Archive for the ‘American Civil War’ Category

Review of: Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution, here

(Taught by Professor Thomas L. Pangle  here , The Teaching Company)



Perhaps one way to express the extraordinary debt we owe Professor Thomas Pangle for the many gifts his teaching generously provides us, is by recalling one of the specific difficult issues taken up in the deeply and intelligently contested debates held between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists over the very meaning of the American Founding and the foundational requirements of the new American Constitution. Thus, in dealing with the very complex question over the separation of powers ——partly following Montesquieu, the Oracle for all those involved in the debate—– Hamilton goes on to defend the idea that for the very stability of a sound modern commercially-oriented Republic, the executive must possess, embody and publicly be made clear to possess, what he calls ENERGY. Hamilton writes: “Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government” (FP, No. 70, p. 421).

And surely one part of the goodness of the gift that Professor Pangle offers us in these 12 (yes, only 12!), very short, very dynamic, very powerful and very concise lectures, is precisely his ENERGY-rich presentation of the Founding Debate itself, an energetic presentation which should in fact allow for a better sense of the dynamics of government and of governing by better prepared citizens, that is to say, ennobled citizens better educated for the intricacies of learning to rule and to be ruled as the dignified self-governing beings that they can become. In other words, these lectures, at the very least, allow for the creation of the requisite spaces for a better UNDERSTANDING of the  conditions underpinning the political sphere on its own terms, that is to say, of the struggles undergone to gain the privilege of ruling and of the intense struggles over the hierarchical ordering of the ends of good government as seen by diverse practically-minded statesmen/stateswomen. The course does so via an understanding of the conceptually and practically privileged origin, irrepeatable historical origin, which IS the unique and momentous Founding of any given political community. Such prioritization of the Founding notably defended as particularly enlightening by all of classical political philosophy, but nowhere more clearly brought to light for us to see than in the dramatic presentation which is Plato’s Laws. Within the American civic heritage such privileged moment is precisely that of the Confederation Debates held between 1787 and 1790 when the post-revolutionary “Articles of Confederation” came under serious questioning during and after the Convention of 1787. It is the Federalists (Madison, Hamilton, Jay; using the pen name “Publius”) —–in response to highly critical newspaper articles published anonymously by brilliant Anti-Federalists (Brutus, Federal Farmer, Centinel), some of whom had left the Convention filled with intense indignation—— who, because of said challenge, are “put on the spotlight” and made to defend their radical, previously unheard of, innovations.

And, it is made transparently clear to us, in the urgency of the tone of the delivery, and through certain republican rhetorical abilities used (!), that such a return ——which stands in serious contrast to a simple shallow “progressive” reading of history as economically/ideologically driven——- is by no means an exercise in luxurious time consumption. Rather, such a return bespeaks of the crisis of the American political system, if not of the very crisis of the democratic west itself as exemplified in ONE of its member nations (albeit a very powerful, one could even say, a kind of model one; of this, more later). Or, as Professor Pangle’s Professor wrote:

It is not self-forgetting and pain-loving antiquarianism nor self-forgetting and intoxicating romanticism which induces us to turn with passionate interest, with unqualified willingness to learn, toward the political thought of antiquity. We are impelled to do so by the crisis of our time.” (Strauss, The City and Man, 1).

This uniquely energetic presentation, then, is all the more comprehensible as a kind of response to such a crisis. Such a vigorous presentation is a philosophically-inspired reflexive attempt at UNDERSTANDING the core elements that may be considered, in part, and primarily by those interested in the political life itself, in order to become the types of public leaders ——in their souls, so to speak—– who can ultimately generate sound, decisive and prudent educational practices amongst their liberally-educated citizens. Such leaders, the dignity of whose moral virtuous and intellectual skills is repeatedly recovered by Professor Pangle, would then be better capable of generating a certain kind of political healing of our complex modern democratic condition, which ——–because not seen in its complexity—– can be worsened furthermore by a false sense of security that is derived always from all convenient uncritical “ideological” oversimplifications. Such medical therapeutics, in an important sense, deals with origins, not merely with a multiplicity of simplified and disconnected symptoms. Undoubtedly, Aristotelically speaking, the course is partly a courageous attempt at a therapeutics of critical recovery. And to know that this unique experience is available to us all via the internet through The Teaching Company bespeaks of the energetic generosity of shared thought and of thoughtful American enterprise.



But prior to going into the CONTENT of the course itself, it might be wise to look at some of the features which make the course such an exemplary one for us all, academics and non-academics alike; specially for those of us interested in recovering the dignity of political life, of public service and of the complex sacrifices and dilemmas involved in the pursuance of our highest most virtuous moral and intellectual ideals.


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“Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution”

Professor Thomas L. Pangle
(Reviewed  here )


COURSE I: “Masters of Greek THought, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.”

Professor Robert Bartlett

(Reviewed here )

COURSE II: “Abraham Lincoln: In His Own Words”
Professor David Zarefsky
(Reviewed here)

COURSE III: “American Civil War”
Professor Gary Gallagher
(Reviewed here)

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Review of:

American Civil War

(Taught by Professor Gary Gallagher, The Teaching Company)

Professor Gallagher’s course represents, almost as a war unto itself (!), a massive, elegantly-presented and very worthwhile undertaking. He provides us with forty-eight inviting, in-depth and detailed lectures that focus on the nature, conditions, causes, political strategies, and military campaigns of the costly Civil War between the Northern and the Southern States; an internal war which marks the identity of the United States in a radically unique way. The very fact of this war’s permanent recounting, continual exploration and constant re-interpretation ——both at the academic and non-academic levels—– reveals to us the very strength of the United States as a modern democracy and the necessary conditions for the rise of a politically powerful republic in any historical moment. For it was then that the United States really moved from using the verb “are” to the verb “is” in reference to itself. Truly, it seems, a healthy —–though painful—-  memory may bring forth greatness. But, how can one see this uniqueness? Comparatively.

Canada —-country of which I am a citizen—- has really had no such internal war (it even boasts of a “Quiet Revolution” in the Province of Quebec). Little wonder the identities of these two modern liberal democracies can be so different even if there are obviously shared underlying realities and manners of self-understanding. No wonder how different at times is their population’s understanding of their role in armed conflict throughout the world. In contrast, as a citizen of Colombia one easily appreciates that  there is a much closer  possibility for an understanding of the dilemmas both past and present which both countries have had to face historically. Little wonder the USA and Colombia are currently well-intentioned allies (though at times the friendship seems quite one-sided). However, Colombia has not been able to win decisively the fundamental, if not perfect, unity that the USA won after the terribly disruptive Civil War. In this respect, courses such as these are of central concern for Colombian citizens in positions of leadership as we have gained much in securing our democratic liberties and freedoms via a costly bloody struggle primarily against narc-terrorists (also paramilitaries and drug cartels), but still have a long way to truly secure our greater happiness as a republican nation with a complex reality like few others. Examples of such resolutions may aid us even if ours is in no way a civil war in the accepted understanding of the term. This is the more so in that we are reaching the bicentennial of our first struggles for independence in 1810 against the Spanish Crown.

In other words, my not being a citizen of the USA  ——not really knowing in detail who was Lee or Grant or Davies, or what happened at Vicksburg or Antietam or Richmond (not to mention the lesser known names; can a well-formed US citizen really imagine/accept this?)—— can be immensely helpful in trying to gather the relevance of a such a study beyond the borders of the historical imagination of the United States. Perhaps an understanding such as the one provided by this course reveals, as Thucydides believed, the permanence of certain elements of the human condition regarding political conflict and the constraints of war. For surely, in the same manner, few —if any—- US citizens will know who was Rondón (to whom the much more famous Bolivar said “Coronel Rondón, salve usted la patria“), or Anzoátegui or Sucre or know much of the Battle of Boyacá or Carabobo or Pichincha. In this limited sense, maybe an understanding such as the one provided by this course reveals core elements of our political nature as human beings beyond the vicissitudes of this or that conflict, this or that epoch. As Thucydides writes in his powerful The Peloponnesian War and the Athenians —which in very important respects contrasts dramatically with Gallagher’s course as the acknowledged Greek historian focuses primordially on military and diplomatic history (with little mention of economics, or everyday life, or the life of prisoners, etc.)— his is a book for all times, a book which reveals what gathers permanence beyond endless historical variation:

“In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win applause for the moment, but as a possession for all time.” (my emphasis: TPW: Book I, 22, 4; Strassler edition)

But leaving this point aside, Professor Gallagher’s inspiring understanding of the dynamic of the war and all its complex and unique protagonists, its multiple causes and its harsh day-to-day realities is delivered in such a passionate and careful manner that, although of great length in itself, one finishes the course with a feeling that actually little has been said in contrast to the true dynamic of the war itself! Moreover, Professor Gallagher’s serious undertaking is broken at times by a very fine sense of humor which reminds us that a certain elegant kind of humor can never be overcome by the dramatic tragedy of events. This is particularly so in his recounting of the nature of some of the Generals and their absolutely unique personalities. Perhaps one can recall the unforgettable case of the General, seen as having an extremely difficult personality, and who is said to have denied his own letter for provisions! “You have picked a fight with yourself now”, he is supposed to have been told by a superior. Quite revealing indeed. (more…)

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