This is “Preface”, article 2 from the book A Primer on Politics (v. 0.0).
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An Introduction to Politics proposes to chart a path that is at once a little more brief, concise and in between than those textbooks currently on the market. As this class is usually taught to freshmen, there is little to be gained and much to be lost with overloading a text with too much minutiae of the ins and outs of politics. Covering too much will, in the end, be covering too little if students don’t read or give up on reading the book. Politics is a great story—the story of human existence. A successful textbook needs to tell that story.
The handful of students at elite universities might be ready for Magstadt or Roskin, however, that’s not where most of us teach. Our students are no less capable; they have great potential and many of them will realize that potential in a variety of fields. But at the beginning level, many of them have to be convinced that politics, among many other things, actually matters in their lives. How many times have you heard a student say (or have you seen them write) “I don’t really care about politics”? Their idea of politics is congressional and presidential bickering, which makes no sense until we explain to them that this is how our government—and much of the world—works.
This book should appeal to any professor who understands students and wants to be able to provide them with a basic outline of politics, what it means and how it works. For example, my proposed theory chapter would include a lot of useful information about how the politics of the western world developed, using theorists, as a way of explaining some of why we believe what we do. Moreover, such a book needs to engage students and help begin to convince them that politics actually matters. I’ve been teaching freshmen and sophomores for more than 15 years; that’s forced me to be a generalist with an appreciation for the bigger picture and an understanding of how little new students may know.
All of the bells and whistles added to a typical text to try to make it relevant either mislead the students or bog them down with trivial and tangential information. As many professors know, students largely only read if they know that material from the book is going to be on the test. A textbook that is clear and direct and sticks to the basics, while still being readable and not dry, will give students what they need without asking them to wade through a lot of extras. Hence one of my fundamental laws of explanation: All life is politics. An Introduction to Politics will attempt to demystify the political world, and make it relevant by showing how things actually work and why—how political systems divide the spoils and spread the burdens of civilized life; how economic and political systems intersect; and how approaches to politics have evolved to bring us where we are today.
The book will be divided into the following chapters, roughly paralleling the pattern found in existing books: