Revolutionary Agony

The communist dream inspired its believers with visions of human emancipation. Yet in nearly every case, from the Soviet Union to China, Hungary, North Korea, and East Germany, it led to rise of dictatorships which violated these principles.  It also led to the  deaths of millions of people.  How can we account for this perversion of the communist dream and for the fact that many true-believers were willing to participate in these atrocities?

Stalin, the Formation of the Soviet Union, and the Realization of Socialism:  II

The Roots of Terror:  Part 1

We begin this section of the course be looking at the elites who were involved in sponsoring the terror, the inklings of whom you have just witnessed in Scott’s book.

14. Thursday, February 27

Discussion:  For today’s meeting, with turn to Arthur Koestler’s book Darkness at Noon, to get a sense for the meaning of High Stalinism.  It is a compelling novel.  It also presents a compelling theory about Marxism’s  and Leninism’s degeneration into terror.

Our goal is to understand what it means to say that someone is a Stalinist.  Koestler’s protagonist, Rubashev, is a Stalinist.  What is Rubashev like?  What drives him? Is he a nice person?

To understand Rubashev, how is he different from his interlocutor, Ivanov?  What type of communist is Ivanov?

        • Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon:  Read the chapters up to the “Third Hearing” A PDF is HERE!
        • Joseph Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, Chapter 8: READ AND TAKE NOTES
        • A. James McAdams, Vanguard of the Revolution, pp. 163-82.

15.  Tuesday, March 3

Today we will visit the Special Collections Room in the Hesburgh Library.

Natasha Lyandres, Director of the Collection, will share with us some of the Library’s archives on Stalinism and Terror in the USSR.

16. Thursday, March 5

Today, we consider the causes and consequences–the Horror!–of High Stalinism.

          • Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon:  Complete the book, if you have not already done so.
              • A PDF is HERE!
              • In this meeting, we turn to the relationship between Rubashev and Gletkin, a different kind of Stalinist.





Tuesday, March 17 and Thursday, March 19:  NO CLASSES

The Roots of Terror:  Part 2

17. Tuesday, March 24

In this session and the next two sessions, we address the theme of “why people do bad things.”

Discussion:  Today we will discuss “The obedience of the Masses.”
The topic of our discussion is the relationship between human nature and institutions.  Does human nature  (a complicated term) lead people to create perverse institutions? Or do institutions bring out the worst aspects of our human nature?  In this light, don’t take the arguments about these experiments for granted, but ask yourself what these experiments really depict.
        •  A recreation of Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment in the psychology of obedience, appropriately titled “Obedience.”   FILM
        • Please watch this BBC documentary on the Stanford Prison Experiment:  WATCH

          Maria Konnikova, “The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment”  READ

        • Obedience and Catholicism.  The  Catechism of the Catholic Church empathizes the role of “free choice” in resisting evil.  What do the above films/readings say about the instructions in this section on “Hell?”:  READ 

18.  Thursday, March 26

Discussion:  The Authoritarian Personality.  How do charismatic dictators, like Mao Zedong and Kim Jong Il,  manipulate those around them?  What are these leaders like as human beings?  We will consider the “narcissistic personality disorder.”  For this section, please be prepared to discuss your favorite exemplar of the NPD.  You may choose any figure, not just those in dictatorships. Your “celebrity” can come from any profession. We may also engage in some role-playing.

          • The Narcissistic Personality Disorder, HERE NPD (you may have had the paper version sent to you).
          • Selection from Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao  (Handout or here Li Zhisui) READ
          • Also read this review of Li Zhisui’s book on life with Mao, see READ
          • Selection from Jang Jin-Sung, Dear Leader:  My Escape from North Korea (HERE Dear Leader) READ
Your Second Essay Assignment is HERE


NOTE: Please leave your technology at home. This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, Kindles, i-Pads, I-phones, video cameras, video games, dog fences, or other personal digital devices.

My class is a no-tweet zone. Some things are just not dignified!