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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 4.8 out of 5 by 29.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent for Novice and Intermediate I came here to say I am enjoying this course more than any so far. Professor Hollander has a very approachable style and pleasant voice and manner. Even more important, his points are easy to understand. Lectures can be sedating for me, especially when the information is dense and the presenter moves ahead while I am still untangling complicated concepts. Professor Hollander makes following a breeze - haven't dozed off once!
Date published: 2022-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and very timely I'm only about halfway through the course, but it has already greatly exceeded my expectations. The first words out of Ethan Hollander's mouth were about the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, an event that I've wanted to have put into historical perspective. Hollander did so very skillfully. His lectures are full of profound insights. In retrospect, these insights seem obviously true, but I didn't know any of them beforehand! I especially liked that he showed no partisan bias about anything he discussed. We don't need that here. There's enough of that everywhere else! I expect to do something I usually don't do: Listen to this course more than once. This truly is a great course -- and a very timely one as well.
Date published: 2022-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific course! Prof. Hollander does a very nice job of hiding any political biases and presents this very interesting subject matter in a thorough, understandable way that is easily accessible to the novice while at the same time thought-provoking for those with more experience in these topics. The professor has a calm but disciplined presence, and his voice and speaking style are easy on the ears. No need for video on this one, audio is entirely satisfactory. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2022-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great tour It was refreshing to hear lecturer about politics without bias. Lecture did a great job I learned a lot and enjoyed the course. Now I get to annoy my "intellectual" friends with my new found knowledge.
Date published: 2022-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course I'm taking comparative politics in college, and found this course when I Googled one of the topics we were studying. I'm SO lucky I found it. Now, I'm using it almost as a second textbook. The topics don't line up exactly with what we're studying in class. But when they do, I find Professor Hollander's explanations to be clear and concise, and a great addition/clarification/elaboration to what my own professor is saying. (I found the lectures on the European Union and the ones on Presidents/Parliaments, vote counting, and political parties to be particularly helpful.)
Date published: 2022-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Important I really enjoyed this course. (Actually, I've enjoyed almost every 'Great Course' I've taken.) But with everything I see on the news and in the world, I can't imagine anything more important than "Democracy and Its Alternatives" at this point in our history.
Date published: 2022-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course I’ve taken to date As a subscriber to Wondrium and an enjoyer of many of your courses , I would like to let you know how much I especially appreciated Ethan Hollander’s course on “Democracy and Its Alternatives.” His clear and precise explanations, his breadth of knowledge and his really delightful presentation make this course quite remarkable and relevant. Thank you for making this available!
Date published: 2022-10-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Makes me want to dig deeper ! This course is a great way to get introduced to political sciences in a "nowadays", practical and accessible way. Everyone in a democracy should be familiar with this teaching to be a relevant citizen. If you're already familiar with political sciences, you might want something more specific. I'm slightly disapointed that the question of wether the European Union is a democracy is not adressed. Coming from the EU, I can tell that it deserves its own lecture.
Date published: 2022-10-06
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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