American Ideals: Founding a "Republic of Virtue"

Course No. 4855
Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.
Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University
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Course No. 4855
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Course Overview

As nations proceed to invent themselves, refine themselves, and render themselves fit for the allegiance of their people, the Constitution of the United States remains the gold standard. For those fortunate to live under a rule of law respectful of the dignity of the person, there is such a feeling of familiarity and naturalness that little attention is paid to the monumental nature of the “invention”—and, therefore, the monumental effort required to preserve it.

As the world’s oldest democracy, the United States stands as the test case for those who regard self-government as inherently unstable, inherently self-destructive. Fears were expressed from the first, but so too was unrelenting resolve. Writing to his beloved Abigail on July 3, 1776, John Adams offered this sober reflection:

“You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.”

How to Determine Ideals?

Just which “ideals” were affirmed by the Founders? What lessons of history were closely studied by them? What part did religion take in the entire undertaking and, in light of this, what is the nature of that famous “wall of separation” Jefferson wrote of in his correspondence? How was the institution of slavery understood in relation to the high ideals and aims of the Founders?

This set of a dozen lectures is an invitation to enter this part of the Long Debate; the debate regarding human nature and the conditions right for its flourishing. The lectures are also a tribute to the Founders whose depth of thought, raw courage, persistence, and realism succeeded in moving political philosophy from the schoolhouse to the wider world.

Between the lines of all the lectures there is also a portrait formed of a people striving to preserve and promote lives at once self-determining and consistent with high principles deeply held. Their character was recognized at a great distance.

“This general spirit existing in the American nation is not new among them; it is, and ever has been their established principle, their confirmed persuasion; it is their nature and their doctrine. You might destroy their towns, and cut them off from the superfluities but they prefer poverty with liberty, to golden chains and sordid affluence. ’Tis liberty to liberty engaged, that they will defend themselves, their families and their country. In this great cause they are immovably allied. It is the alliance of God and nature—immutable, eternal, fixed as the firmament of heaven!”

—William Pitt, in the House of Lords, December 20, 1775

The Right People for a Republic

Montesquieu’s widely read Spirit of the Laws described the civic personality that is right for a given form of government. Tyrannies required citizens motivated and guided by fear. The worthy monarchy depends on subjects devoted to honor. A self-governing republic calls for those committed to virtue. But what are the sources of virtue, and to what extent were they effective in shaping the character of Colonial America?

Early America was settled by devout Puritan Christians whose successors were attached to the same Christian teachings, now adapted to a New World, rapidly expanding in population and in commerce. It was, however, less the land of “rugged individualism” than of a principled communitarianism focused on the common good. It was precisely this combination of piety and sober deliberation—this immunity to fashionable and abstract philosophies—that preserved it from the excesses that consumed revolutionary France. The humanistic Calvinism that guided so many colonial lives was further enlarged by trust in the common sense and rationality shared by all; a common sense and rationality that would stand as the ultimate arbiter over the claims of authority.

The colonists, we discover, were avid readers. In a 1775 speech before Parliament, Edmund Burke pointed out that London booksellers had informed him that they sold more books in the colonies than in all of Great Britain combined. Montesquieu, John Locke’s Treatises on Government, and John Milton on press freedoms—these and scores of works in moral philosophy, history, law, and theology were staples even in the smallest private libraries.

In these carefully crafted dozen lectures, Professor Robinson traces the dominant features of the early American ethos that culminated in declared independence and a constitutional form of government unheralded in political history. The United States of America was, after all, the first nation ever to be created on a date certain by persons whose names we know and on grounds developed through debate and deliberation. As the influential Founder, James Wilson, said during the ratification process,

“The United States exhibit to the world the first instance, as far as we can learn, of a nation, unattacked by external force, unconvulsed by domestick insurrections, assembling voluntarily, deliberating fully, and deciding calmly, concerning thatsystem of government, under which they would wish that they and their posterity should live.”

The Founding Documents

Here, then, is an opportunity to trace the way the founding documents of the United States evolved. You examine the early Articles of Confederation as these anticipate the fuller development of fundamental principles during the Constitutional Convention. Notions embodied in earlier colonial laws evolve and are made enduring in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, for example, asserts that “All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain rights,” including “pursuing happiness.”

The two lectures on the Constitutional Convention are a highlight of the course. They shed light on the roles specific Founders took in creating the most reasonable plan for ordered liberty ever reduced to writing. The effort was not to create the Garden of Eden, but a nation, populated by persons of diverse interests and needs, abilities and tendencies. The Founders were realists, heeding delegate Pierce Butler’s urgings to “follow the example of Solon, who gave the Athenians not the best government he could devise, but the best they would receive.”

They succeeded pre-eminently.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Colonists as Faithful Subjects
    In pamphlets and pulpits of the colonies, one is reminded of the close, even familial ties extending across an ocean, strengthened by customs and values shaped over centuries. x
  • 2
    Colonial Constitutions and Their Inspiration
    Trade between colonies and with Great Britain and other nations called for orderly procedures, as did governance of growing communities and steady influx of immigrants. x
  • 3
    Who “Founded” the United States?
    As colonial constitutions were fashioned, the context within which deliberations and strategies were conducted was that of the Enlightenment. The United States was "founded" as much by ideas as by men. x
  • 4
    Taxation Without Representation
    The colonies had returned to the crown, over a period of years, revenues exceeding what was expected. What, then, was all the fuss about the Stamp Act, and why were 10 tons of Darjeeling sent to the bottom of Boston Harbor? x
  • 5
    The Declaration of Independence
    This document is the first of its kind: one that announces the creation of a new nation and the need to provide reasons for this precipitous measure. It is a veritable "text" on the manner in which political issues are to be understood. x
  • 6
    The Royalist View of the Revolution
    In the colonies and Great Britain, the American Revolution was cast as a rebellion against the rule of law. This sheds light on colonial debates on political authority. x
  • 7
    The Articles of Confederation
    The "articles" were the product of danger and emergency; principles for joint action among the colonies for the express purpose of waging a war of independence. x
  • 8
    The Constitution of the United States, Part 1
    In the brutally hot Philadelphia months, a diverse and argumentative assembly met for unclear purposes. x
  • 9
    The Constitution of the United States, Part 2
    The "miracle" in Philadelphia was a great achievement of mind and will, accomplished through debate, the counsel of the wise, and the discipline of enlightened self interest. x
  • 10
    The 85 Federalist Papers by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay comprise detailed and analytical arguments for and against governance as envisaged by the Constitution. x
  • 11
    With Liberty and Justice For All
    Once set forth, the Bill of Rights simply underscored the evil of slavery. How did the founders understand this? x
  • 12
    Paine and Burke
    How Tom Paine and Edmund Burke saw the French and American Revolutions clarifies tensions and unique potentialities embedded in the new nation's ideals and institutions. x

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Your professor

Daniel N. Robinson

About Your Professor

Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.
Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University
Dr. Daniel N. Robinson (1937–2018) was a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, where he lectured annually since 1991. He was also Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, at Georgetown University, on whose faculty he served for 30 years. He was formerly Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, and he also held positions at Amherst College and at Princeton University. Professor Robinson earned...
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American Ideals: Founding a "Republic of Virtue" is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 95.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fine lecturer This got me through an auto trip to Maine and back. The lecturer is one of the best Great Courses uses.
Date published: 2018-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought-provoking! Purchased this to obtain a different perspective of the Constitution, the men who wrote it, and the ideals from which the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederations and the Constitution emanated. The professor was so erudite and full of knowledge that I could have listened to another several lectures. I look forward to listening to this courses again, it was so full of information and thoughts.
Date published: 2017-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful perspective The insight and perspective the professor provides gives one an appreciation for how improbable the creation of this country really was. He describes our good fortune that so many intelligent and committed individuals pushed so hard for so long to force to country into existence.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from "Virtue" constrained This course has an anomalous quality to it. Its theoretical focus is the intellectual history of the American Revolution. Thus Professor Robinson presents the intellectual underpinnings of the Revolution. But he does so in a manner that suggests that they were not all that revolutionary. This, I suspect, is partly due to the length of the course, which is short. It is difficult to explain both the conceptual framework of the Revolution, and the events through which the independent United States of America came to be, in a short course. The risk is that the explanation will be somewhat superficial, which it is. A second concern with the course is that the Professor’s historical rendition is sloppy. He has the major themes right, but he seems to lack a chronological sense. For instance, he describes the Albany Plan of Union as being a natural product of conditions existing after the French and Indian War. Yet such Plan was proposed before that war occurred. And he has the British “attacking” Boston in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord, when actually the British had been in Boston for years before that. Professor Robinson also completely ignores the success of Washington and the Continental Army in forcing the British to flee Boston, and thus most of New England, prior to Independence having been declared. This was a very big deal; it deserves mentioning. Notwithstanding such limitations, this course does have worthwhile aspects to it. Most interesting, at least to me, are apparently incidental vignettes. One example is the Professor’s description of the condition of the books from the libraries of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams that are now in the Library of Congress. Jefferson’s are pristine; Adams’ are thoroughly used, with his marginal notes throughout challenging the views of their authors. Another example is the single ornamentation on a wall in the entrance hall of Washington’s Mount Vernon. It is the key to the Bastille in Paris. This Lafayette sent to Washington following the storming of the Bastille at the outset of the French Revolution. Such vignettes illuminate the nature of the men who made our Revolution. Would that there were more. The course also presents a primer on the rise of democratic principles in America. This is more directly to the point of the course than are the vignettes, and it is a subject that is important in the history of America. In this regard, the Professor’s discussion of the origins, content, and interpretation of the Bill of Rights is particularly salient. The entire presentation regarding the evolution of our understanding of democracy, although abbreviated, is quite interesting. Would that there were more of that as well. Professor Robinson’s style of presentation is fine. It is as if you are ambling with him through an historical nature preserve while he points out the significance of some of the more notable plants. You appreciate his insights even as you wonder about those that are not mentioned. Overall this course is good, but not great. It would fit well into a “Good Courses” series.
Date published: 2017-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from American Ideals: Founding a "Republic of Virtue" Exciting, enlightening and above all, thought provoking. Really gets one inside the events as they unfold and sets them in the context of other "pictures", both larger and smaller. Professor Robinson's intimacy of and passion for the subject make each lecture as pleasing as it is informative.
Date published: 2017-11-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Another Touchy Subject Fairly Presented In our present age of politics, culture and revisionist history it can be difficult to return to the beginning with and rediscover "American Ideals." This would be a challenging topic for any professor because the topic will not please everyone but TGC and Prof. Robinson gave it the good old "College try." The information presented in basic and simple and something you would expect to read, topically, from an advanced High School class. But don't consider this a put down because throughout this topic you need categories to break up the many views and different challenges that shaped our nation. I did find the presentation interesting but a little too basic and desiring a little more on the philosophy and less on the re-telling of events and key people. I would recommend this lecture as a starting point but would look for deeper sources if I wanted to really learn more on the topic.
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Helps us remember that this is a Republic There used to be civics classes in grade school, they have given way to social studies. If you don't know what your forefathers intended this country to be governed you can't appreciate what they did. This is a great series to teach that.
Date published: 2017-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I have purchased many Great Courses in addition to having the Great Courses Signature subscription, and I have to say this course may be my all time favorite. The professor is incredibly knowledgeable, as well as enthusiastic and easy to follow. This course provides a base of knowledge all Americans should have--I wish it was required for all high school and college students. It is one of the best values on this site, and I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Founding Fathers as Philosophers This is my second course from Professor Robinson. The first was “Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World” that I gave five stars across the board. So I was predisposed to really like this one and was anticipating another rave. Would that I could. Dr. Robinson’s vast knowledge and insight is at a high standard and his delivery still contains a few repetitive catch-phrases, such as “don’t you see?”, that many find annoying, but were for me not too distracting. His presentation is discursive rather than focused. And in this case, not adhering to the points I think he wants to make, he digresses frequently and at length. While I find a few of these digressions informative and even charming, in this case they indicated to me that he was “winging” most of his lectures. That would be bad enough, but overall it sort of seems that he has done the same for the course as a whole. To be fair, the word “virtue” in the title is really present in his lectures, you just have to let it come to you from the various philosophers and sages he quotes on the way to the American revolution, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. But there are places where he wanders so far off what I assume the topic to be that it seems as though he is filling out the time and the number of lecturers. Lecture 12 is for me an example. One the one hand I loved his comparing Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine regarding the French and American revolutions. He made some points that were enlightening. On the other hand the whole lecture seemed beside the point, when I was expecting a summary. The course was interesting and informative, and perhaps should be in a different context or course. Stay focused professor.
Date published: 2017-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have loved listening to this course. The professor has a unique ability to explain clearly the characters thoughts, feelings and motives. I have read much about our founding yet he has been able to make me see many events and people in a new light.
Date published: 2017-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must READ/SEE/HEAR for every American! One of the best discussions of the whys and steps leading up to the founding of America. Perfect emphasis on the writings and meetings leading up to the Constitution, Tac Act, Bill of Rights and the people associated with the founding of America. Should be required for every high school Freshman, especially in this conflicted political society.
Date published: 2017-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspired Storytelling Dr. Robinson tells the story of America's founding in riveting terms that I believe would hold the attention of the average high school student. He provides wonderful quotes from famous people from both sides of the pond to illustrate his lectures. I wrote Dr. Robinson at Oxford to say how much I enjoyed the series and he responded by saying that the "Founding generation and their time will always be one of the most 'romantic' of political events..." Considering that there's a blockbuster musical on Broadway about Alexander Hamilton would testify to the truth of Dr. Robinson's remark.
Date published: 2017-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Erudite, yet dramatic I've listened to these lectures at least twice. The guy has a slightly idiosyncratic approach, but I couldn't help being impressed by the scope and depth of his knowledge, and his message is interesting and provocative. I think the series ends with a real "bang." His voice makes him seem perhaps even older than he is, but it doesn't detract...if anything, it makes the lectures more convincing. (like, "I knew Tom Jefferson. He was a friend of mine.")
Date published: 2017-05-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Beginners Civics As a lawyer, I found course content very basic, but a nice quick review of the origins of America's Constitutional system. The title is misleading, as there is no discussion of "VIRTUE" which was the central theme of the Constitutional Convention.
Date published: 2017-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduces the Philosophy behind the Constitution This adds philosophical depth, the ideas that contributed to the Constitution that many books don't cover. I found it enlightening and it inspires me to delve more deeply into political philosophy. I found the professor's delivery a little unsettling at first, but I got used to it. I recommend it to those who aren't that familiar with the philosophy behind it.
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty Good, not great. The course was informative, reasonably easy to listen to and overall worth the price. However I felt the professor was not as articulate as I would expect and he tended to stray off topic frequently, in several instances getting lost in his own discourse never returning to the point he was making. The 12th and final lecture seemed like an appendage only loosely related to the main topic and anticlimactic where I expected a nice summary of the key points made in the course. Such a wrap-up was never to appear.
Date published: 2017-03-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not one of my favorites I have heard Professor Pangle’s course “Great Debate: advocates and opponents of the American constitution”, and found it to be a wonderful and in depth analysis of the processes that were taking place as the constitution was being drafted, and why it was drafted the way t was. Perhaps for this reason, I had a hard time with this course as it is focused on roughly the same topic. Try as I did, I found it hard to stay focused, and I also found the Professor’s lecturing tone a bit irritating with his repetitive, rhetorical “don’t you see?” all the time. Perhaps it is that my own appetite for the topic had already been satisfied by Professor Pangle’s great course, but this one had not been one of my favorites.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jimmy, John and Al walk into a bar... Audio download. Following a recent trip to Boston which included several days on the Freedom Trail (highly recommended), I revisited this lecture series about the creation of this nation (USA), and the basis for the exceptional philosophy of which we are all so proud. These lectures serve well as an introduction of this philosophical evolution with the briefest of history to provide some of the remains up to the student to fill in the gaps. Professor Robinson presents the most erudite lectures, cutting to the chase with discussions about the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation, the rancor involving the construction of, and agreement (compromise) to, the US Constitution (i.e. The Federalist Papers)...and finally the apparently unsolvable issue of slavery. Robinson does not beat about the bush and is brutally honest about this major flaw. Madison (Jimmy? really??), John Adams and Alexander Hamilton (along with the ubiquitous George Washington) are seen to be the main players in the formation of our federal (republican) democracy, with a nod to Sam Adams for input to our Bill of Rights. It seems that the New England states, with their puritanical influences, guided the formation of a strong(er) centralized government as opposed to the more agrarian, slave-owning southern states. The debates between Publius (Hamilton, Madison and Jay) and AntiFederalist authors (Cato, Brutus, Centinel and Federal Farmer...Henry, Clinton, Lee and maybe Jefferson) appeared in print, with the Federalist Papers becoming the defining philosophical basis of our constitution. Interesting stuff...well presented. Finally, as we enter into one of the most contentious presidential elections...ever, perhaps...I can only wonder what kind of country we would have if Vice President Burr had missed killing a future-President Alexander Hamilton? Pretty good lecture series, pretty good price (when on sale and you have a coupon), and a pretty good country (warts included). And I can't resist...from Gouverneur Morris: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Date published: 2016-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I found it very interesting and wish I had watched I enjoy Professor Robinson's style of lecturing. He is a very knowledgeable man who is able to make connections between other fields such as philosophy and history, etc. Sometimes I think he is so full of knowledge that spills out of him.
Date published: 2016-09-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Content was scattered & course lacked cohesiveness I'm sure the Professor has his fans and I can tell he is extremely brilliant and has in-depth knowledge in alot of areas but when I finished this course I found myself asking "What exactly was this course about?" What is frustrating is there were times (especially lectures 4-5, and 8-9) in which he provided some really good insight and I began learning but he would just lapse into his bizarre style of.... 1- Not providing any kind of unifying theme for the course; Was this a history of self-government? Was it supposed to be about the origins of American ideologies? Was it a history of early America? The origins of our founding documents? None seemed to fit and he never explained the course's intent or goal! The lectures seemed to have little sequential cohesiveness 2- The professor could not stay on topic! He would digress into weird side discussions and at times have to catch himself and get back to the topic at hand 3- There seemed to be no preparation here; Yes, the professor has amazing breadth of knowledge but the lectures felt like haphazard free-styling sessions in which whatever came to his mind he would say; The conversation was scattered all over the place 4- This was an advanced course and not for beginners wishing to learn about the facts of how the United States of America was formed (what I thought I was getting); He assumes you have in-depth knowledge of everything from the Classical world to French essayists 5- What in the world was the last lecture? Discussing two authors' takes on comparing the American and French Revolutions seemed out of place here...again is this course about ideologies? American history? I wish the course description from the TGC would've been clearer but perhaps even they do not know!
Date published: 2016-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from USA, USA, USA A great course to listen to in a few days as we celebrate the 4th of July! I would recommend it to anyone interested in the United States of America. Please excuse the patriotism. The course is thoughtful and balanced and the professor is great.
Date published: 2016-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from American History came to life. Superb Presentation. Professor Daniel Robinson is an excellent speaker.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ideas behind American Revolution and Constitution This is a review of the audio version of the course. I enjoyed this course immensely. Dr. Robinson is a true intellectual. Some may not appreciate this. He doesn't always give a good context for what he is discussing. I am a graduate student in the humanities, with a firm foundation in philosophy and the history of ideas. I found this course to be incredibly engrossing. I think I was not atypical being an educated American with little to no idea of what went into motivating the American Revolution and the Constitution. Dr. Robinson discusses this with verve and wit. He does not shy away from telling it how it is. I believe him to be a conservative, given what all he says. But regardless of your political predilections, this course should be of interest to anyone who has a general knowledge of the history of ideas and an interest in the makings of the American nation. If you don't know who John Locke, David Hume, or Aristotle is or have any idea of what they said, this course is not the place to start for you. If you do and would like to know more of what motivated the founders, please purchase this course and proselytize for it. I agree with what Dr. Robinson says of Edmund Burke. History is what makes us wise. Or at least, one cannot be wise without knowing a good bit of history. I am wiser for having listened to these lectures.
Date published: 2015-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from an impressive course and lecturer If one examines the list of titles for this course, one might be misled in thinking that is a history of the early history of the USA. Such is not the case. It is in fact a superb discussion of the IDEAS behind the history of the country. I had thought that I was very informed on this topic for several years now, having read more than just several scholarly books on the subject and having viewed almost all of the Gear Courses in this area. Again, such was not the case. have lost count of the new pieces of information that I had been unaware: the Constitution of the New England States with its obvious Christian goal, the real reason behind the Revolution which was NOT simply taxation without representation, the differences between Tom Paine and Edmund Burke on revolutions,etc. Some viewers might be turned off by the lecturer's reading of many documents but in each case he followed it with a clear explanation of what the document said and why it was so important to the reasoning behind the break with England. Occasionally the lecturer may have gotten ahead of himself and had to hesitate to correct himself but this did not affect the effectiveness of his presentation- if anything it emphasized the personality of the presenter. If I had any misgivings about Dr. Robinson's coverage of the material, it was that in a few cases he was assuming that the viewer was aware of certain facts and persons that he referenced: in other words he assumes that the viewer has at least a modicum of knowledge of the history of the period under discussion: he is presenting the IDEAS behind the history, not the history itself.Lectures 7 through 10 on the 1st constitution (Articles of Confederation) ,the Constitution of 1787 itself, and the Federalist Papers (Publius) were extremely well done. All in all, this was one of the very best of the approximately 6 dozen Great Courses I have purchased in thhe last 3 -1/2 years. I look forward to a course by Dr. Robinson on the recent and current IDEAS and policies behind our government's direction.
Date published: 2015-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Relevant for Our Times Compared to more recent courses offered by the Teaching Company -- which feature professors in almost constant movement in a lush, spacious setting -- this 2004 production is much more like an "old-fashioned lecture course." I do not note this as a criticism, however, for I found it suitable for a topic of such importance. "A Republic of Virtue," indeed! Unless you have had your head buried beneath ground for the past 20 years, you understand well that we have fallen rather far short of this glorious ideal! Professor Robinson does a wonderful, unbiased job in reacquainting us with some of the most important principles, concerns, and political theories of the remarkable generation of those whom we remember as the "Founding Fathers." Our deeply divided society could profit immensely from better understanding the theories and practical concerns discussed by Robinson in this course as they suggest that BOTH sides of our current divide seem to have forgotten key nuances from our earliest generations. Two brief examples will have to suffice: 1) "America as a Christian nation": Many on the political right assert this as a fact while it is resisted on the left. However, the reality is more complex. The founders of the earliest colonies definitely saw themselves as engaged in an activity with deep religious meaning -- i.e., specifically Reform (non-Roman Catholic) Christianity. They believed that their efforts were sustained and furthered by a kindly providence. Their intent was to launch societies that would adhere to Christian mores in their promotion of a polity with greater freedom and tolerance (albeit many of these same early colonies also abhorred the religious convictions of some of their neighboring colonists as, for example, the Catholics in Maryland). However, by the time of the crafting of the Constitution, the Founders were unanimous in seeking to prevent any government's official "sponsorship" of some favored kind of religious practice. Thus, they intended that no office or position in society be tied to one form of religion over another. Nonetheless, and as revealed by many of them in their latter years' work, most of them remained deeply religious Christians, most of the Reformist tradition but others also more influenced by contemporary interest in deism. 2) "America as a land of individualists" -- This was decidedly NOT the case during the first couple of centuries of America's existence, from its earliest colonial times into the early 19th century. It was not that they were "collectivists" but, rather, "communalists." That is, their survival and future prosperity was tied to each other; hence, their understanding of striving for the common good as represented by the "commonwealth." The individualism so glorified by many today would have horrified them and, frankly, could not have worked given their mutual interdependency. However, as the 19th century unfolded, the rapid expansion westward did pave the way for more emphasis on, and glorification of, the "strong individual" who fought off savages, founded farms, and explored vast new territory. Professor Robinson's extended discussion in his study of the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and in the framing of what became the Constitution is a superb journey through still competing -- perhaps truly unresolvable -- tensions, such as that between the rights and responsibilities of the individual vis-a-vis the larger community, or that between those who call for more governmental action (at the state and federal level) vis-a-vis those who are suspicious of larger government and more assertive of "states' rights." The true issue here is not what is "forever" to be understood as "right" and "wrong" but, rather, what mixture of these competing paradigms is most appropriate for helping to resolve our current difficulties. I believe if more Americans were familiar with this course we would enjoy an expanded basis of understanding from which our current problems might be more intelligently -- and compassionately -- debated and resolved. A thoughtful course for all concerned citizens! Highly recommended!
Date published: 2015-09-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting topic, poor presentation I started listening to courses about a year ago as I have a lengthy commute once or twice a week. Finding the Great Courses was wonderful as it has allowed me to delve into topics of interest and explore new areas. I learned from this course but was very distracted with the first few lectures because of the instructor's apparent lack of organization. It took me at least three lectures to stop focusing on the poor organization and delivery. I'm happy I persevered because the instructor is knowledgeable and I did learn quite a bit. The subject matter interests me enough that I will circle back to re-listening to this course.
Date published: 2015-08-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good But Not Great While i thought this course was generally quite good, I did not think Prof. Robinson was always at his best, at least as compared to some of his other Great Courses work. He has an obvious and impressive command of the relevant material, but from time to time he appeared to improvise or go off on tangents he had not planned as different thoughts came to mind. While i prefer his conversational, professorial style to someone who simply reads his lecture notes (although i could do with a few less "don't you sees"), I thought here his various improvisations lead to a more rambling, less tightly focused presentation on occasion. That said, the material was well-chosen, the information valuable, and the overall course very worthwhile. I listened to the audio version and thought that was entirely adequate.
Date published: 2015-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from American Ideals: Founding a "Republic of Virtue" My wife has ordered many of the courses offered by The Great Courses and I have found virtually all of them excellent. This course rates as one of my two most enjoyable and valuable. In trying to cover the underlying fundamental principles of our American Republic, I am amazed that Professor Daniel Robinson was able to provide as much information and knowledge in such a short course. I found his style delightful while a few found it less so. Style, of course, is a matter for subjective evaluation and opinions will vary. However, I note that the overwhelming majority found his style outstanding. What I do find somewhat disconcerting is the two or three reviews that feel that more time should have spent rehearsing the economics of slavery. In a very short course # a survey if you will# no subject can be exhaustively covered. Paine, Burke, Locke, Montesquieu, the Federal Papers, etc., etc., are each full semester courses. Professor Robinson simply identifies slavery as a fundamental contradiction to egalitarianism. In any event, I have spent a lifetime interested in the philosophical underpinnings of the founding of our republic and the American Civil War. I believe that Professor Robinson's course is an excellent short survey. I recommend this course to anyone wishing to begin an active study of the foundation of the American Republic. The Barrister
Date published: 2015-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Clearer with this....or this?" Taking this course is like taking a trip to an optometrist specializing in historical perspective. It's not like you are shown anything new, but you nevertheless come away marveling at how much more clearly everything appears.
Date published: 2014-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History As It Should Be Taught Professor Robinson has created the most interesting and informative course on the founding of the United States that I have ever experienced. The important background material that led to and fed the revolutionary impulse was eye-opening for me. Professor Robinson's connections to earlier historical events put the whole event into sharp focus. His delivery was presented in a clear and engaging vocal manner. I was really anxious to hear what he was going to say in the next lecture. I want to thank professor Robinson for his outstanding work in the course.
Date published: 2014-08-03
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