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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 4.6 out of 5 by 48.
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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 1 out of 5 by from This is far below college level instruction. I have only been more disappointed by the Bell course on Slavery. It is not clear to me if the lecture is simply blinded by his driving bias or perhaps to clever-by-half. By either way the supposed disinterest is absurd to the point of insulting. I suffered through each lecture hoping for some objective depth in analysis. But it never came in any lecture. The disputes with the Communists oppressing the Chinese people is far deeper than a difference of opinion on trade. As Lenon said of the peace deal with Imperial Germany, agreements are just paper. Events have shown the EU to be a failure both governmentally and economically. The idea of a trade block was sound. But as it is, the EU is little more than a limb of the German mercantilist empire. With the whole failing edifice resting on sustained massive German trade surpluses. While America carries all the real cost of security against the likes of Putin. I really wish I had not wasted my time on this. But I am more troubled that many customers seem to believe this was sound objective instruction.
Date published: 2023-08-30
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
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good but not great, mostly because of the format. This course, while solid, isn't particularly exceptional for a few reasons. To start with the positives, Professor Hollander generally does well to remain objective, a challenge in this type of subject matter. He's left-leaning, but that doesn't prevent him from giving a fair shake to both sides of each argument. He's a clear communicator and his lectures are enjoyable to listen to. Additionally, he's chosen themes that offer a broad look at many different political science topics. However, the issue that pulls the course down is the format used by The Great Courses. Lectures are only 22 minutes long, a cutback from the previous 30-minute+ duration. This shortened timeframe restricts the ability to delve deeper into any given topic. The fallout from this is that you walk away from the class not quite sure what you've really learned. The course feels more like a string of brief overviews/intro rather than a deep dive into political science. I found myself often wishing to go more in-depth. In future, I'll be more mindful when choosing courses that adopt this time-restricted format. It's too shallow an approach, unless you're an absolute beginner to the subject and you're looking for a quick introduction
Date published: 2023-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Generally, not my jam but SO glad that I tried it. Compulsively-watchable. Good presentation style and really did a good job overall in being non-partial about tough topics. [Only failure: perfunctory ack of the devastating impact of loss of job/career to millions of American skilled trades, manufacturing, and the problem of not producing strategic products domestically, while over and over repeating the message that globalization is GOOD because it lets consumers have lower prices] The content was perfect: kinds of democracy - it's not all alike; when democracy really isn't; how to improve or shore up problem areas. So much that we don't think about, don't know about if we've never studied poli sci. Not my jam in general, but this gent made it compelling.
Date published: 2023-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and necessary It is important for everyone to understand that democracy has both benefits and flaws. “Democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others that have been tried:” Churchill. We need to guard it, nurture it, and steer it gently when it goes off course. I highly recommend this course because a lot of us have forgotten how our form of government works.
Date published: 2023-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sophisticated overview of Political Science I thought I knew a lot about politics, but there was SO much more to learn! Dr. Hollander's course is ideal for anyone, from the 'rookie' to the seasoned political observer. He has a knack for explaining complex political dynamics in digestible terms -- but without simplifying it or watering it down. A sophisticated introduction to political science presented in a way that is both informative and entertaining. Bravo, Dr. Hollander!
Date published: 2023-04-20
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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.


Ethan Hollander

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


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
Democracy and Its Alternatives


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