Cycles of American Political Thought

Course No. 4820
Professor Joseph F. Kobylka, Ph.D.
Southern Methodist University
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Course No. 4820
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Course Overview

America is often described as a nation of doers. Its folk heroes are men and women of action, like Daniel Boone and Annie Oakley, who subdued an untamed wilderness on the way to forging a great nation. But is that the whole story? Is American history really just a tale of dynamic movers and shakers who left philosophizing to their European counterparts?

In Cycles of American Political Thought, you'll examine the often neglected philosophical underpinnings of this nation's history. With renowned political scientist Professor Joseph F. Kobylka as your guide, you'll explore how this nation of "doers" has, from its birth, been deeply engaged with the most fundamental questions of political philosophy.

Over the course of 36 engaging lectures, Professor Kobylka weaves a tale of nation-founding and nation-building. You'll learn how, from its earliest days, the nation has borne the imprint of influential thinkers from the European continent, from the Reformation theology of John Calvin to the Enlightenment philosophy of John Locke. You'll examine how these ideas have influenced the greatest Americans as, over the centuries, the nation has cycled between variants of a single revolutionary political theory.

But America's story is not simply one of ideas. From the Civil War to the civil rights movement, the Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression, Professor Kobylka's analysis shows how the actions and events of history have both affected and been influenced by underlying political philosophies.

The Ever-Changing Definition of "America"

Throughout this epic historical journey, you'll explore the many ways this nation has answered the question: "What is an American?" Professor Kobylka traces the many answers that have been offered over the centuries, showing how the idea of "We the People" has changed and expanded far beyond the founding fathers' original conception.

And just as the definition of what it means to be an American expands, so the ideas about governance have changed and grown. We'll navigate this ever-shifting political landscape and see how political trends in American history can be understood as variations on a single theme: the philosophy of liberalism. Derived from the writings of Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, this conception of government is the source of some of our most deeply valued political notions, such as the idea that government is designed to serve the needs of the people. Professor Kobylka shows how the many twists and turns of the nation's history can be seen as a cycling back and forth between competing interpretations of this foundational political theory.

Founding Fathers and Freedom Fighters

You'll also meet the unforgettable men and women who, over the course of American history, have molded political thought and policy. We'll see how our most beloved leaders—Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan—acted from deeply felt philosophical convictions about government, and how apolitical observers—such as philosopher Henry David Thoreau and essayist J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur—offered insights into the strengths and shortcomings of American liberalism.

Our journey through the American political landscape includes the critics and activists who demanded equal access to the nation's promise of equality and liberty. We'll meet some of the courageous figures who fought to redress deeply rooted inequities, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Understanding the Past, Understanding the Present

Through Cycles of American Political Thought, you'll gain a deep understanding both of the nation's past and how this rich political history continues to influence us today. Even if you've studied American history before, you'll encounter something new: a unique synthesis of viewpoints, ideas, and events that's enlightening and compelling.

And while the story is epic, you'll never lose your way. Professor Kobylka illuminates both the larger patterns of history and the finer details—the lives, events, and ideas that bring history to life. This course will change the way you think about American history.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    America—The Philosophical Experiment
    Although Americans have a reputation as pragmatists, not philosophers, they've relied from the nation's inception on an ever-evolving framework of political theory grounded in liberalism. This lecture provides an overview of this tradition and establishes a context for exploring and defining American political thought. x
  • 2
    Historical Baggage
    The colonies' first European settlers from Great Britain were shaped by ideas of government developed in their home country. In this lecture, we explore the centuries of British political tradition that influenced the forging of a new notion of governance. x
  • 3
    Theoretical Baggage
    While the historical events of British history helped shaped America's definition of government, the colonists were influenced profoundly by the two dominant theoretical traditions from their time: the Protestantism of Martin Luther and John Calvin, and the theory of liberalism developed by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. x
  • 4
    A Puritan Beginning
    The first European colonists sailed to the new world to gain freedom to practice their religion. In this lecture, we examine how the Calvinist world-view of these settlers dominated early colonial life, as exemplified in the leadership of John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. x
  • 5
    Expansion and Individualism
    As the colonies grow and expand, cracks begin to appear in the Puritan control of government. New communities and their leaders, such as Roger Williams and John Wise, develop competing views of political governance that replace Winthrop's theocracy with a more democratic notion of governance, paving the way for the advance of liberalism in the colonies. x
  • 6
    The Revolutionary Context
    With the French and Indian War (1754–63), Britain breaks from its policy of benign neglect regarding the colonies and imposes new taxes to support the costs of war. Viewed as unjust, the taxes galvanize the colonists and help forge a sense of their own political identity and inalienable rights. x
  • 7
    The Road to the Declaration of Independence
    In this lecture, we examine the combination of events and ideas that contributed to the development of America's ultimate petition to the British government for its rights: the Declaration of Independence. x
  • 8
    A "Natural" Revolutionary—Thomas Paine
    This lecture explores the life and legacy of Thomas Paine, an influential writer who through his countless pamphlets and other works acted as town crier for the new world order of liberalism. x
  • 9
    The Unconscious Dialectic of Crèvecoeur
    Although not an explicitly political theorist, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur contributed an informal meditation on political philosophy in his eyewitness account of the early years of the republic. Crèvecoeur extols America as "the new Eden" of liberty, but his work is haunted by the inescapable brutality that persists alongside the tenets of liberalism. x
  • 10
    John Adams—"Constitutionalist"
    Arguably the least heralded member of the revolutionary and constitutional generations, John Adams was also the most theoretically inclined American thinker of his time. In this lecture, we examine Adams's contribution to American political history through his works and writings. x
  • 11
    A Political Constitution
    While the Constitution broke new philosophical ground in establishing ruling principles for a modern democracy, it was also a product of its specific historical and political context. In this lecture, we investigate how this landmark document was shaped by the competing needs and concerns of delegates from all over the 13 colonies. x
  • 12
    A Philosophical Constitution—Faction
    Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote The Federalist Papers, a set of essays designed to defend the Constitution and support its ratification. In this lecture, we trace how these essays contended with majority factions. x
  • 13
    A Philosophical Constitution—Structure
    In applying the "science of politics" to the Constitution, the authors of The Federalist Papers described political structures—including the separation of powers and the system of institutional checks among governmental branches—intended to inhibit faction and stem. x
  • 14
    A Philosophical Constitution—Interpretation
    We take a closer look at The Federalist Papers, examining three modern interpretations: the Pluralist and Republican interpretations, and the Elitist critique. In these, we discover the open texture of interpretation that underlies the signal document of America's political foundation. x
  • 15
    Disorganized Losers—The Anti-Federalists
    Opposing the authors of The Federalist Papers were the Anti-Federalists who argued against adopting the Constitution. Although history has deemed them the losers in this battle, their efforts led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights, and their arguments have recurred throughout American history. x
  • 16
    The "Genius" of Thomas Jefferson
    Thomas Jefferson is one of the best known and most revered figures of the American founding, due in no small part to his role as author of the Declaration of Independence. We examine the complicated, sometimes contradictory, political views that underpinned his life and writings. x
  • 17
    Jacksonian Democracy—The "People" Extended
    During the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the nation expanded westward, and as it did, the definition of "We the People" expanded as well. This expansion introduced into government a wider range of competing demands that helped fuel the debate between two conceptions of the Constitution: Federalist (in favor of a strong central government) and Jacksonian (in favor of preserving states' rights to self-determination). x
  • 18
    Iconoclastic Individualism—Thoreau
    With his championing of the individual and his suspicion of coercive authority, Thoreau served as a liberal critic of a developing liberal society. His iconoclastic individualism would later resurface in movements for civil rights and environmentalism. x
  • 19
    Inclusionist Stirrings—Douglass and Stanton
    The original framers of the Constitution outlined the rights of "the people" but only the people who counted: propertied white men. In this lecture, we begin to consider those who lived on the fringes of the body politic—slaves and women—through an examination of the lives and works of freed slave Frederick Douglass and proto-feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. x
  • 20
    The Organic Socialism of Brownson
    In response to the explosion of industrialization in the North, the new nation experienced a widening gap between rich and poor, owner and worker. In a response that anticipates Karl Marx, Orestes Brownson offered a socialist critique of America's burgeoning capitalism that later influenced activist strains of liberalism. x
  • 21
    American Feudalism—The Vision of Fitzhugh
    Like Brownson, George Fitzhugh offers a perspective from outside liberalism, but from a completely different point of view. An unapologetic son of the South, Fitzhugh constructs a neofeudalist solution to society's woes, in which the "master race" will ensure the flourishing of a stable society. x
  • 22
    Constitutionalizing the Slave Class
    Another son of the South, John Calhoun reframes the question of abolition as one of protecting the rights of a special interest (slaveholders) against a tyrannical majority (abolitionists). But his argument ranges beyond the racism of the day, and Calhoun can be seen as the father of pluralistic theory in America. x
  • 23
    Lincoln's Reconstitution of America
    By applying the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, as the cornerstone of American governance, Abraham Lincoln reshapes the nation's definition of liberalism, ushering in a new justification for activist government. x
  • 24
    Equality in the Law and in Practice
    In the aftermath of the Civil War, another battle heats up between two opposing strains of the American political tradition—active state liberalism and minimal state liberalism. Congress's Reconstruction Acts represent the actions of a strong federal government advance a new egalitarianism, but they are gutted by a Supreme Court favoring states' rights. x
  • 25
    Social Darwinism and Economic Laissez-Faire
    Variance and diversity have very different meanings in the world of complexity theory. Grasping that difference puts you on the way to understanding how complex systems achieve diversity and why diversity enables them to be both innovative and robust, mai x
  • 26
    Looking Backward, Looking Forward
    Countering Sumner, Edward Bellamy offered a socialist solution to the economic disparities and social unrest resulting from the Industrial Revolution in his popular utopian novel Looking Backward. x
  • 27
    Teddy Roosevelt and Progressivism
    Following in the footsteps of Lincoln, Roosevelt saw government as an engine to advance liberal values through active involvement in social and economic policy. Through trust busting and economic oversight, he enacted his belief that government should regulate large corporations in the interest of the public good. x
  • 28
    Supreme Court and Laissez-Faire
    Populated largely by pro-business Republicans, the Supreme Court of the early 20th century embraced Sumner's Darwinian understanding of governmental power, striking down legislation regulating wages and work hours. x
  • 29
    The Women's Movement and the 19th Amendment
    Activists such as Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt re-energized the call for the inclusion of women in American political and economic life. Their crowning achievement was the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. x
  • 30
    Eugene V. Debs and Working-Class Socialism
    Influenced by Marx, Eugene Debs offered a critique of mainstream liberalism by emphasizing economic class as the crucial element in American society. As a committed socialist, union organizer, civil rights advocate, and candidate for the U.S. presidency, Debs strove to empower the working class as a means to ensure equality and liberty. x
  • 31
    Hamiltonian Means for Jeffersonian Ends
    Often called the "architect of the welfare state," Herbert Croly argued that to ensure the conditions of liberty, the government must create a level economic playing field for its citizens. His argument provided a theoretical underpinning to the progressive nationalism begun by Lincoln, advanced by Teddy Roosevelt, and opposed by the Supreme Court. x
  • 32
    FDR, the New Deal, and the Supreme Court
    Working to pull the nation out of the Great Depression, Roosevelt found little public resistance to his New Deal legislation, a series of programs that represented an unprecedented expansion of the reach of the federal government. His efforts were initially countered the Supreme Court, but eventually paved the way for a new wave of welfare-state liberalism. x
  • 33
    The Racial Revolution
    Responding to the long history of legislation supporting "separate but equal" treatment of African Americans, Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois proposed alternative paths toward the meaningful inclusion of blacks in American political life. x
  • 34
    The New Egalitarianism and Freedom
    With the 1960s came new struggles for universal freedom and equality, especially in the reinvigorated efforts of the women's movement and the civil rights movement. American youth join the fight, critiquing traditional institutions through organizations such as the Berkeley-based Free Speech Movement and Students for a Democratic Society. x
  • 35
    The Reagan Revolution
    After the tumultuous 1960s, the American political climate swung back to a more conservative notion of limited, decentralized government. The movement reached its peak with the rise of Reaganism of the 1980s, which synthesized strains of minimal state liberalism with a theocratic moralism hearkening back to America's Puritan roots. x
  • 36
    Cycles of American Political Conversations
    A backward glance at the material covered in these lectures reveals a complex and ever-evolving philosophical tradition at the heart of American politics. Cycling between opposing strands of liberalism informed by nonliberal critiques, American political thought has repeatedly accommodated changing realities, giving the nation a philosophical flexibility to meet the challenges of a changing world. x

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Your professor

Joseph F. Kobylka

About Your Professor

Joseph F. Kobylka, Ph.D.
Southern Methodist University
Dr. Joseph F. Kobylka is Associate Professor of Political Science at Southern Methodist University, where he has taught for more than 20 years. He earned his B.A. in Government and History from Beloit College, graduating magna cum laude, and his Ph.D. in Political Sience from the University of Minnesota. Professor Kobylka has received numerous awards for teaching, including the Golden Mustang Award, M Award, Willis M. Tate...
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Cycles of American Political Thought is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 61.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wow! I didn't know that! I am just about up to the 20th century and must admit I have learned a great deal. Many of the conceptions I had about the pre-Civil War period were especially incomplete, I look forward to finishing the course to see what additional revelations there are.
Date published: 2016-08-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing! In this very, very long series of 36 lectures, Professor Joseph Kobylka presents the political theories that have driven the development of the United States, from pre-revolutionary times to the Reagan years. In addition to well-known thinkers, he covers some such as Crèvecoeur, Brownson and Fitzhugh who are less familiar. However, except for references to England and France in the 18th century, the presentation is totally centred on the United States, as if the rest of the world did not exist. Also, Professor Kobylka would gain in listening to the Great Courses’ ‘’A Skeptic’s Guide to American History’’ as his view of historical events is childishly naïve. He believes there was a consensus on American independence and seems to have never heard of Loyalists ! Professor Kobylka is self-assured and tends to be sententious and, well, just plain boring. Overall, this course clearly does not stand out as being of any particular interest.
Date published: 2016-02-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing (Audio CD. I have a general interest in American political history.) I'm extremely surprised by the glowing reviews of this course, which convinced me to purchase it. The Professor pointed the way to my learning somethings, but left uneasy questions in my mind. I'm not sure I'll finish the course. I'm taking a break after Lecture 23 (out of 36) failed to convince me that President Lincoln "'reconstituted' America." To me, the lectures and the Guidebook only seem to brush the surface of what could be intriguing insights from Dr. Kobylka; he repeatedly failed to convince me that an out-of-context review of a few key players' personal histories and writings demonstrates "cycles of American political thought." I was bothered by the fact that the professor makes very broad statements without a provided foundation, such as (from the Guidebook) "Changes in the public mind ... often penetrate constitutional interpretation." This statement exemplifies my frustration since, in his lectures, the professor doesn't provide significant information about "the public mind." I went back to Lecture 1 to remind myself of what seemed so interesting at the start of the course. The Professor doesn't deliver on the promises that he made. His lectures might be more appropriate as dinner party conversation, and that would be a dinner party of history buffs, whose "other knowledge" might lend substance to the professor's discourse.
Date published: 2015-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Presentation and Content I just finished these lectures while quilting, which is my normal routine to enlighten my brain as well as my creativity. How I loved these lectures! In view of our current political discourse, I wanted a history lesson in how we got here and our professor didn't disappoint me. It certainly made me feel a little better knowing this country has traversed these political roads before. Thank you for a wonderful series. I will certainly listen again and again.
Date published: 2015-10-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Course should be titled Liberalism in America If you’re hoping to gain insight to Liberalism you are in luck 33 lectures are for you. Conservatism gets 1, lecture #35 and Socialism gets 1 lecture also. He dwells way too much on convincing that we are all liberals and forgets the fact that there are many sides to the American story. I did gain an understanding that Socialism and the modern Liberal Demarcate are very much in the same party. I fear that if this is what is being taught in our colleges we are in trouble as a nation. Furthermore if you can make it through the first three lectures he does change his speaking style and becomes more engaging.
Date published: 2015-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Profound and Enlightening Audio Review: It has been said that the United States is the first country founded on an idea (or philosophy); comprised of liberty, freedom, and individual rights. The expression of this philosophy in terms of what is the form and role for government, who is enfranchised to participate, and who pays for this governance, have been subjects of debate among political thinkers since the first settlers arrived in the North American colonies from Europe. Dr. Kobylka follows some overarching themes: American Exceptionalism, the dynamic malleability of liberalism (defined as a philosophy with the individual at the center), one "founding" perhaps but at least 3 reconstitutions, the concept of "the people", and the importance of space (as in a "virgin" continent). Dr. Kobylka presents the people and events of the history of the US, but provides a context primarily around the contentions among ideas. Dr. Kobylka shows how the "historical baggage" of the British norms of governance derived through concessions carved from royalty (Magna Carta, Glorious Revolution, English Bill of Rights, etc) as well as the "theoretical baggage" of the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment philosophies of Locke and Hobbes gave American Political thought a head start. Ironically, despite this, the first real government in the colonies was the conservative theocracy of the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony(MBC). Dr. Kobylka indicates the re-emergence's of philosophy similar to MBC autocrat John Winthrop's "Citty on a Hill" at various points in American History. This statist approach begins to fade with Roger Williams through the remainder of the 17th century, and ultimately the British taxation imposed following the French and Indian War brings the liberalism philosophy to center stage. From this point on, up through today, American political thought cycles through interpretations of this liberalism from a limited government whose main role is to allow the pursuit of individual economic liberty to an active government focused on increased enfranchisement and greater equality among peoples. Of course, there are a lot of interpretations in between these two. Dr. Kobyla spends a considerable amount of the course on the nation's formative years. In particular, he spends several lectures on the Constitution. This may seem lengthy and at times redundant, but during these lectures he is setting a framework for the remainder of the course as he refers to the purposefully vague portions and the lingering debate among individual, state, and federal rights. Key founders and/or Presidents imprinting their thoughts/philosophies on the landscape include Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, LBJ, and Reagan. As the course proceeds we are exposed to thoughts from less notables on the influence of nature (as in the frontier) and self-interest (Crevecoeur), iconoclastic individualism (Thoreau), Inclusion (Douglass/Stanton), revolutionary socialism pre-Marx (Brownson), American Feudalism (Fitzhugh), Interests-not Individuals (Calhoun), Social Darwinism (Sumner), economic equality through wealth redistribution (Bellamy), Women's Suffrage (Anthony, Catt, et. al.), Workingman's Socialism (Debs) and Equality of Opportunity(Croly). These are laced together into the patchwork quilt that is American Political Thought. While some options have been eliminated along the way, it is clear that there has been no settling into a full consensus for America. Some key insights along the way are the characterization of Lincoln as the first to promote active state liberalism, of FDR as devoid of ideology, of the contrasts between the gradualism on racial equality of Booker T. Washington from the immediacy of W.E.B. DuBois, and of the move toward Socialsim that M.L. King, Jr. may have been undertaking had he not been assassinated. Having lived through the tumult of the 60's and early 70's, I would say that Dr. Koblyka captured this period in a balanced and accurate way. Dr. Koblyka takes us through this journey in a highly organized yet thought provoking and reflective manner. He speaks in a clear voice at an appropriate pace with few non-words ("ahs") or hesitations. His voice reminded me of Dick Caveat, in both its pitch and thoughtful delivery. I found him very easy to listen to and to follow. The coursebook is excellent. The lecture summaries are in outline form and a timeline, a glossary, biographical notes, and an extensive bibliography are included. This format should be standard for all TGC guidebooks. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in the history of American political thought. It would be interesting to see an updated version of this course covering the last 20 years of American Political thought, especially as the economy and communications have become more global.
Date published: 2015-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perspective On Present Discontents AUDIO DOWNLOAD I am very impressed with this course. Professor Kobylka is a great presenter and the content of his lectures is top-notch. This is not a dry discussion of political theory. Professor Kobylka contends that “…ideas (philosophy) and actions (context) exist in a complex relationship…Political thought chases events, and events chase political thought. Ideas (philosophy) and actions (context) exist in a complex relationship… Neither can be understood without the other… Both inform each other.” (Course Guidebook, Page 24). The result is a truly interesting and engaging survey, covering over 400 years, that not only deals with “…self-consciously political theorists, [but also] political actors whose actions were infused with theoretical content, and governmental institutions acting on the basis of theoretical constructions of political concepts” (Page 182-183). For the most part, Professor Kobylka is concerned with two main aspects of American liberalism (more broadly understood than today’s often politically charged designation), which he says is “…a very malleable political philosophy”, that "[a]t its core is the individual…All individuals possess rights that are to be protected from encroachment…”). Those two main aspects of American liberalism he terms minimal state and active state liberalism (also referred to as progressivism). To these dominant approaches “…various libertarian, conservative, anarchic, and socialist theories join the conversation from time to time.” (Page 185). Professor Kobylka locates the development of the minimal state and active state liberalism in the arguments over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution (even noting that 1960s Students for a Democratic Society echo Anti-Federalist ideas of 1788). “The federalists and the anti-federalists set the polar stars of the predominant cycle of American political thought: the role of government in general, and of the national government in particular, in the lives of its citizens.” (Page 183). Matters really take off after the Civil War, however, in the “…conversation between these two liberalisms, with each gaining the upper hand at various junctures” (Page 184). Not too surprisingly, but somewhat disconcerting, is Lincoln as the one who got the active state liberal ball rolling. What I enjoyed most about this latter part of the course is its contrasting of two of the major late 19th/early 20th century theorists, William Graham Sumner and Herbert Croly, respectively minimal and active state proponents, and how their ideas and approaches not only impacted federal administrations, but also were reflected in Supreme Court decisions. The tale is an interesting one that includes the New Deal and the “nationalization of the Bill of Rights” (Audio, Lecture 35) by the Warren Court in the 1950sand 1960s, followed by the cycling back to an emphasis on minimal state liberalism by the Reagan Revolution. There is so much to this course that I do not feel able to do full justice to it. Here, however, are some of the main themes (from Pages 185-187): “A. Liberalism, in general and in America, is a very malleable political philosophy. B. American liberalism is characterized by the expansion of the people. C. Space—the “extent of territory”—has had enormous impact as an element of American political life and thought. D. We view America as a once-constituted country, but it has had many reconstitutions…the malleability of liberalism has allowed these reconstitutions without profound philosophical and institutional dislocation. E. Through it all, America has never lost its sense of ‘specialness,’ exceptionalism.” I came away from this course with a better understanding and appreciation of our country’s past and present. Not only did Professor Kobylka do an excellent job on the sweep of American history, but also painted some vivid portraits of important figures, including John Winthrop, Thomas Paine, the Founding Fathers, Orestes Brownson (whose socialism anticipated Marx) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Dubois, Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Martin Luther King (in the liberal tradition, but trending toward socialism at the end), William F. Buckley, Betty Friedan, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan (who harked back to John Winthrop in some important ways). Just a fantastically good set of lectures! At the end of this course, Professor Kobylka notes that “…people like Ann Coulter and Michael Moore see demons on the other side. Jefferson saw Adams as a Monarchist and Adams feared Jefferson a Jacobin (Audio, Lecture 36)…Our ideologues find cataclysmic faults everywhere they turn. So did those of earlier times. This reflects a human tendency to magnify the present and diminish the past” (Page 182). Professor Kobylka is a thoughtful and fair-minded presenter who will keep your attention through thirty-six excellent lectures. Very highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-12-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A new slant on old news. In a lot of ways this covered lots of information that I already knew. However, it presents a focus different from what I've heard before. Professor Kobylka shows how this country is basically a liberal country, contrasting minimal vs. active liberalism. He does show the non-liberal side of our tradition (i.e. socialism). I particularly liked the discussions of the traditions that were first brought to this country from England and Europe. He shows how the history of England, the Protestant Reformation and Puritanism affected the thinking of the '55 white, propertied men' who are considered our 'founding fathers.' This era is not often discussed when we talk about our history. Since we know that 'winners write history' it is not surprising that Professor Kobylka spends 3 lectures on The Federalist Papers and only 1 on the Anti-Federalists. But he does show how the anti-Federalists won a couple of important issues -- the Bill of Rights, and the limiting of national power. Many lectures were spent of the expansion of the original definition of men in "all men are created equal." That ex-slaves counted; that women counted. I didn't give this course a full 5-start rating as I found it slow at times.
Date published: 2014-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative and Fair This was a truly exceptional course on the cycles of American political philosophies, between "minimal state" Liberalism and "active state" Liberalism, with a reasonable smattering of non-Liberal critiques (eg, Socialism and non-Liberal Conservatism). The content delivery was superb, learned and coherent. What I particularly appreciated was Professor Kobylka's very fair-minded treatment of all sides. He does an exemplary job of illuminating the thought he's examining without interposing any discernible bias, which, in our partisan Age, is very refreshing.
Date published: 2013-12-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great content but dreary presentation DVD REVIEW: I have rated this course overall 4 stars ~~ my actual figure was 3.6', so I had to round up. This is an extremely important, powerful course, showing the ideological basis for the establishment of The United States of America, with fine definitions of American liberalism, conservatism and socialism; the professor has organised the course expertly. Dr Joseph Kobylka is a well-known, authoritative political scientist, teacher and author, a real heavyweight in this arena. Top marks for contents, but the professor is SO SLOW AND DREARY that I had to rate him well down. I watched the first lecture at regular speed: it was painful! Thereafter I set my DVD player at 20% faster than regular speed, and even then he was slow at times, still dull & uninspiring. I do NOT criticise Dr Kobylka's superbly wide and deep knowledge & command of his subject, only his presentation & delivery. At times I felt he was patronising in his explanations, as though he were talking to young teenagers. As a non-US Citizen, I was particularly looking forward to this course, to help in furthering my understanding of American political inheritance and background: indeed it has done so, but the course is severely hampered and compromised by this lecturer. Looking at other reviews, I gather Dr Kobylka's style is perfectly acceptable to most, even praiseworthy; this surprises me, but perhaps a very slow-paced, lightweight presentation is currently in vogue? Anyway, thank goodness for an excellent guidebook.
Date published: 2013-02-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Review, but What's New? Audio CD. Dr. Kobylka starts with the thesis that American political thought is almost all liberal. It spans a rather narrow spectrum from active state government (e.g., Eugene V. Debs) to minimal state government (e.g., Ronald Reagan) but it is all liberal by the classic definition of liberal. He makes his case well. Dr. Kobylka presents his material chronologically through biographies that he asserts represent main streams of thought. He shows the evolution of American political thought addressing American exceptionalism and the ever-expanding pool of participants in the political process. There was not a whole lot of new or exciting material in this course but what was there was presented well. Take it to review material you probably already know rather than to challenge to with a new perspective.
Date published: 2012-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfectly Presented -- Five Stars Prof. Kobylka and TTC combine to create a perfect storm in the most beautifully balanced presentation possible on American political thought. I kept waiting for "the inevitable spin", a predictable bias, the subtle or not-so-subtle insertion of one's own political leanings. But, it never came. Professor Kobylka never breaks from a measured and balanced depiction of the various streams of political thought; beginning as early as The Massachusetts Bay Company and culminating in recent political times. You are never short-changed on either side of each argument. He accurately recounts the pros and cons fostered by opponents and proponents. He deftly moves us through the ebb and flow of the American liberal stream of thought, highlighting the ascent and decline of active state liberalism in one era and, likewise, of minimal state liberalism in yet another. We learn that the current labels of "liberal" or "conservative" are only narrowly defined within the context and framework of recent American politics. The sharp divide between liberal and conservative thinking was of course fomented prior to the American Revolution in the 18th century; where conservative supporters of monarchy and a focus-on-the-state were countered by the new liberal Enlightenment philosophies focused-on-the-individual and humanism. This latter stream of thought became the "liberal" arm of political thought and became the very foundation for political developments in the soon-to-be United States. So, it seems, in a historical context American political thought is, in fact, liberal, but there are two branches to that political stream of thought: active state and minimal state liberalism, big government versus small government, central government versus state government, or, in our narrow American sense, liberal versus conservative; however yet, liberals all. Although Prof. Kobylka takes great pains to show the insurgence and resurgence of these two main streams of political thought, he does nothing to show the incessant inching toward today's dominant active state liberalism where 4 of 10 working Americans work for the government; giving truth to the fears and predictions of The Anti-Federalists during their opposition to the ratification of our Constitution. Another TTC course “Great Debate: Advocates and opponents of the Constitution” fleshes out the essential core arguments for and against active state liberalism; this course being also a great course on American political thought. If you wish to have a good grounding in the tortured history of American political thought, you can do no better than this wonderfully balanced and well presented survey course on American political thought.
Date published: 2012-04-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Minimal State vs. Active State Liberalism This coures provides the ideological background to the founding of the United States. It then follows the continual cycling between minimal state liberalism and active state liberalism, up to and including the Reagan administration. The breadth of the course content was fantastic and the depth was just right. I learned a lot. The presentation style was high quality. (Except for the lecture on Thomas Jefferson. Why is it so common in the intellectual community to magnify the faults of the founding fathers and forget their greatness?)
Date published: 2012-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding I found these lectures remarkably helpful in assisting me to deepen my appreciation and understanding of the American political tradition. If all Americans listened to these lectures and strived to understand the traditions of American political thought, our country would be a much better place.
Date published: 2011-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from outstanding! I have listened to many TC courses, and this ranks up there with the very best. I have studied and taught American history and government all my life, yet this course gave me insights on American history that were remarkably original. Prof. Kobylka puts events throughout American history in the context of an ideological cycle, which gives these events entirely new meaning. He is generally "nonpartisan" although his use of the term "infamous" to describe the Supreme Court's Lochner decision does reveal a bias in favor of progressivism. Yet it does not detract from the insight and sheer breadth of knowledge available in this course. I can only hope that we are offered more courses from Prof. Kobylka.
Date published: 2011-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must Have I think everyone should listen to this course. It is well written, non-partisan and very well presented. In this political environment, it is even more important to know our country's political history and the evolution of our system. It was an easy listen and kept my attention through all 36 lectures. No matter what your current political view is you will be more well rounded and better able to articulate your views after listening to this course.
Date published: 2011-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! Superb course This course gets my very highest mark. The professor is clear, comprehensive and always highly intelligent. The course content is quite broad and does expect an educated listener - aiming at an upper level college course or an honors freshman seminar at a selective school. It is hard to imagine a modern American who thinks he is a sophisticated follower of our political system who has not studied this material (I refer to the voters, not, God help us, the politicians themselves.) His delivery is paced well, his voice is easy to listen to, and even more obscure concepts come through without need for repeated playbacks. All in all, this is what the best in adult education should be!
Date published: 2011-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful and Thought Provoking Civics Lesson Although I enjoy philosophy and political thought, I did not think that I would find a course on the history of American political thought either entertaining or illuminating. I bought the course for the wrong reason: to learn something I thought that I should know rather than to learn something that I would enjoy. It was on sale. I’m glad I was wrong. This course, for me on CD, was easily the most engaging Teaching Company course that I have listened to so far. Kobylka is a genius at organizing political themes from the puritans to the modern day in a coherent and entertaining way. He is able to describe the historical context without getting bogged down in it. He speaks with the voice of the political actor or philosopher whose ideas he is explaining and thus we hear those ideas in the light in which they were intended. All of the personalities he describes were basically earnest men and women trying to address the issues of their day. All were basically addressing the tensions between liberty and equality which ebb and flow over the decades. This civilized analysis, with respect for the countervailing views, is far superior to the modern practice of distorting the ideas of ones political enemies while aggrandizing those of ones political allies. If more politicians and members of the press listened to these lectures, public political discourse would be much more informed and civilized. I highly recommend these lectures. Knowing what I know now, I would gladly buy them at full price!
Date published: 2011-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Green Across My Screen For the first ten minutes of this course (the audio version), I was prepared to judge Professor Kobylka as a bit of an effete snob--huge mistake. He is in the top rank of Teaching Company faculty, and, if I'm right, you should be seeing him again. (Are you listening there in Virginia?) He has an ease of speech and use of language that are delightful and elegant. He is also genuinely intellectual while also presenting himself as someone who really wants to draw you in. And draw you in he does. What is more, the subject matter of this course seems to fill a gap in the Teaching Company curriculum that one might not otherwise easily realize needed to be filled. Outstanding--this deserves your commitment.
Date published: 2011-05-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great conversation Professor Kobylka presents an engaging, conversational style to his lectures. This helps greatly when the specific topic is a bit dry or dense; which for me did not happen often. And, in spite of a particularly annoying propensity to call the Democratic party the "Democrat" party (apparently how the say it in Texas), I found this to be an excellent survey of American political thought.
Date published: 2011-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Treat Yourself to the DVD (not the audio) The reviewers below have praised this course very highly, with 4 and 5 stars. I cannot rate my experience so highly: I purchased the CD version of the course and found it difficult to follow, as most of the discussion is very conceptual. So as not to bring his rating down, I'll compromise at 4 stars. Perhaps I'll get an upgrade to a DVD
Date published: 2011-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is a gem of a course, an excellent synopsis and analysis of how we got from the Pilgrims to Reagan and the cyclical nature of the journey. Professor Kobylka defines American liberalism and some of the challenges to it and deftly explores how American political thought has developed concerning such concepts as the nature of rights and liberty, individual rights vs. collective ones, class conflict, and the roles of the federal and state governments. Along the way he also introduces the idea of American exceptionalism and the effect of space (i.e. unsettled territory) on the evolution of the American view. My only criticism as to content would be to say that I could have done with one lecture on socialism instead of two (three if you count the one on Edward Bellamy’s novel “Looking Back”). Covering socialism in one lecture would have left time to better address such things as the Kennedy era, Johnson’s “great society” and other political movements such as libertarianism which aren’t addressed or get only a brief mention. Dr. Kobylka is soft spoken with a conversational style. While certainly not theatrical, he is passionate about his subject and I did not find his style “dry” in the slightest. However - as noted by a previous reviewer - he does sometimes “swallow” the ends of sentences, the pattern usually being to make a statement and then quickly add an aside or parenthetical comment which quickly trails off in volume. This, however, was a minor annoyance and wasn’t frequent enough to diminish my ability to enjoy the lectures. I do, though, feel that due to his low-key vocal style one would miss a lot by not being able to see the professor’s facial expressions and body language and would thus recommend buying the DVD rather than the audio-only version of the course. On the production side, I felt that the graphics did not add much and in many cases were just distracting, as when a portrait would be shown repeatedly (as if I couldn’t remember what George Washington looked like after the first two times) or the useless white popup boxes that appear across the bottom of the screen to display terms or words the professor had just said. Also, the guidebook left something to be desired and doesn’t contain many of Kobylka’s pithier statements which are worth noting, thus requiring me to pause frequently so I could write them in the margins. These, though, are also relatively minor complaints which don’t reflect on Dr. Kobylka and in no way diminish my recommendation of the course. All-in-all this is one of the better courses I have purchased and I would be surprised if anyone interested in American politics did not find it interesting and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2011-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant This course shattered the paradigm in which I usually view American politics (and the politics of other countries for that matter). I think this course really helps to understand the mindset of both sides of the political spectrum in the liberal American tradition. Also, it really helped me to understand the occasional illiberal movements and their philosophical underpinnings. I hesitated at first after reading some reviewers who thought the presentation was dry. I'm extremely glad I ignored them. He presentation wasn't as histrionic as say Dr. Fears, but I found him to be very engaging, never dull and at times moving. This course has inspired me to take more intellectual history courses, especially ones on Hobbes and Locke. I hope that TTC will bring Dr. Kobylka back for more lectures.
Date published: 2010-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Sense of Wonder Most of the courses (many dozens) that I have taken from TTC over the years have impressed me. There, however, might be a half dozen that have left me highly impressed. Cycles of American Political Thought is one of them. The history of ideas fascinates me. Here Professor Kobylka stimulates my wonder and, as if reading my mind, procedes to satisfy that wonder with lucid explanation and example. He seems to have a sense of wonder for the subject himself. He is soft spoken, deliberate, and most of all engaging in his delivery. He can be penetrating with his analysis, but retains what was for me an objective, respectful tone. Professor Kobylka offers us a panaoramic view of what "We the People" has meant to us over the generations, the shortcomings as well as the heritage we have been so fortunate to inherit - "American Exceptionalism," most often portrayed in a positive and valuable sense. I certainly enjoyed the course and recommend it highly.
Date published: 2010-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An honest discussion This course is an honest discussion of American political philosophy as seen from both the inside and the outside of that philosophical framework. It is a much needed antidote to the misconceptions and disinformation being tossed about on the airwaves.
Date published: 2010-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The substance and presentation of this course are both excellent, even if, as others have noted, Kobylka is a bit dry at times. It is, like many TTC history courses, a summary; however, this course in particular is, perhaps by necessity a fairly abbreviated summary. Many interesting political movements are covered, but many are left out. There's limited discussion of Congress and the Executive branch, and there's significant discussion of several fringe political movements, many of which never made their way into mainstream politiical thinking or had any lasting impact on American political thought. One comes away from this course with a good understanding of the diversity of thought that has existed in American political discourse and of the extreme views that have on occasions been expressed, but with only a limited understanding of the principal ideas that have dominated American politics, how those ideas changed over time, and how those ideas have been incorported into legislation Notwithstanding the above, Kobylka does an excellent job of discussing the topics in his syllabus and presenting an interesting and stimulating course.
Date published: 2010-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WOW! Before we can get to where it is we want to be, we have to know where we are now. But before we know where we are, we have to know what what we did that got us to where we are now. Holy Kanarky, does this course explain THAT!!! Anyone who is interested in FORMING a political opinion instead of just HAVING a political opinion must purchase this course.
Date published: 2010-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Highly Recommended This is one of the best courses I have taken from TTC. As promised the course delivers a fascinating look at the core of American political thought and the adaptations to changing times that have contributed to the success of America itself. Professor Kobylka presents a balanced, well organized and entertaining series of lectures. I gained a greater understanding of the foundation of American political thought and of the basis of the debate that has continued ever since the founding about the rights of the individual and the role of government. I highly recommend this course and hope for more TTC courses from Professor Kobylka.
Date published: 2010-07-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from American exceptionalism explained I sought a lecture series that explained American exceptionalism at the outset of our history, and its effect on later generations of thinkers and actors. This course exceeded my expectations. This professor has a finely hewed focus that he stuck to throughout, namely that American political thought vibrates in a narrow spectrum between active state liberalism and minimal state liberalism, both derived from a common Locke-Hobbes 17th century source. I did not find the professor at all biased toward the American left or right, but rather a credible reporter of traditions and trends. He is immersed in the literature but secure enough in his own thought to offer his own conclusions. I looked forward to getting into each lesson as each chapter built on what had gone before, as the course rarely dragged. I believe as a lecturer, this speaker could introduce his quotes from historical characters (sometimes too lengthy) with more context before the quote and more summary after, rather than simply leaving their words hanging. I was often unsure which point he was making with a quote. He can also swallow the ends of his sentences making the listener wonder "wha--?" Yet his delivery style is animated and personal, not distant nor aloof. On whole this course is a 4 + because of the content, from the Puritans through the Federalists to the buildup to Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Great Society, and until the Reagan 1980s. I especially appreciated that he checked in periodically with legal history, which explained the dynamic relationship between the Constitution (never the immovable mountain it appears) and ever changing society. He also covered trends toward inclusivity (people of color, women) thoroughly. I can easily recommend this course to anyone interested in American history as the history of ideas rather than dates and events.
Date published: 2010-06-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Deep and Interesting Course Cycles of American Political Thought is an interesting course on the political ideology of this country and how it has adapted to change over time. When comparing today's political antagonistic environment compared to that in the past, you see similar patterns but new insightful ways to think of the same issues. Even though "liberalism" in the classical sense as a focus on the individual isn't everything to American political thought, it is the core value of both liberals and conservatives today. As the political environment of America has changed, variants of liberalism (active state and limited state liberalism) have spun from it. This course is well presented even if the professor isn't the most exciting and I thought he was relatively well-balanced in his approach. I can kind of see why some people felt Kobylka leaned towards the left but to the relief of fellow conservatives, the historical narrative ends with the Reagan Revolution! No matter what your political leanings are, the course is deep and will make you ponder about how the cycles of American political thought has changed over time and how it has shaped your beliefs.
Date published: 2010-06-08
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