chapter  1
On method: comparative historical analysis and politics
Pages 19

To move beyond description, the narrative of the path taken by a country to democracy, and to engage with general questions about democracy it is necessary to make comparisons. As C. Wright Mills (1970: 163) has it, ‘Comparisons are required in order to understand what may be the essential conditions of whatever we are trying to understand.’ As Sartori (1994a: 15) explains, ‘comparisons control – they control (verify or falsify) whether generalizations hold across the cases to which they apply’. Comparing for similarity and difference against controls is the comparative method and its purpose is to judge significance. For a subject such as democracy, how precise that judgement can be is limited, in practice, by a number of problems. The most widely recognized are those neatly put by Lijphart (1971: 685): ‘many variables, small number of cases’. The chances of a study of democracy escaping these problems are slim. It is, clearly, reasonable to expect paths to democracy to be complex and though in recent times democracies have grown greatly in number, established democracies remain few.