Comparative Politics

1. Checking presidential power: executive decrees and the legislative process in new democracies
Palanza, M. Valeria. Cambridge, 2019

In her groundbreaking book, Palanza (Pontificia Universidad de Chile) examines policy making in separation of powers systems by explaining the levels of reliance on executive decrees that may lead to unbalanced presidential systems and ultimately low democratic quality. The author accurately defends the long-held belief that policy enacted by decree is less stable than policy enacted by the widely supported congressional statutes. This explanation captures the importance of institutions by taking into account the way they are structured and interact, and by shedding light on the complex process behind the enforcement of checks and balances. The author puts forth the notion that the existence of rules imposing checks on executive behavior is worth nothing if the actors in charge of imposing constraints on presidents do not exercise their constitutional powers. She goes further in outlining mechanisms leading to politicians’ willingness to enforce limits on the executive by means of exercising and enforcing their own decision-making rights. In doing so, they help strengthen the institutions they embody, and endow them with added democratic value.
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2. Cultural backlash: Trump, Brexit, and the rise of authoritarianism populism
Norris, Pippa. by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart Cambridge, 2019

Norris (Harvard) and Inglehart (Michigan) present a richly empirical and theoretical portrait of the rise of authoritarian Populism inspired by cultural backlash. Possessing new evidence, they argue that a silent cultural revolution triggered Populist and authoritarian movements across Europe and the Americas in direct conflict with the values and institutions of liberal democracy. The research is supported by many entities, including the Electoral Integrity Project at Harvard, the National Science Foundation, the US World Values Survey (Michigan), and the European Social Survey. Populists claim that legitimate authority derives from the people and not establishment elites, which undermines faith in democratic institutions. Authoritarian values blend with Populist rhetoric fostering tribalistic conflicts, anxiety, and hatred, the triumph of fear over hope. The book opens with new definitions for authoritarianism and the theoretical framework of the research. Part 2 explores authoritarian and Populist values and the cultural backlash theory, built on empirically testable propositions: a silent revolution intensified polarization around cultural issues, instigating an authoritarian Populist backlash. Former dominant cultural majorities melt away as a new majority emerges with divergent views on social values and norms.
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3. Political protest in contemporary Africa
Mueller, Lisa. Cambridge, 2018

Mueller examines the “third wave” of political protests throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, 2011-2016. Her book adopts class analysis, in which the middle class provides “generals,” the (primarily urban) poor the “soldiers.” Their relationship is symbiotic. Economic disparities have grown on the continent. In 1970, about one-tenth of the global poor lived in Africa. By 2010, the figure had risen to nearly half. Mueller rejects the argument that political spillover from the Middle East and North Africa touched off the “third wave.” Sub-Saharan countries illustrate “social movements,” involving coordination and cooperation. The introduction sets forth Mueller’s basic argument; chapter 2 explains why fewer protests occurred in the 1970s and 1980s than scholars expected. The author asks why poverty persists despite rising per capita incomes and why the middle class’s rising economic status hasn’t guaranteed political empowerment. Chapter 4 examines leaders of Kenyan and Senegalese protest movements. In the following chapter, Mueller uses Afrobarometer data from 31 countries, while chapter 7 examines Niger in detail.
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4. Suez deconstructed: an interactive study in crisis, war, and peacemaking
Zelikow, Philip. by Philip Zelikow, Ernest R. May, and the Harvard Suez Team Brookings, 2018

This is a thorough, well-written study of the 1956 Suez Crisis, authored in large part by Zelikow (Univ. of Virginia) but with chapters by five other capable scholars. May (Harvard until his death in 2009) earned co-authorship of the book by virtue of involvement in the research project as far back as the 1990s. The book presents three successive historical phases: (1) from Egypt’s turn to the USSR for arms in 1955 until the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company in July 1956; (2) from this astonishing action until the following October, when Israel, France, and Great Britain concocted a scheme for military action; and (3) from the start of the ensuing war until the invaders succumbed to pressures to withdraw. The situation is examined from the perspectives of Washington, Moscow, Paris, Jerusalem, London, and Cairo. The authors use existing literature and some archival research to produce the best study so far of the crisis.
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5. The Justice and Development Party in Turkey: populism, personalism, organization
Baykan, Toygar Sinan. Cambridge, 2018

This is one of the most important books on the growth of global populist political movements during the past 20 years. It focuses on the evolution of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (JDP-Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi) since 2002 under the leadership of now-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and how the party evolved from a left-right or secular-religious divide into a “low-high” populist party “as a manifestation of politics of social and cultural inequalities.” The “low-populist” moniker depicts the JDP cadres “as the true representatives of the despised, belittled, socially and culturally excluded, and downtrodden segments of the society.” This enabled the JDP to establish strong emotional links with low-income and peripheral segments. In other words, it was not class but cultural, linguistic, and emotional ties that bound so many Turks (and Kurds) to the JDP, resulting in the party’s movement from an “electoral democracy” to one of “competitive authoritarianism.”
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