The American Mind

Explore the immensely stimulating conversation that made the United States what it is today.
The American Mind is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 92.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meh There are a lot of good things to say about this course. It certainly exposes us to much about AmHist that we didn't know or perhaps had a different view of. The lecturer is entertaining and well spoken too. But it's a course about the American mind, of how we think about ourselves as a nation now and in the past which hopefully helps us think more clearly about the future. But my one big criticism is in how Prof. Guelzo treats ideas he obviously does not agree with, specifically Democrats. The treatment of Woodrow Wilson was barely tolerable. He was an idealist who didn't do the hard work of setting up an international system to preserve peace after the Great War. He was a strong advocate of the League of Nations which he failed to sell at home and the Great War led to a disastrous 20 year lead into the next war. Wilson naively thought peer pressure among nations would be enough to preserve the peace. Okay, if you don't like Wilson or his wild eyed idealism, I can understand. I wish he did more. But when we get to FDR this course goes off the rails. Guelzo tells us early on that Roosevelt didn't do anything new and that Herbert Hoover could have done what FRD did. Later on, Guelzo blames Hoover's Quaker religion on his inability to take on the Depression like the moral equivalent of war as William James would have described it. Okay which is it? In Roosevelt's first inaugural he says that the country needs "bold, persistent experimentation" to fight the Depression. If Guelzo was right about Hoover and his mastery of the subject, why did FDR feel a need to make something from scratch? Why had no one else come up with a plan by then? If this really was a course on the American Mind, the Depression would be a good time to bring in John Maynard Keynes who thought so differently about economics, and influenced Roosevelt, that he, Keynes, invented the field of macroeconomics to deal with it all. That kind of analysis would have been very nice for bringing out how the American mind noodled on a solution until it had something (even if it borrowed significantly from the Brits). It would have also been an interesting extension of the discussion of pragmatism that started with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James, and John Dewey. But it seems that pragmatism isn't what the professor wanted to talk about in this heavily weighted course on religious thinking in America. Last point, the WPA is the Works Progress Administration not the Works Project Administration. Such a miss could be easily overlooked except that it betrays a lack of research or staff work and possible denigration of the New Deal as a bunch of projects instead of a serious attempt at making progress. Bonus: The New Deal did in America what the Post-War effort did for the world. Post war we tried to implement Roosevelt's Four Freedoms not just in America but around the world. We were not always right and we got some things perfectly wrong, but we set up an international order based on institutions like the UN, IMF, World Bank, Law of the Sea Treaty and much more. We have had more than 70 years of peace and prosperity principally because the American mind stayed open and curious, innovative and experimental. I thought that was where the course was headed.
Date published: 2021-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Storyteller and Painter of Vivid HIstory In the early 1990's, I spent an evening with Professor Guelzo and a handful of his professional colleagues at a private dinner at a fancy restaurant in Santa Barbara, CA. During that evening, he kept all of these historians as well as me transfixed as he speculated on how it must have been to spend a day with Jonathan Edwards, how he arose to engage in his devotions, how he related with his family, how he spent his time in his study preparing his sermons and writing his essays. He used direct quotes from Edwards and others, referred to concrete objects in the envornment and described Edwards' inner thoughts as he interpreted his journal entries and other written musings---all impromptu! Guelzo swims in history. I forget to finish my meal that night. This lecture series is yet another example of how he can keep a hearer transfixed by drawing concrete images of the situations about which he is describing, by using colorful metaphors and similies, by casually throwing off references events and quotes from people as tidbits to a larger point, even a larger portrait or landscape. He brings history alive by telling great stories. And Guelzo is doing exactly what a professor should do: profess. In his introductory lecture, he makes no apologies for his attempt to dissuade us of his disagreement with "The Great Convetion." He is not simply explicating; he is painting a portrait of this thing he and others call "American Intellectural History" and he does a fantastic job. I laughed and cried and everything in between. His lectures are as engaging as Thomas Cahill's writing. Take this course for entertainment purposes alone and you will not be disappointed. It's far better than watching reruns of Friends.
Date published: 2021-07-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A major complaint about a superb course Professor Guelzo is, in most ways, a superb teacher. He knows his material and explains it very well: not just the better known aspects of American thinking but less well-trod, but important paths. My complaint is that, in two instances (I am half way through the course), he lets his very strong bias impede the quality of his lectures. Prof. Guelzo has such contempt for Jefferson that his discussions of Jefferson's thoughts and deeds are full of (oft-repeated) sarcastic polemic. I have no objection to any teacher expressing strong views. My objection here is that Prof. Guelzo has such contempt for Jefferson that almost every accomplishment of the man is the occasion for snide, often grosssly unfair (even if one disagrees with the man) deprecation, far too much of it of an ad hominem nature. The professor treats Jefferson as nothing better than the worst 1850s Southern apologist for slavery. This is absurd. The second thinker for whom Prof. Guelzo expresses little more than dripping contempt is Emerson. One need not admire Emerson (as I do) to think that the professor's dismissal of all of his work after his early essay "Nature" as if it were poppycock diminishes the quailty of his otherwise fine course and misrepresents the American mind.
Date published: 2021-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional An entertaining lecturer who turns an ironic eye on all sides. Truly unusual breadth matched with crisp and memorable summaries. Constant balancing of "conservative/religious" and "liberal/rationalist" tendencies and constituencies in US history. For example: I learned much about the sources of lasting influence in the US of both Hegel and Lincoln, understood better why MLK turned an interested (if critical) eye on Neibuhr, and (as a 60s product) loved his overview of the "New Left".
Date published: 2020-12-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Questionable Interpretations of Several Thinkers Having learned a lot from Prof. Guelzo's lectures on American history, I purchased this hoping to learn a few things about my own field (my grad. work was in American Philosophy). Unfortunately, the course was shallow, opinionated and worst of all, filled with mistakes as far as some of the key philosophers are concerned. Since others have complained already about the sarcastic, opinionated delivery and lack of depth in many lectures, I will add only a few examples of significant mistakes and poor interpretations of such celebrated thinkers as Emerson, William James, John Dewey and Josiah Royce. (Since Guelzo wrote a dissertation on Jonathan Edwards, and earned a Master of Divinity Degree, I defer to his expertise in the lectures on Puritans and early religious thinkers generally). >> Introducing Emerson's philosophy, Kant's critical philosophy is briefly described as the origin of Emerson's Transcendentalism. But basic terms are used incorrectly. Guelzo says, "At best, descriptions of external reality were purely phenomenal. But in the *noumenal,* an understanding of the thing-in-itself existed. (p. 42 course guide). The whole basis for the Kantian system is to insist that there CANNOT be any "understanding of the thing-in-itself" (i.e. the true metaphysical nature of the world independent of our limited human experience and understanding). Emerson actually rejects the Kantian thesis that we have no direct experience of the world as it really is in itself. It is basic to Emerson that our experience of reality penetrates directly to the innermost nature of reality in mystical fashion. Nor does Emerson "displace" reason in order to reach a true understanding of humanity and nature, as Guelzo states (p. 43). He merely states that too many philosophers have expected *every valid experience of the world* to be capable of rational explanation (he's thinking about the hyperrationalism of the Enlightenment period). In point of fact, there are many reliable experiences and actions that we rely on all the time but which we cannot explain in terms of logic. How exactly do we balance on a bike? Is there a precise explanation? How do we judge character? There's' a limit to the application of logic and rationality, and Emerson asks us to "trust ourselves"-- our time tested hunches, intuitions, and ineffable experiences (such as those we feel in nature or meditation, among others). Emerson's influence was deeply felt in James, Nietzsche, and many 20th century thinkers. He deserves more than a shallow and flawed explication followed by a dismissal ("Emerson and the Transcendentalists were Romantic lightweights," Guelzo states-- p. 6 guidebook). >>In lecture 22, William James' Pragmatism is presented with palpable derision... and, again, incorrectly. According to Guelzo, "A belief [for James] could be justified by whether it had “cash value”—that is, by whether it could be converted into useful, practical conduct. If one’s temperament was best satisfied by way of believing, then achieving that satisfaction was justification enough.James’s was an application of Peirce’s pragmatism to personal, subjective dilemmas, contrary to Peirce’s belief that pragmatism was a description of what was happening in the universe." I can't get into Peirce, whose work is also described incorrectly here. But this misinterpretation of Jamesian pragmatism is common among students, but pays little attention to the careful stipulations of James' arguments. One cannot "justify" their beliefs just on the basis of finding them "useful" or "satisfactory." One must rely on the preponderance of evidence when evaluating beliefs for truth value. However, there are tim situations in which we must adopt a belief in order to function even though we do not have conclusive evidence one way or another. For example, we do not know whether or not a particular disease will be cured in the future. Some viruses have never been cured yet, and we have no evidence that they will OR will not be cured in the near or even distant future. If I am a doctor working on one such disease, then I might well be justified in *believing* that my research team will find a cure for the disease. If I choose to believe that we will not find a cure, or if I choose to remain agnostic on the matter, I may not have the motivation and confidence that makes the discovery of a cure more likely. Some beliefs have this self-fulfilling property. It's just one example. Most beliefs do not have the kind of existential urgency (James calls them "momentous" ) or serious potential consequences that this one does. One may well critique James here, but there's much more going on than a blank check to endorse any old belief that you find "personally useful or satisfactory" with or without evidence! That's a major mis-reading of a classic book. I could go on listing misreadings of Dewey, Royce and others, but I've gone on long enough. These are complex philosophical issues that I'm already simplifying to make the point that the instructor has truly oversimplified and misrepresented them-- often in order to reject them as badly constructed positions out of hand. All I can say is that if you don't want to mis-learn some basic American philosophy, you should avoid this course. It probably has accurate material on Prof. Guelzo's area of expertise (early American political and religious thought). But when he discusses philosophers of the 19th and 20th century the results are sloppy and unreliable, and the delivery is on the smug side, as he belittles several of the figures covered. I do not recommend this course. I do however recommend his fine lectures on early American history in the US History Overview course and his little course on Abraham Lincoln (on whom he has published). I hope the Teaching Co. gets a more qualified prof. to present American Intellectual History in the future! 2 1/2 Stars.
Date published: 2020-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very good instructor I like Professor Guelzo's clarity of speech, the individual lectures are organized well and after each one I find myself pondering the points that are raised by the personalities he uses in the lectures; some of the people he brings into the lectures I never heard of before and will probably forget their names by the time I finish this review; overall, I came away from the course appreciating the different philosophical views that moved our country.
Date published: 2020-07-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Content is excellent, but professor's delivery can be sarcastic and snide at times.
Date published: 2020-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The thoughts that shaped our country This would have been a much different course had it been taught by a philosopher, focusing only on the thoughts of other American philosophers. Prof. Guelzo, as a historian with a background in religious studies, enriches this survey with thoughts from theologians, writers, politicians, statesmen, and others who shaped our country’s development. He discusses how American perspectives and beliefs evolved from the days of the Puritans to the present, blending historical events with the writings of great Americans. As in his other series, the Prof shows his skill as a storyteller, not just a dry talking head. His style is engaging and easy to follow. (I took the audio version which I felt was sufficient.) I recommend this course to anyone who wants to look behind mere dates, battles, and names of presidents, to discover the underlying ideas that have driven our history.
Date published: 2020-01-16
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America's distinct philosophy stems from a powerful body of thought that extends back to the first European settlers and that was enriched by later generations of American thinkers including Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, William James, and Martin Luther King Jr. Explore the immensely stimulating conversation that made the United States what it is today with The American Mind, 36 lectures that provide you with a broad survey of American intellectual history. In this course, delve into the philosophical underpinnings of our nation and trace ideas in politics, religion, education, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, literature, social theory, and science as they helped build the elaborate structure that became modern America. Taught by distinguished historian and award-winning Professor Allen C. Guelzo, this course takes you to the heart of what it means to think like-and be-an American.


Allen C. Guelzo
Allen C. Guelzo

For Lincoln, no matter what our political persuasions, moral principle in the end is all that unites us and all that ensures that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.


Gettysburg College

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Among garnering other honors, he has received the Medal of Honor from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He is a member of the National Council on the Humanities. Professor Guelzo is the author of numerous books on American intellectual history, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War era. His publication awards include the Lincoln Prize as well as the Abraham Lincoln Institute Prize for two of his books-Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America–making him the first double Lincoln laureate in the history of both prizes. His critically acclaimed book, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008. Professor Guelzo has written for The American Historical Review, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and he has been featured on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, C-SPAN's Booknotes, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

By This Professor

America's Founding Fathers
A History of the United States, 2nd Edition
The Intellectual Geography of America

01: The Intellectual Geography of America

Is there an American mind? The view of Americans as doers rather than thinkers has been reinforced by the way American intellectual history is traditionally taught. However, this approach is suspect because it ignores large parts of the national debate over ideas.

34 min
The Technology of Puritan Thinking

02: The Technology of Puritan Thinking

As colonizers, the Puritans brought with them a vibrant intellectual life, born partly of the Calvinist Reformation and partly of medieval scholasticism. But they also brought with them unresolved problems over the intellect and the will.

35 min
The Enlightenment in America

03: The Enlightenment in America

The Enlightenment made its first beachheads in America in the colonial colleges, beginning at Harvard and including the College of William and Mary, the Academy of Philadelphia, and Yale. The attraction of Enlightenment thinking was both intellectual and cultural.

30 min
Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening

04: Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening

Jonathan Edwards was influenced by the immaterialism of British philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, using that philosophical base to criticize compromisers among the ranks of New England Puritanism. Ultimately, immaterialism became linked to Edwards's role in the spiritual revival known as the Great Awakening.

30 min
The Colonial Colleges

05: The Colonial Colleges

The Great Awakening was a major force in establishing new colleges in colonial America, as angry Awakeners turned their backs on institutions such as Yale and Harvard and founded alternative colleges. But these colleges were quickly absorbed into the intellectual life of the Enlightenment.

30 min
Republican Fundamentals

06: Republican Fundamentals

As the American colonies prospered, the British government took steps to regulate that prosperity. The colonies resented this intrusion and found in the classical liberalism of English Whig political theorists a ready explanation for the legitimacy of their own governments.

30 min
Nature’s God and the American Revolution

07: Nature’s God and the American Revolution

Long in gestation, the ideas that made the American Revolution trace back to the Enlightenment resistance to authority, the colonists' religious radicalism, and the example of the English Whigs. All that was needed to set off revolt was the British government's attempt to override the colonies' own assemblies.

30 min
Deism, Science, and Revolution

08: Deism, Science, and Revolution

If America was the darling of the Enlightenment, then the Enlightenment's favorite location in America was Philadelphia, thanks to its extraordinary collection of thinkers and institutions, and to its commitment to reconciling science and religion in the spirit of Scottish "common sense" philosophy.

30 min
Hamilton and His Money

09: Hamilton and His Money

Only when America's Whigs had a republic on their hands did they realize that there was no agreement on what shape a republic should take—whether it should follow the example of Jefferson and classical republicanism or the commercial liberal republicanism of Alexander Hamilton.

31 min
Jefferson and His Debts

10: Jefferson and His Debts

Jefferson is revered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and a paragon of reason. However, his experience of debt drove him to romanticize the glories of independent farming and promote policies that broke the old revolutionary coalition into Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties.

29 min
The Edwardseans—From Hopkins to Finney

11: The Edwardseans—From Hopkins to Finney

The Revolution was a disappointment to religious leaders who hoped to ride its victories to new levels of moral and cultural authority. But the disciples of Jonathan Edwards soon learned how to restart the energies of revival and reverse the fall of the republic into Enlightenment secularism.

32 min
The Moral Philosophers

12: The Moral Philosophers

Scottish "common sense" philosophy became a vehicle by which religious thinkers reintroduced religious morality into public life by cloaking it in "natural law." These moral philosophers would have enjoyed even greater influence had they not failed to solve the knottiest of American problems in public ethics: slavery.

31 min
Whigs and Democrats

13: Whigs and Democrats

Although Republican political theory deplored political parties, both Jefferson and Hamilton emerged as the heads of parties in the 1790s. Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans dominated Hamilton's Federalists, but the Jeffersonians themselves split in the 1830s, spawning the Whigs, led by Henry Clay.

31 min
American Romanticism

14: American Romanticism

The Enlightenment's glorification of reason eventually fostered a backlash in the form of Romanticism. The influence of religious revivalism and the distaste for democratic politics combined to breed an American Romanticism, with New England Transcendentalism as its most talented manifestation.

31 min
Faith and Reason at Princeton

15: Faith and Reason at Princeton

The challenge offered to religion by Enlightenment reason was never as stark as it seemed. Many Enlightenment figures continued to experiment in religion, and many religious thinkers assimilated the principles of reason into more persuasive forms of belief, notably at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

30 min
Romanticism in Mercersburg

16: Romanticism in Mercersburg

American Romanticism often manifested itself as a rebellion against past authority. However, some conservative forms of Romanticism embraced the past and glorified tradition and history as a different way of questioning the supremacy of reason.

32 min
Slaveholders and Abolitionists

17: Slaveholders and Abolitionists

The use of slave labor was the one blot on the record of American liberty, made all the more disgraceful by the way it defined slaves as chattel property. Most embarrassing of all, slavery was attacked not on the basis of Enlightenment reason but by radical religious Romantics.

32 min
Lincoln and Liberal Democracy

18: Lincoln and Liberal Democracy

Lincoln's election as president finally delivered the nation's political initiative into the hands of an opponent of slavery. The ensuing Civil War allowed him both to destroy slavery and to install the Whig economic and political agenda as the reigning American ideology.

31 min
The Failure of the Genteel Elite

19: The Failure of the Genteel Elite

Despite its success at preserving the Union, the Civil War and the corruption that followed in its wake disillusioned many American thinkers with religious orthodoxy and democratic society. The postwar decades became the "Gilded Age," dominated by corporate models of organization and cynical social critics.

32 min
Darwin in America

20: Darwin in America

Published in 1859, Darwin's Origin of Species had a delayed impact in America because of the Civil War. But in the postwar decades, Darwin's ideas undermined support of a public role for religion and spawned social philosophies that lauded unrestrained economic competition.

31 min
Liberalism and the Social Gospel

21: Liberalism and the Social Gospel

Evolution posed a moral problem to thinkers who embraced a Darwinian account of human origins but shrank from applying the logic of natural selection to human society. The result was a struggle to accommodate religion to Darwinism, which flowered into religious liberalism and the Social Gospel.

32 min
The Agony of William James

22: The Agony of William James

No family in America followed an intellectual path as tortured as that of William James, whose own life was a struggle to reconcile Darwin, materialism, and science with religion. It was only in pragmatism that James found room for hope and peace of mind.

33 min
Josiah Royce—The Idealist Dissenter

23: Josiah Royce—The Idealist Dissenter

If pragmatism suited James as a replacement for absolutes, it left Josiah Royce unsatisfied. Royce represents both the last serious effort by an American philosopher to build a workable notion of idealism, as well as the last American philosopher to command an important public audience for philosophy.

36 min
John Dewey and Social Pragmatism

24: John Dewey and Social Pragmatism

Influenced by the postwar battles of capital and labor, John Dewey translated James's pragmatism into an optimistic but morally relativistic social policy, in which social democracy rather than the assuagement of personal doubt was the ultimate objective.

31 min
Socialism in America

25: Socialism in America

The postwar wave of corporate industrial organization was met by an opposing wave of working-class resistance, and that resistance was frequently attracted by the promise of socialism. Socialism as an ideology, however, had few takers in America.

30 min
Populists, Progressives, and War

26: Populists, Progressives, and War

In the 1880s, widespread grievances of farmers crystallized in the Populist Movement, while the most important reform ideology among the middle class was Progressivism, where the main concern was not about redistribution or revolution but about efficiency.

31 min
Decade of the Disenchanted

27: Decade of the Disenchanted

The idealism with which Woodrow Wilson led America into World War I and the disappointments that followed produced a deeply jaded rejection of all idealisms, moral and political. The great voices of the 1920s were its skeptics, cynics, and mockers.

30 min
The Social Science Revolution

28: The Social Science Revolution

The idea that human societies could be reduced to scientific analysis was another byproduct of the Enlightenment, which saw no reason why the discovery of physical law should not be matched by the discovery of social law.

29 min
The New South versus the New Negro

29: The New South versus the New Negro

The post-Civil War South was torn between a romantic attachment to the "Lost Cause" myth and submission to the industrial system of the victorious North. Two backward-looking trends that emerged were the New Agrarians of the 1930s and the Jim Crow legislation imposed on American blacks.

30 min
FDR and the Intellectuals

30: FDR and the Intellectuals

The Great Depression traumatized the American psyche and, with the election of Franklin Roosevelt, brought about a dramatic realignment of American political life. The Depression also turned American intellectuals decisively against industrial capitalism and even drove many to embrace Communism.

30 min
Science under the Cloud

31: Science under the Cloud

The development of the atomic bomb was both a tremendous public achievement for American scientists and the origin of a serious moral dilemma—all the more so since the culture of American science was built around the conviction that moral dilemmas were unscientific.

28 min
Ironic Judgments

32: Ironic Judgments

Considered the greatest American theologian of his day, Reinhold Niebuhr exposed the facile underpinnings of liberal optimism. His skepticism came mixed with an urgency to separate ethics from perfectionism so that it could function in the real-world struggle against totalitarianism.

30 min
Mass Culture and Mass Consumption

33: Mass Culture and Mass Consumption

The rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe in the 1930s propelled a wave of intellectual immigration to America. But many émigrés were shocked by the grip of commercial culture on American thinking. The American response in the 1950s was to glorify mass culture and turn it into an art form, pop art.

31 min
Integration and Separation

34: Integration and Separation

The persistence of segregation left black intellectuals looking for radical solutions. It was a mainstream religious figure, Martin Luther King, Jr., who guided the black struggle for civil rights back onto the path of integration into American society and culture.

27 min
The Rebellion of the Privileged

35: The Rebellion of the Privileged

World War II was a triumph over fascism, but not necessarily in favor of liberal democracy. The Vietnam War radicalized both American intellectuals and a new generation of college students into a New Left—a movement that eventually wilted in the face of government hostility and public indifference.

31 min
The Neo-Conservatives

36: The Neo-Conservatives

Erected by émigré intellectuals after World War II, American conservatism was a composite movement, combining elements of religious dissent and secular liberalism. It also offered a viable intellectual alternative for Americans who remained fundamentally loyal to the liberalism of the Founders.

34 min