Rated 5 out of 5 by AA747 Reckless conclusions, but always enjoyable
This is the best of all the many courses I've taken here. I cannot praise it highly enough.
A: NEGATIVE COMMENTS FROM OTHERS
There are some negative reviews. If I had time, I would endeavour to explain how they are based on misunderstandings - but that is too big a job. I will just make a few general rebuttals of negative reviews.
(1) Please get the facts straight. Prof. Fears makes 10 points in the introduction which are the lessons of history, then returns to these points throughout the following 35 lectures, explaining how they are demonstrated. Just as you cannot prove that black swans do not exist, he does not attempt to prove that every corresponding issue in history has proven his point. He shows you some key events in history which demonstrate the point. If you then think that the point is still weak, and can refer to other historical events which show the opposite, that is fine! He is just giving you some tools and a framework with which to try make sense of history, in a way which is more constructive than just treating it as a vast expanse of blancmange. There will always be counter examples - its a question of balance. This lecture series is not the venue for PROVING a thesis. Its a venue for offering useful insights and models. The proof would take a book or several, and is to be done elsewhere.
(2) Following on from the above, covering all the lessons of history over 5000 years in 36 lectures, he has to summarise and abbreviate. He cannot provide all the backup argument and cases, in fact, has not even got time to fully pad the arguments. And I DON'T want a 72 or 144 part lecture series, which has all the extra stuff in. Please, when criticising, bear in mind that (a) he is short on time, and (b) it is uni-directional communication - he cannot engage with you in post-lecture questions.
(3) Some people read his voice and expression as a sign of smugness or even arrogance. I did not read that at all. What I heard was joy, pure joy. This is a man that loves his subject and would happily talk to anyone from the US President to his apartment janitor about it. I feel that he would love nothing more than to engage with any negative opinion, and, reflecting back on his obviously vast knowledge, see how THAT opinion may be used to shed more light on the lessons of history. We are not dealing here with a bad attitude. In fact, far far from it.
It is true, as some reviewer say, that its all very well retrospectively saying what mistakes were made, but the question is, now, in the present, which one of the many lessons from the past is the one which is applicable? Well, Prof. Fears is NOT providing an algorithm with which to construct some decision making machinery for political and military issues. That would be a wonderful thing, but perhaps not due till the end of this century. It would have been interesting if, at the end, he produced some matrix which showed how to balance and prioritise these various lessons across different subject areas, with caveats and so on - if such a thing is even possible. But frankly, that's a job for another time, or perhaps a 2nd lecture series :-) But I think that the fact that he cherry picked his examples in order to prove his 'lessons', does not negate the validity of his exposition, because he picked a lot of nice cherries.
B: VALID CRITICISMS
It is understandable that some readers are upset with Prof. Fears observations, because some of them are rather reckless, perhaps he got a bit carried away in the heat of the moment. For example in lecture 20, the Spanish won back their country from their Moorish overlords (it took them over 700 years). After this, in 1492, they expelled 200,000 Moors from Spain. Prof. Fears thinks this expulsion was a foolish waste of an "intelligent, industrious people", who would have been "perfectly willing to be loyal subjects of Ferdinand". That's like saying that the French should have kept their German overlords in the country, after the end of the 2nd world war - after all, they also were an intelligent and industrious people. It is ridiculous.
Firstly, prof. Fears states that the Moors were tolerant. Yet 700 nobles who objected to their treatment were called to a banquet in Toledo in 807 - and promptly beheaded. In 818 in Cordoba, 300 Jews were crucified and 20,000 expelled. In 1066, the Jewish Vizier and 5000 were killed. Is this the kind of tolerance that Prof. Fears means?
Secondly, one must obviously be wary of what is written by a Spanish people that lived under tyrannical overlords for 700 years. For example, the Jew Maimonides is taken as a sign of the Moors' tolerance of Jews at that time. But once he had escaped their empire he said "Never did a nation mo*lest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they". So Maimonides, when under Moorish rule, naturally bit his tongue.
Thirdly, let's not forget the famous maxim, that history is written by the victors. And of the victors, the famous jurist, Ibn Abdoun said "Jews and Christians must be detested and avoided". Then the victors can call this the Golden age of Andalusia.
It is clear that there is a lot of material for this period that prof. Fears is not aware of - or has conveniently glossed over. By extension, I can presume that other readers are similarly irritated, when they, expert in other periods, know of strong counter evidence to prof. Fears's conclusions.
However, I still fully recommend this course. I think, at least half the conclusions are rock solid. Of the others, the way they are presented, they act as useful platforms for exploring one's own position.
C: POSITIVE OBSERVATIONS
Just as I haven't time to cover the criticisms, I only have time to touch on the many positives, which I will do by way of two examples.
The Romans had a similar problem with terrorism and piracy in the Mediterranean as we currently have around Somalia and the Indian ocean. They even foolishly took a young student as hostage for ransom on his gap year, a certain Julius Caesar no less. The Romans pondered the question of the efficacy of democracies when facing non-existential threats. Eventually the citizens tired of the Senate's ponderings, and gave absolute authority to Pompey to deal with the problem. Within 6 months, thanks to repeated crucifixions of the ones he caught, the problem had disappeared. Pompey's approach is more similar to the approach Russia has taken towards piracy. I found it very helpful to see that this current problem, seen as insoluble and intractable through the lens of current societal mores, has already been played out 2000 years ago.
In contrast with the difficulty that democracies have in dealing with the non-existential threats, I found his explanation of the persistence of democracies when dealing with existential threats, to be very helpful. A tyrant when losing can agree a peace treaty which perhaps safeguards some of his own protection, whilst throwing the rest of the people under the bus. But a democracy would struggle to even begin that discussion, because the leader has no mandate, without conferring with other representatives. So it seems that the worst, most costly and most persistent wars, in my limited knowledge, appear to have been ones involving democracies. Again, one can protest the Iran-Iraq war. Well, perhaps that comes under another category of competing theologies? I don't know, but the point is, that this is a useful lens with which to start to examine this vast topic.
In conclusion, Prof. Fears can be reckless in his conclusions sometimes, but his lectures are always enjoyable.
February 18, 2015
Rated 1 out of 5 by JeffK Big disappointment!
This is the one course that the Teaching Company produces that I have found to be poorly prepped, internally inconsistent and somewhat patronizing in presentation. I have purchased and enjoyed dozens of the Teaching Company courses, listening to several many times over. This one I could not stand to complete the first time I tried. Professor Fears seems to think that we need to be told what people meant to say, interpreting sources simplistically and solely to support his theme. Unfortunately, he is inconsistent in what he presents, occasionally contradicting himself. His general assertion is that "people make history," while at other times he asserts that one cannot successfully oppose the "wave of the future." Mostly, though, I objected to the manner in which he seemed to suggest that his listeners/viewers were not quite capable of forming their own opinions about the topics and themes he presents. I don't purchase college-level courses to be told what I should think about things. I buy them so that I can become more knowledgeable and thus better able to form my own conclusions. Sorry I purchased this product.
September 10, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by JimJ The Greatness of Professor J. Rufus Fears
This course by Professor Fears has had a profound impact on me.
That’s because Professor Fears made every lecture personal by explaining how the subject matter directly relates to you the listener and with how you will conduct the rest of your life, both personally and as a citizen, by keeping in mind the lessons of history.
I did not come upon the Teaching Company courses by Professor Fears until after his passing in 2012.
This fact has left me with a feeling of great sadness because he was the kind of person whom you would like to have personally known and befriended.
The only way I could think of an appropriate way to express my feelings on the death of Professor Fears was to quote “The Phaedo” of Plato, where Phaedo, the beloved disciple of Socrates, and narrator of the dialogue, says of Socrates on his death:
“Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.” (Translated from Attic Greek by Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893).
June 16, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by rebozo A Simplistic View of History
Professor Fears is a good story teller.
However, his "lessons of history" are presented without any criteria regarding how they were chosen. Apparently, when things work out badly for the historical figure in question, s/he "failed to learn the lessons of history." In fact, history contains many, many potential lessons. Which ones are we to learn from? Other than to expound on his own choices, Professor Fears doesn't say. Why, for example, should Neville Chamberlain have learned "not to appease tyrants" instead of "war is hell" when appeasing Hitler (in Czechoslovakia) might have avoided repeating the unmitigated disaster of WW I, which imposed enormous costs, in blood and treasure, on Europe. I ask rhetorically, isn't there a lesson in the devastation of WW I?
Furthermore, his lessons often seem to contradict one another. For example, at various points in the lecture series, he claims that democracies can never be successful empires? Really? The U.S.? The U.K.? His answer seems to be to define them out of the category of empires. No fair.
All in all, this set of "history lessons" can only appeal to those who don't think deeply about history.
March 19, 2014