If you want students to really understand the concept of power, moving beyond a survey book's quick discussion of Laswell's “who gets what and how,” Muir's thoughtful Freedom in America might be the book for you. Exploring the words and ideas of such thinkers as Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Tocqueville, Muir discusses the nature and limits of three types of power—coercive, reciprocal, and moral—and then uses this framework to explain how American political institutions work.

If looking for an alternative to a long survey text—or itching to get students grappling with The Federalist Papers or Democracy in America with more of a payoff—Muir's meditation on power and personal freedom is a gateway for students to take their study of politics to the next level. His inductive style, engaging students with well-chosen and masterfully written stories, lets him draw out and distill key lessons without being preachy. Read a chapter and decide if this page turner is for you.

Political Democracy

Political democracy

Then let's rejoice with loud Fal la That Nature always does contrive That every boy and every gal That's born into the world alive Is either a little Liberal Or else a little Conservative!

William S.Gilbert, Iolanthe (1882)

We have left unmentioned the moral institution of greatest significance to the functioning of American government: our system of competing political parties. Two major parties have dominated the political landscape since the nation's founding. By and large, every national election since John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson for the presidency in 1796 has consisted of the rivalry between the Democratic Party and the organization we now know as the Republican Party (through its several incarnations, it has been called the Federalist Party and the Whig Party). As ...

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