The hottest video on Dr. Michael Sugrue’s YouTube channel is his 1992 lecture on Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. Marcus Aurelius is a Stoic. Sugrue kinds himself one, too. “All Marcus wants to do is live a philosophical life,” Sugrue says, “but he happens to have the misfortune to be…emperor of Rome.” As emperor, Marcus Aurelius had unthinkable energy. He dominated everything of the identified world. “Imagine a man for whom all the restraints of law and custom and political order are taken away. He can have whatever he wants,” Sugrue stated. “If a man, under those circumstances, behaves well, you know something about the soul underneath.”
When I spoke to Michael Sugrue, he appeared nothing like the person who raved about Marcus Aurelius. In 1992, Sugrue appeared just like the prototypical educational—tan blazer, ruffled khakis, mammoth sq. spectacles intruding on a boyish, clean-shaven face. The man I met on Zoom was grizzled, with a baritone voice and a deep, throaty snort. He had a Confucian-looking beard, with hairs jutting from his chin in gnarled, uneven strands.
The soul beneath, nonetheless, was the identical. Sugrue, sitting beside his daughter Genevieve, was keen to debate concepts—on justice (“it’s not like fins on a Cadillac”), faith (“I’m a Catholic, straight up”), and academia (“half the people are on medication, and not the ones who need it the most”).
Sugrue just lately retired from Ave Maria University in Florida. He is a lifelong educational who hasn’t “really had a career.” His actual ardour is reaching audiences past the classroom. Genevieve uploaded Sugrue’s total 1992 lecture sequence to YouTube in 2020, 56 talks that span some 37 hours. The channel has greater than two and a half million views.
The lectures had been recorded as a part of the Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition sequence, a set of talks on the West’s biggest authors and thinkers. Sugrue and his colleague Dr. Darren Staloff had been ending their diploma program at Columbia in 1992 when a mutual good friend launched them to Tom Rollins of The Teaching Company, who provided Sugrue and Staloff the possibility to anchor the Great Minds program.
“[We] just put him in front of a camera and watched the magic happen,” Staloff stated.
Sugrue’s first lecture within the sequence is on Plato, the final on essential concept. His exceptional oratory talent is on show all through. In every discuss, Sugrue strides backwards and forwards throughout a makeshift stage. His steps, like a metronome, mark the tempo of the lecture. He doesn’t carry a observe card or learn from a prompter. There is hardly a whisker in 37 hours of footage—no “ums,” no filler phrases, no bluster.
When I requested him the place his talent as an orator got here from, Sugrue stated the lectures got here from a “different part” of his mind, like a stuttering baby who can sing phrases he in any other case can’t say.
“I suspect that I’m using a different hemisphere, the one that doesn’t, generally speaking, have words,” Sugrue stated. “But on the other hand, it strings things together coherently, because the connection is musical.”
Sugrue grew up in an Irish Catholic residence in Fifties New York. He attended native parochial colleges, the place he was “impressed” by the monks and nuns, particularly the Jesuits. In the late Seventies, he enrolled on the University of Chicago and studied underneath Allan Bloom and Joseph Cropsey. He turned a Platonist. When Sugrue arrived at Chicago, he stated, “we were getting our first hit of what would be called postmodernism, but we didn’t know what to call it yet.”
After graduating from Chicago in 1979, he spent the following decade at Columbia University. He obtained his PhD in American History and taught literature and the Western canon till he graduated. He spent two years at Johns Hopkins and a decade at Princeton earlier than ending his profession as a professor at Ave Maria in 2019.
Ave alumna Brigid Baker stated Sugrue as a professor had a “gravitas” about him that was each intimidating and enchanting. Her first impression of Sugrue, one she nonetheless holds, was that “he seemed to know literally everything.”
“He used to tell us he was digging new grooves in our brains, like records,” she stated. “And we all felt that every single week for each lecture and we thought, ‘Oh, there’s a completely new set of pattern grooves.’”
Sugrue took a detailed curiosity in his college students’ mental lives. He challenged them to learn thinkers who examined their most simple assumptions.
“If you are a Kantian, he will make you read Hume. If you’re a traditional conservative, you’re going to read John Rawls. If you’re a Hayekian, you’re going to read Karl Marx. If you’re a Marxist, you’re going to read Schumpeter,” Staloff informed me. “It’s just not to change your mind, but to grow your mind.”
In retirement, Sugrue co-hosts The Idea Store podcast along with his daughter Genevieve. Its title derives from Sugrue’s try to introduce philosophy to his youngsters of their youth, taking them to the “idea store” to “shop” for concepts. On the podcast, he and Genevieve focus on the Great Books, reply listener questions, and commerce laughs.
Sugrue was recognized with most cancers eleven years in the past. Doctors on the time gave him 5 years to reside. He stated the considered Marcus Aurelius has taken on new that means since his prognosis.
“Being sick teaches you, you’re not in control, you’re not in charge,” he stated. “And you have to learn to play at the hand you’re dealt.”
Genevieve stated the sickness has introduced her nearer to her father.
“Honestly, if I’ve learned Stoicism from anyone, it really hasn’t been from Marcus Aurelius. It’s been from him.”