Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Origins And Ideologies Of The American Revolution: Part One

Great Courses:  Origins And Ideologies Of The American Revolution:  Part One, taught by Peter C. Mancall

As someone who is no stranger to listening to Great Courses cds while driving, I am also no stranger to thinking about the origins and ideology of the American Revolution [1], which this course is about.  Admittedly, I am at least somewhat on the fence about whether the teacher is my cup of tea, because he seems to have views that are far different from my own about the importance of the mindset of the Founding Fathers in understanding contemporary politics.  In particular, he appears somewhat tone deaf about not understanding the offensiveness of crony capitalism when it comes to political dealings, nor fully convinced of the limitations inherent in government.  In short, the teacher appears to be a progressive in many ways, which makes him less than ideal as a teacher of anything, especially something involving politics and ideology as this course does.  Even so, despite my concerns about the professor’s lack of intellectual fitness as a result of worldview error,  the course is something that is still interesting because so far at least the professor has managed to check his own defective politics and focus mostly on the history.

In the first six hours of the lectures, we have been treated to an introductory lecture on self-evident truths that reveals the problematic nature of the professor’s own political beliefs (1), and then a discussion on ideas and ideologies on a more general level, giving some deserved praise to Bailyn for his own research in that area (2).  After this comes a discussion about the Europeans of colonial America (3) and the natives and slaves of colonial America (4), which is further evidence of the author’s political bent.  There is a discussion of the place of the colonies in the Atlantic world around 1750 (5) and a lecture on the Seven Years’ War (6).  After this comes a discussion of the British constitution (7) and George III’s role in the politics of empire (8).  By this point the author has begun his discussion into the period of crisis  that took place in the decade or so before the start of the revolution.  This continues with the remaining lectures, which focus on politics in British America before 1760 (9), James Otis and his role in the writs of assistance case (10), the search for order and revenue in British attempts to tax the colonists after the French & Indian War (11), and the Stamp Act and the resulting rebellion in the streets of the American colonies (12).

Regardless of what you think about the professor and his own views, this section of the course is certainly an interesting one.  For one, it reveals the massive gulf that often exists between elites and grass roots levels within nations, a problem that was certainly the case in 18th century Britain and one that remains problematic in the contemporary United States and other nations.  On the one hand, this course reveals a presumptuousness on the part of colonial administrators in London and Parliament who saw no limitations on the power of government–a problem one sees in contemporary leftists like the kind the professor would likely support.  On the other hand, we see the colonial response, nurtured by generations of reading about liberty and the corruption of governments and the practical experience of working in participatory government, was one that I can entirely understand being applicable with regard to contemporary big governments around the world.  The professor seems caught between being at least a somewhat patriotic American and being someone who does not want to fully accept the legitimacy of the admittedly paranoid colonial response, a response that is still instinctual within Americans such as myself when dealing even with our own governments.  Likely many listeners will be caught as well between a desire to understand the past and a painful recognition of its implications for the present and future.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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