Every seminar should seek to accomplish three goals. It should teach you about a particular subject (The Politics and History of Communism); it should advance your understanding of your general field of study (Political Science); and it should leave you with something to remember when you are old and grey.
I. The Politics and History of Communism
For over a century, the Communist Dream fueled one of the most powerful and popular political movements of modern times. At its height, the communist movement was the principal challenge to liberal democracy. The states that embraced it transformed their societies in ways that appeared to advance the well-being of millions of people. At the same time, their leaders committed acts of inhumanity that violated their founding principles. Today, the dream of communism is mostly over.
The demise of the Communist Dream does not in any respect its significance in modern history. It presents us with a number of challenging questions:
- What was the dream?
- Why did people believe in it?
- Where did it go wrong?
- How did it survive for so long?
II. The Study of Politics in General
The study of politics is about nothing more than the examination of three interlocking features of human existence: Ideas, Institutions, and Incentives. Whether we are talking about the U.S. Congress, the Vatican, the Boy Scouts of America, the NCAA, or the University of Notre Dame du lac, political systems differ only in how their leaders define these factors and put them into practice.
- Ideas: What constitutes a good society?
- Institutions: What rules are required to realize this idea?
- Incentives: How do ruler get what they want?
III. When You are Old and Grey
Let’s face it, 20 years from now, you will have forgotten much of the content of this seminar. Alas. You may have lost some of your interest in politics, aside from an occasional adventure in the ballot booth. Yet, your beliefs about what counts in life and about how best to implement them will constitute an essential part of your existence.
This seminar should challenge you to demystify the Communist Dream and see it as part of a continuing human struggle to realize the good like. You, too, will be challenged to define what you believe and decide how to act on your beliefs.
My Expectations. This is a demanding seminar. To avoid being left behind, you must keep up with your assignments. I expect each of you to participate fully in everything we do. This includes completing the readings, speaking in class, communicating with your classmates over Sakai, and daring to think for yourself. You are now looking at the authoritative syllabus for the seminar. I do not use a paper syllabus. As you will see by perusing these pages, I have deliberately designed this syllabus to be open to modification. As we begin, much of the site will be naked, but as we move along, I will add fresh commentary and direct you to new assignments. Consult these pages regularly!
Question. Who is the person depicted in the photo in my heading and why is he here?
NOTE: Please turn off and do not use your technology during class. This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, cell phones, Kindles, video cameras, video games, or other personal digital devices.