What is the course about?
• The ideas of human progress and ‘perfection’ as they developed from the European Enlightenment of the 17th-18th centures and how they came to be applied.
• The radical social-political traditions such as anarchism, socialism, nationalism, social darwinism, eugenics, positivism, utilitarianism and welfarism that informed the totalitarian statism of fascism, national socialism and Soviet Marxism (Stalinism) that arose in the 20th Century.
What will we cover?
• Ideas of the nature of human-being in the Enlightenment and the rise of a human species hierarchy (racism) in the 19th Century.
• Key contributing ideologies such as nationlism, socialism, Marxism, social darwinism, imperialism, managerialism, utilitarianism.
• Conceptions of the state and its obligation to human emancipation.
• The relation between contributing ideologies and the execution of plans for human improvement (often by elimination).
• The relation between totalitarianism and modern society.
• The examination of historical cases where these ideas were applied (e.g., prison reform, family planning, show trials, propaganda ...).
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
• Discuss how some of the key ideas of Enlightenment thought (such as ‘progress’ and ‘emancipation’) contributed to the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th Century, using examples drawn from the 19th and 20th Century.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
The course does not assume any prior knowledge, only and interest in the history of ideas and the roots of contemporary society.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The course will run in seminar format with short presentations including group discussion and Q&A. There will be some readings discussed in pairs or small groups in the sessions. Slides and relevant links will be available online. No work outside class.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Notemaking equipment of your own choice. You may find the following book useful as a broad reference:
• ‘The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought’ edited by David Miller
We will also draw on
• Hannah Arendt’s ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ .
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Please see the City Lit website for other courses in European and general history.