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Cover Comparative Politics

10. Elections and Referendums  

Michael Gallagher

This chapter focuses on the two main opportunities that people have to vote in most societies: elections and referendums. Elections are held to fill seats in parliaments or to choose a president, whereas referendums allow citizens to decide directly on some issue of policy. Elections are the cornerstone of representative democracy, and referendums are sometimes regarded as the equivalent of ‘direct democracy’. In practice, referendums are used only as an option in systems of representative democracy. The chapter first provides an overview of elections and electoral systems, focusing on electoral regulations and the main categories of electoral systems, namely single-member plurality, alternative vote, two-round system, and proportional representation. It then examines the rules under which elections are held, as well as the consequences of this variation. It also considers the use of the referendum and its potential impact on politics.

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Cover Comparative Politics

4. The Nation-State  

Gianfranco Poggi

This chapter examines how the nation-state came into being and how it became dominant as a political unit. It first presents a general and streamlined portrait of the state—a concept that sociologists inspired by Max Weber might call an ideal type. In particular, it considers some of the characteristics of a nation-state, including monopoly of legitimate violence, territoriality, sovereignty, plurality, and relation to the population. The chapter proceeds by discussing a more expansive concept of the nation-state, taking into account the role of law, centralized organization, the distinction between state and society, religion and the market, the public sphere, the burden of conflict, and citizenship and nation. The chapter also describes five paths in state formation and concludes with an assessment of three main phases which different European states have followed in somewhat varying sequences: consolidation of rule, rationalization of rule, and expansion of rule.

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Cover Political Thinkers

29. Arendt  

Justine Lacroix

This chapter examines a number of key concepts in Hannah Arendt's work, with particular emphasis on how they have influenced contemporary thought about the meaning of human rights. It begins with a discussion of Arendt's claim that totalitarianism amounts to a destruction of the political domain and a denial of the human condition itself; this in turn had occurred only because human rights had lost all validity. It then considers Arendt's formula of the ‘right to have rights’ and how it opens the way to a ‘political’ conception of human rights founded on the defence of republican institutions and public-spiritedness. It shows that this ‘political’ interpretation of human rights is itself based on an underlying understanding of the human condition as marked by natality, liberty, plurality and action, The chapter concludes by reflecting on the so-called ‘right to humanity’.