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History of Freedom

History of Freedom

Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma

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History of Freedom

Course No. 480
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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Course No. 480
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  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version enhances your learning experience with more than 400 images and graphics, including maps, quotations, key definitions, and portraits of key individuals mentioned in the course such as Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, among many others. On-screen spellings and definitions help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

It can be argued that one simple idea—the concept of freedom—has been the driving force of Western civilization and may be the most influential intellectual force the world has ever known. But what is freedom, exactly? Join historian and classical scholar J. Rufus Fears as he tells freedom's dramatic story from ancient Greece to our own day, exploring a concept so close to us we may never have considered it with the thoroughness it deserves.

Delve Into the Meaning of Human Freedom

What did freedom mean to Abraham Lincoln—or to Robert E. Lee? To Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, or Martin Luther King?

What does it mean to us today?

Indeed, to consider freedom is to ask questions. Many questions.

  • What does it take to be free, to have and to hold liberty?
  • What moral questions did freedom raise for our forebears?
  • What questions does it raise for us?
  • What role do the liberal arts and the world of the intellect play in the life of a free society or a free individual?
  • What does democracy have to do with freedom?
  • Can a democratic politician be a statesman?
  • How should we understand the relationship among freedom, religion, and morality?
  • Is there a dichotomy between public and private morality in a free society?

You ponder these questions and more in this moving and provocative course, brought to you by a teacher whose 15 awards for outstanding teaching include three-time recognition as University of Oklahoma Professor of the Year.

Professor Fears combines a fine actor's captivating presence, superb timing, and feel for the telling anecdote with the broad and humane learning of a seasoned classics scholar.

A History of Real People and Real Events

A firm premise of the course is that history is made by great individuals and great events, not by anonymous social and economic forces.

In fact, Professor Fears opens the course not with a dry presentation of liberty's philosophical requirements but by plunging you into the chaos of the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.

This was the seminal event in the history of freedom, with 9,000 citizen-soldiers of Athens defeating the much larger and better-equipped army of the Persian king Darius and thwarting his attempt to subjugate Greece.

This battle highlights dramatically the contrast between the political liberty of the Greek city-states and the absolutism of the monarchies of the ancient Near East.

It also highlights Professor Fears's approach to this course, as he focuses your engagement with the history of freedom on six seed times of liberty, along with the great people and events that helped shape the character of each.

Six Crucial Epochs, Revealed in Riveting Detail

With Professor Fears guiding and informing your thinking, you explore:

  • the birth of the idea of freedom in Greece and the story of the world's first democracy the Athens of Pericles, Socrates, and Sophocles
  • the status and meaning of freedom in both the Roman Republic and the Empire, and the new forms of liberty that flowered from the Roman legacy
  • the role of Jesus, Saint Paul, and Christianity in that flowering of freedom, and the Christian view of the true meaning of human liberation
  • the American colonies' resistance to British rule and their decision to declare their independence
  • the debates about freedom that informed the framing and ratification of the United States Constitution and its awful testing on the battlefields of the Civil War
  • the struggles of free peoples against domestic injustices and foreign dictatorships during the 20th century and the questions about freedom we still face as we enter the 21st .
Informed by Thousands of Years of Thought ,

To illustrate thought-provoking accounts of freedom's triumphs and travails, Professor Fears draws on Sophocles, Aristotle, Cicero, Paul, the English common-law tradition, Machiavelli, Lincoln, and the American Founders.

And he includes such towering intellectual champions of English-speaking liberalism as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Lord Acton.

To clothe this impressive framework of analysis with the stuff of real history, Professor Fears brings to life critical episodes within each key period, explaining what was at stake each time.

  • You witness the outnumbered Greeks charging the Persians at Marathon, the Minutemen challenging the redcoats at Lexington, and Lee and later Lincoln surveying the great battlefield of Gettysburg.
  • You compare the trials of Socrates and Jesus, witness the signing of the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, and study the debate over the U.S. Constitution.
  • You recapture the confidence and buoyancy of Franklin Roosevelt's swift response to the Great Depression.
  • And you thrill to Winston Churchill's bulldog defiance as he and his island nation stand alone defending freedom and humanity against Hitler's war machine.

To cap this extraordinary series, Professor Fears steers your thoughts to the Cold War and the remarkable march toward freedom witnessed by the last decade of the 20th century.

A Look Ahead—and a Cautionary Note

Professor Fears closes with a look at the future and a word of warning.

"Americans entered the 21st century convinced that we are the only superpower and that the innovations of science, technology, and industry have opened a new era of individual liberty, prosperity, and peace. It should be remembered that Europeans entered the 20th century under similar delusions.

"This course of lectures ends on a cautionary note, one that was already voiced in the Athenian democracy of the 5 th century B.C.

"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."

These lectures invite you to look at our nation's most formative idea from a fresh perspective.

Accept the invitation with enthusiasm and intellectual anticipation. Your perspective on politics, society, and history—or your place in them—may never be the same.

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
Year Released: 2001
  • 1
    The Birth of Freedom
    In the gray dawn of September 21, 490 B.C., 9,000 citizen-soldiers of Athens formed ranks on a plain by the Bay of Marathon. Before sunset, they would fight the seminal battle in the history of freedom. Who were they? What were they fighting for? With these questions, our course begins. x
  • 2
    Athenian Democracy
    The Persian Wars made Athens the leader of the Greek world. Under Pericles, Athens became history's first true democracy—and an imperial power. What is the Athenian legacy to freedom? x
  • 3
    Athens—Freedom and Cultural Creativity
    Athenian freedom sparked an intellectual revolution that rivaled the scientific revolution of our own day. The Athenians invented the liberal arts in order to educate free citizens for self-government. x
  • 4
    Athenian Tragedy—Education for Freedom
    Tragedy was the characteristic cultural statement of Athenian democracy. Sophocles's plays about the House of Oedipus are key documents in the history of freedom, exploring enduring questions of morality, law, and conscience. x
  • 5
    Socrates on Trial
    In 399 B.C., a recently defeated Athens executed Socrates for impiety. The trial remains a test case for all democratic societies, and Socrates an enduring witness to freedom and the power of ideas. x
  • 6
    Alexander the Great
    The conquests of this young prince of Macedon opened a new epoch in the history of Greece, the world, and freedom. x
  • 7
    The Roman Republic
    The American Founders took the Roman republic's balanced constitution as a model. It secured liberty under law. Under it; Rome rose to mastery of a world empire. x
  • 8
    Julius Caesar
    By the first century B.C., Rome was the only superpower in its world. Yet at the height of their power, the Romans lost their political liberty and turned to Julius Caesar. How did this happen? What did it mean for freedom? x
  • 9
    Freedom in the Roman Empire
    If the Caesars ended political liberty, they also expanded individual freedom. A look at a day in the life of Pompeii suggests that, in many ways, the Rome of the Caesars is the model for America today. x
  • 10
    Rome—Freedom and Cultural Creativity
    As in the Athenian democracy, freedom in the Roman Empire led to a burst of intellectual creativity that would lay the foundations for the next 1,000 years of European civilization. x
  • 11
    Gibbon on Rome’s Decline and Fall
    For the Founders and Edward Gibbon, the fall of Rome was the tale of how a people had traded republican liberty for the false security of absolutism. What can the Roman Empire's decline teach us today? x
  • 12
    What makes Jesus of Nazareth, who, like Socrates, never wrote a book or had any wealth or worldly power, one of the most important figures in the history of human freedom? x
  • 13
    Jesus and Socrates
    Jesus and Socrates invite comparison as awe-inspiring teachers, as seminal figures in the history of freedom, and as witnesses to the claims of conscience. x
  • 14
    Paul the Apostle
    Paul's preaching drew upon concepts of freedom in some of the most innovative currents of Roman imperial thought. His letter to the Galatians is rightly regarded as the Magna Carta of Christian liberty. x
  • 15
    Freedom in the Middle Ages
    Far from being an age of absolutism, the Middle Ages in Western Europe saw the growth of ideas and institutions basic to the history of liberty, including representative government and the right to revolution. x
  • 16
    Luther and the Protestant Reformation
    Luther is one of the proofs that great men and women—not anonymous forces—make history. He shattered the medieval world and unleashed currents that continue to shape the history of freedom. x
  • 17
    From Machiavelli to the Divine Right of Kings
    Are the state and its leaders bound by the same moral values that should govern private conduct? Machiavelli said no. His praise of the absolute, amoral state laid the basis for the greatest single challenge to freedom in the modern age. x
  • 18
    The Anglo-American Tradition of Liberty
    State absolutism received its preeminent early modern statement in the belief that kings are accountable to God alone. But this notion met with differing fates in France and the English-speaking world, with vast implications for freedom. x
  • 19
    The Shot Heard ’Round the World
    In the predawn darkness of April 19, 1775, 77 citizen-soldiers of Lexington, Massachusetts, formed ranks on their village green. Before noon, they would fight the greatest battle in the history of freedom since Marathon. Who were they? What were they fighting for? With these questions begins the second half of our course. x
  • 20
    The Tyranny of George III
    What turned loyal British colonists into armed traitors declaring their independence? Edmund Burke suggested the answer when he observed that in England, "the great contests for freedom were, from the earliest times, chiefly upon the question of taxes." x
  • 21
    What the Declaration of Independence Says
    America is the first nation in history founded upon a statement of principles. The Declaration draws upon two great legacies of freedom: the natural-law tradition of Greece and Rome, and the experience of England. x
  • 22
    Natural Law and the Declaration
    Born in democratic Athens, refined by Cicero, affirmed by St. Paul, and incorporated into first Roman and then the English common law, natural law would prove crucial to the American founding. x
  • 23
    Miracle at Philadelphia
    "Miracles do not cluster. Hold on to the Constitution," said Daniel Webster. Wondrous as the Constitution is, it is also explicable as the work of statesmen educated for freedom, and steeped in the lessons of history. x
  • 24
    What the Constitution Says
    Here you will "visit" a state ratifying convention in order to analyze both the Constitution (especially as explained by The Federalist) and the case made by its Anti-Federalist foes, who argued that small republics and virtue both private and public are the best safeguards forliberty. x
  • 25
    The Bill of Rights
    Basic to the Constitution's success has been the ability to amend it. A careful analysis of the first two Amendments paves the way for discussions of the relevance of the Framers' intent to America today and of the Founders' belief that every right entails a corresponding duty. x
  • 26
    Liberty and Lee at Gettysburg
    The American founding did not resolve the questions of slavery and union. Both were settled only by the Civil War. This lecture asks why a man of Lee's character, who saw the wrong of slavery, chose nonetheless to follow his state and the Confederate cause. x
  • 27
    Liberty and Lincoln at Gettysburg
    Lincoln's address over those who fell in the Civil War's biggest battle took only moments, but spoke to the ages. It is as basic an American founding document as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. x
  • 28
    FDR and the Progressive Tradition
    FDR's reforms played a crucial role in meeting the awful test of the Great Depression, and may have saved constitutional government in America. x
  • 29
    Why the French Revolution Failed
    The excesses of democracy in France spawned tyranny and wars of conquest. Why did these excesses occur, and how did the young American republic manage to avoid them? x
  • 30
    The Liberal Tradition
    The mighty tradition of liberty under law and representative government runs back to the Magna Carta and beyond. More recently, this tradition has been powerfully shaped by great classical liberal thinkers such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Lord Acton. x
  • 31
    Churchill and the War for Freedom
    On June 4, 1940—amid the sternest days in his country's history—Britain's new Prime Minister vowed that his island nation would "never surrender." He was a model of true statesmanship, and freedom's champion in an hour of urgent peril. x
  • 32
    The Illiberal Tradition
    This lecture examines the ideas that shaped Hitler's nightmare vision. Despite Hitler's defeat, nationalism, socialism, and vulgarized Darwinism remain influential today as counterfeit forms of liberty. x
  • 33
    Hitler and the War Against Freedom
    Hitler's career shows what happens when a nation and its leaders lose their moral compass. His terrifying story teaches us that free peoples must hold the values of liberty as universal and be willing to defend them if liberty is to endure. x
  • 34
    The Cold War
    World War II added to the power of Stalin, a tyrant no less despotic than his enemy Hitler. But standing guard over freedom was an America led by presidents like Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan, all of whom shared the great liberal idea that those with power have a moral duty to defend the weak. x
  • 35
    Civil Disobedience and Social Change
    In the decades after 1945, nonviolent campaigns for freedom—and above all the movement against racial discrimination led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.—made key contributions to the growth of liberty. x
  • 36
    Freedom and the Lessons of History
    Americans enter the 21st century convinced that we are opening a new era of liberty, prosperity, and peace. Europeans entered the last century with similar beliefs. We close with a cautionary note, taking up a theme first sounded in Athens 25 centuries ago. x

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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and...
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Rated 4.1 out of 5 by 53 reviewers.
Rated 1 out of 5 by Regretted purchase The professor seems to be melodramatic and speculative. For example he romanticizes the notion of Roman freedom in spite of the fact that they treated conquered peoples harshly more often than not, and the percentage of slaves who became free and prosperous was far outweighed by those who suffered. I also often found myself wondering which version of current events he lived through. In spite of his ambivalence about judging leaders by the same standards of ordinary citizens he seems to gloss over the very real weaknesses of some of the most accomplished leaders he admires. I found him to be hard to listen to and was consequently not sure which of the interesting facts he presented I could really trust.. As a Christian I had to wonder how Jesus, who was more concerned with our spiritual lives and relationship to God as demonstrated in our actions toward others, wound up in a course on Freedom. He often seemed so opinionated that history was twisted to fit his prejudices. All of that being said, I am no History scholar, but his presentations seem to conflict with the information in much of the other courses from The Teaching Company, and with my own experiences and prior readings. I forced myself to listen to the entire course but have thrown it out rather than donate it to our library here as I have done with other courses I finished. March 18, 2015
Rated 4 out of 5 by Interesting lectures Dr. Fears is an outstanding story teller and lecturer. He does his research and presents well. Generally, if he offers a course, I'll get it. Who am I to tell Dr. Fears how to improve? Well, one way to improve this would be to not assume that the audience is making the connections that he wants to make. Keep tying back what he is presenting to how it fits into the overall argument. At the end take extra time to clarify the argument and review how the material supported it. It doesn't hurt to take extra time to do this. It is hard not to review/recap too often or with too much detail. I understand Dr. Fears has passed on. God bless him and his family. March 11, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by This is mandatory I'm half way through this and I already know it should be mandatory for everyone. This is our freedom and we should know its roots. What is also fantastic is that I am inspired to go deeper into some of the philosophers and historical events that he references. I'm excited to learn more of my own history, and question my own beliefs. I never would click on the "write a review," but again, all should know this information. I'm a bit disappointed I didn't learn this in school nor my ivy league education. My brother and I listened to 6 chapters on a road trip and loved it. We are two brother 39 and 43. Worthy educational fare, i would say. Buy it. Eat some knowledge. March 6, 2015
Rated 3 out of 5 by Knowledgeably Presented with a Slant Audio Review. 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
  • 2015-11-30 T10:13:26.689-06:00
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