How to Know if Your Country Is Heading Toward Despotism: An Educational Film from 1946

Nobody likes a despot — even despots know it. But actually identifying despotism can pose a certain difficulty — which despots also know, and they'd surely like to keep it that way. Hence Encyclopedia Britannica's Despotism, a ten-minute Erpi Classroom Film on how a country slides into that eponymous state. It uses the example of Nazi Germany (which might strike us today as the most obvious one but back in 1946 must have felt almost too fresh), but generalizes the concept by looking back into more distant history, as far as Louis XIV's immortal remark, "L'état, c'est moi."

"You can roughly locate any community in the world somewhere along a scale running all the way from democracy to despotism," says Despotism's standard-issue mannered narrator before turning it over to a standard-issue sack-suited and Brylcreemed expert. And how can we know where our own society places on that scale? "Well, for one," says the expert, "avoid the comfortable idea that the mere form of government can of itself safeguard a nation against despotism." The film introduces a series of sub-scales usable to gauge a community's despotic potential: the respect scale, the power scale, the economic distribution scale, and the information scale.




The respect scale measures "how many citizens get an even break," and on the despotic end, "common courtesy is withheld from large groups of people on account of their political attitudes; if people are rude to others because they think their wealth and position gives them that right, or because they don't like a man's race or his religion." The power scale  "gauges the citizen's share in making the community's decisions. Communities which concentrate decision making in a few hands rate low on a power scale and are moving towards despotism," and even "today democracy can ebb away in communities whose citizens allow power to become concentrated in the hands of bosses."

The economic distribution scale turns into a warning sign when a society's "economic distribution becomes slanted, its middle income groups grow smaller and despotism stands a better chance to gain a foothold." If "the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a very small number of people" and "control of jobs and business opportunities is in a few hands, despotism stands a good chance." So it also does in a society which rates low on the information scale, where "the press, radio, and other channels of communication are controlled by only a few people and when citizens have to accept what they are told," a process that renders its citizens ultimately unable to evaluate claims and ideas for themselves.

The opposite of despotism, so Despotism proposes, is democracy, a type of government explained in the previous year's Erpi Classroom Film of that name. Germany, a republic where once "an aggressive despotism took root and flourished under Adolf Hitler," now performs admirably on the respect, power, economic distribution, and information scales — not perfectly, of course, but no country can ever completely escape the threat of despotism. Much about the economy and the nature of information may have changed over the past 70 years, but nothing about respect and power have. Whichever society we live in, and wherever on the spectrum between democracy and despotism it now stands, we'll do well to keep an eye on the scales. Both films were made by Encyclopedia Britannica, in conjunction with Yale University's then prominent political scientist Harold Lasswell.

via BoingBoing

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Harvard Presents Two Free Online Courses on the Old Testament

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A quick note: Shaye J.D. Cohen, a professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at Harvard, has just released his second free course on iTunes. The first course was called The Hebrew Scriptures in Judaism & Christianity. The new one, simply titled The Hebrew Bible, "surveys the major books and ideas of the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament) examining the historical context in which the texts emerged and were redacted. A major subtext of the course is the distinction between how the Bible was read by ancient interpreters (whose interpretations became the basis for many iconic literary and artistic works of Western Civilization) and how it is approached by modern bible scholarship." The new course, featuring 25 sets of video lectures and lecture notes, has been added to our collection of Free Online Religion Courses, a subsection of our collection of 1,300 Free Online Courses. Other related courses worth exploring are Introduction to the Old Testament and Introduction to New Testament History and Literature, both from Yale.

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Take a Free Course on the Financial Markets with Robert Shiller, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

This morning, the Nobel Prize in Economic Science went to three American professors -- Eugene F. Fama (U. Chicago), Lars Peter Hansen (U. Chicago) and Robert J. Shiller (Yale) — "for their empirical analysis of asset prices." In his own way, each economist has demonstrated that "stock and bond prices move unpredictably in the short term but with greater predictability over longer periods," and that markets are "moved by a mix of rational calculus and human behavior," writes The New York Times.

Of the three economists, Robert Shiller is perhaps the most household name. In March 2000, Shiller published Irrational Exuberance, a book that warned that the long-running bull market was a bubble, that stock prices were being driven by human psychology, not real values. Weeks later, the market cracked and people began to pay attention to what Shiller had to say. Fast forward a few years, and Shiller released a second edition of the same book, this time arguing that the housing market was the latest and greatest bubble. We all know how that prediction played out.




Shiller's thinking about the financial markets isn't a mystery. It's all on display in his Yale course simply called Financial Markets. Available for free on YouTubeiTunes Video, and  Yale's web site, the 23 lecture-course provides an introduction to "behavioral finance principles" necessary to understand the functioning of the securities, insurance, and banking industries. Recorded in 2011, the course is otherwise listed in the Economics section of our collection of 1200 Free Online Courses. You can watch all of the lectures above, starting with Lecture 1. By following these links, you can find the course syllabus, an outline of the weekly sessions, and a book list.

Personal Note: About 10 years ago, I worked with Prof. Shiller on developing an online course. Two things I recall about him. First, he struck me as being a very down-to-earth and unassuming guy. A pleasure to work with. Second, we had some time to kill one day, and so I asked him (circa 2005) whether it was crazy to buy a house. I mean, I had the guru sitting in front of me, in a chatty mood. What did I get? Bupkis: "You know, it just depends..."  It wasn't a bullish sign. So I took it to mean "Stay on the sidelines, kid." In 2007, it seemed like sound advice.

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Yale’s Open Courses Inspire a New Series of Old-Fashioned Books

Last month we reported on Yale's addition of seven new online courses to its growing roster of free offerings. Now we've learned that Yale is inaugurating a new series of books based on its popular open courses.

"It may seem counterintuitive for a digital project to move into books and e-books, because these are a much more conventional way of publishing," Open Yale Courses founding project director Diana E.E. Kleiner told The Chronicle of Higher Education last week. But the books are in keeping with Open Yale's mission of "reaching out in every way that we could."

Yale University Press is bringing out the first six titles this year. The paperbacks are priced at roughly $12 on Amazon, with e-book editions going for closer to $10.  The first three volumes--Theory of Literature by Paul H. Fry, New Testament History and Literature by Dale B. Martin, and Death by Shelly Kagan--are available now, while three additional titles--The Moral Foundations of Politics by Ian Shapiro, Introduction to the Bible by Christine Hayes, and Political Philosophy by Steven B. Smith--will be published later this year. The publisher says the books are "designed to bring the depth and breadth of a Yale education to a wide variety of readers."

For more open education resources, take a moment to explore our collection of 450 free online courses from top universities.

Yale Introduces Another Seven Free Online Courses, Bringing Total to 42

It's April, which means it's time for a new batch of Open Courses from Yale University. The latest release adds another six courses to the mix, bringing Yale's total to 42. We have listed the new additions below, and also added them to our ever-growing list of 450 Free Online Courses. As always, Yale gives you access to their courses in multiple formats. You can generally download their lectures via YouTube, iTunes or Yale's Open Course web site.

Note: Earlier this week, my local NPR station featured a big conversation about Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education. Guests included Salman Khan (Khan Academy), Sebastian Thrun (Udacity), Anant Agarwal (MITx) and Ben Nelson (The Minerva Project). You can listen to their wide-ranging conversation here.

French in Action: Cult Classic French Lessons from Yale (52 Episodes) Available Online

During the 1980s, Pierre Capretz, a Yale professor, developed French in Action, a French immersion program that featured textbooks, workbooks, and a 52-episode television series. Aired on PBS, the television series gained a devoted following and, years later, a 25th anniversary celebration at Yale asked the question: Is it fair to say that French in Action now has a cult following?

You can watch French in Action for free online at the Annenberg Learner website. (Scroll down the page to find the videos.) The program follows the adventures of Robert Taylor, an American student, and Mireille Belleau, a young French woman. And each 30 minute episode provides a context for learning new words and expressions. (A couple of episodes generated a little controversy, we should note.) The show is conducted entirely in French.

French in Action appears in our collection of Free Language Lessons, which now offers primers in over 40 languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Italian and beyond.

Financial Markets Course with Yale Sage Robert Shiller

In March 2000, Yale economist Robert Shiller published Irrational Exuberance, a book that warned that the long-running bull market was a bubble. Weeks later, the market cracked and Shiller was the new guru. Fast forward a few years, and Shiller released a second edition of the same book, this time arguing that the housing market was the latest and greatest bubble. We all know how that prediction played out.

Unlike most of the financial industry, Shiller isn't locked into a perennially bullish view, bent on pumping the market despite what the real numbers suggest. And that should give students, whether young or old, some confidence in his free course simply called "Financial Markets." Available on the web in multiple formats (YouTube – iTunes Audio – iTunes VideoYale Web Site), the 26 lecture-course covers the inner-workings of financial institutions that ideally "support people in their productive ventures" and help them manage economic risks. You can start with Lecture 1 here. Above, we present his introductory lecture on Stocks.

Finally (and separately) you can get Shiller's thoughts on how to handle America's big debt mess here. It was recorded in recent days.

Shiller's course appears in the Economics section of our big collection of Free Online Courses. 385 courses in total. Don't miss them.

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