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A Novel Approach to Politics

A Novel Approach to Politics
Introducing Political Science through Books, Movies, and Popular Culture

Sixth Edition
Additional resources:

July 2020 | 544 pages | CQ Press
A textbook your students will want to read.

“If you would like students to understand hard political concepts, this work makes it accessible for them. By using pop culture, we can open ideological ideas and students are not bound by their own preconceived ideas.”
—Leah Murray, Weber State University

A Novel Approach to Politics turns the conventional textbook wisdom on its head by using pop culture references to illustrate key concepts and cover recent political events. Adopters of previous editions are thanking author Douglas A. Van Belle for some of their best student evaluations to date.

With this Sixth Edition, Van Belle brings the book fully up-to-date with current events and policy debates, international happenings, and other assorted ‘intergalactic’ matters. Van Belle tackles the most tumultuous political periods in recent history head-on, encouraging students to engage with ideas, arguments, and information that makes them uncomfortable. Employing a wide range of references from Brooklyn Nine-Nine to The Good Place to Ready Player One, students are given a solid grounding in institutions, ideology, and economics. To keep things grounded, the textbook nuts and bolts are still there to aid students, including chapter objectives, chapter summaries, bolded key terms, and discussion questions.

Introduction: Warning/Parental Advisory
About the Author
1. Introducing the Ancient Debate: The Ideal versus the Real
Classical Theory, Modern Reality, and Stuff

You’re Just a Mime Trapped in an Invisible Box

Fiction as a Tool for Exploring Politics

Utopias in Fiction and Politics


What Is Politics?

What Is Political Science?

2. Why Government? Security, Anarchy, and Some Basic Group Dynamics
Security Trumps Anarchy, Rock Smashes Scissors, but Will Someone Please Explain How Paper Beats Rock?

A Model for the Emergence of Cooperation: Bobsville

Collective Action




The Context of Hierarchy


Groups and Group Identities

3. Governing Society: We Know Who You Are
Leadership Benefits

The Panopticon

Collective Action, Revolution, and the Use of Force

Legitimacy and Government Control

4. Government’s Role in the Economy: The Offer You Can’t Refuse
Government All Up In Your Business, Yo

The Tragedy of the Commons

Karl Marx—Student of Capitalism?


The Yin and Yang of Capitalism and Socialism

Modern Stuff


5. Structures and Institutions
Structures or Institutions?

Human Nature and Political Institutions

The Reality of Political Institutions


6. El Grande Loco Casa Blanca: The Executive (in Bad Spanish)
Oh Captain, My Captain

The Scorpion King on Grandpa’s Farm

Kings and Presidents

The Democratic Executive

7. The Confederacy of Dunces: The Legislative Function (Not in Bad Spanish)
Boring History Stuff

A Dreary Discussion of Democratic Legislatures

A Redundant Repetition of the Theme: Contrasting Legislatures in Parliamentary and Presidential Systems

A Tired Attempt to Make Coalition Politics Interesting with a Lame Example

A Dreary Bleakness in the Authoritarian Gloom: They Endure Legislative Institutions, Too

8. Brazilian Bureaucracy: Do I Even Need to Bother with the Jokes?
Bureaucracy, It Goes to Eleven

So... What Is a Bureaucracy?

There Be Flaws in Yonder Bureaucracy, Obviously

The Endy Part

9. Courts and Law: Politics behind the Gavel, Obviously, but What’s under the Gown?
Law and Politics

The Political Functions of Courts

Trial and Appellate Courts

Legal Systems


Types of Law

Constitutional Review

10. Not Quite Right, but Still Good: The Democratic Ideal in Modern Politics
Arrow’s Theorem

Democracy and the Liberal Ideal

An Economic Theory of Democracy

The Real versus the Ideal, Again

11. Media, Politics, and Government: Talking Heads Are Better Than None
Reality and Beyond

The Whole China Charade

Your New Brain and the Creation of Reality

News Media and Politics

A Vast Conspiracy?

Understanding the Distortions Is the Key

12. International Politics: Apocalypse Now and Then
Causes of War

Back to Anarchy

World War I Was Unpleasant

Realism and War

Challenging the Realist Paradigm

13. Secret Government: Spies, Lies, and Freedom Fries
14. Political Culture: Sex and Agriculture, Getting Rucked Explains It All
Political Culture

Applying Political Culture

Back to the Question of “What Is Culture?”

15. The Lastest and Bestest Chapter: The Study of Politics
Here’s Where the Story Ends

The Study of Politics

The Applied Subfields


Appendix A: Fiction Appendix
Appendix B: A Strategic Approach to Writing for the Classroom


SAGE edge - Instructor Site

SAGE edge for instructors supports your teaching by making it easy to integrate quality content and create a rich learning environment for students with:
  • a password-protected site for complete and protected access to all text-specific instructor resources;  
  • test banks that provide a diverse range of ready-to-use options that save you time. You can also easily edit any question and/or insert your own personalized questions;
  • editable, chapter-specific PowerPoint® slides that offer complete flexibility for creating a multimedia presentation for your course; and
  • instructors manual that summarize key concepts by chapter and offers class activities and discussion questions to help you prepare for lectures and class discussions.

“If you would like students to understand hard political concepts, this work makes it accessible for them. By using pop culture, we can open ideological ideas and students are not bound by their own preconceived ideas.”

Leah Murray
Weber State University

“An interesting interpretation of the basics, ordered in a unique way.”

Dr. Domenic Maffei
Caldwell University

“I wish all Political Science texts were written by Van Belle!”

Kimberly J. H. Pace
University of Alaska Anchorage

“A very relatable text that covers a number of important concepts for students new to the study of political science.”

Steven Moynihan,
Cape Cod Community College

“An engaging way to teach Introduction to Political Science with unique use of pop culture examples.”

Dr. Will Jennings
The University of Tennessee
Key features
  • Examples of the implications of the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential campaign in the US—such as political protests on issues of minimum wage increases, environmental protections and climate change, and wealth taxes; the impeachment proceedings; and Supreme Court decisions with regard to gerrymandering—are included throughout.

  • A wide range of pop culture references, including Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place, and Ready Player One, targeted towards the millennial generation and gen Z keep students captivated.

  • Additional analysis around the role of the media in political science including social media, open information, privacy, fake news, and media bias.

  • A new discussion on health care illustrates at the differences between the health care system in the U.S. and those of Australia and New Zealand.

  • Updated figures, tables, and maps ensure students have the most current data.

  • The book’s Fiction Appendix has been updated to capture all the new films, TV shows, games, and works of fiction added to the Sixth Edition.


  • The use of fictional examples allows instructors to increase the complexity and nuance of the political dynamics addressed and start classroom discussions that will make students want to participate.

  • Learning objectives called “Stuff to Remember” provide additional guidance.

  • “Spoiler Alerts” at the end of chapter introductions frame the discussion to come, keeping students focused on key points.

  • “We Call the Old Stuff Classics” and "We Call the New Stuff Popular Culture” features call out pivotal political philosophers, theorists, and assorted hipsters whose work continues to impact modern governments.

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