Required Reading: 'Ideological Experiments of the 20th Century'
Required Reading
Jun 26, 2024

Required Reading: 'Ideological Experiments of the 20th Century'

Rousseau, Dostoevsky, Marx, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Leszek Kolakowski top the reading list.

Maggie Kelly
Maggie Kelly
University of Austin

Our core course sequence, Intellectual Foundations, consists of 15 required seminar classes guiding students in modeling and solving problems, identifying the necessary conditions of human flourishing, and critically understanding modern society and Western civilization. 

This week, we’re introducing the syllabus for the required Intellectual Foundations course “Ideological Experiments of the 20th Century,” launches in Fall 2024. 

What does ideological tyranny do to the bodies and characters of individual human beings?

What are the presuppositions of ideological experimentation?

What are its effects on thought, art, politics, religion, and the economy? 

This course is an examination of the philosophical roots and practical consequences of ideological tyranny in the 20th century, particularly Nazism and Soviet Communism. 

Required Texts:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Second Discourse (Hackett)

Alain Besançon, A Century of Horrors (Intercollegiate Studies Institute)

Martin Amis, Koba The Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (Vintage)

Aristotle, Politics 1.2

Genesis 11:1-9; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Grand Inquisitor” 

Karl Marx, Capital, chapter 1 (sections 1 and 4), Chapter 10 (sections 1-4); “Alienated Labor”; The German Ideology (selections); “The Communist Manifesto”; “On the Jewish Question,” Part II.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The History of Our Sewage Disposal System”and “The Bluecaps,” from The Gulag Archipelago

Francois Furet, “The Revolutionary Passion”

Gary Saul Morson, “Leninthink”

Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus, Introduction and ch. 1

Frank Dikotter, “Mao Cult”

Leszek Kolakowski, “The Marxist Roots of Stalinism.”

Varlam Shalamov, Kolyma Tales (selections)

Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows, ch. 14

Robert Cook, “Walpurgis Week in the Soviet Union,” The Scientific Monthly, 1949, pgs. 367-372.

Czesław Miłosz, The Captive Mind, ch. 1

Course Outcomes and Objectives:

Achieve a critical understanding of the philosophical roots and practical consequences of ideological tyranny in the 20th century

Students will be able to:

  • Understand how Communists and Nazis used thinkers like Rousseau and Nietzsche to justify their practical programs
  • Identify the effects of ideological tyranny on individuals and societies
  • Explain the continuing attraction of Marxism as compared to Nazism

Reflections: Once each week, students will select a passage or a line of argument from the day’s reading that grabs their interest and unpack it in roughly 300-500 words. Some questions students might ponder: What is noteworthy, strange, or surprising about the passage they’ve chosen? How does it illuminate or connect with other parts of the text? What questions or issues worthy of discussion in class are prompted by the passage?  These assignments will help students read carefully and think deeply about the text.  

Electronics: Students may not use laptops, iPads, cellphones, or any other electronic devices during class.

Read more about Intellectual Foundations.

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