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Aníbal Pérez-Liñán

This chapter examines the key features of modern democracy, as well as its origins. It first explains what democracy means in the field of comparative politics, before discussing different models of democracy, including presidential democracy, parliamentary democracy, and democracies oriented towards consensus or majoritarian rule. It then describes the conditions—economic and political, domestic, and international—that allow some countries to become democratic but preserve others under the rule of dictatorships. In particular, it analyses the variables that facilitate the democratization of dictatorships and the factors that place democracies at risk of becoming authoritarian regimes. Finally, it reflects on the future of democracy and looks at the challenges that lie ahead for new generations of citizens.


1. The Starting Point  

Understanding the Political System

This chapter discusses what makes British politics distinctive and recognizable: its parliamentary democracy, uncodified constitution, and pattern of party government. It begins by outlining some recent events that have made British or UK politics so fascinating and controversial. The chapter then describes the political system, particularly the institutional rules that affect what happens and govern how politics takes place. Parliament, composed of the House of Commons, House of Lords, and the Crown, is the supreme legal authority in the UK. The chapter also provides a summary of the British constitution. It places the UK in a comparative context, to be studied alongside other nation states. Finally, the chapter sets out the information and concepts that help in understanding the nature of and limits to British democracy.


This chapter considers executive branch politics in a number of European democracies. It addresses the nature of parliamentary democracy and compares it with other forms of democracy. For example, it looks at separation-of-powers systems using the principal–agent framework of Chapter 2. The chapter examines in detail the link between parties and institutions in order to understand the process of government formation and government collapse. It begins to consider the foundations of the process of law-making which is relevant for the remainder of the book.