The Twentieth Century was a century of pure Hell — two world wars; countless civil wars; revolutions; falling empires; economic depression; fascist and communist dictatorships; foreign invasions; mass genocide; nuclear meltdowns; racist xenophobia; populist hysteria; assassinations; class violence; entrenched poverty; terrorism; torture; and environmental devastation.  It’s amazing our world has survived this mess!

I’m sorry to say that my generation has passed many of these problems down to your generation.   (Sorry about that).   For this reason, I have added “And Beyond . . .” to the title of this course.

I define the Twentieth Century as the period between the outbreak of World War I on July 28, 1914 and the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001.  We will explore this troubled century of Hell by focusing on four themes:

  • The experience of Hell
  • The causes of Hell
  • The consequences of Hell, and finally
  • The obligation to act on Hell

To address these themes, we will turn to ten widely-recognized images of Hell.  These are World War I; the Holocaust; existentialist Angst; tyranny and madness; totalitarianism; technological dystopia; moral bankruptcy; poverty; torture; and the destruction of our natural environment.

However, by the end of the semester, you will see that this course is about much more than than a century you barely experienced.  It is about today:  your lives and the billions more in a world as unstable as the events leading up to the first and second world wars and the Cold War.  I wouldn’t give this course if it were simply about the past.

I have four goals for this seminar.  We will pursue them both simultaneously and consecutively.

  • 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. It is crucial that we agree about this concepts in a country where the definition of a “fact,” the scientific method, and common standards or decency and moral behavior are under assault.
  • To develop your reading, writing, and speaking skills.
  • Above all, I want to teach you how to persuade.  I  believe all Notre Dame students should become leaders.  Leadership is all about persuasion.

I have designed this seminar to be demanding.  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 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 old world.

Throughout our seminar, I will modify our schedule and assignments on a regular basis.  I will add some things and delete others.  You never know what surprises you will find on this syllabus.  Thus, you are responsible for consulting these pages routinely throughout the semester.


NOTE:  Please leave your technology at home.  This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, I-phones, Kindles, video cameras, video games, or other personal digital devices.
Above all, this is a no-tweet zone.  Some things are just not dignified!