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Dreaming of Communism

Welcome to the Dream!

This seminar is about the dream of Communism.  For over a century-and-a-half, from the 1840s to the 1990s, this 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.  But this fact does not diminish in any respect its significance in modern history.

  • What was the dream?
  • Why did people believe in it?
  • Where did it go wrong?
  • How did it survive for so long?
  • Was it just a dream?

This seminar is also about politics.  The study of politics is about nothing more than the examination of three interlocking elements:  ideas, institutions, and incentives.  Every political system is based upon these features.  Whether we are talking about the U.S. Congress, the Chinese Communist Party, the Vatican, the Boy Scouts of America, or the University of Notre Dame du lac, these 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?

Finally, this seminar is about belief, specifically your beliefs.  Let’s face it, 20 years from now, you may have forgotten the content of this seminar.  You may be uninterested in politics, aside from an occasional adventure in the ballot booth.  But your beliefs about what counts in life and about how best to implement them will constitute an essential part of your existence.

  • What do I believe?
  • How do I propose to act on my beliefs?

My goals

I have three goals for this seminar. We will pursue them simultaneously in each class.

  • To introduce you to a fascinating period in the history and politics of the modern world
  • To familiarize you with four key concepts in the study of politics and society—description, explanation, analysis, and prescription
  • To develop your reading, writing, and speaking skills.  Above all, I shall seek to teach you how to persuade.  Notre Dame students are called to leadership.  Leadership is nothing more than the art of persuasion.

This is a demanding seminar in terms of your time and your demands of yourself.  To avoid being left behind, you must keep up with all of 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.  That would be soooo 1990s.

As you will see by perusing these pages,  I have deliberately designed this syllabus to be open to modification.  I will develop the daily topics, assignments, and deadlines for this seminar as we move through the course.  This approach provides the flexibility I desire to address topics fully and to adjust our activities according to your progress.  For this reason, you must consult these pages regularly.


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.