Rated 5 out of 5 by RoyT Perspective On Present Discontents
I am very impressed with this course. Professor Kobylka is a great presenter and the content of his lectures is top-notch. This is not a dry discussion of political theory. Professor Kobylka contends that “…ideas (philosophy) and actions (context) exist in a complex relationship…Political thought chases events, and events chase political thought. Ideas (philosophy) and actions (context) exist in a complex relationship… Neither can be understood without the other… Both inform each other.” (Course Guidebook, Page 24). The result is a truly interesting and engaging survey, covering over 400 years, that not only deals with “…self-consciously political theorists, [but also] political actors whose actions were infused with theoretical content, and governmental institutions acting on the basis of theoretical constructions of political concepts” (Page 182-183).
For the most part, Professor Kobylka is concerned with two main aspects of American liberalism (more broadly understood than today’s often politically charged designation), which he says is “…a very malleable political philosophy”, that "[a]t its core is the individual…All individuals possess rights that are to be protected from encroachment…”). Those two main aspects of American liberalism he terms minimal state and active state liberalism (also referred to as progressivism). To these dominant approaches “…various libertarian, conservative, anarchic, and socialist theories join the conversation from time to time.” (Page 185). Professor Kobylka locates the development of the minimal state and active state liberalism in the arguments over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution (even noting that 1960s Students for a Democratic Society echo Anti-Federalist ideas of 1788). “The federalists and the anti-federalists set the polar stars of the predominant cycle of American political thought: the role of government in general, and of the national government in particular, in the lives of its citizens.” (Page 183). Matters really take off after the Civil War, however, in the “…conversation between these two liberalisms, with each gaining the upper hand at various junctures” (Page 184).
Not too surprisingly, but somewhat disconcerting, is Lincoln as the one who got the active state liberal ball rolling. What I enjoyed most about this latter part of the course is its contrasting of two of the major late 19th/early 20th century theorists, William Graham Sumner and Herbert Croly, respectively minimal and active state proponents, and how their ideas and approaches not only impacted federal administrations, but also were reflected in Supreme Court decisions. The tale is an interesting one that includes the New Deal and the “nationalization of the Bill of Rights” (Audio, Lecture 35) by the Warren Court in the 1950sand 1960s, followed by the cycling back to an emphasis on minimal state liberalism by the Reagan Revolution.
There is so much to this course that I do not feel able to do full justice to it. Here, however, are some of the main themes (from Pages 185-187):
“A. Liberalism, in general and in America, is a very malleable political philosophy.
B. American liberalism is characterized by the expansion of the people.
C. Space—the “extent of territory”—has had enormous impact as an element of American political life and thought.
D. We view America as a once-constituted country, but it has had many reconstitutions…the malleability of liberalism has allowed these reconstitutions without profound philosophical and institutional dislocation.
E. Through it all, America has never lost its sense of ‘specialness,’ exceptionalism.”
I came away from this course with a better understanding and appreciation of our country’s past and present. Not only did Professor Kobylka do an excellent job on the sweep of American history, but also painted some vivid portraits of important figures, including John Winthrop, Thomas Paine, the Founding Fathers, Orestes Brownson (whose socialism anticipated Marx) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Dubois, Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Martin Luther King (in the liberal tradition, but trending toward socialism at the end), William F. Buckley, Betty Friedan, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan (who harked back to John Winthrop in some important ways). Just a fantastically good set of lectures!
At the end of this course, Professor Kobylka notes that “…people like Ann Coulter and Michael Moore see demons on the other side. Jefferson saw Adams as a Monarchist and Adams feared Jefferson a Jacobin (Audio, Lecture 36)…Our ideologues find cataclysmic faults everywhere they turn. So did those of earlier times. This reflects a human tendency to magnify the present and diminish the past” (Page 182). Professor Kobylka is a thoughtful and fair-minded presenter who will keep your attention through thirty-six excellent lectures. Very highly recommended!
December 3, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by JBennett213 Very Informative and Fair
This was a truly exceptional course on the cycles of American political philosophies, between "minimal state" Liberalism and "active state" Liberalism, with a reasonable smattering of non-Liberal critiques (eg, Socialism and non-Liberal Conservatism). The content delivery was superb, learned and coherent. What I particularly appreciated was Professor Kobylka's very fair-minded treatment of all sides. He does an exemplary job of illuminating the thought he's examining without interposing any discernible bias, which, in our partisan Age, is very refreshing.
December 3, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by NYNM Cyclical and dynamic
While the lectures themselves are quite informative, I think it is the course "concept" that won me over.
The concept is that (Political) thought is dynamic, not a set of facts and figures. The organic nature of politics provides an opportunity for interpretation and reinterpretation of political document and structures to suit the "tenor of the times." Prof. Kobykla thus focus on political philosophy in the context of the development of the United States through the cycles of history.
I believe this perspective is quite useful in gaining an understanding of US politics and the nature of our development as a country. It also show the resiliency involved in government and interpretation of government function for differing generations and socio-political realities. Thanks.
January 12, 2009
Rated 5 out of 5 by Yearn2Learn Profound and Enlightening
It has been said that the United States is the first country founded on an idea (or philosophy); comprised of liberty, freedom, and individual rights. The expression of this philosophy in terms of what is the form and role for government, who is enfranchised to participate, and who pays for this governance, have been subjects of debate among political thinkers since the first settlers arrived in the North American colonies from Europe.
Dr. Kobylka follows some overarching themes: American Exceptionalism, the dynamic malleability of liberalism (defined as a philosophy with the individual at the center), one "founding" perhaps but at least 3 reconstitutions, the concept of "the people", and the importance of space (as in a "virgin" continent).
Dr. Kobylka presents the people and events of the history of the US, but provides a context primarily around the contentions among ideas.
Dr. Kobylka shows how the "historical baggage" of the British norms of governance derived through concessions carved from royalty (Magna Carta, Glorious Revolution, English Bill of Rights, etc) as well as the "theoretical baggage" of the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment philosophies of Locke and Hobbes gave American Political thought a head start. Ironically, despite this, the first real government in the colonies was the conservative theocracy of the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony(MBC). Dr. Kobylka indicates the re-emergence's of philosophy similar to MBC autocrat John Winthrop's "Citty on a Hill" at various points in American History. This statist approach begins to fade with Roger Williams through the remainder of the 17th century, and ultimately the British taxation imposed following the French and Indian War brings the liberalism philosophy to center stage. From this point on, up through today, American political thought cycles through interpretations of this liberalism from a limited government whose main role is to allow the pursuit of individual economic liberty to an active government focused on increased enfranchisement and greater equality among peoples. Of course, there are a lot of interpretations in between these two.
Dr. Kobyla spends a considerable amount of the course on the nation's formative years. In particular, he spends several lectures on the Constitution. This may seem lengthy and at times redundant, but during these lectures he is setting a framework for the remainder of the course as he refers to the purposefully vague portions and the lingering debate among individual, state, and federal rights. Key founders and/or Presidents imprinting their thoughts/philosophies on the landscape include Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, LBJ, and Reagan.
As the course proceeds we are exposed to thoughts from less notables on the influence of nature (as in the frontier) and self-interest (Crevecoeur), iconoclastic individualism (Thoreau), Inclusion (Douglass/Stanton), revolutionary socialism pre-Marx (Brownson), American Feudalism (Fitzhugh), Interests-not Individuals (Calhoun), Social Darwinism (Sumner), economic equality through wealth redistribution (Bellamy), Women's Suffrage (Anthony, Catt, et. al.), Workingman's Socialism (Debs) and Equality of Opportunity(Croly). These are laced together into the patchwork quilt that is American Political Thought. While some options have been eliminated along the way, it is clear that there has been no settling into a full consensus for America.
Some key insights along the way are the characterization of Lincoln as the first to promote active state liberalism, of FDR as devoid of ideology, of the contrasts between the gradualism on racial equality of Booker T. Washington from the immediacy of W.E.B. DuBois, and of the move toward Socialsim that M.L. King, Jr. may have been undertaking had he not been assassinated. Having lived through the tumult of the 60's and early 70's, I would say that Dr. Koblyka captured this period in a balanced and accurate way.
Dr. Koblyka takes us through this journey in a highly organized yet thought provoking and reflective manner. He speaks in a clear voice at an appropriate pace with few non-words ("ahs") or hesitations. His voice reminded me of Dick Caveat, in both its pitch and thoughtful delivery. I found him very easy to listen to and to follow.
The coursebook is excellent. The lecture summaries are in outline form and a timeline, a glossary, biographical notes, and an extensive bibliography are included. This format should be standard for all TGC guidebooks.
I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in the history of American political thought. It would be interesting to see an updated version of this course covering the last 20 years of American Political thought, especially as the economy and communications have become more global.
May 27, 2015