I have three goals in this seminar. First, I want to expose you to one of the most fascinating political movements of modern times: Communism. Second, I hope to use this episode in human history to challenge you to think in new ways about the study of politics. Finally, I aspire to leave you with some ideas about the human condition that will provoke you for many years to come.
The Communist Dream
For over a century, the Communist Dream fueled one of the most powerful and, yes, successful political movements of modern times. At its height, the communist movement was the principal challenger to liberal democracy. The regimes that embraced it transformed their societies in ways that appeared to advance the well-being of millions of people. But as we know, there was a huge cost to this experiment. Communist true-believers committed acts of inhumanity that violated their movement’s founding principles. Today, the dream of communism is mostly over.
The demise of the Communist Dream does not in any respect diminish 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?
Lessons for the Study of Politics
The study of politics is about nothing more than the examination of conflicts over three interlocking features of human existence: Ideas, Rules, 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?
- Rules: What rules are required to realize this idea?
- Incentives: How do rulers get what they want?
Why should we care?
The way we determine the importance of any topic is to ask whether it provides us with insight into our condition as human beings. If it does, why study it?
This seminar should challenge you to demystify the Communist Dream and see it as part of a continuing human struggle to realize the good life. By the end of this course, I hope to have challenged you to identify what you believe and decide how to act on your beliefs.
My Expectations. Please 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. At the beginning, much of the site will be “naked.” But as we move forward, I will direct you to new assignments and add fresh commentary. Please consult these pages regularly!
NOTE: Please turn off and do not use your technology during class.