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.

Coercive Power

Coercive power

All things fall apart; the center cannot hold.

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,

And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowning.

The best lack all conviction,

While the worst are full of passionate intensity.

William ButlerYeats, “The Second Coming” (1919)

Of all the political tasks a government of free people must perform, the most important is civilizing coercive power.1 Neglect taming humankind's bullying instinct, and there will be no society. Where there is no police power, the worst of us soon start threatening others into submission. As the poet Yeats knew, when intimidation comes to dominate every important relationship, “all things fall apart,” “innocence” dies, and existence becomes “pitiless.”

The presence of unregulated coercion renders freedom impossible, brings misery to its practitioners and ...

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