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A History of Freedom

Explore the history, evolution, growth, and impact of a great and noble concept in this excellent course by a spellbinding historian.
History of Freedom is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 75.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from RUFUS FEARS, AN AMAZING STORYTELLER Although this course was produced in 2001, it offers us a great deal of insight into the assault on our Republic now in high gear twenty yeas later. It's an axiom that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat its mistakes. Fears offers us plenty of lessons from history. For example, in the last few years we have seen the Deep State resort to weaponized "lawfare," based on trumped up charges. This is directly parallel to Socrates' trial, in which he tells the jury that an honest man cannot survive in politics. Moving on to the Roman Empire, Fears tells us that Cicero observed the children no longer obeyed parents and students no longer respected teachers. Even the animals thought they had rights and expected you to step aside for them. Then moving on a few centuries to Jesus, he sees his trial quite similar to Socrates'. Aside from that similarity, he speculates that these two great teachers would have difficulty ever getting hired. They had no credentials, had written no books and would be far too subversive for academia. Also similarly either of them could have avoided conviction if they hadn't alienated powerful enemies and the government itself. Moving on to the 19th century, he looks at the patron saint of the Marxists, Hegel, who held that the extraordinary individual is beyond other people's rules, and this superman rightfully determines the course of history! Then perhaps most directly relevant to our time in which "science" has been so obviously corrupted in the Covid-19 "plandemic," Fears says that Science will do anything for which it receives grant money, that Science cares little about morality per se. Rufus Fears has given us much to consider in this tour de force course. Rest in peace, Rufus. I miss you.
Date published: 2022-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A challenge . This course, thank God, has perspective. The perspective is not new, " Freedom requires civic virtue" but there it is. Take or leave it.
Date published: 2021-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rufus "T. Firefly" Fears mixes history with spirit I've listened to just about every lesson the late Rufus Fears (or "Rufus T. Firefly" as I call him for you Marx Bros fans), and this one is, once again, the perfect mix of insight, overview, historic wonder and half time pep talk. He presents the info in a cogent way and weaves in his view of the world and how it should be. I catch myself saying "Amen" after many of his pronouncement. He makes you cheer for freedom!
Date published: 2021-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, to the point, concise, delivery excellent, what Rufus said over and over applies to the US and is eye opening and shocking to me
Date published: 2020-12-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Diffuse and dull This course has left me unsatisfied and unimpressed. I'm about halfway through and still not sure what points Dr. Fears is trying to make. He seems to be talking off the cuff, and sometimes makes factual errors (For example, calling English King James II the son of Charles II --he was his brother). One of his frequent topics is the right to bear arms, and he discusses the Second Amendment in terms that the most fervent right-winger would approve. It's possible that the remainder of the course will bring matters into sharper focus, but I plan to take some time off and view another course or two before resuming.
Date published: 2020-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good-Stuff !!! If your interested in the subject, regardless the course, Prof. Fears I can say without doubt will exceed your expectations. The key is reading the historical works yourself, which will take a few years, maybe decades, but until then, Prof. Fears can give you the highlights and additional revealing stories that you won’t find in those works… Kinda reminds you of a modern day Dr. Franklin, with his carried over humor and wisdom from those long ago times at the Pennsylvania Gazette. Whichever course it is, I am sure you will enjoy Prof. Fears, and what you learn will stick with you for Life. So what are you waiting for? Add it to the cart & check it out. You’ll be Happy, and the smarter once U complete the course, along with those books you chose from the Bibliography. Happy learnings with the Good-Stuff.
Date published: 2020-09-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from History of Freedom Disappointing. And disturbing. I have bought many titles from the Great Courses, and have watched many more using The Great Courses Plus. Never have I been so disappointed and highly disturbed. Actyally, I've never been really disappointed. And never disturbed. Until now. Firstly, one of the lectures was really a sermon. Besides that, ststaments were made which hardly any historical or Biblical scholar supports. The Gospel of Mark was NOT written by an associate of Peter. And there was no Roman census where people were required to return to the home of their ancestors as this lecturer asserts. Secondly, I did not appreciate personal opinion. The lecturer is highly conservative, and even goes so far as to say the PBS is unconstitutional. Nor did I appreciate the fact that he implied that public schools should not be trusted. These are just a few examples of the lecturer's outright bias. He states his opinion as facts. I do not appreciate that from anyone and I certainly did not expect it from a course in The Great Courses.
Date published: 2020-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such a great deal It’s a gift for my husband. He won’t open it til his birthday July 5th
Date published: 2020-06-18
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Join historian and classical scholar J. Rufus Fears as he tells the dramatic story of history's most powerful idea from ancient Greece to our own day. What did freedom mean to Abraham Lincoln-and to Robert E. Lee? What did it mean to Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King? What does it mean to us today? Find out in this deeply moving, thought-provoking course.


J. Rufus Fears

We are no wiser than the Athenians of the 5th century B.C., no wiser than Sophocles for our science of today has shown us the overwhelming power of genes, of DNA.


University of Oklahoma

Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and Distinguished Faculty Research Lecturer at Indiana University, and Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University. An acclaimed teacher and scholar with more than 25 awards for teaching excellence, Professor Fears was chosen Professor of the Year on three occasions by students at the University of Oklahoma. His other accolades included the Medal for Excellence in College and University Teaching from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, the University Continuing Education Association (UCEA) Great Plains Region Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the UCEA's National Award for Teaching Excellence. Professor Fears's books and monographs include The Cult of Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology and The Theology of Victory at Rome. He edited a three-volume edition of Selected Writings of Lord Acton. His discussions of the Great Books have appeared in newspapers across the country and have aired on national television and radio programs. Professor Fears passed away in October 2012.

By This Professor

The World Was Never the Same: Events That Changed History
The Wisdom of History
Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life
Life Lessons from the Great Myths
The Birth of Freedom

01: The Birth of Freedom

In the gray dawn of September 21, 490 BCE, 9,000 citizen-soldiers of Athens formed ranks on a plain by the Bay of Marathon. Before sunset, they would fight the seminal battle in the history of freedom. Who were they? What were they fighting for? With these questions, our course begins.

32 min
Athenian Democracy

02: Athenian Democracy

The Persian Wars made Athens the leader of the Greek world. Under Pericles, Athens became history's first true democracy—and an imperial power. What is the Athenian legacy to freedom?

30 min
Athens—Freedom and Cultural Creativity

03: Athens—Freedom and Cultural Creativity

Athenian freedom sparked an intellectual revolution that rivaled the scientific revolution of our own day. The Athenians invented the liberal arts in order to educate free citizens for self-government.

30 min
Athenian Tragedy—Education for Freedom

04: Athenian Tragedy—Education for Freedom

Tragedy was the characteristic cultural statement of Athenian democracy. Sophocles's plays about the House of Oedipus are key documents in the history of freedom, exploring enduring questions of morality, law, and conscience.

30 min
Socrates on Trial

05: Socrates on Trial

In 399 BCE, a recently defeated Athens executed Socrates for impiety. The trial remains a test case for all democratic societies, and Socrates an enduring witness to freedom and the power of ideas.

30 min
Alexander the Great

06: Alexander the Great

The conquests of this young prince of Macedon opened a new epoch in the history of Greece, the world, and freedom.

30 min
The Roman Republic

07: The Roman Republic

The American Founders took the Roman republic's balanced constitution as a model. It secured liberty under law. Under it; Rome rose to mastery of a world empire.

30 min
Julius Caesar

08: Julius Caesar

By the first century BCE, Rome was the only superpower in its world. Yet at the height of their power, the Romans lost their political liberty and turned to Julius Caesar. How did this happen? What did it mean for freedom?

31 min
Freedom in the Roman Empire

09: Freedom in the Roman Empire

If the Caesars ended political liberty, they also expanded individual freedom. A look at a day in the life of Pompeii suggests that, in many ways, the Rome of the Caesars is the model for America today.

31 min
Rome—Freedom and Cultural Creativity

10: Rome—Freedom and Cultural Creativity

As in the Athenian democracy, freedom in the Roman Empire led to a burst of intellectual creativity that would lay the foundations for the next 1,000 years of European civilization.

30 min
Gibbon on Rome’s Decline and Fall

11: Gibbon on Rome’s Decline and Fall

For the Founders and Edward Gibbon, the fall of Rome was the tale of how a people had traded republican liberty for the false security of absolutism. What can the Roman Empire's decline teach us today?

30 min

12: Jesus

What makes Jesus of Nazareth, who, like Socrates, never wrote a book or had any wealth or worldly power, one of the most important figures in the history of human freedom?

31 min
Jesus and Socrates

13: Jesus and Socrates

Jesus and Socrates invite comparison as awe-inspiring teachers, as seminal figures in the history of freedom, and as witnesses to the claims of conscience.

31 min
Paul the Apostle

14: Paul the Apostle

Paul's preaching drew upon concepts of freedom in some of the most innovative currents of Roman imperial thought. His letter to the Galatians is rightly regarded as the Magna Carta of Christian liberty.

30 min
Freedom in the Middle Ages

15: Freedom in the Middle Ages

Far from being an age of absolutism, the Middle Ages in Western Europe saw the growth of ideas and institutions basic to the history of liberty, including representative government and the right to revolution.

30 min
Luther and the Protestant Reformation

16: Luther and the Protestant Reformation

Luther is one of the proofs that great men and women—not anonymous forces—make history. He shattered the medieval world and unleashed currents that continue to shape the history of freedom.

30 min
From Machiavelli to the Divine Right of Kings

17: From Machiavelli to the Divine Right of Kings

Are the state and its leaders bound by the same moral values that should govern private conduct? Machiavelli said no. His praise of the absolute, amoral state laid the basis for the greatest single challenge to freedom in the modern age.

30 min
The Anglo-American Tradition of Liberty

18: The Anglo-American Tradition of Liberty

State absolutism received its preeminent early modern statement in the belief that kings are accountable to God alone. But this notion met with differing fates in France and the English-speaking world, with vast implications for freedom.

31 min
The Shot Heard ’Round the World

19: The Shot Heard ’Round the World

In the predawn darkness of April 19, 1775, 77 citizen-soldiers of Lexington, Massachusetts, formed ranks on their village green. Before noon, they would fight the greatest battle in the history of freedom since Marathon. Who were they? What were they fighting for? With these questions begins the second half of our course.

31 min
The Tyranny of George III

20: The Tyranny of George III

What turned loyal British colonists into armed traitors declaring their independence? Edmund Burke suggested the answer when he observed that in England, "the great contests for freedom were, from the earliest times, chiefly upon the question of taxes."

31 min
What the Declaration of Independence Says

21: What the Declaration of Independence Says

America is the first nation in history founded upon a statement of principles. The Declaration draws upon two great legacies of freedom: the natural-law tradition of Greece and Rome, and the experience of England.

31 min
Natural Law and the Declaration

22: Natural Law and the Declaration

Born in democratic Athens, refined by Cicero, affirmed by St. Paul, and incorporated into first Roman and then the English common law, natural law would prove crucial to the American founding.

30 min
Miracle at Philadelphia

23: Miracle at Philadelphia

"Miracles do not cluster. Hold on to the Constitution," said Daniel Webster. Wondrous as the Constitution is, it is also explicable as the work of statesmen educated for freedom, and steeped in the lessons of history.

31 min
What the Constitution Says

24: What the Constitution Says

Here you will "visit" a state ratifying convention in order to analyze both the Constitution (especially as explained by "The Federalist") and the case made by its Anti-Federalist foes, who argued that small republics and virtue both private and public are the best safeguards for liberty.

31 min
The Bill of Rights

25: The Bill of Rights

Basic to the Constitution's success has been the ability to amend it. A careful analysis of the first two Amendments paves the way for discussions of the relevance of the Framers' intent to America today and of the Founders' belief that every right entails a corresponding duty.

31 min
Liberty and Lee at Gettysburg

26: Liberty and Lee at Gettysburg

The American founding did not resolve the questions of slavery and union. Both were settled only by the Civil War. This lecture asks why a man of Lee's character, who saw the wrong of slavery, chose nonetheless to follow his state and the Confederate cause.

31 min
Liberty and Lincoln at Gettysburg

27: Liberty and Lincoln at Gettysburg

Lincoln's address over those who fell in the Civil War's biggest battle took only moments, but spoke to the ages. It is as basic an American founding document as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

30 min
FDR and the Progressive Tradition

28: FDR and the Progressive Tradition

FDR's reforms played a crucial role in meeting the awful test of the Great Depression, and may have saved constitutional government in America.

31 min
Why the French Revolution Failed

29: Why the French Revolution Failed

The excesses of democracy in France spawned tyranny and wars of conquest. Why did these excesses occur, and how did the young American republic manage to avoid them?

31 min
The Liberal Tradition

30: The Liberal Tradition

The mighty tradition of liberty under law and representative government runs back to the Magna Carta and beyond. More recently, this tradition has been powerfully shaped by great classical liberal thinkers such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Lord Acton.

31 min
Churchill and the War for Freedom

31: Churchill and the War for Freedom

On June 4, 1940—amid the sternest days in his country's history—Britain's new Prime Minister vowed that his island nation would "never surrender." He was a model of true statesmanship, and freedom's champion in an hour of urgent peril.

30 min
The Illiberal Tradition

32: The Illiberal Tradition

This lecture examines the ideas that shaped Hitler's nightmare vision. Despite Hitler's defeat, nationalism, socialism, and vulgarized Darwinism remain influential today as counterfeit forms of liberty.

31 min
Hitler and the War Against Freedom

33: Hitler and the War Against Freedom

Hitler's career shows what happens when a nation and its leaders lose their moral compass. His terrifying story teaches us that free peoples must hold the values of liberty as universal and be willing to defend them if liberty is to endure.

31 min
The Cold War

34: The Cold War

World War II added to the power of Stalin, a tyrant no less despotic than his enemy Hitler. But standing guard over freedom was an America led by presidents like Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan, all of whom shared the great liberal idea that those with power have a moral duty to defend the weak.

31 min
Civil Disobedience and Social Change

35: Civil Disobedience and Social Change

In the decades after 1945, nonviolent campaigns for freedom—and above all the movement against racial discrimination led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.—made key contributions to the growth of liberty.

31 min
Freedom and the Lessons of History

36: Freedom and the Lessons of History

Americans enter the 21st century convinced that we are opening a new era of liberty, prosperity, and peace. Europeans entered the last century with similar beliefs. We close with a cautionary note, taking up a theme first sounded in Athens 25 centuries ago.

30 min