Template Course Description (Course Handbook) Part 1: Course information

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Template Course Description (Course Handbook)

Part 1: Course information (Ocasys+Nestor)

General Information (see also TNO)

Course code

# Credits: 7.5 ECTS

Title of Course: Models of Democracy: Comparative Politics meets Political Theory

Instructor information: Dr. Simon Otjes (s.p.otjes@rug.nl)

How democratic systems function has been studied by both political scientists and political philosophers. This course uses both perspectives to analyze how democratic systems actually function and ought to function.

This course gives students a thorough grounding in both the comparative political analysis of political systems and political theory about democracy. Students will examine a number of political institutions, how institutions form a coherent political system and how these institutional patterns are related to policy outcomes and voter satisfaction.

Students will also examine a number of political theoretical approaches to democracy, both classical theoretical approaches as well as more contemporary debates.

Students will not only learn about democratic theory but a substantial share of the course is devoted to learning about the democratic process through simulation of a constitutional assembly.

Central in the course is combining insights from both fields: empirical analysis of functioning of democracy will be enriched with insights from political theory. Debates from democratic theory will be informed by research about how democratic systems actually function.

Summary workload & contact hours





Weekly readings



Weekly essays



Weekly meetings



Final project



Reflection essay




Summary Assessment

The final grade will consist out of six parts:

  • Students write five short, weekly, essays on the topic that is covered that week. These essays will form the basis of the discussions during the session. Together these form 60% of the student's grade.

  • In the final two sessions students will participate in a model constitutional assembly and negotiate about a new constitution for hypothetical country. The grade for this project (based on collective grade for the quality of the outcome and an individual grade for the extent to which the students’ personal agenda was implemented) will account for 40% of the grade.

Required Texts

Lijphart, Arend (2012) Patterns of Democracy. Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press. Second Edition. 368 pp.

Lucardie, Paul (2014) Democratic Extremism in Theory and Practice. London: Routledge. 194 pp.

Additional Readings (online)

Anderson, C.J. and C.A. Guillory (1997) “Political Institutions and Satisfaction with Democracy: A Cross-National Analysis of Consensus and Majoritarian Systems” American Political Science Review 91(1):66-81.

Andeweg, R. (2001) “Lijphart versus Lijphart: The Cons of Consensus Democracy in Homogeneous Societies” Acta Politica 36(2): 117-128.

De Tocqueville, A. (1835) “Unlimited Power of the Majority and Its Consequences – Part I” in De Tocqueville Democracy in America.

Hakhverdian, A. and C. Koop (2007) “Consensus Democracy and Support for Populist Parties in Western Europe” Acta Politica 42(4): 401-420.

Madison, J. (1788) “Federalist 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments” in Madison et al. (1788) Federalist Papers.

Tsebelis, G. and J. Money (1997) “Bicameralism in historical perspective” in Tsebelis and Money Bicameralism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Part 2: Learning Outcomes (Ocasys+Nestor)

Students are able to:

Programme learning outcomes

  1. Explain key concepts, paradigms and models from political science and political theory


  1. Explain how democratic political systems function.


  1. Compare and contrast theoretical approaches to democracy.


  1. Place questions regarding the design of a political systems in a broader political science and political theory framework.

1.7; 2.7

  1. Collaborate with peer students and staff in a collective project, where participants have diverging interests.

4.1; 4.2

  1. Combine existing knowledge about political systems and innovate on these insights in real world context.

1.5; 3.2; 3.4

  1. Evaluate normative and empirical approaches to democracy on philosophical and scientific grounds.

2.10; 5.2

Part 3: Topic outline/schedule (Nestor)








Due Date





Lijphart 1/2/3/4

Lucardie 1






Democratic Theory



De Tocqueville

Group Discussion


7/2 17h00



Lijphart’s Horizontal Dimension


Lijphart 5/6/7/8

Group Discussion


14/2 17h00



Lijphart’s Vertical Dimension


Lijphart 10/11/12

Tsebelis & Money

Group Discussion


20/2 17h00



Evaluating Democracy


Lijphart 14/15/16/17


Hakhverdian & Koop

Anderson & Guillory

Group Discussion


28/2 17h00



Alternatives to Representative Democracy


Lucardie 3/4/5/6

Lijphart 9

Group Discussion


5/3 17h00



Workgroup Session I








Workgroup Session II






Part 4: Grading policy (Nestor)

Detailed description of the assessment scheme




Essay 1 (Week 2)


Essay 2 (Week 3)


Essay 3 (Week 4)


Essay 4 (Week 5)


Essay 5 (Week 6)


Group project

(collective and individual part)


Total Points Possible

Part 4.1: Essay Assignments

Essays will be judged on three aspects

  1. Quality of argumentation: does the author answer the question in coherent fashion?

  2. Quality of writing: does the meet the three following criteria:

    1. Does the essay have a clear structure?

    2. Is the essay written in correct English?

    3. Is the essay no less than 600 words and no more than 800 words?

  3. Correct reflection of the literature: does the essay correctly reflect the literature

Essays that are filed after the deadline will receive a one-point subtraction per hour too late.

Essay 1 (week 2)

The reading assignment for this week consists out of two relatively short political theoretical texts. Both concern the American democratic system at its youngest stage. Students should note that the texts may seem short but that both texts can be quite arcane, are written in archaic English and that both authors have the tendency to stray of their main topic. Close reading of these eight pages is closely recommended.

The text by Madison is part of the Federalist Papers, a set of political-philosophical texts oriented at a broad public meant to promote the ratification of the Constitution of the United States as it was debated in state legislatures between 1787 and 1788. The Federalist Papers are used often to determine the motivations of the Founders behind their original design of the American Constitution.

Alexis de Tocqueville visited America between 1831 and 1833. He wrote Democracy in America about his experiences in the budding American democracy. In it he reflects on the practice of democracy in America in this early stage.

The practice of democracy that Madison envisioned and that De Tocqueville saw, are quite different. In the first essay, students are asked to compare and contrast the conceptions of democracy that according to Madison and De Tocqueville underlie the American system.

Essay 2 (week 3)

This essay is at the core of the empirical part of the course. In these four chapters Lijphart describes the core of his ‘horizontal’ or ‘executive-parties’ dimension. The four chapters describe empirical phenomena (party systems, cabinets, executive-legislative relations and electoral systems) that are closely related in causal terms. The odd thing is, however, that the four chapters are not in the correct causal order. In this third essay, students are asked to describe the correct causal order of the four key phenomena of chapter 5 to 8 and explain the causal connections between these concepts.

Essay 3 (week 4)

The readings of this week concern veto players. Lijphart describes the creation of veto players that curb the power of the majority in the lower house of parliament: judicial review, autonomous states and a higher house. A second reading spends special attention on bicameralism. In order to consider the role that veto-players play in the political system, students are asked to evaluate whether the Dutch Eerste Kamer should be maintained or abolished.

Essay 4 (week 5)

In the last part of his book, Lijphart evaluates the performance of consensus democracy; Lijphart finds that consensus democracies outperform majoritarian democracies on every possible indicator of democratic quality. Lijphart is critized however by Andeweg who argues that a lack of opposition would breed anti-system opposition. Students are invited to take a side in the Andeweg-Lijphart controversy.


Essay 5 (week 6)

The final essay concerns alternatives to representative democracy. Lucardie discusses three alternatives: assembly democracy, the bounded delegate model and the sortionist model. Lijphart discusses corporatism as an alternative mechanism of non-partisan interest representation. Students are invited to evaluate one of these four models on how they perform on representation of minorities, government accountability and checks on majority power.

Part 4.2: Final Assignment

In the final assignment students are expected to participate in a model constitutional assembly. The goal of the assignment is to apply the knowledge about democratic models on a concrete case. Students will simulate a constitutional assembly for a new, hypothetical country. They will need to describe a new constitutional order for this new country.

Last month, two groups of colonizers have arrived on the uninhabited island of Enarminesthere at the same moment. The Alphanes have come with around 670 thousand colonists and the second. The Betanes have come with 330 thousand colonists. The Alphanes and Betanes have distinct national identities and languages. The Alphanes have settled on the west side of the island and the Betanes have focused on the east side, at the centre of the island, the groups have started to mix. Both groups have now set up a rudimentary economic system to sustain their populations and have decided to focus on creating a political system. The two groups have decided to form a single state as the island is relatively small and their economies have become intermingled.

In order to draft a constitution a number of citizens have been selected by lot. They will make a proposal for the design for the new constitution by means of a deliberative process. The final document will be a collective product, but members can take votes on controversial issues (and express minority dissent in a footnote).

The representatives are free to pursue a representative system of government or pursue alternatives based on assembly-based, bounded-delegate-based, corporatist or sortitionist alternatives or to create a mixed system. Issues that the delegates may want to consider include but are not limited to:

  • The division of power and competences between the central and the decentral level.

  • How the head of state comes to power.

  • How the executive at the central level is to be composed.

  • How legislation is decided upon. If they chose for some legislative council, how it is composed.

  • What the role of the judiciary is.

  • How future constitutional decisions should be settled.

Each student is assigned a particular role in the system and are evaluated by the extent to which they are able realize the agenda that fits to that role. The end-product that students are expected to produce collectively is a document of between 6000 and 8000 words which describes the general constitutional order of the system and goes into detail about the different institutions the students propose to set up. Students will also draft a final reflection essay (300-400 words) where they explain to what extent they feel their own ‘agenda’ has been implemented.

Each student will be graded on two elements that both account for half of the grade for this assignment:

  1. A collective grade for the overall quality of the end product.

  2. An individual grade for the extent to which students were able to realize the ‘agenda’ linked to their own personal profile. In a final reflection essay students explain to what extent they feel that their agenda has been realized.

Part 5: Course policies

Attendance of all classes is obligatory. Students who miss more than one meeting will need to write an additional essay. Fraud and plagiarism in the essays and final project will lead to exclusion from the class.

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