs in a court of law. For most practical purposes, however, we can broadly classify governments by using three frameworks that compare the structure, function, and political culture of each system.

Structure

By looking at the structure of each government, we are really looking at the bones of that political body and refers to the actual setup of a given system. In the U.S., we have three branches of government. Why? For the founding fathers, stability was very important and the thought of having one branch overrule the others or even two branches overruling the third was out of the question. Shocking that our founding fathers would have preferred compromise, but the government was never meant to be efficient.

On the other hand, the British have never had an issue with stability. As a result, power comes from the monarch, who has granted it to the Parliament. Yes, there is a question as to what would happen if the monarch ever said No to Parliament, but it is akin to asking what would happen if the U.S. president ordered the Marines to invade Congress. In the British mind, it's simply too far-fetched to cause concern.

Function

If the structure of the government is the bones, the function is the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that cause a government to move and refers to any special ways of doing things. Here, too, countries differ. In the U.S., the government is supposed to operate in a completely different sphere than religion. In the UK, prominent bishops are part of the House of Lords. In Iran, certain religious minorities are guaranteed seats in the Parliament of the Islamic state.

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