European Thought and Culture in the 19th Century

Course No. 4423
Professor Lloyd Kramer, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Course Overview

This course is an opportunity to explore the major thinkers and historic challenges that shaped the mind of Europe in the 19th century. Intellectual history emphasizes the exchanges of ideas and debates that went on among people from other places and times. But it also stresses the importance of a continuing dialogue between the present and the past.

This course in intellectual history, therefore, seeks to expand our capacity for engaging in informed "dialogue" with the intellectual world of 19th-century Europe.

The thoughts of that world are still with us today, powerful forces in the cultural, intellectual, and political debates of the early 21st century.

In fact, 19th-century Europe was the crucible for most of the ideas, institutions, and "isms" that now shape the life of our entire planet, including:

  • nationalism
  • capitalism
  • democracy
  • socialism
  • conservatism
  • liberalism
  • feminism
  • bureaucracy.

And the list goes on.

Thought and Life from the French Revolution to the Fin de Siècle

How did these ideas begin?

Who first thought of them, and why?

How did the particular conditions of Europe between the French Revolution and the First World War shape these thinkers' ideas, the thoughts of their critics, the progress of the debates that went on between them, and the wider hearing that all received?

Professor Lloyd Kramer takes a judicious, dynamic approach to these questions. Through his lectures you follow the ebbs and flows of European thought during this key period.

Ideas and Social Experience

Professor Kramer's goal throughout these lectures is threefold:

  • to help you deepen your understanding of the ideas of influential 19th-century European intellectuals
  • to reflect on the interactions between ideas and social experience
  • to think critically and creatively about how the ideas of 19th-century Europe's leading thinkers and writers still raise a host of cogent questions for our own time.

To make for the most comprehensive treatment possible within a 24-lecture framework, you will examine not only famous thinkers like Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche, but a number of important though less well remembered figures.

These include the romantic author Germaine de Staël,the positivist Auguste Comte, the novelist and feminist George Sand, the political theorist Benjamin Constant, and many others.

In no case does Professor Kramer treat a thinker in isolation. Instead, each is placed in a context and linked both to other creative thinkers and the major issues of the time.

Consciousness and Context

In inviting you to view intellectual history as a series of overlapping, interconnected dialogues, Professor Kramer makes two important assumptions:

  1. It is ideas—like Hegel's, for example—that shape history.
  2. Social, political, and economic realities—like the Industrial Revolution, for example—affect how those ideas appear, gain influence, and become, like Hegel's thoughts, historical forces in their own right.

This approach allows you to avoid the twin dangers of reductionism, which collapses consciousness into context, and abstraction, which ignores the connection between ideas and the full complexity of lived human experience.

While important texts cannot be said simply to "reflect" the contexts in which they appear, it remains true that creative thinkers have always interpreted and reacted to the concrete historical world in which they live.

From this course you learn to grasp in detail precisely how that process of interpretation, redefinition, and "dialogue" with reality takes place in the still-vibrant works of many of the best minds modern European civilization has ever produced.

Three Dialogues: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the City

Your approach to the topic is organized around three key themes:

  • the response by educated Europeans to the cultural legacy of the Enlightenment
  • the questions raised by the massive social and political impact of the French Revolution and its aftermath
  • the broad issue of the Industrial Revolution and the challenges posed on many levels by the rise of modern urban, industrial mass society.

Professor Kramer begins by laying out basic premises and explaining what makes intellectual history a distinct field of study.

He then continues with three lectures exploring the 18th-century Enlightenment, its legacy, and its connection to the French Revolution.

That uprising is still the "framing event" for modern political life. It is the source, in fact, of commonplace political references like "left," "right," and "ideology."

Professor Kramer then devotes a set of six lectures to the political and cultural theories offered by writers such as Burke, Goethe, Bentham, Fichte, and Herder in response to the Enlightenment and the Revolution.

These ideas shaped the famous "isms"—conservatism, liberalism, nationalism, romanticism, etc.—that interpreted the new post-Revolutionary social and political world, and which remain current today as the symbols we use to organize our reality.

Industrialism, Feminism, and the Problem of Mass Culture

Beginning with Lecture 11, you turn to the cultural impact of the other great upheaval of the era, the Industrial Revolution.

Interpretations of the new economy ranged from the pro-capitalist responses of classical economists to the critiques of various strains of socialism. You examine the full range from Adam Smith to Karl Marx.

This section also considers the movement for human rights in the new industrial society, including the rights of women, as championed by John Stuart Mill and George Sand.

And you examine several cultural issues raised by modern, urban "mass" societies that go beyond the large institutional questions about economic and political arrangements:

  • What was the individual's place in this new impersonal, rationalized world?
  • Would new forms of literature come forth to describe it?
  • Should positive science, or perhaps history, be the key to understanding and guiding the human situation?
  • Was heroism still possible?

Closing the Circle

The European dialogue touched on all these issues and more, and Professor Kramer analyzes the contributions of figures that range from John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Matthew Arnold to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Herbert Spencer, and Auguste Comte.

The section and the course close with a lecture on Friedrich Nietzsche.

Professor Kramer explains how you can use Nietzsche's thought as a vantage point, either looking forward to the 20th-century themes that already preoccupied him, or back to the dialogue with the Enlightenment he had in mind while formulating his own view of what he called "the crisis of European civilization."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    What is Intellectual History?
    The heart of this course is an exploration of how social experience interacts with the history of thought. Each shapes the other in myriad complex ways. The task of the intellectual historian is to make clear precisely how that happens. x
  • 2
    The Scientific Origins of the Enlightenment
    The story of the European mind in the 19th century emerged as a dialogue with the 18th-century Enlightenment. What were the key themes? Why was modern science so seminal? How did its influence come to be so widely felt? x
  • 3
    The Emergence of the Modern Intellectual
    The modern "intellectual" is a creation of the Enlightenment even though the first such thinkers pre-dated the word. What was the project shared by philosophes and citizens of the "Republic of Letters" such as Montesquieu, Diderot, and Voltaire? x
  • 4
    The Cultural Meaning of the French Revolution
    For nearly every 19th-century European writer and theorist, the French Revolution was the event. Ironically, the Revolution both expressed Enlightenment ideas and raised large, still-lingering questions about the Enlightenment's validity and legacy. x
  • 5
    The New Conservatism in Post-Revolutionary Europe
    Modern conservatism arose as a critique of the Revolutionary and Enlightenment abstractions. This lecture discusses the influential conservative ideas of Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre, both of whom argued for the value of European traditions. x
  • 6
    The New German Philosophy
    If France is the home of the Enlightenment, then Germany is the home of the philosophical reaction against it. Herder, Fichte, and others created a potent blend of philosophical idealism and nationalism that would sweep the continent in nationalist opposition to Napoleon's conquests. x
  • 7
    Hegel’s Philosophical Conception of History
    The most influential German philosopher of the early 19th century, Hegel (d. 1831) authored a complex body of ideas that explained how every historical event could hold philosophical meaning. x
  • 8
    The New Liberalism
    By comparing the ideas of the Englishman Jeremy Bentham and the Frenchman Benjamin Constant, you gain insight into the differences that began to emerge early on to divide British and French liberalism. x
  • 9
    The Literary Culture of Romanticism
    Why have historians increasingly turned to literature, and especially Romantic works, in order to understand 19th-century European ideas? How do Romantics such as Schelling, Madame de Staël, and Lord Byron both reject and rely on the Enlightenment? x
  • 10
    The Meaning of the “Romantic Hero”
    The romantic hero, now a cultural cliché, was once a fresh response to a world in which the traditional aristocracy was fading. How does this hero emerge in the figures of Goethe's young Werther, Chateaubriand's René, and Victor Hugo's Hernani? x
  • 11
    The Industrial Revolution and Classical Economics
    The growth of cities and industry interested social theorists first in Great Britain, where works on "political economy" by Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and to an extent the population theories of Thomas Malthus as well, laid a basis for modern economics. x
  • 12
    Early Critiques of Industrial Capitalism
    Romantics and socialists—prominent among them Robert Owen, Henri Saint-Simon, and Charles Fourier—criticized laissez-faire capitalism and expounded a vision of a new and more cooperative socialist society. x
  • 13
    Hegelianism and the Young Marx
    Karl Marx, early "multiculturalist"? The answer is yes, in a sense, as this analysis of Marx's early life and debts to Left Hegelianism and the ideas of Ludwig Feuerbach makes clear. x
  • 14
    Marx’s Social Critique
    Marx studied both French political theory and English economic thought, but found each wanting in historical consciousness. Hegelianism was historical, but abstract. Marx drew from each of these three European intellectual traditions to develop a new materialist social theory. x
  • 15
    Feminism in Nineteenth-Century Culture
    Early feminists such as Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft urged that women should be granted all of the new rights of man. Madame de Staël sought more opportunities for women to participate in the mostly male world of European cultural life. x
  • 16
    Women’s Rights in a Man’s World
    In different ways, the French female novelist George Sand and the English philosopher John Stuart Mill argued for extending rights to women. How did they meet the objections of opponents? x
  • 17
    Tocqueville and Mill—Rethinking Liberal Theory
    In On Liberty (1859), Mill optimistically defended liberal principles and institutions as guarantors of progress. Alexis de Tocqueville spoke for many other liberals who were glimpsing darker and more dispiriting possibilities in modern mass society. x
  • 18
    Nationalisms and National Identities
    How did nationalism become the most influential and pervasive "ism" of the modern age? What role did intellectuals such as the French historian Jules Michelet and the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz play in the process? x
  • 19
    The Novel as Art and Social Criticism
    The post-Romantic "literary realism" of the novelists Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert concerns itself with the world of bourgeois social relations and the "hollowness" that these artists saw at the heart of so much modern striving. x
  • 20
    Science and Its Literary Critics
    Here you meet Auguste Comte and his case for the applicability of rigorous scientific methods and expertise to all of human life. You also weigh the counterclaims made by Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of positivism's most eloquent foes. x
  • 21
    Charles Darwin and the New Biology
    Darwin's theory of evolution fit into a wider cultural tendency to think about nature and culture in terms of evolutionary change. Darwin's thought posed challenges not only for biblical religion, but for Enlightenment humanism as well. x
  • 22
    The Controversies of Social Darwinism
    What were the broader implications of Darwin's ideas? Herbert Spencer saw in "social" Darwinism a key to explaining how the "survival of the fittest" shaped all human social relations. New forms of "scientific" racism helped to justify European imperialism. x
  • 23
    The Heroic Critic in Mass Society
    Responding to the modern tendency to level not only rights and rank but aesthetic, moral, and intellectual standards as well, Thomas Carlyle, Søren Kierkegaard, and Matthew Arnold each sought a role for independent and even heroic individual action. x
  • 24
    Nietzsche’s Critique of European Culture
    Nietzsche took aim not only at Christianity but also at modernity's own cherished faith in science and democracy. With him, the optimism of the 18th century yields at last to ideas that will haunt the 20th century. x

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 208-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Timeline

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Your professor

Lloyd Kramer

About Your Professor

Lloyd Kramer, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Dr. Lloyd Kramer is the Dean E. Smith Distinguished Term Professor of History at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he has taught since 1986. He earned his B.A. from Maryville College and his M.A. in History from Boston College. He earned his Ph.D. in European Intellectual History from Cornell University. Prior to taking his position at UNC, Professor Kramer held teaching positions at Northwestern...
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Reviews

European Thought and Culture in the 19th Century is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 36.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I am writing this after listening to this course for the third time. For me the mark of an excellent history course is the desire to listen to it more than once. I have owned this course since before there were online reviews of Teaching Company courses (or at least before I was aware of them and writing them). Some courses are meaty enough (or my memory is short enough) that I can listen to them more than once and still find them instructive and thought provoking. This is one of those. Professor Kramer is clear and fluid in his delivery. Some of the concepts are complex, but he explains them in terms accessible to the layman. Naturally, the treatment of any given topic is limited by the time constraints, but he provides an excellent bibliography for those who want to pursue a subject in more depth. I highly recommend this as an introduction to the intellectual currents of the 19th century and the reactions to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great content The professor was good and the content was great - though it did drag on once or twice. I would originally rate this as a B+, but immediate after I finished this series I listened to Darwinian Revolution and the two combined was perfect. I rate the combo as a solid A.
Date published: 2018-05-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quite Interesting I like this course more than I expected. I was looking for a review and re-introduction to a period I had not visited for quite some time. In fact, it was on starting the second go-through that my appreciation increased. I am not sure if that is related more to my state of mind the first time or Professor Kramer’s delivery. He is, for the most part, a very good teacher and provides a well-crafted set of lectures. For those dubious about a course on intellectual history, rest assured Professor Kramer’s approach is well-grounded. As he notes early on, the course: “… stresses the importance of social, political, and economic realities in the formation and diffusion of all ideas…Our goal throughout the course is to understand the ideas of influential nineteenth-century European intellectuals, to reflect on the interactions between ideas and social experience, and to think critically about how the ideas of creative nineteenth-century writers still raise questions for our own time.” (Course Guidebook, Page 1) Professor Kramer starts with a discussion of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the French Revolution. These events set the stage for what follows, especially the Enlightenment’s faith in science, reason, and progress. For Professor Kramer, the nineteenth century continued a protracted dialogue with the Enlightenment (which in important respects continues into the twenty-first century). In the telling of the tale, Professor Kramer deals with the various “isms” spawned in the nineteenth century, being especially engaging on Nationalism, Marxism, Darwinism, and Feminism. He does not stick to such dry matters as theories, manifestoes and tracts, but includes very interesting biographical details and literary aspects, dealing with such novelists as Stendhal, Balzac, and Flaubert. What Professor Kramer narrows in on is the development of mass society, replacing that of the older aristocratic, hierarchical one. With the intense desire for equality in the wake of the French Revolution, many key thinkers became concerned about the nature of the developing mass society and its impact on liberty and individualism. Professor Kramer here notes especially Alexis de Tocqueville’s concern about a tyranny of the majority in commanding conformity and the novelists who “… criticized…the ‘hollowness’ of modern, ambitious people…[who] saw the nineteenth century as the era in which bourgeois social and economic values had come to dominate all of social life (Page 125).” This, for me is the most interesting part of the course. It leads to the fitting course ending: the “heroic” critiques by Thomas Carlyle, Sören Kierkegaard, and Matthew Arnold, topped off with that of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose intellectual legacy continues relevant today. This 2001 TC course has a great 199-page course guidebook with excellent lecture summaries, timeline, glossary, biographical notes and extensive and quite helpful annotated bibliography.
Date published: 2018-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from European Thought and Culture in the 19th Century The course is wonderful. However, I wish I could return to where I was listening if the course is disrupted. Instead I have to return to the beginning. Very frustrating.
Date published: 2017-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from the birth of the modern mind:intellectual history First, Prof Kors is excellent.If you've ever wondered what our founding fathers read or thought about, this course is for you. The 18th century intellectual was different . He dared to question the past in profound ways.
Date published: 2017-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Generous and Diverse Buffet This fine course concerns itself with the long debate over the meaning and ongoing consequences of the two great revolutions of late eighteenth century Europe, the political one in France and the economic one in Great Britain. Should intellectuals embrace or oppose mass politics, industrialization, urbanization, and modern science? What was the place of the exceptional individual in the new society? In politics we learn of modern conservatism (Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, and Alexis de Tocqueville), classical liberalism (Jeremy Bentham, Benjamin Constant and John Stuart Mill), feminism (Mary Wollstonecraft and Mill again with his wife Harriet), and socialism (Robert Owen, Henri Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and of course Karl Marx). For philosophy there are Immanuel Kant, Johann Fichte, Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, Ludwig Feuerbach, Marx again, and August Comte). In science Charles Darwin rears his head with The Origin of Species, encouraging the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer. There are many novelists: François-René Chateaubriand, Lord Byron, Germaine de Staël, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Feodor Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Balzac and Flaubert. Then there are the nationalist historians Jules Michelet and Adam Mickiewicz. Finally there are the anti-modernists Thomas Carlyle, Sören Kierkegaard, Matthew Arnold and Friedrich Nietzsche. The richly diverse content of these twenty-four lectures leaves little to complain about, but I would have liked more attention to the way writers took their cues from and then reshaped European society. Worker agitation and state labor reforms influenced Karl Marx, but he in turn helped set the direction for socialist political parties and the First and Second Internationals. Novelists wrote for a growing middle-class culture of leisure that indulged in reading, orchestral concerts, museums, tourism, and the weekend. While Professor Kramer gives one lecture on the industrial revolution and classical economics, he says little about the political revolutions of 1830, 1848 and (in Poland only) 1863, all motivated by nationalism and liberalism. I’d be hard-pressed, however, to say which lectures he should have cut to make room for these topics. I have this course on audio download, the only format now available. It is well worth the low price I paid for it, and more.
Date published: 2016-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Kind of like a stained-glass window Or, really, a window of any kind. Clear and beautiful. That doesn't sound quite right. I'm just trying to say that liked this course and that it made sense to me. There is a lot of philosophy here, but what sets it apart is the heavy contextualization. It's like rice, but not just rice, also a rice cooker, and some instructions on how to use the rice cooker. No. That's totally wrong. I don't know why I try to write reviews. Here it is: ideas plus the history of those ideas. That might be closer. Maybe if The Great Courses could offer a short course on how to write a review on The Great Courses website, I could do a better job. I'm thinking of a 12 episode series? In particular, I enjoyed the lecture on Carlyle and Arnold (lecture 23). It was an aspect of Victorian culture that I didn't know that much about. I picked up Matthew Arnold's book about Culture and Anarchy at the library, but I haven't read it yet. But I'm going to. I wouldn't have known about that book unless I listened to this course. I had the audio option, which appears to be the only option. I didn't need anything else. Well, obviously, I need other things -- like food and shelter -- but as far as this particular course goes, audio was fine. If you wanted to, you could listen to this course while driving or while repairing your lawnmower. I listened to it while sitting in a chair, which is a good option, too. I want to listen to Lloyd's other course about the 20th century now. I don't have it yet, but I think I will buy it soon. Especially if my lawnmower breaks and I need to repair it. I don't have a lawnmower, so I guess I'll have to get one soon. And a lawn.
Date published: 2016-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Worth Your Time I'm a long-time student of late 19th and early 20th century culture, so I wasn't sure how much I'd get out of this course. Would it simply be a retread of all I've read, or would I get new insights, be exposed to new ideas? I'm happy to report that the latter was the case. The course begins with background on 19th century thought, rooted in the late 18th century, and the French Revolution. I found I knew woefully little about the origins of European thought, but thanks to Professor Kramer's clear and succinct presentation, not only do I have a better grasp of the how and why of social evolution in Europe, but I have more of a desire to study the 18th century. Saying that something sparks intellectual curiosity is the highest praise I can give. Kramer is very good at weaving the threads of philosophy through the historical landscape, always bringing us back to a clear understanding of the chronology, of what informed each body of thought. If you love European history of this era, I really recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-08-09
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