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Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century

Join an award-winning professor of history to examine a full century of our most violent history with the goal of understanding the roots of terror in order to prevent even greater horrors in the centuries to come.
Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 132.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Classic Liulevicius Course Professor Liulevicius is one of my favorite Great Courses profs. Although this course is one of his "vintage" offerings -- and note that he has improved his presentation skills over the last decade and a half -- it continues to deliver. And what does it deliver. Well, first of all Professor Liulevicius is the rare breed of clear-minded academic, who continues to remind the younger generations that most of the terror the 20th Century brought upon us was the result of attempts to make heaven on earth that invariably produced hell. This course clearly demonstrates that this terror was almost always brought upon by collectivist "dreamers" who sought to "arouse" societies into "community organized" Utopias, than "selfish" psychopaths whose were simply out for number one. That these "dreamers" who engineered terror were so frequently Socialists ("democratic" or otherwise) and Communists should not be dismissed, when the popular narrative is to pin dystopias solely on Fascists (who, in any event were simply National Socialists). Professor Liulevicius casts a broad net to reel in a wide range of orientations and regimes that brought all this terror. In this way, the course is great source material. But he does more. He builds the philosophical (even, analytical) foundation behind the inevitability of collectivist revolutions devolving from aspirational to destructive. In this sense is a thought-provoking course,
Date published: 2021-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Animal Farm, 1984, Darkness at Noon, Etc. My wife and I bought this course and we are very pleased with it. We are both teachers and the background this course provided is very useful when talking about novels often taught in high school like Animal Farm and 1984. Our own children are in university and have been taught novels like Darkness at Noon. This course helps with them all, giving the real life events and ideas which inspired so many modern works. We can speak more confidently to our students and our children regarding the topics covered and in some cases understand what our children bring back to us from their studies.
Date published: 2021-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good lectures overall Very good lectures overall except for glaring bias in the comments on the Gulf war. Since these lectures were release in 2003, they are quite dated, and an update "2nd edition" would be a good idea.
Date published: 2021-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof Liulevicius, Ph.D. is always excellent. To be honest this course is generally does not go deep enough for my level. At least not on Stalin and Hitler. But even so there are real gems in the lectures. Prof. Liulevivius holds meticulously to the critical instruction discipline of 'disinterested' instruction. He provides the academic theories or debates then makes clear his opinion. Which is a real gem for me when reviewing Stalin and Hitler. If it is a lecture by Prof. Liulevivius? Buy and enjoy. Although his presentation is always excellent, he has become more engaging with age. But I can not put my finger on why. It is important for people to have a background in the history of collectivist state forms. As our politicians just hire the academics who fit their immediate narrative.
Date published: 2021-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must see course for anyone My son and I watched this course as part of his 7th grade home school curriculum. My son is a history fanatic. Together we had watched the excellent YouTube channel that followed World War I week by week, and had listened to Paul Johnson's excellent Modern Times as an Audible book. I wanted a more formal and thorough treatment of the political upheavals of the 20th century to form the basis of his history course for credit, and this course was exactly what we were looking for. But the course is not just for history fanatics. Anyone who wants to understand the modern world needs to understand the appeal of totalitarianism and grapple with the legacy of the world's deadliest century. This is course is where such understanding can start.
Date published: 2021-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vejas Gabriel Llulevicius Excellent course. Great information. Best professor I have ever had.
Date published: 2021-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking information and analysis, well p This is an excellent class. The instructor provides a very insightful understanding of utopian movements since the French revolution. His shows conclusively the amazing similarities of these movements and how they have led to more death than any other human calamity. Yet he does not ignore the differences, either. It is one of the most thought provoking classes I have taken. I would really like to hear his take on many of the tensions in today’s world at the beginning of 2021.
Date published: 2021-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative The course was very interesting and thorough. Not sure where else you could find a lecture of this quality on a topic like this.
Date published: 2021-01-19
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The story of the 20th century is filled with leaders who promised utopia and instead delivered war, genocide, and dictatorship. This provocative and unsettling subject is covered in this 24-lecture series, which will help you understand this seemingly senseless and inexplicable record of inhumanity and how we may prevent it from recurring. Examples of leaders who resisted the century's inhuman trends offer hope for the future.


Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius
Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

Modernity is a notoriously slippery concept, because, obviously, what is modern now will soon become the past, as time marches relentlessly forward.


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 University. Professor Liulevicius has won many awards and honors, including the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. At the university he teaches courses on modern German history, Western civilization, European diplomatic history, Nazi Germany, World War I, war and culture, 20th-century Europe, nationalism, and utopian thought. Dr. Liulevicius has published numerous articles and two books: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I and The German Myth of the East, 1800 to the Present.

Professor Liulevicius participated in The Great Courses Professor Chat series. Read the chat to learn more about diplomacy and war

By This Professor

Turning Points in Modern History
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration
A History of Eastern Europe
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin
Communism in Power: From Stalin to Mao
Defining Utopia and Terror

01: 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....

33 min
The Legacy of Revolutions

02: 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....

30 min
Omens of Conflict

03: 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....

31 min
World War I

04: World War I

World War I brutalized Western civilization through such innovations as poison gas, aerial bombing, and targeting of civilians....

31 min
Total War-Mobilization and Mass Death

05: 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....

29 min
Total Revolution in Russia

06: 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....

31 min
War's Aftermath-The Hinge of Violence

07: 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."...

31 min

08: 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....

31 min

09: 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....

32 min
Soviet Civilization

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."...

31 min

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....

31 min
The 1930's-

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....

30 min

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....

31 min

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....

31 min
World War II

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....

32 min
Nazi Genocide and Master Plans

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....

32 min
The Cold War

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....

32 min

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....

31 min
Cambodia and Pol Pot's Killing Fields

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....

32 min
East Germany, the Soviet Union, North Korea

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....

31 min
From the Berlin Wall to the Balkans

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....

31 min

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....

30 min
Saddam Hussein's Iraq

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....

32 min
The Future of Terror

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...

33 min