Rated 3 out of 5 by Yearn2Learn Knowledgeably Presented with a Slant
Dr. Fears has a strong voice and is a great storyteller, so the Audio version of this course more than suffices.
Dr. Fears shows his wide range of knowledge on history and philosophy. His focus here is on how the concept and practice of freedom emerged. In particular, he puts this in the context of the formation of American democracy. As Dr. Fears' ultimate goal is to show the saga behind the emergence of American freedom his story is one of Western Civilization beginning with the Athenians. Along the way the journey goes through the Romans (Republic and Empire), Christianity, Middle Ages, Protestant Reformation, British foundations of Freedom, the founding of the United States, the U.S. Civil War, the first half of the 20th Century with its two World Wars, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement. Along the way, Dr. Fears unabashedly identifies his "Great Man" heroes: Pericles, Lincoln, and Churchill as Statesman; Socrates and Jesus as teachers. He also makes clear his villains who threatened freedom: Machiavelli, Hitler and Stalin.
Dr. Fears' lectures reveal many key observations such as how Athenian democracy contrasts to American democracy and how the American founding fathers took more of their cues from the Roman Empire than the Roman Republic. With his extensive knowledge of history and historical figures he tells a credible tale of how concepts of freedom and its practice evolved over the ages.
However, Dr.Fears does present history through the color of his own biases. In another Fears TGC course, Churchill, he was more explicit about the difference between historical fact and his opinion. In History of Freedom, he often blurs the distinction. While it can be said that all history is revisionist as it is presented through interpretation, Dr. Fears puts some extra embellishment in his storytelling. In many ways his story is a throwback to the Romantic Historians of the late 19th/early 20th century. It is clear that he views history through the lens of Good vs. Evil with a belief in the "Great Man" theory of History. Dr. Fears form of revisionism is to selectively tell the truth by leaving out some relevant details.
Several examples of this relish exist. He portrays Lincoln as one of the most religious leaders of America, even though, as Fears acknowledges, Lincoln did not belong to a Church. In citing the Gettysburg Address, Dr. Fears uses Lincoln's biblical phraseology of "Four Score and Seven Years" (akin to "three score and ten" in Psalm 90) and the references to "Brought forth" and "new birth" (presumed to be references to birth of Jesus) as evidence of Lincoln's religious piety. Yet he fails to mention that a trend of the time was to use this verbiage for time recollection in reference to July 1776 (e.g. Lincoln's friend James Conkling in July, 1857 noted that "Four score have elapsed" since the Declaration of Independence). The Gettysburg Address was given at the dedication of a National Cemetery for the soldiers who died there. It was a solemn ceremony with religious overtones that were typical of funerals of the day. As Lincoln's law partner, Billy Herndon noted, Lincoln was "the purest politician I ever saw" (letter dated Feb 4, 1866) and was quite capable of adapting his message to the audience and occasion. Many historians note that Lincoln made his last edits to the Address on the speaker's platform when he added the words "under God" as he got caught up in the tone of the ceremony. As Lincoln scholar and TGC lecturer, Allen Guelzo notes in his book "Abraham Lincoln and the Doctrine of Necessity", Lincoln was able to adjust his speeches to adapt to the religious revival tone of the day which "was no mean feat, coming from a man who had been suspected of agnosticism or atheism for most of his life. Yet by the end, while still a religious skeptic, Lincoln, too, seemed to equate the preservation of the Union and the freeing of the slaves with some higher, mystical purpose."
Like he notes of Sophocles' writing in the play "Antigone", Dr. Fears suggests that religion is essential to morality and that the conscience is God speaking to the inner individual. In other lectures he suggests that a moral compass and a bedrock of principles are essential qualities of leaders of free people. In the last lecture, similar to Sophocles, Dr. Fears states that the moral compass comes through a belief in God. Yet, his 20th Century hero, Churchill, who in Dr. Fears eyes epitomizes morality, principle and the courage to stand up to the menace Hitler, was not a religious practitioner either.
Dr. Fears portrays Hitler and Stalin as the two great menaces to Freedom in the 20th Century. This conclusion is without question. Dr. Fears contrasts these two to Churchill and FDR, who he hails as the preservers of democracy and freedom in this age of dictatorships; again this is without question. Dr. Fears then addresses the Cold War and the policy of containment as the preservation of freedom, and lauds that era's U.S. Presidents for standing up to Communism. He especially praises Ronald Reagan for providing "a guiding moral sense to a country gone astray." Ironically, in his concluding Lecture, Dr. Fears decries "scientists" as being amoral and having no compunction after having developed "something as destructive as the Atomic Bomb". Here again is Dr. Fears selective telling of the truth. The so-called Manhattan project to develop the Atomic Bomb was initiated by concern among Scientists that HItler was actually working on developing such a device. Since most of these scientists were emigrants from Europe in light of Hitler's madness, they knew that their physicist colleagues who were loyal Germans, (such as Heisenberg, Stark, and Hahn) were perfectly capable of applying their knowledge of the atom toward a destructive purpose.
Hence these immigrant scientists worked with Albert Einstein (an avowed pacifist) to craft a letter to FDR suggesting an Allied project to develop such a weapon. Funny how Dr. Fears equates Churchill and FDR's fight against Hitler as of high moral character but that of the scientists as amoral. When it was clear that Hitler was defeated before he could develop an atomic bomb, a majority of the atomic scientists in the U.S. petitioned the government to not drop the bomb directly on civilian centers in Japan but rather to stage a demonstration bombing in a remote area for the Japanese hierarchy to witness. Furthermore, many of these same scientists left the program for moral reasons when the efforts turned to developing the hydrogen bomb. This was the same H-bomb that was at the center of escalation of the Cold War to mutually assured destruction (MAD). This escalation was done with the full support of the "heroic" Cold War Presidents mentioned by Dr. Fears. His favorite, Reagan, with his "Star Wars Initiative" was prepared to take this escalation to even greater heights.
Dr. Fears talks of "Darwinism" as one of the key new "isms" antithetical to freedom during Hitler's reign. To be fair, he does make clear that he is referring to a "vulgar" form of Darwinism that goes outside the bounds of Darwin's actual theory and outside of morality. However, unlike most historians and written records from the period that refer to this as "Social Darwinism" or "Eugenics", Dr. Fears sticks with calling this as Darwinism throughout his lectures on Hitler. He shows his colors more explicitly during the last lecture where he talks about Scientific Freedom and decries the fact that "Science has taken over the public schools." He advocates for the sake of religious freedom, that creationism be allowed to be taught in the public schools along side Evolution. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite have his facts right here. While (appropriately) it is true that science has taken over the science curricula in schools, teaching comparative religions (not instruction in any one religion due to the establishment clause in the Bill of Rights) can be taught in public schools. Teaching the fact that various religions have different sacred texts and beliefs that tell different stories of the creation of Earth and life is legal. But science courses are limited to teaching the best of what is known or not known in science. Dr. Fears maintains that the U.S. Founding Fathers would have trouble understanding how this education that is secular could have emerged. On the contrary, at least two of the fathers, Franklin and Jefferson, would have welcomed this with open arms. (see Franklin's and Jefferson's autobiographies and Jefferson's views on education in "Notes on the State of Virginia".).
Despite Dr. Fears teaching this course with a purposeful slant and an agenda aligned with Evangelical Christian philosophy and conservative politics, I still recommend this course for the following reasons: 1.The course contains much history and philosophy that is tied to the emergence of freedom, 2.Like Dr. Fears, I believe it is important for those of us who live in a free society to understand the long struggle for and the basis of that freedom, 3.It is equally important to understand that there are forces working against freedom which claim the same basis of moral authority which Dr. Fears claims is necessary to defend freedom and 4.Even though Dr. Fears presents this from a very specific perspective, it is instructive to understand how others who share his perspective use this selective form of history to justify their beliefs. (No doubt the same can be said of people with the polar opposite perspective).
This course was produced in 2001. Obviously, it was completed before Sept. 11 of that year. It would have been interesting to see how the late Dr. Fears would have addressed the new attacks on freedom of global terrorism, cyberattacks, and government compromises of individual freedom that have occurred since.
February 18, 2015
Rated 4 out of 5 by Athanasius Excellent course, but I have a few reservations
Overall, this is an excellent course and I highly recommend it. Professor Fears gives a broad overview of the history of Freedom from the time of the ancient Greeks through the end of the Cold War. He does a good job of identifying the various trends in the idea of liberty, from one of "liberty for the male native citizen, but not women or foreign slaves" to our current ideas of "freedom for the individual". He also touches on the tension between prosperity and liberty, and is it better to have a benevolent tyrant who brings prosperity or is it better to have liberty even if it is not as prosperous. Finally, he discusses the illiberal societies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to show the contrast between those societies and a free society.
He touches on certain ideas that are demanding our attention today, such as how a charismatic tyrant can sway a population into committing terrible acts of savagery, and how science can be used as tool for terror.
I only gave 4 stars because I felt his lectures on Martin Luther, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt were out to lunch and inconsistent with the points he made throughout the rest of the course. He was very one-sided on Luther, showing him as the hero against the authoritarian Catholic Church, ignoring the inconsistencies in Luther's theology and the actual teaching of Catholicism, as opposed to the abuses of certain leaders during an isolated period of history. And, other than a few brief mentions, he ignores the great contributions of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastic tradition.
He mistakenly portrays both Wilson and Roosevelt as heroes or freedom, even though both men were in favor of greater control by the federal government and less freedom for the individual. I suggest recent works by Amity Schlaes and Burton Fulsom to the interested reader to see where I am coming from.
However, despite these weak parts of the course, the rest of the course more than makes up for it. This is especially true in the lecture covering the Oedipus Trilogy (of which Antigone is a part), the American Revolution, and the Civil War. He also is excellent in his coverage of the barbarity of Hitler, and the willingness of the German people to go along with him. This is an observation that America today should heed in light of the progressive direction the country has taken recently under Obama.
February 10, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by publius5 history of freedom -best lecturer of 60
I recently evaluated the course on the brief customer survey form but was impressed by the course and in
particular the lecturer (Rufus Fears) that I've decided to add some additional comments as well as some comments
about the Great Courses company itself.
I gave the course on the form and the lecturer a rating of 9 and a half but am updating it to a 10.
Both the course content and the lecturer were excellent. Prior to ordering the course I was somewhat put off
by the customer reviews which gave it only a 4.1 star and 71 percent rating: I usually do not order a course if
its ratings are at least 4 stars and 70 percent recommended s this one just barely met my criteria. I don't
understand why those overall customer ratings were so low.
My main reason for finally deciding to order this course was because of its lengthy coverage of the U.S.
government which has been my primary interest for the last several years. In indeed, Fears' lectures in this
area were very well presented and made made me aware of facts previously unknown to me. These were the
very first lectures of the series that I viewed. They more than met my high expectations both for their content
and the lecturer's delivery. I then went on to the lectures on Hitler and Stalin which were also full of facts
I had not been aware of. And next to those on Greece and Rome. These were so informative and so well
presented that I have just ordered Fears' courses on Famous greeks and Famous Romans. His lecture on
the Trial of Socrates was SUPERB ! His story-telling talent for delivery matches that of Barbara Tuchman's
written works: iSome reviewers may have been put off by that style of delivery but I thought it was so good
that I wished it were longer.
At several points in his lectures Sears made allusions to trends and events in our U.S. government which
were "spot on". I wished he has gone on a little further in that regard and in fact said in my survey form that
the company should convince his to put together a course on trends occurring in the U.S. government which
are contrary to what the Founding Fathers intended. It would have been very interesting to hear Fears' views
on recent Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United vs Federal Elections Commission, Hobby Lobby
vs Sebelius and the Obamacare ruling.
In general then, this was one of the very best courses of the 60 or so I've encountered over the past 2 and a half
On a totally different topic, here are some observations on the Great Courses company itself. Overall there
course offerings have been first-rate. I have returned only 2 of them and in both cases it was not because they
were sub-bar but only because their content was not exactly what I had expected.
The company's customer service is excellent- far above what the average company these days provides. The
fact that I can place orders immediately by phone while talking to an informed LIVE representative is almost
a thing of the past- no rat-maze of several layers of choices to endure before finally being able to place an
order or ask for a piece of information about a particular course.
The company's return policy is also exceptional. And finally, its policy of allowing the customer to update a
course at a substantial price reduction is almost astounding. Around 2000 I purchased 4 courses in the VHS
format: when I decided to update 3 of them in DVD format, I was given a very generous discount. And when I
decided to update a CD version to the DVD version, I was again given a hefty price reduction. Most recently,
after viewing the Fears' History of Freedom course and being so impressed with his delivery, I decided to
order both his courses on Famous Romans and Greeks. The Roman corse was on sale for the surprising
cost of only $50. but the Greek course was still priced at its full price of $255. When i mentioned to the rep.
that I'd have to wait til it also went on sale, he almost immediately said I could order both of the at the same
$50. price - yet another example of the company's outstanding customer service. There's nothing more
I can add to top that.
P.S. excuse the typos. I use the Hunt and Peck method. By the way, I'm considering resurrecting my 4 years of
high school Latin with the company's LATIN 101. I'd be interested in hearing any comments on that course.
Evidently some viewers were put of by the lecturer's pronunciation.
October 27, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by RoyT A Really Interesting Story!
This course rates high among the TC courses I have viewed/listened to over the years. It is not the most rigorous and tightly argued, but Professor Fears excels here in telling an interesting and, at times, stirring, story. Beginning with the ancient Greeks at Marathon resisting the might of the Persian Empire in 490 BC through to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s struggles with racism in 1960s America, to today’s hot-button issues like abortion and euthanasia, Professor Fears traces the history of an idea, freedom, “… the definitive idea of our civilization…” (Course Guide, Page 1), exploring its development in political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions.
It should be noted that the freedom he discusses can at times be a bit fuzzy, but never totally out of focus. Professor Fears equates freedom and liberty in a “… a two-fold working definition. Liberty is freedom under the law: the freedom of a People to govern itself under laws it gives to itself. Complementing this political freedom is the freedom of the individual: the liberty of the individual to live as he or she chooses as long as that individual does not infringe upon the rights of another individual. Finally, our working definition of freedom maintains that responsibility is the other side of liberty and that for every right there is a corresponding duty” (Page 1). Bound up with this is Professor Fears’ belief not only in the power of ideas, but also “…that history is made by great individuals and great events, not by anonymous social and economic forces” (Page 1). The bottom line for Professor Fears is that “Excessive individualism is not liberty but rather license. There can ultimately be no separation between public and private morality. A democratic society can survive only if its citizens have a shared set of moral and political values. Excessive prosperity can lead to that public apathy about politics which is the death knell of liberty. In the end, the true test of a free society is its ability to produce leaders of ability, vision, and moral character” (Page 3).
I am sure that there are some who might be put off by the story-telling aspect of this course, and I am sure Professor Fears can be faulted for biases in what he treats (as is possible with just about any course), but there are many solid lessons here. I am familiar with most of the historical events and eras dealt with by Professor Fears, and truly appreciated the perspective he brings to bear, sometimes casting events and individuals in a new light. Among the most interesting, for me, are his explanation of how and why Alexander the Great and the Emperor Augustus contributed to freedom; how important Natural Law is to freedom, especially regarding the Founders; and how Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address should be understood as a “deeply religious document” (Page 120). Professor Fears also puts us in touch with two great 19th century British thinkers on freedom and liberty, Lord Acton (of “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” fame) and John Stuart Mill.
At times, however, the course seems a bit overwhelmed with context, for instance in detailing archaeological evidence from Pompeii, the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence and the later Constitutional Convention, the American Civil War background to the Battle of Gettysburg, and the treatment of the Jews in Hitler’s Germany. In each of these and other instances, however, the context provides excellent support to Professor Fears’ points. Bear in mind that Professor Fears not only holds that ideas have power and that men and women rather than economic and social forces make history, but also that he acknowledges absolutes, right and wrong. He points out that “Greece, Rome, Christianity, and the Founders of the United States believed in an intimate nexus between liberty and morality” (Page 156), and discusses, for example, the especially divisive issue of abortion in the context of freedom as, “…a moral issue as profound for us today as slavery was for 19th-century America. It poses most dramatically the tensions inherent in the ideals of individual freedom” (Page 155).
I recommend starting with lecture 36 rather than at the beginning. I wish I had, as it really helps in getting an overview of where Professor Fears is going in the absorbing trek through so much of Western civilization. As Professor Fears passed away in 2012, there will be no more of his entertaining and so enlightening TC courses beyond what is now available. I will definitely listen to this course again, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this important and ever timely subject. You are in for a real treat!
June 23, 2014