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Sioux Falls Free Thinkers endorse Utopia and Terror in the 20th
for the excellent history of terror in the 20th century.
The only missing part was America's use of terror against
civilians in the many wars they have been involved in.

Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century
Lectures by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century (2003)
24 lectures, 12 hours
Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century  at

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.

Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Tennessee. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his PH.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr Liulevicius is the recipient of the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award. He has published several articles and War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity and German Occupation in the First World War.

24 Lectures - 30 minutes each

1: Defining Utopia and Terror 13: Nazism
2: The Legacy of Revolutions 14: Hitler
3: Omens of Conflict 15: World War II
4: World War I 16: Nazi Genocide and Master Plans
5: Total War - Mobilization and Mass Death 17: The Cold War
6: Total Revolution in Russia 18: Mao
7: War's Aftermath - The Hinge of Violence 19: Cambodia and Pol Pot's Killing Fields
8: Communism 20: East Germany, the Soviet Union, North Korea
9: Stalin 21: From the Berlin Wall to the Balkans
10: Soviet Civilization 22: Rwanda
11: Fascism 23: Saddam Hussein's Iraq
12: The 1930's - The "Low Dishonest Decade" 24:The Future of Terror


Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century
Lectures by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

Sioux Falls Free Thinkers endorse Utopia and Terror in the 20th
for the excellent history of terror in the 20th century.
The only missing part was America's use of terror against
civilians in the many wars they have been involved in.