Welcome to my course!

I love to tell stories, especially simple ones.


Here is the simple story for this  course:

“There were two great challenges to liberal democracy in the Twentieth Century—national fascism and world communism.  The first was defeated in World War II.  In contrast, when Soviet tanks moved into Berlin on May 2, 1945,  the second challenge had only begun to take hold.  This challenge was the product of a combination of novel ideas and distinctive institutions that had already been in gestation for over a century.  As a result, forty years after the end of the war, there were as many countries in the world that looked like the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and Cuba as those that looked like the United States, West Germany, and Great Britain.  Yet paradoxically, at the point of its greatest impact, the phenomenon of world communism ceased to be viable.  In a shockingly brief period between 1989 and 1991, almost all of the communist-led governments in the world collapsed.”

Was not world communism destined to fail?  Should it have taken us so long to recognize that the phenomenon of world communism was destined to fail?  The problem with questions like these is that many of the great moments in history, such as the French Revolution, seem self-evident in retrospect.  Yet, Louis XVI did not know that he was going to have his head cut off until January  21, 1793.  If so, he might have decided to act differently before he got into trouble.

Comrade Mikhail Gorbachev
Comrade Mikhail Gorbachev

Similarly, Michael Gorbachev did not know that he would preside over the dissolution of the Soviet Union until 1991. Yet ironically, he set in motion the events that would lead to this unpredicted and unpredictable event.

I have built this course around four simple questions:

  • Why did many intelligent, well-educated, and well-intentioned people (people like you!) support the communist movement, from its inception in the 1840s until its demise?
  • Why did the practice of communism dramatically diverge from its founders’  idealistic goals, most notably under Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong?
  • Why did world communism last as long as it did?
  • Why did the vast majority of communist regimes disappear so quickly?

It would be impossible to cover the entire communist world in a single semester.

Thus, I draw upon the experiences of a few select communist states to provide you with a perspective for understanding all of them.

Comrades in battle
Comrades in battle

My primary cases will be the Soviet Union and China.  A number of other countries–Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, North Korea, and Poland, among many others–will make cameo appearances.  Please feel free to ask me to lecture about a case of your own choosing.

To get ready for my first lecture, WATCH this inspirational video.


I request that you not use electronic devices of any kind, including laptops, i-Pads, cell phones, video cameras, Kindles, MailChimps, and other personal digital devices, in our classroom.