Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century

Course No. 8313
Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D.
University of Tennessee
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Course Overview

From the trenches of World War I to Nazi Germany to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the 20th century was a time of unprecedented violence. According to best estimates, in that 100-year span more than 200 million people were killed in world wars, government-sponsored persecutions, and genocides. Such monumental violence seems senseless. But it is not inexplicable. And if we can understand its origins, we may prevent even greater horrors in the century to come.

This is the premise of Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century. Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius traces the violent history of that era, beginning with its early roots in the American and, especially, the French revolutions. With each passing lecture, you will see how the 20th century's violence was the result of specific historical developments that eventually combined, with explosive results.

The Fuse that Made the 20th Century Explode

The French Revolution proved that ideological movements could mobilize the public and, when willing to use violence, could indeed transform society.

The Industrial Revolution and subsequent technology created vastly more powerful weapons—including some that were entirely new, such as the airplane and rocket—that raised the potential for bloodshed to new heights.

Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection was perverted into Social Darwinism and eugenics: racist pseudosciences that provided excuses to repress or eliminate entire groups of people.

These events created a dangerous backdrop for the most sinister development of all. This was the notion that utopia was not just a perfect paradise to look forward to in the afterlife. Instead, utopia could be built right now, in this life.

Such 20th-century ideologies as Marxism, Nazism, Communism, and Fascism embraced this idea willingly—even enthusiastically—and used terror to implement it. These ideologies functioned as political religions, demanding fanaticism, commitment, and sacrifice in return for an ultimate reward in this life rather than the next.

Understanding Totalitarian Governments: Gangsters and Machines

Professor Liulevicius offers an intellectual framework though which to understand the totalitarian governments of the last century or, for that matter, of today. Such governments, and the terror they spread, share key characteristics and strategies.

For example, their leaders can be seen not as politicians but as mobsters, an organized conspiracy that uses criminal methods inspired by gangsters. They gain and maintain power by manipulating masses of people, often exploiting societies with many uprooted and alienated citizens, such as existed in Europe after World War I.

In addition, you will see that these regimes create fear and command allegiance through the use of "machines." These are not literally machines, but bureaucracies that carry out a set of deliberate, interrelated strategies. These include:

  • The cult of the leader, or the cult of personality. These make the dictator seem larger than life, or superhuman. After Italy annexed Ethiopia in 1936, Mussolini's followers declared him to be a new god in human form. In the Soviet Union, long ovations after Stalin's speeches were common, as no one wanted to be seen as the first to stop applauding.
  • The Big Lie, or deliberate distortions of the truth. During the Hundred Flowers Campaign, Mao Zedong seemed to promote free speech, then killed some half million dissidents when they came out in the open.
  • Secret police. An estimated 274,000 people worked with the East German secret police, the Stasi, from 1950 to 1989. When informers were added, this translated into one secret policeman for every 6.5 persons.
  • The media. Radio, film, and television were used to rewrite history and manipulate the masses. The Bolsheviks produced documentary films that made their October Revolution seem much more dramatic and deadly than it was (a common joke was that more people were injured during filming than in the actual event).

The portrait Professor Liulevicius paints is that 20th-century violence, while horrific and massive, was not chaotic or random but deliberate and calculated. Very often, it was based on precedent.

In using concentration camps, Hitler and Stalin essentially adopted a strategy that had first been employed by the Spanish in 1896 in Cuba and by the British against Dutch settlers during the Boer War (1899–1902).

Hitler's plan to exterminate Germany's Jews was inspired by the 1915 genocide of Armenians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, an atrocity barely noticed by the international community. The fact that "no one remembered the Armenians," as Hitler is said to have declared, convinced him that his Final Solution would work.

Lessons Learned: A Hopeful Conclusion

In the final lectures, Professor Liulevicius considers recent figures such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and assesses terrorism in the contemporary world. What is the future of terror? What lessons have been learned by the hard experience of the past century?

These questions hinge on several issues, including our attitudes toward human nature, our ability to remember and learn from past atrocities, and our use of technology. But an especially optimistic note is the notion of resistance. If the 20th century was plagued by repressive regimes, it was also blessed with those who resisted them.

Unlike the story of totalitarianism, which is about the state, the story of resistance is one of individuals who ignored personal risk to oppose violence. These "witnesses to the century," as Professor Liulevicius calls them, include novelists George Orwell and Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, Polish labor leader Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, and political philosopher Hannah Arendt.

Their examples offer a hopeful conclusion.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Defining Utopia and Terror
    The 20th century saw the rise of brutal ideological regimes that promised total solutions. The key elements of such modern regimes are: 1) masses, 2) machines and mechanisms for control, 3) the seizure of the state by mobsters (political criminals), and 4) ideological master plans. x
  • 2
    The Legacy of Revolutions
    Nineteenth-century revolutions set the agenda for the 20th century. The French Revolution ushered in a new mass politics, while the Industrial Revolution created new productive power and confidence in science and progress. Both contributed to "utopian socialism," the point of departure for further revolutions. x
  • 3
    Omens of Conflict
    The 20th century began with optimism, but darker omens also appeared: the growing influence of Marxism, a wave of anarchist terrorism and assassinations, the brutal rule of worldwide imperialism, and premonitions of a coming world war. x
  • 4
    World War I
    World War I brutalized Western civilization through such innovations as poison gas, aerial bombing, and targeting of civilians. x
  • 5
    Total War—Mobilization and Mass Death
    This lecture considers implications of modern industrial war, or "total war," including use of violence against civilians, expansion of strong central states, propaganda as a tool of persuasion, and modern genocide: the massacre of a million Armenians in 1915. x
  • 6
    Total Revolution in Russia
    Total war led to a new kind of political upheaval: total revolution. Led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia in 1917 and began a vast revolutionary experiment. x
  • 7
    War's Aftermath—The Hinge of Violence
    The peace treaty of Versailles set the terms for new conflicts that inevitably arose. The little-known movements of millions of refugees displaced by the war set a dire precedent for subsequent massive "population transfers." x
  • 8
    Communism
    This lecture traces the early outlines of Soviet power: the establishment of the Cheka secret police and the Red Army, the use of propaganda campaigns, the repression of internal dissent, and, after Lenin's death, the emergence of Josef Stalin. x
  • 9
    Stalin
    Josef Stalin, the "Man of Steel," made himself synonymous with the state. This lecture examines obscure beginnings, his rise to power, and the cult of personality deliberately crafted around him. x
  • 10
    Soviet Civilization
    The new society of the U.S.S.R. was self-consciously revolutionary and modern, heralding the construction of a "new man" and "new woman." Foreign visitors enthusiastically hailed what they saw as a vision of the "future that works." x
  • 11
    Fascism
    Coming to power in 1922 through the falsely mythologized "March on Rome," the Fascists brutalized their opponents, prepared to mobilize society in a "total state," and chanted slogans of "Believe, Obey, and Fight." The Fascist style of "Il Duce," Mussolini, was imitated by would-be dictators worldwide. x
  • 12
    The 1930's—The "Low Dishonest Decade"
    The 1930's were marked by deepening worldwide economic crisis, the rejection of liberal ideas, and the ominous revival of imperialist desires. Poet W.H. Auden called it the "low dishonest decade." The Japanese invasion of China foreshadowed World War II, while the Spanish Civil War was its dress rehearsal. x
  • 13
    Nazism
    This lecture surveys the origins of the Nazi movement, its ideological roots, and its rise to power in Germany. All of these were linked to the brutalizing legacies of World War I. x
  • 14
    Hitler
    Adolf Hitler, the man behind the Nazi movement, was indispensable to its success and its growing radicalism. This lecture profiles Hitler and considers the keys to his effectiveness as a dictator, in particular his capability for boundlessly cynical propaganda. x
  • 15
    World War II
    The Second World War was unleashed by Hitler in 1939 with help from Stalin. On all sides, this "perfected" total war resulted in massive civilian casualties, especially in war from the air, culminating in the opening of the atomic age. x
  • 16
    Nazi Genocide and Master Plans
    This lecture considers the Nazis' program of mass murder against the Jews, beginning with escalating persecutions and culminating with extermination camps like Auschwitz. x
  • 17
    The Cold War
    No sooner had World War II ended than a new confrontation emerged: ideological blocs of countries faced off against one another in the Cold War. x
  • 18
    Mao
    After decades of civil war and struggle, Chinese Communists came to power in 1949 under the leadership of Mao Zedong. This lecture examines the society formed by the ideology of "Mao Thought," the "Little Red Book," the uniform dress of "Mao suits," and the cultural break with a rich past forced by the regime. x
  • 19
    Cambodia and Pol Pot's Killing Fields
    In 1975, Cambodian Communist leaders educated in France and led by the mysterious Pol Pot turned their own land into a social experiment. In the three years of their rule, the Khmer Rouge killed some 2 million people, more than 25 percent of Cambodians. x
  • 20
    East Germany, the Soviet Union, North Korea
    During the Cold War, different variants of communist regimes emerged. The German Democratic Republic was considered a success story. In the Soviet Union, the system lurched towards stagnation. North Korea enshrined its militarized isolation from the world in the ideology of "juche" or self-reliance. x
  • 21
    From the Berlin Wall to the Balkans
    As the 20th century neared its end, the spirit of the times sent mixed signals. From 1989 to 1991, Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union fell with astonishing speed. Yet, as Yugoslavia began to crumble, Europe saw a reversion to the crimes that had marked World War II. x
  • 22
    Rwanda
    In 1994, horrific events unfolded in the central African country of Rwanda. The Hutu-dominated government organized the mass murder of the Tutsi minority. In 100 days, 800,000 people were slaughtered; the international community failed to intervene. x
  • 23
    Saddam Hussein's Iraq
    This lecture traces how Hussein established his personal dictatorship in Iraq, modeling himself on long-ago despots and surrounding himself with elite Republican Guards. His eight-year war against Iran resembled World War I in its ferocity. x
  • 24
    The Future of Terror
    Ultimately, what are the lessons of the 20th century's linked experiences of the promise of utopia and the reality of terror? This lecture poses the urgent question of how to be vigilant against the revival of movements such as those surveyed, and examines the growing appeal of Arab radicalism and groups like al-Qa'ida. The question of whether these global trends are likely to continue is of vital importance. x

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Your professor

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

About Your Professor

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D.
University of Tennessee
Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford...
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Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 112.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Probing the Paradox of the 20th Century's Legacy I have been studying the political, economic, and social history of the West during the 19th and 20th centuries for several years now, and I believe this course brilliantly illustrates the puzzle of the opposite poles of these years: idealism, cooperation, and scientific advances on the one hand, and fanaticism, rigid ideology, and mind-boggling destructive evil on the other. Professor Liulevicius, an erudite scholar and a wonderful presenter of material, does a superb job of showing the linkages -- even dependencies -- between these two poles in a sweeping narrative that repeatedly left me shaking my head, both because of the horrors we humans have wrought in the past and because of our continuing stupidities today. One of the things that used to puzzle me most was how so many "average persons" -- people presumably reasonably intelligent and decent -- could become so complicit in the regimes of total terror witnessed in the 20th century. Professor Liulevicius does a very able job of helping us understand the all-encroaching darkness that regimes that demand total loyalty -- enforced by terror as a political instrument -- create. Individuals become swallowed up by societies that are no longer safe anywhere, even in one's own home. The feared "knock on the door at midnight" could be occasioned by something a fellow worker, perhaps a neighbor, even a relative might have passed on to the ever-present authorities. This creates for most a pervasive fear of being perceived as "different" ("different" being almost synonymous with "deviant" for such regimes) so that they try hard to conform to save their own skin (and that of their families). Another factor, though, is our susceptibility to "group think" in which we, however, subtly, begin to allow others to mold our own perceptions and biases. Given that the conditions for the rise of such horrible regimes are well-known -- including the physical and psychological devastation wrought by war, high levels of enduring unemployment, widespread disenchantment with institutions (including churches and government), cynicism towards those in authority and a conviction that "the system" is rigged against the average person -- why are we not more concerned with the gathering storm in Europe and the United States? While the subject matter of this course is certainly grim, its thoughtful presentation -- and its enduring importance for our own time -- makes it a valuable resource that I only wish more would avail themselves of. I have found, by the way, that any course by Dr. Liulevicius for the Teaching Company is guaranteed to be worthwhile.
Date published: 2016-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History's warning is just as valid today This course provides a sobering reminder why we need to study history. The rise of Socialism promised Utopia and delivered dictatorships, death and destruction all through the 20th Century. The lecturer walks the viewer through the rise of a number of socialist movements, their appeal to the masses, their use of terrorism to create social chaos and the rise to power of a dictator and his inner circle. While I was familiar with the individual dictatorships (Nazis, Communists, Pol Pot, etc.), I was unaware of their similarities in their methods and the reasons for their ultimate collapse. What was disturbing was the ability of these socialist groups to play on ethic and racial hatred, effectively use propaganda, to create unrest through social disorder and to cease power even though the historical record clearly showed the failure of these regimes and the tragic outcomes, which were measured in the death of millions of people. This is an excellent course that should be on viewed by all who are interested in history and politics.
Date published: 2015-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Every citizen should know the facts presented here Every citizen should know the facts presented here. Throughout history, there have been genocides. With the advent of modern weapons and communications, these events have gotten much larger and happened much more quickly. If humanity is going to get out of these habits of wickedness, we must first admit that we have a problem, and knowing the information in this course is a first step. Pay especially close attention to the first lecture , or review it again half way through the course. A lot of reviewers did not make the connection with the idea of Utopia and terror in every example given. The speaker outlines the general pattern, and then, (I assume) because he has so much material to cover later speaks in short hand. A second addition might include a quick terror/Utopia checklist to see how each tyrannical regime fits or does not fit.
Date published: 2015-12-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Utopia & Terror The professor tells us that the ideologies were primary... which has some validity since this kind of murder did not happen under monarchies of the past. They had power, so what did they lack that prevented it? There have always been psychopaths in positions of power. Certainly modern mass media and technology contributed with ideology to act out their unsavory fantasies. Perhaps out of fear of political intimidation/corrections - I believe the professor danced around the primary problem and did not directly name it. Since we cannot make "ideologies" nor "mass media" magically disappear, what do we do? Maybe the old monarchies had to contend with the power of their nobility (divided power) and did not have as much power as we imagine. Thus they could not engage in the slaughter of today. I note that all the ideologies were left-wing/socialist/big government ideologies. None of the ideologies mentioned rallied around: free-market capitalism, limited government, individual liberty, the rule of law, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, checks & balances, or division of power. Hmmmm - maybe we are on to something. So it seems to me the problem is concentration of power in government. Had there been divided powers - legislative & judicial branches, state vs. federal separations - to stop / limit the executive/dictator - many of the murders might have been avoided. Had these societies kept the government limited by delineating its responsibilities, limiting its reach, controlling its funding, etc. there may have been a different outcome. But to openly say this is to run smack into the democrat party and the authoritarian left - which has sought to expand and concentrate government power in virtually every policy in the last century. That is why I suggest the professor was worried about openly naming the problem. Have a great day!
Date published: 2015-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I have enjoyed and highly rated other TC courses by Prof. Liulevicius; he is an able historian and a very compelling lecturer. I found his 'Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century' excellent. He dos a masterful job of documenting the original of totalitarian and utopian ideas, starting with a review of key late 18th century and 19th ideological developments, and quickly getting to the era just before WW I. Th full horror of Communism, Fascism, Naziism, and more come across in this course -- and so does the fact that these evil ideologies are essentially the same. The details vary in who are the first targets for suppression and then extermination, but they're all alike in treating human beings like concrete to be poured and molded for some 'utopian' vision of social good, and all are alike in being against human liberty.
Date published: 2015-05-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Title is Misleading & Thesis Flawed Unfortunately, as at least one other reviewer noted, this course is primarily a retelling of certain aspects of 20th Century History well known to most individuals. The professor only vaguely ties the various regimes into his thesis that ideologies are a large part of the terrors of the 20th Century. At times, this is a bit of a stretch-e.g., Rwanda and WWI. Furthermore, his notions are quite naive. The real story is that psychopaths, empowered by mass media and technology, were able to use "ideology" to act out their unsavory fantasies.The professor tries to tell us that the ideologies were primary. In actuality, the ideologies were secnodary and only served as a tool for the political psychopaths to control others (the course clearly shows that the lifestyles of the psychopathic dictators demonstrated that they could not have believed in the ideas they espoused). See the book "Political Ponerology" for a more insightful view of these phenomena. The delivery is excellent, but I cannot recommend this course to anyone unless they are surprisingly unfamiliar with the events described.
Date published: 2015-02-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from bias & selectiveness Totally biased and blinded by an American worldview. Makes fun of the Soviets, Fascists and Nazis while totally ignoring what the English and Americans did (for example: makes fun of Nazi & Soviet using so many acronyms, stating so many times that that is a characteristic of a totalitarian society, and totally ignores the fact that no one uses more acronyms than Americans and today's European Union, which also are totalitarian). His approach to the Balkans is exceptionally questionable - he blames the Serbs for everything (or Milosevic), and it doesn't sound at all like a scholarly presentation but totally like bad propaganda. No historical context is given, no horrible crimes during WWI and WWII against Serbs and Jews and Gypsies are described, and no mention of the Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists coming back to power in 1990/91, who proclaimed their WWII goals of extermination of the Serbs (and who actually started implementing their genocides!), which was what triggered the fear by the Serbs, which, in his turn Milosevic used for his own goals. (He mentions Srebrenica as a Serbian crime, but ignores the fact that over 40 Serb villages were exterminated by the Moslems from that town from 1992 to 1995, which triggered the revenge by some individual Serbian soldiers from that area to kill Moslem soldiers whom they defeated in battle! Or the fact that thousands of the supposedly killed Moslems are still alive and vote in the elections in Bosnia, some even from the US!) Also, no mention of horrible war crimes by Americans and other NATO officials, who totally destroyed Serbia, and installed a narcotics/arms/women trafficking Moslem Fundamentalist "government" in Kosovo in 1999 (as they did it too in Bosnia in 1995!). Also, very strangely, but maybe because of his Baltic background, the professor doesn't mention the horrors committed by the Baltic nations against the Jews in WWII, while he dwells on the crimes committed by the Germans at that time. Everything he says is so selective and carefully orchestrated to make the US system look superior and the only "rational" choice, in spite of the destruction the liberal system has caused everywhere after the fall of the Soviets, including the US and Western Europe. Liberalism is only another system that brought terror and destruction to the world, while it presented itself as a utopia, buying the dream of a better life while the Soviet Union existed, and then reducing the laboring classes to indebted slaves, as we are witnessing it in the US, not to mention Greece, Spain, Portugal, or the peoples of the so-called 3rd world.
Date published: 2015-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Should be a mandatory course for every citizen! This course powerfully recounts and clearly explains the murderous regimes in recent times led by sadistic, narcissistic psychopaths that have condemned hundreds of millions of human beings to death, starvation, privation, prison camps, slave labor, constant surveillance, secret spying, and hideous living conditions. The picture isn't pretty but it's one we avoid looking at and examining at our own peril. Professor Liulivicious makes us realize how incredibly fortunate we are to live in a democratic society such as ours and at the same time how susceptible our society might be to a radical change for the worse. He shows how ruthless individuals and small dangerous groups have maneuvered their way into gaining control of societies and how they systematically set about annihilating the rights of their citizens. The statistics he presents on the number who died under such regimes is truly staggering. His course is a wake up call to all of those who cherish life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is a must for those who want to face the future in a sober, savvy, vigilant manner and understand the horrors that can easily engulf a society, a region and even the world. A simply brilliant and gripping series of lectures that every citizen should heed and take to heart.
Date published: 2014-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent in every way This course is going to take you on quite a journey, and you will never look at the 20th century in the same way. Professor has great breadth of knowledge. In a world where terrorist groups continue to spring up this course gives some very valuable perspective. He's obviously deeply involved in what he talks about. I wished only that he might have gone back to Machiavelli, whose question of whether it is better for a ruler to be loved or feared, set the stage for a lot of what followed. The references to Hannah Arendt were very illuminating and led to a reading of her Origins of Totalitarianism. I just wish he would devote a whole course to her!
Date published: 2014-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent treatment of a fascinating subject Professor Liulevicius is a terrific presenter (animated, clear, with a beautifully organized structure for each lecture). The subject matter is important and truly fascinating. He doesn't waste a word, so each 30-minute talk is a very satisfying experience. I bought the CD version, and found having audio only to be no problem.
Date published: 2014-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Topic, Required for all Millennials I am a millennial and this course frightened me; not because of the instructor, but because I didn't receive this education in High School or College. Young people are easy to influence since we have undirected passions, lacking in facts and experience, and many times, we don't know what we are fighting for, as long as it feels good emotionally. I was taught that America was built on the philosophy "the ends justifies the means" - therefore, if massive amounts of innocent deaths are needed for an ideal cause, we must move forward anyway. (My English teacher was an extreme liberal). With this course, I learned it is not Capitalism, but rather, Communism that lives by that mantra - and it can be proven with the millions of hungry, imprisoned, and the murdered around the world that's fallen prey by the horrors of Marxism. How dare the old, silver-pony tailed hippies lie to us? Communism isn't forgivable, as many leaders would like you to believe. This course opened my eyes to our historical past. To be able to think on ones own because of an understanding of facts and history, rather than draw from an emotional herd-like mentality set forth by a "liberated" teacher, is both freeing and scary. It scares me just how much history repeats itself and how many unstudied Utopian believers continue to attempt to beat a dead horse, after dead ideas have proven to be false - with horrendous consequences. This wasn't a light course, there were many days when I felt very bad, sick even, but, if you want an unbiased course to understand man's historic past in attempt to bring perfection on earth, you will understand why Utopia means, "No Place." I no longer feel like emotion is my guiding principle when understanding politics, but instead, I'm able to have a better read for extreme agendas and manipulating policies pushing us "forward" to..."no place" at all. Please, if you are a millennial, this is a must listen-to course, for our fragile country depends on us not to repeat history's bloody past. Listening to this course has made me fall in love with America again. There's a lot of anti-American sentiment on our own soil these days, and as a millennial, we don't know who to trust. The true America is the land of the Self-Made man, not a Government made man, opposed to Marxism. America believes greatness comes from the self, a Marxist imagines greatness comes from the government, which he invented himself, which is the absolute truth to him (egotists love this idea). Secondly, I learned centralization of food and wiping out the family farm isn't a capitalist idea, it's a Marxist one. Two examples: look at the result of the centralization of Russia's food supply - there were unfair murders of the "wealthy" farmers for the sake of "equality." Similarly, in the midwest, such as Iowa, the "leftist" government makes it economically impossible for farmers to give their land to their children, but government laws benefit companies like Monsanto. (While the leftist hippies pretend to be anti-Monsanto). A centralized food chain is becoming prominent in America not because of capitalism, but because of dangerous leftist ideals that have proven to fail over and over again - because these "big companies" are actually in bed with the government. Instead, if you want the artisan, the artist, the individual to thrive, support those who support the artisan, the entrepreneur, not those that support leftist, centralized greed. I learned we can be good people without intense Utopian visions. Beware of those who try to blind you with false Utopian beliefs - most likely, it is they, who are on the quest for ultimate power and will go by any means to get it. This is excellent, well researched material. It would even fare well for other instructors on the GC to take this course....
Date published: 2014-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Done Professor Liulevicius speaks clearly and delivery is from the podium. Although, in general, he is not dependent on notes, in some sections, he glances at them more frequently. However, it does not interrupt a smooth delivery. Except for quotations and statistics, it seems to be more of a habit than need. There are no quirks to detract from an excellent presentation. I have the DVD version but the limited graphics are relatively unessential so feel an audio version would work well. There is very little utopia in this course but a large amount of terror. Although both concepts have been around since the beginning of history, the professor examines the 20th century due to the scale of the death and destruction. The general scenario is this: A utopian society is envisioned by an individual or group and they attain the political and/or military means to attempt to implement it. Since their version of utopia is by no means universally accepted, there is resistance. An “end justifies the means” approach evolves and the result is terror, war, death, and destruction. Utopia becomes little more than a concept but the terror is very real. The professor shows how this reality plays out over and over again. The course covers the 20th century wars, purges, genocides, and other violent causes and provides a history of the ideologies and perpetrators involved. The coverage is quite thorough for a 24 lecture course. The terror is still with us. Islamic terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, are now dedicated to implementing their version of a religious utopia. This course does not provide us with a solution to the scourge of terrorism. It does, however, help us to understand the potential consequences of it being allowed to continue unchecked. In the final lesson, the professor offers his thoughts on lessons learned and what the future may hold. Vigilance, recognition, and resistance are recognized as essential in the defeat of terrorism. I recommend this course as one which provides insight into that understanding…and also as one that provides an in depth-study of a tragic history that is rarely scrutinized in its entirety. The course guide is excellent in its detail.
Date published: 2013-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The History of Brutal Totalitarian Regimes This course begins with the French Revolution (for background information) then moves to communism and the USSR. It then charts the rise and fall of fascist Germany and Italy. Next, it looks at communist China and Cambodia and ends with Iraq. The lectures focus as much on the leaders of these different movements or nations, as it does the states themselves. It is a brief account of the greatest horrors of the 20th century. The lectures were very informative and interesting. There are consistent themes emphasized throughout the course that helped tie all of the lectures together, as evil powers will use the same tactics and big lies to subjugate their citizens. This course should be required listening for all adults world wide. The 20th century showed that a person was much more likely to be killed by their own government, than a foreign power. When states seek to rid people of their individuality and their family ties it can then use them as parts of a machine to further the regime's end. This thinking then justifies the slaughter of millions in the name of progress for the state. This tragedy will hopefully not be repeated in the 21st century and this course could be the means of educating individuals so they will safe guard their freedoms and their families. I would recommend the book "Communism a History" for anyone who wants more information on this topic.
Date published: 2013-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too Many Highs and Lows One thing I will say about Professor Liulevisius is that the content of his courses are very good. I took his WWI course and enjoyed it immensely. The challenge I have with the professor is his roller coaster of emotions and inconsistency. There are times when he gets so involved in what he's saying that he either loses his thought or loses his place, or both. Fortunately for me, I had ordered his course, as well as Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle Over Democracy, plus Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age and went through them in a row. That was a WOW!!! You get three similar and different perspectives on many of the same topics. Well worth the trip!!"
Date published: 2013-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done. A history that needs to be known. VERY informative course. Goes in depth to the rise and fall of different utopian views. I watch the lessons more than once to try to thoroughly absorb the content. A good lesson about the power of propaganda. People can be swayed so easily. People should know this.
Date published: 2013-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hideously insightful The course fully exposes the dark underside of the 20th century's history and it couldn't be any more compelling.
Date published: 2013-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Warrants Extraordinary Praise In one lecture in this course, I learned more about the truth of why the German people were swayed and came under the spell of Hitler than I have in four decades of exposure to the Hitler-mill of countless documentaries, movies, books and other mainstream media tripe that is more a means to a living for it's producers than source of answers on the how and why of Hitler's Germany. The above is testimony to the value of scholarship but it is more - in my limited exposure to Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius he impresses me as a truth-teller, a status only obtained in scholarship when one is able to grapple with the facts as they are, devoid of agenda. Although I have a high regard for the scholarship of most of the professors I've been exposed to through The Great Courses (I always vet the professors first, before I buy a course, as should you), the majority have some manner of agenda (typically, an anti-Christian agenda) that colors their scholarship and compromises it. It is impossible to get at the truth when one lives in hostility to the greatest Truth of all. That does not mean I know, or am even concerned, that Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is a Christian. What I am saying is that he seems to possess that certain clarity of vision and understanding, unclouded by "agenda" that allows a truth-seeker to go where few, if any men, have trod before. If there is any subject-material where an absence of an agenda is necessary to get at the truth, it is in the material covered by this course - understanding the machinations of those who would drag the world into utopia by whatever means necessary, not matter the price in human suffering. Probably half or more of all the scholars in the West share in the still thriving political agenda to bring about utopia - fossil fuels must be banned, we must reject saturated fat and salt in our diets, we must be politically correct in speech and conduct, conservatives must be demonized and marginalized in the political realm, and so on. If you, the consumer considering this course, wants to equip yourself against becoming an unwitting tool of the propagandizers who seek to control and manipulate you even now in the quest of the next great human tragedy inspired by devotion to "utopia", then this is the course for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer to remain a sheep, steer well clear.
Date published: 2013-07-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting and Thought Provoking! Very eloquent and knowledgable professor. The course content was a little light in some areas as the professor had much to present. I would have liked to see Vietnam conflict reviewed. His review of Stalin was very strong. Overall very much enjoyed and definitely worth the investment of time and money. As with all the other Great Course lectures I have purchased (75), I am better because of it!
Date published: 2013-07-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very uncomfortable visceral reaction This course was hard to stomach. Professor Liulencius discussed human barbarity, inhumanity, terror and violence. Although I am very familiar with Fascism, Communism, and totalitarian regimes, it was still difficult to hear again and again about the terror used to control, exploit and ultimately destroy innocent people. Although some of the passing comments about resistance were inspiring, there were few revealed in this course. I did not give it a five because very little was spoken of the victims of these regimes. So often, history only discusses the "victor." I expected more about the devastating psychological impact on the survivors and the multi-generational pain endured forever in terrorized peoples. Why does history have to continue to repeat itself? Are we that flawed?
Date published: 2013-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Rather overview of history than analysis Very well put together overview of XX century totalitarian regimes. It is informative as such, but I expected more of an analysis in psychological/sociological framework.
Date published: 2013-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent. I liked this course even better than "War, Peace, and Power...." Like others, I wondered a bit at the "Utopia" part of the title, but by the time I finished the audio course (in less than a week of driving) and reflected on it, I came to believe that there is a common, early thread of a "search for a Utopia" in most of the governments/political movements detailed by Prof. Liulevicius. (Its hard to say that about Rwanda, however.) As these despotic regimes and rulers matured, it also seemed clear to me that their search for Utopia was abandoned in favor of a desire on the part of despots to hang on to their power. A feature that seemed to be in all of the regimes of terror (in addition to the paranoia of their leaders) was that of the identification of a scapegoat group to blame any troubles on, and in many cases those groups (Jews, Tutsis, intellectuals {sometimes identified by the fact that they wore glasses}, landowners, the "rich") were accused of "not doing their fair share" and were stripped of their legal and human rights, frequently to the point of being "re-educated," banished to the Gulag, or executed. The lucky ones were those who were exiled to other countries. Peoples without a Constitution to protect them from their governments and without a tradition of following a rule of law are always at the mercy of those governments. This course lays out just how little mercy is to be had from them. Cambodians were "hopeful" that their lives would get better after the Khmer Rouge took over, even as their government murdered at least 2 million out of a population of 7 million, in four short years. Sixty percent of the Cambodian population were forcibly removed from their homes as part of this purge, mostly city folk relocated to the rural countryside. I found myself nodding "yes" as I listened; that is, much of it wasn't new to me. However, much of it was; strangely enough, most of that was in the more recent eras (if I can call "since 1970" recent). The details of the Cambodian and Rwandan atrocities were among those. I probably wasn't paying enough attention at the time, but this course is also a de facto condemnation of our free press, as it details facts that were never reported at the time, or were even suppressed by news organizations in order to continue to maintain access to the despots in power. Hearing a bit about "The Big Lie" was welcome. I see it even today in the United States, and the concept can only succeed when the press is a willing accomplice. It skewers the United Nations, as well, without overtly saying so. The massacre of about 800,000 Tutsis (within about 100 days) at the hands of the Hutus was a government planned and directed event of "ethnic cleansing," carried out as the UN and the rest of the world watched, even though it directly violated the UN charter. "While the killings were taking place, diplomats in the United Nations and in the United States deliberately avoided calling the events genocide, because doing so would obligate them to take action." As we are witnessing in Syria today, for example, when everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible. The course takes no positions left or right, so don't be put off by my description of the unaviodable implication of the facts it includes. Among the lectures, I found #8 and #9, Communism and Stalin, to be particularly hard-hitting and informative. In fact, the series covering communism in general, #6 through #10, and #20, was perhaps my favorite part. I listened to the Soviet Union segment of #20 with a 23-year-old immigrant from Moldova, and was surprised to hear his assessment of Gorbachev--"He is hated in Moldova." Why? "Because he allowed the destruction of the Soviet Union." He told me that Moldova was a very prosperous satellite country, and the quality of life there now is not as good as it was before the break up of the Soviet Union. Of course, he can't personally remember life in the Soviet Union. (He's been accepted into the US Army.) Prof. L. told the story of visiting a Russian store (perhaps in the 80's) and seeing only large jugs of vinegar for sale on the shelves. He was puzzled by that. I wanted to jump through the speaker to tell him, "That's because NOBODY WANTED IT." Everything else was in scarce supply, but there was more than enough vinegar to meet the demand. Still, it's a good story of the economic dislocation resulting from central planning. There were also interesting information about Ho Chi Minh and Mao that may not be widely known. And I wasn't aware that East German Olympic athletes were all the beneficiaries and the victims of drug-enhanced performances. Even some of them weren't aware they were being given steroids, etc. If the course is ever updated, I'd suggest more about North Korea (and something about its latest "Kim") and other Middle East autocracies and the terrorism of the Taliban, if the information can be dug up. I almost downgraded the Prof. a little for his delivery. For me, it wasn't perfect, but it didn't distract from the course at all. Then I remembered the other 23-year-old college student who listened to several lectures with me. His comment: "That is a great lecturer." Finally, I'm now intrigued by the many references to the writings of Hannah Arendt. Now on to World War I: The "Great War."
Date published: 2013-02-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not What I Was Expecting This is pretty good as it stands, but it is not at all what I had hoped for. While I was seeking a comprehensive examination of the psychological underpinnings of utopianism and terrorism, what I ended up with was a historical review of utopian and terrorist states in the 20th century. I would have much preferred foregoing much of the history of terrorism and delving deeper into how terrorism is used in order to control entire nations and to get "average people" to play a willing role in the commission of atrocities. If you are looking for a historical overview of 20th century terrorist states then, this course will fit the bill. But if you are seeking to understand how terrorist regimes manipulate the psychology of the individual and, indeed, entire nations, this course won't do it for you.
Date published: 2013-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Recommended with reservations DVD review: I first encountered Dr Liulevicius in his course on World War One, when he came through with flying colours; a young, energised, bright, highly-gifted teacher. I'm not sure why "Utopia" is included in the title of this series, for there is no related content other than oblique references of the movements' Edens promised to their adherents but never delivered, the connection or link between "Utopia" and "Terror" was not established. There's an introductory lecture, followed by a background lecture dealing with the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment (emphasis on the French Revolution): I felt the first two lectures were largely unnecessary, given the title of the course. I was irritated, itching to get into the meat of the course, into the 20th century. The 3rd lecture STILL didn't get to the subject matter! More background stuff. At this point I was approaching exasperation, but decided to stay with it. Lectures 4 and 5 dealt with World War One and its implications, so we were on topic finally and my patience was rewarded. There's an impressive amount of information and detail in this course, and for this reason it has to be rated up for content, though I found much of the narrative very dry and monotone ~ even the professor's clothing was very drab. I'm afraid Dr Liulevicius was not at his best in this series of lectures; the presentation picked up considerably with the talks on Nazism, Hitler, Communism and WW2. Overall, I feel the course would have benefitted substantially from better planning, with only one lecture for intro & background, and the presenter should have been more enervated, more expressive, more inspiring. Also, there should have been MANY more pictures & other graphics (maybe movie clips too) in the DVD version. My positive recommendation is on the basis that you buy while it's on sale as I did. Note that the course dates from 2003, heading for ten years, so a new version would be wise.
Date published: 2012-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course has it all! I think that this professor is my favorite one out of all the speakers who provide lectures to this site. He is dynamic, excited, educated, and even humorous at times. He has kept me company for hours on long period of travel for the Army. This course, when paired with Professor Liulevicius' course on espionage, provides a concise and interesting history of ideologically focused governmental regimes, and how terror results from them both from an overt and from a clandestine perspective. Countries still very much work this way. This course serves primarily as a history of the overt acts of brutality that these regimes have impressed upon their peoples. If you like history, and value for your dollar, then I would buy this course along with the espionage one. I did that, and it was hours upon hours of great material. I participated in the Kosovo campaign, and I learned more about Mr. Milosevic here in these lessons than I did from what I did overseas. Additionally, if you purchased Professor Childers' course on Hitler's Empire previously, then this course does echo some of the material covered in his lectures, without making it seem repetitious. It served as a nice refresher, and made me want to listen to those lectures again as well. It's tough to say if this course or the one on espionage is better. It's best to buy them both, and to listen to them one after another. Terror and Utopia would be my choice for which one to listen to first.
Date published: 2012-11-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Duplication Audio CD. Dr. Liulevicius takes relevant material and presents it in a very interesting manner. Why then am I disappointed? Dr. Liulevicius takes as his source material totalitarian governments of the past century or so. This includes the World War I monarchies, Communism, Nazism, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Iraq. He considers material across the span of time and from various cultures drawing common lessons from them all. He points out things of which we must be aware in order to avoid the terror of totalitarianism. I guess my slight disappointment is due to the relative lack of new material. There is much overlap between this course and others, including those by Dr. Liulevicius himself. This course is good, but not new.
Date published: 2012-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A History of Terror Since 1900 In my humble opinion, the title above would have been more appropriate for this course. Although the professor talked about the concept of Utopia some, most of his discussions concerned the use of terriorism since 1900. The word, "Utopia," was used at the beginning of the course, but very little after that. Here are my observations about this course: 1) Unless one really wants to just 'sit' and watch the lectures, consider getting the audio version. The horror and shock of the grim crimes, and statistics, come through crystal-clear. 2) Dr. Liulevicius has a great voice for lecturing, and is a great communicator. He presents his material clearly, and it is usually easy to follow. I found that the speed that he used was great, as it allowed time to reflect on the ideas or concepts that he was discussing. 3) The material itself is interesting, and, at times, also quite shocking. Part of the shock factor is due to the presentation, but most of it is due to the horiffic nature of these crimes themselves. I found the lectures on the early part of the 20th century a little more to my liking, than later lectures. For example, I did enjoy the lectures on Cambodia, and Rwanda, and Saddam Hussein, but found it harder to concentrate on these. I did learn much about these incidents that I did not know before, but maybe, since these events are so recent, i don't yet have all the information to put these events into proper historical context. 4) I would have liked to have heard more about some of our recent trouble-spots. (i.e. China, North Korea, etc.) And, since the Eastern Europen events form 1989 to 1991 were so formative, it would have been nice to have more than just one lecture on this. As I was viewing the recent Olympic games, I realized how much change has been seen in the representative nations, from that part of the world. The professor does mention that, for quite some time, the athletes from the former East Germany, had large muscles, as if they were being medicated to help achieve the honor of their nation. (No matter what measures were required to get to this point.) 5) Dr. Liulevicius seems to be much stronger in the World War I, Soviet Union formation, and Nazi/World War II presentations. Although his knowledge is amazing throughout the course, he especially shines in these areas. In summary, if one is looking to get a new perspective on the horrible crimes against humanity, that intensified starting around 1900, this is a good place to look. But, it should be remembered, that the listener will bring their own prejudices, biases, and pre-conceptions to the course. On the other hand, these will help serve as the lens through which one will view the unfolding ideas. Other reviewers here have well-stated this fact. I really enjoyed the Guidebook. It is in the older (and better) outline format. I dislike very much the 'newer 'TTC guidebooks that just have paragraphs and paraphrases of information. It is very easy to pick up this guidebook, and know exactly what to to expect to hear, from the lecture. I look forward to hearing about this course being updated, in light of the capture of bin Laden and other related, still unfolding, events.
Date published: 2012-08-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tyrants of the 20th Century I wish Professor Liulevicius would have titled this course, "Tyrants of the 20th Century." I believe I would have been more favorably inclined to it if he had done so. The professor did a very good job of laying out the story of the rise, the destructive leadership, and the fall of these monsters and their cronies who dotted the earth in the wake of World War I. Indeed, some of his accounts, especially those of Cambodia and Rwanda, were compelling and actually chilling. But the course falls woefully short in linking utopia and terror. After a perfunctory discussion of the idea of utopia, and then with the possible exception of Marx's influence on the early course of Communism in Russia, the professor seldom delved into the idea for most of the rest of the course. Did these tyrants promise good things on their path to power? Yes. Was the false and alluring promise of the hopes of human-created ideals popular and widespread after the deconstruction of the religious and moral order of the 19th century? Yes. But it's unclear to me that these tyrants and dictators truly relied on, or much benefited from, classical (or any other real) notions of utopia, other than perhaps to hide their awful true motives behind a facade on their way to power. In fact, the deepest flaw in the course is the professor's failure to teach deeply enough in these stories and explain more profoundly how the tyrants actually won over or wore wore down other institutional forces to achieve such total power. He did passably with Hitler, but, in most cases, he nibbled around the edges, raised some possible explanations here and there and in the concluding lecture, but he never really satisfied on this score. Sadly, he does little better at showing convincingly how the tyrants were ultimately, and usually quickly, defeated. Finally, I find it disappointing that some of the most interesting and certainly most relevant brands of terrorism in our own time only get 15 minutes of attention in the next to last lecture. In a future course, I hope Professor Liulevicius will dispense with a few of the lectures on World War I and instead round out his portrayal of 20th century terror with the birth and spread of the terror movement's most recent "siblings" in the century's last years. But for his solid work in providing fine broad accounts of the significant tyrannies of the century, I'm afraid I would give the course only an average grade.
Date published: 2012-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth Listening To! The most amazing thing I learned from this course was that it is estimated that 38 million people perished in wars in the 20th century, but 169 million were murdered by their own governments! The course outlines the political movements that lead to genocide. It is always a warning worth heeding! The professor had an even tone and it was easy to attend to his lectures while driving. Much has been made in the review on his analysis of Iraq. Although I really want our troops to come home, I think that Professor Liulevicius provided some compelling reasons for the invasion of Iraq that I had not heard in the media. Overall, the professor made me realize the danger inherent in certain political movements that I hadn't fully appreciated, living in the comfort of the United States.
Date published: 2011-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Highly recommended. This is a very good historical and sociological overview of political and government-sponsored terror in the last century. A timely and relevant subject in a well organized production. Very high production quality in the audio version.
Date published: 2011-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Course The professor does a great job delivering on this tough topic. Many important lessons and warnings to humanity.
Date published: 2011-08-18
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