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Democracy and Its Alternatives

Dig into democracy’s definitions, duties, debates, and difficulties, with special attention to how democratic governments have worked—or not—around the world and throughout time.
Democracy and Its Alternatives is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 52.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Good (... even if flawed) Very interested in this subject matter (to paraphrase another reviewer "it is my jam") and did extensive analysis of posted reviews to gauge it's worth and investment in time. Upon watching the well presented (albeit 'cheapened' by short-changing the episode lengths) course I would well recommend for others simply due to the clarity and quality of the presentations on an important subject. The lack of a clear definition of "democracy" is somewhat understandable due to the fact that the term as used here is not limited to the idea of '...a system of government generally responsive to the will of the population thru voting ...' but rather is extended to the very different idea of "... a government that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms ...". I personally have no issues with this second idea but it does complicate the discussion and this course almost totally avoids the consequences of that complication! The absence of a lecture specifically focused on 'The Tyranny of the Majority' allows the continued 'feel good' associations with the word Democracy even when discussing subjects where this second idea runs directly counter to the idea of 'majority rule'. Perhaps for some this is one of the components that make this 'introduction'/novice level material (avoiding a complex issue) but I say that 'introduction'/novice level material that gives the wrong impression is unacceptable. Explicit coverage of the fundamental flaw of a simple idea of Democracy is a must in presentation of this type and become a key component of the topic "Are Courts and Constitutions Democratic" (as well as being the 'missing link' in this course's presentation in the episode entitled "Partition, Peacekeeping, and Human Crisis"). On a slightly different tact on the above idea, it seems that in this course that the US Senate is presented as our protection from the 'tyranny of the majority'. But '...over our history the most populous one-quarter of the states — represented by only one-quarter of the Senate — has consistently been home to around 60 percent of the total population...". This rather 'undemocratic' representation of the population is based today on a rather arbitrary delineation of geographic boarders (but 'state rights' don't really have much of an association with 'respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms') albeit a very effective mechanism for avoiding 'majority rule'. Again not dealing with the reality of the definition of the term "Democracy" and leaving it to have a 'feel good' connotation detracts from what could be the full value of these lectures. So above I've dealt with what I perceive as the 'flaws' of this course (I agree with many others about the 'strengths' of this course) but still recommend this material: its being a well presented discussion of the topic allows it to be a good baseline and grounding for further exploration and fleshing out of topics inadequately dealt with.
Date published: 2024-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accomplishes the Goal The course is designed for the masses - and Prof. Hollander succeeds in equipping his students with an understanding of how world governments work....and don't work. With each lecture, the vast majority of students will walk away with three or four critical facts about the topic - and in my opinion that makes Prof. Hollander an excellent communicator.
Date published: 2024-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course to watch and re-watch I watched this course a while ago, as soon as I saw it in my feed. But I find myself going back to it again and again -- and getting more from it every time. When Russia and Ukraine are in the news, I go back to the lectures on dictatorship (The professor talks a lot about Putin); and when the Israel/Hamas war began, I re-watched the lectures on ethnic conflict and partition. I also found the lecture on Central Banks to be very helpful when there was all that talk about inflation and rising interest rates. Basically, even with new news events that have occurred since this course came out, the professor's explanations are timely, helpful, and completely on-topic!
Date published: 2024-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Great Course is a great course! No pun intended, but this Great Course is a great course! With all the talk about election, I just had to give this course a try. And all it took was the first lecture, and I was hooked! Best of all, I learned a lot, not just about the US election system, but about political systems all over the world. Let this course be your guide through election season. You won't regret it!
Date published: 2024-01-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Democracy and Its Alternatives I learned many things during the course, but I do have one complaint- I would like to see these lectures redone where, almost every single time any type of government is referred to, the word "democracy" is not substituted for the type of government being referred to. Cumbersome, I know, but much more accurate and closer to the truth. "Democracy" has taken the brunt of criticism and political failure for millennia; the velvet glove "failure of democracy" is never credited as the iron fist "triumph" of the republic it truly is. When one looks around at the world we live in, one sees republic in action. Democracy is anathema to republic. We are learning quickly in our modern world that one of them must go if we are going to survive as a civilization, and we won't rid ourselves of the evils of republic unless we call it what it is. Every. Single. Time.
Date published: 2024-01-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Democracy without personal responsibility? Having only finished 6 of the lectures, I visited these revues as a check on my perception that these lectures are but opinion pieces. I was astounded that Prof Hollander was advocating ignorance of civics as satisfaction for voter qualification. IMO all voters, born or naturalized should present knowledge of civics and current events to qualify.
Date published: 2023-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course! This course is a real jewel. Each lecture is finely honed and gives all the central points without a lot of extra fluff. I really appreciated his lecture style which is smoothe and polished. I'm sure his students must like, enjoy, and benefit a great deal from his courses. With each lecture I learned a tremendous amount of interesting material. He speaks in measured tones and always explains words and concepts very clearly. It was a real pleasure watching this course. I put his course near the top of all the courses I have watched since 1992!
Date published: 2023-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply the best... I'm an avid consumer of Great Courses. Actually, I'm kind of addicted to them. So I don't say this lightly: This is the single best Great Course I've done! And no, I don't say that lightly. I've watched dozens -- maybe hundreds -- from way back in the days when you used to have to buy them on cassette! And they're all good. The Teaching Company clearly vets their talent carefully, and they only produce the best. But this course is the best of the best. The perfect combination of interesting, informative, eye-opening, and fun.
Date published: 2023-08-25
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Overview

Political science, history, and current affairs rolled into one, Democracy and its Alternatives investigates democratic government in theory and practice. With political scientist Ethan Hollander as your expert guide, you will explore democracy from all available angles with a robust toolbox of political philosophy, world history, international relations, individual case studies, and carefully constructed thought experiments.

About

Ethan Hollander

One thing that’s certain is that we’ll never improve on our current state of affairs unless we understand it.

INSTITUTION

Wabash College

Ethan Hollander is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Wabash College. He earned a PhD in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego, where he was also a faculty fellow. He has received the McLain-McTurnan-Arnold Research Scholar distinction and The Story Collider podcast’s Artistic Director’s Pick award. He is the author of Hegemony and the Holocaust: State Power and Jewish Survival in Occupied Europe, and he has published research on authoritarian rule in Eastern Europe and democratization in the Middle East.

By This Professor

Democracy and Its Alternatives
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Democracy and Its Alternatives

Trailer

Is Democracy Built to Last?

01: Is Democracy Built to Last?

In the course’s inaugural lesson, define politics and political science. Dive into democratic backsliding across the world, as well as the confluence of geopolitical and economic factors that led to this crisis point. And evaluate the strength of democracy in light of populism, radicalism, polarization, and paralysis.

22 min
Politics and Personal Sacrifice

02: Politics and Personal Sacrifice

How does a group fractured by competing interests come to a decision, and when does it make sense to sacrifice one’s personal freedoms for the collective good? Examine how public goods are provisioned and distributed. See how governments square diffuse and concentrated interests. And survey three strategies for political decision-making.

22 min
Government and the Invention of Law

03: Government and the Invention of Law

What is law? When was it invented and why? How do governments enforce the laws that they create? And how do constitutions—foundational laws that determine how all other laws are made—differ around the world?

21 min
The Rise of the Modern State

04: The Rise of the Modern State

The overwhelming majority of us live in what are called sovereign states, the fundamental unit of political organization. Dive into the history of the modern state, traversing medieval and early modern Europe from feudalism to the Treaty of Westphalia, and examine the religious, cultural, and economic changes that reoriented political authority in the West.

20 min
States, Nations, and Nationalism

05: States, Nations, and Nationalism

Nationalism and ethnic conflict are centuries old. Coupled with high-tech weaponry, however, they can be extraordinarily deadly. Investigate nationalism through a handful of case studies, exploring how ethnic, religious, or linguistic conflict has unfolded in places like Iraq and Turkey, how it is mitigated in Switzerland and Belgium, and the threat it poses in Catalonia and Scotland.

21 min
Why Care about Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau?

06: Why Care about Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau?

Put on your philosopher’s hat to explore some classical political theory. Dive into the arguments and ideas of famous political theorists Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Determine what states are legitimately and morally capable of from all three viewpoints. And finish the lesson by evaluating social contract theory in European and American contexts.

23 min
Who Gets to Vote?

07: Who Gets to Vote?

What are the three fundamental characteristics of democracy? And what limitations on the right to vote are compatible with democratic government? Explore the advantages and disadvantages of direct and indirect democracy. Finish by examining illiberal democracies and what they look like.

22 min
Voters and the Dangers of Too Much Democracy

08: Voters and the Dangers of Too Much Democracy

Continue your dive into democracy by zooming in on its most glaring flaws. Move from issues like voter apathy to the chilling specter of mob rule, evaluating these real-world threats to democracy, as well as the potential for democracy to overcome them.

22 min
Should Presidents or Parliaments Lead?

09: Should Presidents or Parliaments Lead?

What is the difference between a president and a prime minister? How much power should the chief executive wield? And which is more stable, presidential or parliamentary democracy?

23 min
The Vote Counter Decides Everything

10: The Vote Counter Decides Everything

Voting is a defining feature of any democracy. But how are votes tabulated? And what even counts as a majority? Well, when it comes to tabulating election results, there is no single formula; there are many. Survey three voting systems—plurality voting, two-round system, and ranked-choice voting.

23 min
Do Political Parties Help or Hurt?

11: Do Political Parties Help or Hurt?

Political parties, detested by the likes of George Washington and John Adams, are nevertheless key features of modern democracies. What role do they play when it comes to elections and policymaking? How do they differ across the world? And are multi-party systems better than two-party systems? Examine these questions and more.

24 min
The Problems with Federalism

12: The Problems with Federalism

In 1790, a federation was born in the United States. But states remained distinct and powerful political entities, and separatism remains a potent threat to federal governments across the world. At the course’s halfway point, turn your attention to federations comparatively, legally, and in practice, evaluating how they function from Canada to Nigeria.

26 min
Are Courts and Constitutions Democratic?

13: Are Courts and Constitutions Democratic?

Healthy democracies must have constitutions and courts, but constitutions are usually old, and judges are often unelected. How do we make sense of this strange paradox? From the United States to Japan, explore constitutions and courts around the world, and see how democracy fits into the mix—if at all.

21 min
The Controversial Politics of Central Banks

14: The Controversial Politics of Central Banks

Central banks, powerful custodians of currency and the economy, deserve our attention. Explore how these banks work, as well as the powers they wield. Understand why central bank administrators and politicians so often clash. And evaluate the benefits and shortcomings of independent central banks, using contemporary examples.

22 min
Who Backs Authoritarians?

15: Who Backs Authoritarians?

The truth of the matter is that authoritarianism can make for an appealing alternative to democracy. Explore this notorious form of government by evaluating how dictatorships work and how they differ around the world.

24 min
The Dictator’s Playbook

16: The Dictator’s Playbook

How does authoritarianism emerge in a country? And can we predict when and whether a dictator will come to power? From violent revolution in Cuba to a military coup in Egypt and democratic elections in Nazi Germany, you will investigate the origins of dictatorships along with how strongmen gain and maintain power.

20 min
When States Fail, What Comes Next?

17: When States Fail, What Comes Next?

Believe it or not, whole states can fail—and this includes dictatorships as well as democracies. What is state failure? Why do states fail? And what threats do failed states pose to the rest of us?

22 min
Partition, Peacekeeping, and Human Crisis

18: Partition, Peacekeeping, and Human Crisis

What is humanitarian intervention? And should the international community intervene to prevent a genocide or to keep the peace between warring factions? If not, what alternatives exist to avert humanitarian catastrophe? Closely examine and analyze these questions through a diverse array of global case studies.

24 min
What Really Causes Wealth and Poverty?

19: What Really Causes Wealth and Poverty?

Why are some nations rich and others poor? Examine concepts like GDP, the resource curse, colonialism, and the economy of trust to see how they affect economic development. And consider whether econmic development is always a desireable goal in the first place.

23 min
The Global Fault Lines of Trade

20: The Global Fault Lines of Trade

Why is international trade so controversial? And why does protectionism find support from both sides of the political spectrum? Delve into the global battle between free trade and protectionism, moving from Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement to the US-China trade wars.

23 min
Is the European Union a Success or Failure?

21: Is the European Union a Success or Failure?

The European Union is a unique and mysterious institution. But what is it? How is it organized? And how has it fared in the face of a sovereign debt crisis, a refugee crisis, and Brexit?

25 min
When the Balance of Power Breaks Down

22: When the Balance of Power Breaks Down

When balances of power break down, disaster can strike. How can a powerful institution—like a government—be forced to keep its promises? And what is the essential role of government in the management of risk?

25 min
Why It’s So Hard to Work Together

23: Why It’s So Hard to Work Together

Politics requires collective action. But that is much easier said than done. How does the government enable collective action? And when can collective action problems solve themselves?

24 min
Gridlock and Democracy

24: Gridlock and Democracy

Conclude the course with an overview of modern democracy, in America and abroad. Survey political history from the rise of agricultural societies to the technological revolution of today. Review the merits and pitfalls of democracy and its alternatives. And close by examining the role international agreements play in global governance.

26 min