Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century

Length: 12 hrs and 30 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.6 out of 5 stars (335 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the trenches of World War I to Nazi Germany to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the 20th century was a time of unprecedented violence. Yet while such monumental violence seems senseless, it is not inexplicable. If we can understand the origins of violence, we may prevent even greater horrors in the century to come.

These 24 necessary lectures trace the violent history of the 20th century, 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.

You'll see how

  • the French Revolution proved that ideological movements could mobilize the public and, through violence, transform society;
  • the Industrial Revolution and subsequent technology created vastly more powerful weapons; and
  • Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection was perverted into Social Darwinism and eugenics.

The most sinister development of all, however, 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.

You'll see how leaders of totalitarian governments act as mobsters, and how regimes create fear and command allegiance through the use of bureaucratic "machines," such as the cult of the leader, secret police, and the media. In the final lectures, Professor Liulevicius considers recent figures such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and assesses terrorism in the contemporary world.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2003 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2003 The Great Courses

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A Great Lecture Series

Where does Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

The thread that haunted my understanding of modern history is why so many utopian dreams degenerate into mass murder, aggressive suppression of human rights and war.. At last, here is a rational and well documented explanation that gets away from the petty details in individual events that weighs down the usual histories. Utopian-ism is bound to fail because its components (unreasonable promises, the making of opposition illegal and inevitable terror) at always seen as necessary and used to justify all forms of crime. This should be heard by everyone.

14 people found this helpful

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One of my favorites from the Great Courses series

I thoroughly enjoyed this lecture. It is easy to tend to listen to history from the middle ages or ancient history and forget about recent history. This lecture probably does more to help you understand the world we are currently living in than any other out there. You can't understand the present if you don't have a solid foundation of historical context to build upon. It is akin to walking into a movie that is near the end and attempting to figure out what is going on. I was never bored. This is one of the few audio books that I fully intend on listening to for a second time.

8 people found this helpful

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Informative

Professor is well spoken and unbiased. Good overview of communism, Islamist and nazism. Would recommend.

6 people found this helpful

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The dangers of political extremism

I decided to get this course after having listened to Professor Liulevicius' excellent 'World War I: The Great War'. The two courses somewhat overlap, as Communism and Fascism were both incubated around the time of WWI. But 'Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century' covers a whole lot of other material. I was hoping to learn more about the differences between Communism and Fascism, the two totalitarian ideologies that fought each other during World War II. Fascism has some socialism in its DNA. After all, Mussolini, the original Fascist, was initially a prominent socialist who joined and was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party. Later, he gave up on class conflict and focused on revolutionary nationalism. Hitler's Fascism was inspired by Mussolini. The Nazi (National Socialist) Party, which so passionately opposed Communism, initially combined elements of nationalism with socialism. In 1934, during the "Night of Long Knives", Hitler purged the party of its leftist elements. I was hoping that this course would contrast the political "left" and "right" and explain how their respective economic machineries worked, and I feel that this is what's missing. I understand that in Communist revolutions, wealthy businessmen are usually eliminated, while in Fascist regimes, they remain close to the absolute power of the political leadership and are able to take care of their interests (just as long as they are considered racially adequate and are willing to serve the Party). Communism abolishes private property while Fascism supports it. Unfortunately, very little is said in these lectures about these economic and social aspects, which I find disappointing. That's not to say that the course isn't engaging. Like the title suggests, it studies the Utopian ideologies of the 20th Century, which promised a better tomorrow but brought so much destruction. Prof. Liulevicius explains the essence of Marxist philosophy (19th Century), but takes us back in time even further, to the idealism of the 18th Century, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Enlightenment, the American Revolution and the systemic violence of the French Revolution. Maximilien Robespierre, one of its leading figures, believed that terror was necessary during the early stages of change. The idea was that eventually, terror would no longer be needed to support virtue, but it was seen as fundamental in the beginning. The professor explains how brutal, merciless intimidation and oppression play a key role in the rise of ideologies with a "mobster mentality": not only Fascism and Communism (in Europe, China, Cambodia and North Korea, specifically), but also Islamist terrorism and various forms of ethnic cleansing (in Armenia under the Ottoman Empire, in Nazi-occupied Europe, and more recently, in the Balkans, Rwanda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq). The phrase, “One cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs" is repeated over and over again, pointing to how ruthless leaders generally believe that the end justifies the (bloody) means. The course is worth a listen, especially during these times in which politics around the world are once again becoming so polarized and extreme. Many of the genocidal movements depicted in this course resorted to the tactic of dehumanizing their enemies, of treating them like "cockroaches", so that exterminating them became only natural. It worries me that I see something similar happening these days in the heated arguments between liberals and conservatives, both of whom are only willing to see one side of the coin. It's crucial that we don't forget the mistakes of the past, so that we don't repeat them once again.

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Excellent course!

What was one of the most memorable moments of Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century?

The consistency across various totalitarian regimes that I had heard about but before this course did not have much knowledge about.

Any additional comments?

This definitely increased my understanding of how totalitarian regimes come to be, and the importance of both being an active citizen as well as recognizing the dignity of each human being.

2 people found this helpful

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Outstanding content

Definitely worth your time! You'll probably learn things you didn't know about these totalitarian regimes.

2 people found this helpful

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Listening to ONE book this decade? PICK THIS!

HIGHLY RELEVANT for the current politico-socio-economic issues we're facing in the US today. Now and then a book comes along that manages to arrange threads from different (artificially separated) areas into a whole fabric in a profoundly meaningful way. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius does this, and I think this is The Most Important book/course currently given its perfectly broad, yet limited scope, accessibility and clarity that can make dangers of today very visible. This books shed an important 'hidden' layer of seemingly well-meaning ideas and ideologies and potentially well-intentioned actions, mobilizing hostile masses into super-drones towards a future we don't want, but if it goes too far we might not be able to stop causes set in motion. We can learn about the dangers of the kind of ideas we're heralding as 'good', with an increased focus on collectivistic solutions, hostility and calls for violence, reinforcing negative stereotypes through a new modern technology: social media, that can mobilize the masses at an unprecedented rate today. We need to get these kind of group-identity-politics out of our ideological make-up - cutting in ALL directions - but I see a growing use of exactly the recipe that have lead to brutal murder of certain groups based on what they ARE, multiple, multiple times during the 19th century. There is more talk about groups than individual freedoms and rights, based on universal human rights, than ever before, and a demonizing of others. Past horrors have been committed, and we would be wise, in trying to correct for these, not to create an even more horrific future by creating scape-goats and create solutions based on groups with immutable characteristics. The best path towards the future for EVERYONE would be to keep up strong institutions protecting individual freedoms and human rights, improve equal opportunities such as education and health care - not engineer special solutions, as it WILL bite back in the future. It might seem slow and not 'revolutionary' enough, and not empathic with past sins, I wish there was a faster and better way, but I don't think there is, and I fear for the current political and societal climate here in the US, with clear signs of what's outlined here. I fear the worst. I wish more people would listen to this course, so at least mutually respectful, educated solution-oriented discussions (without historical amnesia) could be held in public. I feel as though the 'terror' has already begun. I wish we could be wiser and avoid the horrific future that might await ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and create a future for everyone based on individual universal human rights. This books is highly important for today. I wish it could be discussed in mainstream media etc, to broaden our thinking as a society about ideological roots etc, and through which means horrors have been created, and how good - far from perfect - societies have been created, and how we can choose this path forward, as a society, with no one left behind.

1 person found this helpful

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The Last Stretch of Modern History

This course explores the biggest global movers and shakers of the twentieth century, covering events leading to the World Wars up to the first Gulf War. While the Professor tries to present ideas in unbiased form, it is obvious that he is strongly biased against some of them.

3 people found this helpful

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Awesome Lectures

Awesome, as one would expect from the great courses, although not without its arguable points. Well presented and worth the read.

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Really good

A really good overview of the ills of socialism and the evils that can be committed in the blind belief of one's ideology. Highly recommended in 2020. I will listen to this again just to brush up.

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  • Shaun gaines
  • 09-24-16

moshe

Rarely do you listen to a lecture or a read book that can transform your understanding and that takes you òn a journey through history. I'm tempted to listen to the series straight away.

3 people found this helpful

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  • John
  • 11-10-15

Perfect balance

This presentation was one of the most informative I have listened too. The presentation has added greatly to my understanding of this important period .A perfect balance between detailed information historical events and dates made for compelling listening.

2 people found this helpful

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  • mr
  • 12-06-14

Excellent

A lot better than I thought and my only complaint is I wanted more. A broad overview of idealistic movements devolving into, well words don't do it justice.

1 person found this helpful

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  • George S.
  • 01-01-19

Good overview, however lacks detailed analysis

This course is a well researched catalogue of the horrors of twentieth century ethnic and social engineering projects. Missing, however, is any reference to Latin America, which was a bit disappointing. Also, there is little in the way of deep analysis, with the lecturer simply listing different regimes and their respective crimes.

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  • Giulia
  • 11-15-17

Great examples to add gravity to the finally chapt

Great examples to add gravity to the finally chapter.
have listened to several chapters more than once.

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  • DaveW
  • 11-19-15

Same old rather lame perspective

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

This is an academic-centric version, rather than an objective history.

What in particular is unforgivable is the omission of the Oxford Union King or Country debate, when on the topic of Hitler's motivating factors in the 30's.

It smacks of an academic conveniently side stepping his own profession's culpability.

What other book might you compare Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century to, and why?

Churchill's diaries. Churchill could 'write'.

You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The subject it covers is fine, but how can't you trust what is a version?

Any additional comments?

As a rule, I love the Great Course's series.

2 people found this helpful