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.
Chapter 3: Tyranny
A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of neutrality.
The only effective way to restrain those who abuse coercive power is to intimidate them. Just as Judge Bennett advised Stephen Field to frighten the bully of Marysville into a standoff, Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the American Civil War, would explain to a Quaker practitioner of nonviolence, “[While] on principle and faith, [each of us is] opposed to both war and oppression, [we] can only practically oppose oppression by war.”1
That is such an important reality that it bears repeating: coercion is the only practical way to check abusive coercion. Meeting threat with counterthreat is the indispensable key to a just peace—real peace, not the peace of the ...