Gerald M. Easter (Boston College)


Course Description:

The course is a comparative historical study of three distinct transnational political movements and authoritarian regime types: Socialism, Nationalism and Islamism. Each case is organized into three parts that stress ideas, actions, results: (1) Philosophers: the intellectual origins and ideological core concepts; (2) Rebels: the rise of revolutionary movements and political conflicts that brought radical adherents to power; (3) Tyrants: the nature of the particular authoritarian regimes that emerged from radical movements. The course will discuss the similarities that exist in all these movements, but also stress the considerable variation, such as reforming moderates versus radical extremists, and localism versus internationalism. Italy is featured in the course, especially in regard to “nationalism,” using the philosophical writings of Mazzini and the case of Mussolini’s fascist movement and regime. Italy is also be used as a secondary case: first, as an example of the reform socialist trajectory since it once was a center of Eurocommunism; second, for the contemporary conflict between radical and reform Islam among European Muslims.

Course Outline:

--Introduction: What is Modern about Modern Politics?
1) Intellectual and Social Roots of Modern Political Movements and Regimes

--Socialism: Ideology, Movements, Regimes
2) Class-based Ideology: Marx and Socialism
3) Red Revolutionaries: Radical Socialism Comes to Power
4) Communist Authoritarianism: Radical Socialism in Power

--Nationalism: Ideology, Movements, Regimes
5) Nation-based Ideology: Mazzini and Nationalism
6) Ultra-Nationalists: Fascism Comes to Power
7) Nationalist Authoritarianism: Fascism in Power

--Islamism: Ideology, Movements, Regimes
8) Faith-based Ideology: Cultural Reaction and Political Fundamentalism
9) Radical Imams: Fundamentalist Islam Comes to Power
10) Islamic Authoritarianism: Fundamentalist Islam in Power

--Local Limits to Transnational Movements
11) Nationalism, the End of Socialism and Rise of Neo-Fascism
12) All Jihads are Local: Radical Islam and Europe’s Muslims


Teaching Methods and Goals:

The class is organized around lectures, discussion of readings, and student presentations. Evaluation of student performance is based on participation in class discussion, presentations and four writing assignments: (1) take-home mid-term essay covering readings and lectures from first half of class, 2000 words in length; (2) book report and brief presentation, based on individually selected reading of memoir literature, 1000 words in length; (3) take home final essay, covering readings and lectures from second half of course, 1500 words in length; (4) final research paper based on local sources, 2500 words in length –for this assignment we can use issues relevant to contemporary Italy and Europe: the rise of neo-Fascism, collective memory of Italian fascism, or the challenges related to integrating Muslim communities. The main goal of the class is to disaggregate ideas, actions and outcomes. It was not inevitable that Marx should have led to the Soviet Union, nor is it inevitable that the Koran should lead to al-Qaeda. So the goal is to show how ideas can be interpreted in different ways, how radical interpretations can be grafted onto local conditions and conflicts. And, and the corrupting effects of bringing utopias in power through political violence.


Sample Reading List:

--Excerpts from featured philosophers, rebels and tyrants: Marx, Bernstein, Lenin, Mao; Mazzini, Mussolini, Hitler; al-Banna, Khomeini, Omar.

--Books (excerpts or entire)
Daniel Chirot, Modern Tyrants
David Marples, Lenin and the Russian Revolution
Stephen White, Communism and Its Collapse
Roger Griffin, The Nature of Fascism
Mohsen Milani, The Making of Iran’s Islamic Revolution
Ahmed Rashid, Taliban
Damian Tambini, Nationalism in Italian Politics: The Northern League
Nicolas Doumanis, Italy: Inventing the Nation

--Memoir literature: selections chosen individually by students

Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved


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phone: +39 041 2719511
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