While the American Presidency is a unique institution, its primary tasks are not unique. The need to give direction to government is universal and persisting. Every country, from the Egypt of the Pharoahs to contemporary democracies and dictatorships, faces the challenge of organizing political institutions so that leaders can make authoritative decisions about collective problems of society. The commitment to representative as well as effective government increases political complexity in order to increase popular consent.
Today, there is no presupposition that any one country has discovered the formula for good government; signs of difficulties are everywhere, in the Second and Third World as well as in Western nations. Differences in historical traditions and in contemporary circumstances inevitably lead to differences in institutions and in processes of government. Yet it would be an unusually arrogant citizen who proclaimed that his country had nothing to learn from the experience of other nations in governing itself--if only to learn from their mistakes. The less confidence Americans have in national institutions, the more reason there is to look elsewhere in a spirit of open inquiry.
Comparisons of national systems of government reveal both constants and variations. For example, each of the national studies in this book emphasizes the extent to which heads of government are and must be political animals. A suave European will be as concerned with mundane calculations of political support as any brash Washington politician. National contexts greatly influence the practical significance of political universals. One cannot begin to understand, for example, how European politicians act without understanding the nature of party loyalties in Europe. The fact that similar labels are