In The Wisdom of History, newest course for The Teaching Company, Professor J. Rufus Fears draws on decades of experience as a world-renowned scholar and classical historian to examine the patterns of history. Ignoring them, by choice or because we've never learned to see them, is to risk becoming their prisoner, repeating the mistakes that have toppled leaders, nations, and empires throughout time. Set includes 6 DVDs in 3 parts with 12 lectures / 30 minutes per lecture.
Why We Study HistoryWe define the wisdom of history as the ability to think historically, that is, to use the lessons of the past to make decisions in the present, and to plan for the future - as Winston Churchill did in preparing for and executing his destiny as a statesman.
World War I and the Lessons of HistoryThis lecture asks why the last century - unequalled in advancements in technology, science, education, and knowledge - is also unequalled in the destructiveness of its wars, the scale of its human suffering, and the savagery of its tyrannies.
Hitler's Rise and the Lessons of HistoryChurchill called World War II "the unnecessary war." The existence of Adolf Hitler is a pre-eminent example of the lessons history tries to teach us. This lecture looks at how the failure of Woodrow Wilson and the generation of politicians after World War I demonstrate the consequences of ignoring those lessons.
World War II and the Lessons of HistoryWinston Churchill understood that Stalin was a tyrant as evil as Hitler, and that Communism was as evil as National Socialism. But as he attempted to heed history's lessons and prevent the Allies from repeating and compounding the mistakes made after World War I, his warnings were ignored.
Is Freedom a Universal Value?Freedom consists of three separate ideals. Those ideals - national, political, and individual - of freedom have achieved a unique balance in the United States, the result of a likewise unique confluence of historical currents. But history teaches that such a balance is not universal, and that failure to understand this lesson can have dire consequences.
Birth of Civilization in the Middle EastAmerica's foreign policy has long been based on the belief that freedom is a universal value. But the history of what is now known as the Middle East shows that nations, like individuals, frequently choose the perceived security of despotism to the responsibilities of freedom, with great civilizations - ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, for example - rising and falling with no concept of freedom.
The Trojan War and the Middle EastThe power vacuum created by the collapse of the Hittite and Egyptian empires led to the most famous war of antiquity, which demonstrates for us that a balance of power is a fragile and dangerous mechanism for maintaining peace.
Ancient Israel and the Middle EastThe Old Testament, our earliest example of historical writing, has in the book of Samuel profound lessons for us today. The story of King David teaches that there is a profound moral dimension to history and that private and public morality cannot be separated.
Ancient Greece and the Middle EastHerodotus composed his Histories of the war between Persia and Greece in an effort to explain the ways of the gods to men, seeking to understand through history and its moral dimensions why nations rise and fall. He found his explanation in the concept of hybris, the outrageous abuse of power that leads nations and individuals to disaster.
Athenian Democracy and EmpireAthenian democracy rested on values fundamentally identical to American democracy. It teaches us that empire and democratic freedom are compatible, that democracies do not necessarily make peaceful neighbors, and that wars undertaken to spread democratic values can end in defeat and disaster.
The Destiny of the Athenian DemocracyAmerica shares with ancient Athens a fundamental conviction that it is the duty of the strong to come to the aid of the weak, with corollary beliefs in pre-emptive war, often with the expectation of being welcomed as a liberator. The experiences of ancient Athens suggest that these are dangerous delusions.
Alexander the Great and the Middle EastAlexander was uniquely successful in his ability to solve the problem of the Middle East. He ruled not by imposing Greek ideals but by becoming a Middle Easterner, accepting the ethnic and religious diversity of the Middle East and its long tradition of absolute rule.
The Roman Republic as SuperpowerHistory teaches that it is very difficult to be a superpower with a constitution designed for a small city-state. Rome was ultimately forced to choose whether to keep the freedoms of a republic or to remain a superpower. Its choice determined the future politics of Europe and the Middle East to this day.
Rome of the Caesars as SuperpowerThe Roman Empire did far more than the Roman Republic to advance the cause of individual freedom. It offered a model of how to achieve peace and prosperity over a large geographical area while securing individual rights, ethnic autonomy, and local political freedom.
Rome and the Middle EastThe Middle East supplies a key to understanding the history of Rome. Rome's attempts to bring stability, peace, and Roman political values to Judea illustrate why the Romans found a solution to the problems of the Middle East so intractable.
Why the Roman Empire FellSince the time Rome was declining and falling, historians, moralists, and countless others have tried to explain why. In addition to threats from Germanic tribes, much of the explanation lies in Rome's involvement in the Middle East and the cycle of nation building, annexation, and terrorism that followed. Failure to solve these problems reduced the Roman Empire to a relic.
ChristianityIn an important fashion, Christianity was a triumph of the religious values of the Middle East over the traditions of Greece and Rome. The rise of Christianity and Islam, within the context of the Roman Empire, illustrates the power of religion as a motivating force in history.
IslamChristianity and Islam have much in common. Yet from the beginning of Islam in the 7th century they have been locked in conflict. The Byzantine Empire and the Crusades demonstrate enduring lessons about the Middle East as the graveyard of empires.
The Ottoman Empire and TurkeyMustapha Kemal, known to history as Ataturk, is the most remarkable and successful statesman produced by the modern Middle East. His creation of a unified Turkey built on a foundation of secularism and ethnic nationalism is a most instructive example of how to create a nation-state in the Middle East that is based on European political and cultural values.
The Spanish Empire and Latin AmericaDespite its proximity to the United States, its vast resources, and its industrious population, Latin America has never developed enduring institutions of democracy. Instead, it has often given us examples of civil war and despotism. The history of Latin America shakes the assumption that democracy in one country will spread to neighboring countries.
Napoleon's Liberal EmpireNapoleon saw himself as a combination of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, but his attempts to transform Europe as a benevolent despot failed. His career attests to both the enduring lesson of hybris and the danger of pre-emptive wars in the name of liberal and democratic ideals.
The British Empire in IndiaThe British believed they were combining liberty and empire, but, for many of their subjects, Britain was simply an example of the lust for power as a motivating force of history. The British experience in India illustrated the power of other forces - ideas and religion - to shape history. Who could have imagined a frail Indian barrister could, without violence, bring such an empire to its knees?
Russia and EmpireIn both 20th-century Russia and China, democratic revolutions would end in savage tyrannies. The wisdom of history teaches us that this is not an accident, but the predictable result of the historical development of both countries.
China and EmpireCivilization rose in China independently from the birth of civilization in the Middle East. But like the Middle East, China throughout its history has chosen despotism over freedom, with Confucius's notion - of order flowing from above - as an ideal that persists, producing despotism even out of a revolution aimed at establishing democracy.
The Empire of Genghis KhanGenghis Khan is one of history's bloodiest conquerors, yet modern historians see him as a statesman who brought a new era of achievement to regions he conquered. His life and legacy teach the lesson of the lust for power - and its ambiguous consequences.
Britain's Legacy of FreedomThis lecture considers the heritage of freedom that developed in England and was passed on to America, where it merged with four other crucial historical currents of freedom - the Old Testament, Greece and Rome, Christianity, and the U.S. frontier.
George Washington as StatesmanSince Herodotus and Thucydides, the question has been asked: In a time of crisis, can a democracy bring forth leaders superior to those produced by autocracy? The short answer is "yes," as is the longer one, with this lecture offering the first of two examples from our nation's history.
Thomas Jefferson as StatesmanNapoleon believed himself destined to establish a new Roman Empire, but it was his democratic contemporary, a man of far different moral character, whose decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory created an empire far larger, more enduring, and more noble than anything Napoleon imagined.
America's Empire of Liberty - Lewis and ClarkAmericans are reluctant to describe this country as an empire, but the United States is one of the most successful imperial nations in history. This lecture explores the consequences of Jefferson's foresight in not only accomplishing the Louisiana Purchase - the largest expansion of territory ever made by purchase and negotiation - but in choosing the ideal men to lead the expedition to explore those new lands.
America and SlaveryThe United States was founded in the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal." However, slavery was recognized by the Constitution as the law of the land. Ultimately, only the Civil War could resolve Americans' understanding of the fundamental meaning of freedom.
Abraham Lincoln as StatesmanAt the beginning of the Civil War, many in Europe and America believed that the decay of democracy was embodied in the choice of a backwoods solicitor to guide his nation. Instead, Lincoln's presidency provided the ultimate testimony to the ability of democracy to produce leaders in a time of crisis.
The United States and EmpireWith the end of the Civil War, the once-more-United States entered the stage of world politics, making it clear to the powers of Europe that this young nation, despite its recent internal conflicts, was not going to fade away. But as America began its appearance on that stage, could it reconcile its values as a democracy with its actions as a superpower?
Franklin Roosevelt as StatesmanDuring World War II, the rule of totalitarian governments extended from Spain to Vladivostok. Yet democracy was able to triumph. As was the case with Britain and Winston Churchill, the United States was able to produce, in Franklin Roosevelt, a wartime leader with few equals in history.
A Superpower at the CrossroadsHarry Truman believed that America was chosen to bring freedom to the world and that to achieve this, America must be a superpower. In the process, the United States entered into the legacy of the empires of Europe and Asia - in the Middle East, Indo-China, and Korea. The consequences are still with us.
The Wisdom of History and the CitizenThe wisdom of history has lessons for each of us, both as citizens and as private individuals. The Founders of our country were successful as statesmen because they thought historically and understood that history is the most important discipline for citizens of a free republic.
The Wisdom of History and YouWe look at what each one of us in our personal lives can take away from history - which can be described without trivialization as one great self-help book, more valuable than all the guides that fill the shelves in airport bookstores - and discover perhaps its greatest lesson.
The DVD version uses text, graphics, images, and maps to reinforce and enhance Professor Fears's explanations.
- Wisdom of History by Professor J. Rufus Fears
- 36 lectures / 30 minutes per lecture
- DVD using text, graphics, images and maps
- Booklet supplements each Part