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PSC 302: Comparative Government

SAMPLE ESSAY QUESTIONS

by Jeremy Lewis
  • Short questions
  • Longer questions
  • Identification questions
  • 302 Syllabus
  • Note: some questions although still useful are from previous textbooks, e.g. Hancock.

    Sample short essay questions
    1. [Hancock] Explain how the French constitution of 1958 dealt with the question of gouvernement d'assemblee.

    2. [Lecture] How does French political history 1776 - 1958 contrast with that in the US? 

    3. [video] Explain the contribution of Charles De Gaulle to French history since 1940. 

    4. [Lecture & Hancock] What were the causes of the failure of the Weimar Republic in Germany?

    5. [Hancock] Explain the postwar West German constitution, and changes since 1989.

    6. [Hancock] Explain the postwar Italian system of government.

    7. [Lecture & press] What happened to Italian politics in 1993-94?

    8. [Hancock] Discuss the nature of power in Sweden.

    9. [Hancock] How is power used in Britain, and how is it changing?

    10. [audiotape] Discuss Winston Churchill's wartime speeches with reference to leadership in a democracy.

    11. [Lecture & video] Explain the Maastricht agreement and its aftermath.

    12. [video] Explain the trend in regional identity in the EU.

    13. What has been the policy impact of Mrs. Thatcher? 

    14. How has the British electoral system and party system evolved in the last 150 years, approximately? 

    15. Which forms the more important type of causal factor in the British and American political systems: the constitution or the political culture?

    16. In what senses should Britain or the USA be considered more of a liberal democracy, and what does it mean to be more representative?

    17. Which forms the more important type of causal factor in the British and French political systems: the constitution or the political culture?

    18. In what sense has France married her century, politically speaking? Is it a French century for guiding others to forms of democracy?

    19. ``The French branches of government stand in between the British and American.'' Discuss fully.

    20. Which has the more effective party system, Britain or France? Are they converging in type?

    ``Both De Gaulle and Mrs. Thatcher proved that democracies succeed only with strong leadership.'' Discuss fully.

    How have the British and French electoral and party systems evolved in the last 150 years, approximately? 

    Explain the cultural and demographic effects on British politics. Which have been stronger? To what degree are these independent of constitutional factors?

    Explain the sources and elements of the UK constitution, and the meaning of the term "constitutional."

    Which are now the truly "efficient" parts of the British Constitution, and which the "dignified?" Are these the same as the ones Bagehot identified a century ago, or have some more institutions become merely "dignified?"

    Explain the legislative process in Britain in these stages of the process: initiation of policy; formulation and amendment of laws; debate about policy; passage of laws; regulation and implementation of policy; enforcement and feedback. To what extent is each stage controlled in Britain by a closed Establishment or by an open, participatory process?

    Which governmental system is more representative, the British, German or the French? (Compare them all.)

    Which governmental system is more similar to the American (of the German or the French?)

    Among major liberal democratic countries, how are the institutions balanced? 

    To what degree can the US or UK constitutions be seen as a model for others?

    What are the distinctive characteristics of the British constitution?

    What have been the issues involved in the conversion from the EC to the EU?

    In what sense did De Gaulle represent the "Spirit of France", and what did he accomplish?



     

    Sample longer essay questions.
    [Hauss; Wiarda; Magstadt; Magstadt & Schotten] What types of comparative analysis are feasible between national politics? How can we classify types of nation state? What difficulties are there in making such analyses?

    [Wiarda 1-5] How have approaches to comparison -- and to the nature of development and democratization changed over time?

    [Magstadt, Wiarda, Hauss, Steiner]. How can we approach the problem of classifying the many governments around the world? What approaches are most useful in guiding us to understanding the variety of nation states?

    [Steiner 1, 2] Explain how European parties and elections differ from those in the US, and how parties are changing.

    [Steiner 1-3, Commons Question Time video] Is the powerful party leader /prime minister system common in Europe -- and is it compatible with democracy? In your answer, discuss with examples the qualities of European monarchical and presidential forms of head of state. Explain the nature of cabinets in western Europe and contrast them with the US. 

    [Steiner 3] Discuss with examples the qualities of European monarchical and republican forms of head of state. What is the long term trend in heads of state?

    [Steiner 3] Explain the nature of cabinets in western Europe and contrast them with the US. Is the British model typical?

    [Steiner 3] Discuss with examples the qualities of European monarchical and presidential forms of head of state. Explain the nature of cabinets in western Europe and contrast them with the US. Is the British model really typical of western Europe -- or really untypical?

    [Steiner 4] Is Europe likely to accept or reject American style judicial review, or the use of the referendum -- and why is it even experimenting with such processes?

    [Steiner 4-5] Why is Europe experimenting with American style judicial review, or the use of the referendum -- and are these institutions democratic or anti-democratic in nature? [Don't forget to contrast European with American courts and deliberation in parliaments with direct democracy via referenda (or "plebiscites").]

    [Steiner 6] Should the State cooperate with economic interest groups, or keep them at arm's length? Explain the argument in Europe between corporatists and pluralists (or anti-corporatists). 

    [Steiner 6] Explain the argument in Europe between corporatists and pluralists or anti-corporatists. Is the role of the State really different in West Europe than in the US?

    [Steiner 7] Discuss the recent social and religious movements in western Europe. Which trends have gone further than the US and which have run behind?

    [Steiner 7, 9-12] Explain how in the 1990s European communism and nationalism yielded to democracy, market forces and regional or ethnic identity. What institutions such as power sharing (consociational democracy) or devolution have been used to ease this shift?

    [Steiner, Hancock] Explain the development of the European Economic community and its metamorphasis into the EC and eventually the EU. To what degree is this dependent on building (in the 1950s) narrowly functional, (in the 1960s) general economic or (in the 1990s) monetary and political integration?

    [Steiner, Hancock] Describe the composition, powers and roles of the institutions of the European Union. Is it generally true that the executive, legislative or judicial branch is the most powerful? Is the EU a supra-national governmental system, or more of a confederation?

    [New Europeans, Steiner, Hancock] In what ways has the EU attempted to create a trans-national economy, polity and culture? Is this process threatened by the rediscovery of regional identities within its nation states? Discuss with examples.

    [Steiner, Hancock] To what degree is the United Kingdom a polity of similar politico-cultural traditions to the US but with contradictory institutions? Examine the political parties, elections, the legislature, the cabinet, the monarchy and the power of the Treasury.

    [Steiner, Hancock] Compare and contrast the development of Italian and German government from 1945 to 1989, and from 1989 onwards. 

    [Steiner, Wilson] Italy and Germany were both fascist states in the 1930s and 1940s, but have been democracies since 1947. They both became different democracies in the 1990s than they had been for fifty years. Compare and contrast the development of Italian and German government from 1945 to 1989, and from 1989 onwards. 

    [Steiner, Hancock] Describe the composition, powers and roles of the institutions of French government, and the historical traditions that gave rise to the Fifth Republic. Is the system closer in design to the British or to the American?

    [New Europeans, Steiner, Hancock] It used to be said that the European Union was founded upon French farming interests and the German Bundesbank interest. One wasted money lavishly and the other conserved it too carefully. With the recent expansion of interests (new countries, new social movements), and policy changes (monetary, environmental, social welfare) in the EU, which tendency would you predict will predominate in the next century, and why?

    [Steiner, Hancock] To what degree is the United Kingdom a polity of similar politico-cultural traditions to the US but with contradictory institutions -- whereas Sweden has similar institutions but different culture? 

    [Curtis] To what degree can an American understand the influences on European politics via the classic theorists excerpted by Curtis? Are they most helpful in understanding socialism, monarchism, or some other influence that is "un-American". Explain your answer in the light of at least five European theorists.

    [De Gaulle: A Vision of France, Steiner, Wilson] Describe the composition, powers and roles of the institutions of French government, and the historical traditions -- and De Gaulle's leadership that gave rise to the Fifth Republic. Is the system closer in design and traditions to the British or to the American? Did De Gaulle succeed in making France "marry her century?"
     


    Sample identification questions
    [key concepts]: identify as many as you can of the following: 
    • [Steiner] corporatism
    • [Steiner] Statism
    • role of the Speaker in UK versus US
    • [lectures, Wilson] role of the mafia in Italian government
    • [Steiner, Wilson] ideology and strength of Christian Democrats in Germany and other countries
    • [lectures, New Europeans, Steiner, Wilson] federalism versus subsidiarity in the EU
    • [Steiner] role of referendum in Britain, Switzerland and elsewhere
    • [Steiner, New Europeans, lectures] Maastricht treaty
    • [Steiner, New Europeans, lectures] Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
    • Council of Ministers; 
    • COREPER
    • social class voting in Britain. 
    • nature of De Gaulle's "Vision of France" as shown by wartime and postwar actions
    • the ombudsman
    • German Chancellor since 1947 compared to German President.