The American Anomaly: U.S. Politics and Government in Comparative Perspective, 2nd Edition (e-Book) book cover

The American Anomaly

U.S. Politics and Government in Comparative Perspective, 2nd Edition

By Raymond A. Smith

© 2011 – Routledge

214 pages

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Hardback: 9780415879729
pub: 2010-10-05
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pub: 2010-10-18
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Seymour Martin Lipset pronounced over a decade ago, "Those who know only one country know no country." It is well established that students learn the intricacies of American politics better when they are presented in a comparative context. In today’s globalized society and workforce, it is all the more important for students to understand that the American political system is in many ways the exception and not the rule. Introductory textbooks on American government, however, rarely emphasize in sufficient depth how the United States compares to other political systems. And introductions to comparative politics infrequently situate the United States in their analysis.

The American Anomaly systematically analyzes the U.S. political system by way of comparison with other countries, especially other industrialized democracies. It is organized into four sections, respectively covering the constitutional order, governmental institutions, political participation, and public policy. Extended case studies in each chapter draw on all the major regions of the world.

Thoroughly revised throughout, the second edition also includes:

  • a new chapter on domestic public policy, including civil rights and liberties;
  • a new chapter on foreign policy;
  • updates throughout to reflect the 2008 elections and the beginning of the Obama administration;
  • a reorganized section on political participation;
  • over a dozen new figures and tables.

A companion website also offers overview slides, links, and other supporting features.


"Comparison is at the heart of political science, yet many American politics courses are taught as if the world ended at the U.S. border. For instructors who want to break out of this parochialism, The American Anomaly is a godsend. Clear and concise yet wide-ranging, The American Anomaly fits neatly into an introductory course, providing a perspective that will add depth to every facet of the class."

Thomas F. Burke, Wellesley College

"The American Anomaly is a rare introductory text that enables students to explore domestic governmental institutions and political processes from a global perspective. The book is conceptually rich, meticulously documented, and well-written and offers an indispensable framework for a core U.S. politics or government course."

Corey Cook, University of San Francisco

"Smith adroitly situates the American political system in comparative perspective, offering a refreshing take on U.S. government and politics that invites readers to reflect critically on the extent of American exceptionalism and the United States’ international status. Its well-selected case studies, engaging discussions of alternative institutional arrangements, and evenhanded considerations of the pros and cons of the United States’ political practices make The American Anomaly an ideal supplement for American politics courses."

Shamira M. Gelbman, Illinois State University

Table of Contents

Part I: The Constitutional Order 1. The American Nation, State, and Regime. Case Study: The Nation, State, and Regime in Poland. The American Nation. The Development of Nationhood in Comparative Perspective. The American State and Regime. Unusual Characteristics of the United States 2. The U.S. Constitution. Case Study: The South African Constitution of 1996. The U.S. Constitution: Brevity and Vagueness. The Process of Constitutional Change. Anachronistic Elements of the U.S. Constitution 3. Federalism. Case Study: The European Union. The Confederal Model. Case Study: The Unitary State in Japan. Unitary States: Centralized Decision Making. Case Study: German Federalism. The Federal Model 4. Separation of Powers. Case Study: The Westminster Parliamentary Model. The Fusion of Power in Parliamentary Government. Prime Ministerial Power. Other Checks and Balances? A Hypothetical Case Study: Parliamentary Checks and Balances. Prime Ministerial Accountability to Parliament Part II: The Institutions of Government 5. The Executive Branch: The Presidency and the Bureaucracy. Case Study: Variations in Executive Power in Southeast Asia. Nondemocratic Executives. Democratic Dual Executives. The American Presidency in Comparative Perspective. Other Presidential Systems. The U.S. Vice President, Cabinet, and Bureaucracy 6. The Legislative Branch: The Two Houses of Congress. Case Study: Legislative Variation in the Former British Dominions. Unicameralism. Asymmetric Bicameralism. Symmetric Bicameralism. The Dispersal of Power in the U.S. Congress. The Power of Congress in Comparative Perspective 7. The Judicial Branch: The Supreme Court and the Federal Courts. Case Study: The Judiciary in France. Impartiality and Independence. Courts as a Separate and Co-Equal Branch. Judicial Review Part III: Political Participation 8. Political Participation: The Spectrum from the Unconventional to the Conventional. Case Study: The Zapatistas and Indigenous Political Participation in Mexico. Political Violence. Non-violent Activism. Interest Group Activity 9. Voting and Elections. Case Study: Voting and Elections in Israel. Free and Fair Elections. Competitive Elections. Voter Eligibility and Turnout. The Winner-Take-All Electoral System. Peculiarities of the U.S. Presidential Elections 10. Political Parties. A Hypothetical Case Study: Electoral Systems and the Number of Parties. Single-Party Systems. Two-Party-Plus Systems. Multiparty Systems. The U.S. Two-Party System in Comparative Perspective 11. Public Opinion and Political Values. Case Study: The World Values Survey. United States Public Opinion in Comparative Perspective. Religiosity and Moral Values. National Pride but Skepticism about Big Government Part IV: Public Policy and Policymaking 12. Domestic Policy: Socioeconomic Policy, Civil Liberties, and Civil Rights. Case Study: Political Rights and Social Protections in Denmark. Socioeconomic Policy. Skepticism of Big Government. Civil Liberties. Civil Rights 13. Foreign Policy: The U.S. in the World. Case Study: The Foreign Policy of China. Foreign Policymaking in the United States. U.S. Foreign Policy: Realist and Idealist Perspectives Conclusion: The American Anomaly on Balance. Stability. Flexibility. Representation. Accountability For Further Study: A Brief Bibliographic Essay on American Exceptionalism

About the Author

Raymond A. Smith is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and New York University and is the author of Importing Democracy: Ideas from around the World to Reform and Revitalize U.S. Politics and Government.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Process / General