An embarrassment of riches here, at least to those of us trying to characterize them in fresh words.
The only real comments I had on the two VRT part 6 episodes were:
• You didn't mention how FUNNY the episodes of "March"'s diary, right after VRT takes over, are. All of a sudden we get lines like "Without the boy I don’t know what I’d do. He has done everything, most of the work, for the entire trip." — effusive appreciation after a diaryfull of a very limited amount of it. Which, once you know that VRT is suddenly writing, is really funny.
• I may be reaching here, but does anyone else hear an echo of Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls in the scene of the boy's death? Like that famous fall, there is a fundamental uncertainty about who went over. And somehow that manner of death just reminds me of Holmes.
Going into episode 67, I was going to suggest that, as an experiment, you try reversing the theme & puzzle episodes next time (for Peace, I suppose, in a year's time). The argument is that, hopefully, the answers to the puzzles would enrich our understanding of the events of the story, which would enrich our understanding of the theme. It just seems to make more conceptual sense. Of course you made this recommendation difficult to make by putting out such a splendid theme episode — my favorite yet, perhaps.
I loved all your talk of freedom & slavery, especially the stuff about the ancient context; as an Americanist, I tend to think of it totally in an American context. (I loved the Latin lesson about famulus in particular. Am I correct in understanding that it would not be the term for a plantation slave, just for a household slave?) I also liked the link you made between flourishing & freedom; I had heard similar ideas, but never that term before; it fits beautifully. (One critique of the libertarian idea — and at least some versions of the anarchist idea, if not all of them — is that it sets up a sort of freedom that inhibits rather than enables flourishing.)
Anyway, I did natter on about this before, and I won't repeat myself, except to say again that Constant's views on slavery are all familiar from American slavery defenders (including the idea that freedom is the freedom to enslave, a very familiar idea to our slaveholding founding fathers!), and that his notion that Government health care is akin to slavery is one deep in (quite recent as of 1972) conservative thought, so that I am not entirely sure that Wolfe is holding that notion up to spite, as you both, and I, do, and as everyone should. (I hope he is; and he may well be — he put it in the mouth of a slavery apologist, after all. But I'm not quite sure.)
But on the multiple, complex and contradictory ideas of freedom, let me strongly recommend the work of the historian David Hackett Fischer, in particular the opening chapter or two of his book Liberty and Freedom (the whole book is good, but the best bit is summarized in the beginning). He talks about liberty (libertas) as arising from a Roman notion of freedom, and freedom (freiheit) as arising from a Germanic one, and about how they are, basically, opposite ideas, which worked their way (in altered form) into American culture. (His section on the Civil War is called "Liberty vs. Freedom"). In his earlier book, Albion's Seed, he talks about four of the founding cultures of the US (Massachusetts puritans, Virginian cavaliers, Pennsylvania Quakers, and backcountry folk), and for each defines their notion of freedom — four very different ideas. Anyway, it's interesting stuff, and it pertains directly to the sort of thing you were talking about — freedom as being independent (as Jefferson would have it, in an idea derived from the Roman world), versus being part of a free society (as the Massachusetts puritans would have it, in a German idea). Check it out.
Also he makes (in Albion's Seed), the following superb point, which I never tire of quoting: "The most important fact about American liberty is that it has never been a single idea, but a set of different and even contrary traditions in creative tension with one another. This diversity of libertarian ideas has created a culture of freedom which is more open and expansive than any unitary tradition alone could possibly be."
There's a lot of wonderful stuff to say about the contradictory ideas of freedom in an American context — I used to teach a whole unit on this in an American studies class — but I will stop there.
A few other notes:
• In talking about humans v animals, you talk about the idea that what makes us human is our knowledge of good and evil. But you don't cite the most famous (and relevant to Wolfe) source of that idea: the story of the garden of Eden! What makes humanity (alone among animals) fall is that we eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil —which is to say that it is that which makes us human.
• You spoke about VRT's choice between independence (staying among the free people, if he found them, or at least staying in the back of beyond) and going in search of his mother. You didn't quite make the final connection (perhaps thinking it too obvious!), that a need for a mother is about as pure a symbol of human dependence as you can get.
• You mention, casually, that nowadays we believe all human beings have rights, and point out, correctly, that this is a fairly recent belief. At a time when the government of this country is putting undocumented people into concentration camps — including one of the very same camps that was used previously to intern Japanese Americans during WW2 — that assurance that we have, in fact, moved once and for all over that barrier is unwarranted (as I am sure you actually know).
• Also in the "you probably know this but you said otherwise" category: you mention Emerson & Thoreau, and in particular you allude to Emerson's essay "Self Reliance" (I think your point about evil genius is a combination of his use of genius in that essay and the passage ""But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil.""). But you say they are post-civil war figures. Thoreau didn't even survive the war; Emerson did, but the contributions are referring to are antebellum ("Self Reliance" was published in 1841).
Hey, I'm almost caught up! I'll see if I can catch up by the time your episode with Marc Aramini airs.