chapter  1
37 Pages

Continuity and breakdown

Change is a constant in both the natural and human worlds, but not all changes are the same. Human beings may age slowly and imperceptibly,

but they may also die sudden and violent deaths. The water in a river may flow on placidly, subtly altering the position of the pebbles in its bed, but rivers also suffer cataclysmic five-hundred-year floods that change their course dramatically forever. The range of changes in the political world is not much different. In countries such as France, Great Britain, and Japan, for nearly half a century at least, individual politicians and parties gain and lose office on a regular basis; laws are passed after open debate, and mass protests, when they occur, are largely peaceful. Yet nothing very violent or dramatic occurs. Political life there seems to resemble a slowly flowing river. But in countries such as Iran in 1979, the Soviet Union in 1991, Congo in 1997, and Afghanistan for much of the last quarter century, revolution, rebellion, or coups d’etat were the norm. One group of politicians threw out another with dramatic consequences for the entire country. Neither continuity nor improvement is guaranteed. This chapter introduces some of the concepts and theories of comparative politics that shed light on why in some countries and in some periods, change is generally incremental and peacefully accommodated and in other countries or other periods it is quite the opposite. We leave the issues of improvement or deterioration of political conditions to later chapters.