Comparison in Comparative Politics

Comparison in Comparative Politics

Comparative politics seek to find the similarities and differences

between different countries in order to help explain the cause and effects

of political actions. In this way, even studies of comparisons covering

vastly different topics can have much in common. Peter Uvin, in his 1999

article "Ethnicity and Power in Burundi and Rwanda: Different Paths to Mass

Violence" seeks an explanation to ethnic violence in Burundi and Rwanda and

how Burundi and Rwanda reached their level of violence resulting from

politics. On an entirely different subject, in 2005, Michael McFaul in

"Transitions from Postcommunism," looks for the common factors that will

lead to a transition from authoritarianism to democracy. In comparing the

post communist regimes, he uses Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia and takes into

account how they have overcome authoritarian leadership. While studying

different topics in entirely different spheres of world politics, Uvin and

McFaul do have much in common. They seek, through comparing the events in

countries that have a similar resulting action, to find the reasons for it.

For Uvin, the final action is ethnic and political violence; for McFaul it

is the advent of democracy. Regardless of the specifics, both consider the

so-called "building blocks" of politics in making claims that have reach

beyond historical evaluation. McFaul and Uvin both are successful in

comparing the political actions of different regimes and countries to find

a better understanding of the past in the hopes of creating a better

understanding of the future.

McFaul examines post-communist states, but focuses primarily on three

countries which have been successful in moving from authoritarianism to

democracy. By focusing on Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, McFaul is able to

specifically account for the reasons that these three countries could be

said to be more successful in their politics than other post-communist

which have struggled to find their way after the fall of communism. In his

own words, McFaul's study is "seeking to learn lessons from the democratic

breakthrough" (McFaul 17). This means McFaul, in using countries that have

become democratic, through comparison he not only can explain reasons but

use these reasons to gain insight into the future to help identify future

democratic countries, or perhaps more importantly to help encourage the

transition to democracy in the many countries that are struggling to

achieve democracy.

Uvin also seeks to identify the reasons for a certain resulting

action, his case of study being the ethnic polarization in Rwanda and

Burundi that has led to violence with no foreseeable end. While he does

not study what can be considered a positive action, as does McFaul, he

works to learn the origins of conflict and to determine how far those

origins have had an impact on the current political dilemma. If the long

term origins are not an important factor in creating the climate of

political violence, then Uvin wants to know what was. Most importantly,

however, is the question he is trying to answer how Rwanda and Burundi, two

countries who suffer similarly from ethnic polarization, have reached their

current state and how they differ in the reasons for ethnic violence.

To answer the questions, Uvin and McFaul both try to find a better

understanding of the past. McFaul first separates the countries he wishes

to evaluate, Ukraine, Serbia, and Georgia as distinct cases from other

transitions to democracy. According to McFaul some of these reasons

include the relative peaceful transition to democracy (McFaul 2). But

these transitions were unpredicted by analyzers, meaning their must have

been some underlying factors that were overlooked. Thus his study of the

changes the four countries can help identify the reasons for a transition

to democracy. To accomplish this, McFaul takes his four case studies and

finds the factors that are similar in all of them. He takes the many

factors, and details how each and every one of them were common in some

form or the other in his case study countries and by doing so he can

separate the essential factors for the transition from those that are

unessential. McFaul then takes it a step further to explain how the

important factors, while numerous, were integral aspects of the transition

to democracy.

Much like McFaul, Uvin attempts to understand the present through

evaluation of the past. Uvin, in his case study of ethnic polarization in

Rwanda and Burundi, goes back to long ago to explain the roots of the

ethnic conflict. He then progresses through the countries' histories up

the most present to understand the ethnic conflict. Once he has his data,

which is qualitative as a political historic overview of the two countries,

he then finds the reasons for the ethnic violence. In Rwanda, he

determines that prejudice has been institutionalized and accepted (Uvin

12). In Burundi it is fear, and both countries' ethnic violence can be

seen as a result of revenge (Uvin 12). Once the reasons for violence are

specified, Uvin takes his study farther and draws conclusions as to the

reasons for the reasons behind the violence. For example, why do people

have fear in Burundi? By using comparison to understand and interpret the

history of the two countries, he is able to better explain the causes of

the ethnic polarization. Taking a much more historical approach, Uvin

seeks to identify the differences between two regimes, why McFaul seeks to

find what made them similar.

McFaul's argument is very strong as he is able to find factual

evidence of his reasons for all the important determinants of transition to

democracy. While this may appear easy because he considers them essential

after he identifies their credible through evidence in all three countries,

it is in fact good research that there are no stretches and gaps in the

evidence. For example, one critical factor to McFaul is that Georgia,

Ukraine, and Serbia were all able to mobilize the masses (McFaul 9).

Without this critical factor, there would be no democratic transition and

McFaul is able to back up such statements. Although there is no way of

knowing for sure what could and would have been had history played out

different, McFaul makes a good point in that if not enough of the mass was

mobilized the peaceful revolutions could have easily ended violently and in

failure, like in Tiananmen Square for instance. In general McFaul's

supports his arguments with very strong conclusions and identifiable

patterns among the evidence, and he clearly illustrates the difference

between essential factors and unessential factors because of their evidence

and not his own opinion. The only weakness, perhaps, in McFaul's argument

is identified by him. It is that there are too many critical components in

the transition to democracy, as critical should not to be used lightly.

Even McFaul refers to this as "bad social science" (McFaul 13). However,

he follows it up with a strong point that without each and every critical

factor there would like be different results, and without detailed research

into the case studies he provides, this would be difficult to disprove.

Accordingly, McFaul has made a very strong argument.

Uvin's argument is also very strong as his determinants of violence

in Rwanda and Burundi can be accounted for by fact. Uvin, goes about this

differently than McFaul, as his evaluation is based largely on analysis of

the situation rather than identifying patterns. Because he uses two

countries, rather than all the countries that fit the pattern, he does not

have to make specific claims that are met by all regimes involved. The

same can be said for the fact that he is looking for differences, rather

than similarities, but he also notes similarities between the case studies

as well. Important to Uvin's claim is that Rwanda and Burundi may seem

similar at first glance, as both countries have similar social structures

(Uvin 15). This however is not the cause, as Uvin goes through the history

of both Rwanda and Burundi to determine that there does exist differences

between the two situations that may appear to be similar. Where McFaul

attempts to find unison across multiple cases, Uvin takes a case which

appears to have unison and differentiates the pieces from one another.

This is an easier argument to make than McFaul, and Uvin has a strong

argument, but there are some weaknesses. There are many similarities

between Rwanda and Burundi, some relating to the nature of violence in

general. For example, the notion that violence leads to more violence can

be applied to this case study and perhaps most instances of violence (Uvin

16). In trying to explain the ethnic polarization that has lead to

violence, Uvin is not always clear on the relationship, and Uvin's final

point that violence is not likely to end anytime soon is an overlooked and

underdeveloped point in relation to his main arguments on the origins of

the conflict. Nevertheless, Uvin makes the differences between the two

countries very clear and can back up his arguments with solid evidence on

the political atmosphere of Rwanda and…