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Editorial Commentary: Ken Ciboski

We Need To Understand Others To Understand Ourselves

DrRandomFactor / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Many Americans think and express the view that the United States is the greatest country in the world and that it has the best political and economic system that ever did exist. That may be, but we ought to ask: In comparison with what?

We need to study comparative politics in order to answer such a question for ourselves. In the study of comparative politics, we examine the similarities and differences among the world’s political systems to see what works and what does not work in different countries. If you do not study comparative politics, then you know only one country, which is likely to be the country in which you live.

One approach for determining what political and economic system is “best” would be to compare how well governed a country is and how well the needs of the people are being met. Socialist parties have a large presence in Europe, and the welfare state there is well developed. All countries in Europe spend a higher percentage of their Gross Domestic Product on social programs than does the United States.

In contrast, in the United States if you have a problem related to your welfare, this is viewed as a personal matter that requires a personal and not a governmental or political solution. In spite of President Clinton saying in 1995 that the era of big government in America was over, relative to European systems we have never had big government, and American political thought is considerably to the right of center in European countries. “Right” to Americans means smaller and more limited government in today’s political vernacular.

As the late great political scientist Samuel Huntington said, “The distinctive aspect of the American Creed is its antigovernment character.”