from Scottish and Welsh nationalists. But Britain is not alone in this regard, as numerous other countries face secessionist movements. Examples include Spain (the Basques and Catalans), Italy (the Northern League), France ( Corsica), Belgium ( Flanders), and of course, returning to North America, Canada (mainly Quebec but also possibly the western provinces). Perhaps the first test for the strength of the state is survival; the United States is unusually likely to pass that test.
Two great dangers in comparative studies are to think either that there is no parallel to be found anywhere else to one's own system or, at the opposite extreme, to exaggerate similarities to the point at which important contrasts are obliterated.
There is little danger that people will fail to notice the distinctiveness of American political institutions. Few countries have copied or are likely to copy the model, so rooted in eighteenth-century thought, of separated institutions sharing powers. The greater likelihood is that people will attribute exclusively to American institutions characteristics and consequences that are features of democratic government more broadly. All democratic systems run the risk of fragmentation and deadlock because the only likely guarantee against these dangers is tyranny. While some institutional arrangements may make deadlock or drift more likely, any democratic system is likely to afford different interests and perspectives in society some means to influence policy.
Americans are in general very proud of their system of government and may have trouble accepting that there are indeed other political systems as democratic as their own. But, particularly in intellectual circles, there is also a tendency to believe that the United States is unusually imperfect, that things are managed much better in Europe, or, more recently, in Japan. Both the nationalist asserting the magnificence of American institutions and the pessimist condemning their failings, however, should take note of the similarities in the character and consequences of institutions. Tocqueville came to America to see the effects of democracy in a world in which democracy was exceptional. In today's world, where democracy is more common, we need to bring an appreciation of its more general consequences to our understanding of American institutions.