Ideas do matter: this is one of the most significant lessons of a century of unprecedented brutality and violence. Reflecting on his own experiences within communist totalitarianism, Professor Vladimir Tismaneanu’s lecture will discuss political passions, radicalism, utopian ideals, and their catastrophic consequences in the twentieth century’s experiments in social engineering. His recent book, The Devil in History, compares communism and fascism as competing, sometimes overlapping, and occasionally strikingly similar systems of political totalitarianism. He examines the inherent ideological appeal of these radical, revolutionary political movements, the visions of salvation and revolution they pursued, the value and types of charisma of leaders within these political movements, the place of violence within these systems, and their legacies in contemporary politics. In Professor Tismaneanu’s view, no ideological commitment, no matter how absorbing, should ever prevail over the sanctity of human life. He comes to the conclusion that no party, movement, or leader holds the right to dictate that followers renounce their critical faculties and embrace a pseudo-miraculous, mystically self-centered, delusional vision of mandatory happiness.
Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park). In 2006, he served as chairman of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania. From 1998-2004 he was editor of East European Politics and Societies and continues to serve on the journal’s editorial committee. His books include Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel (Free Press, 1992); Fantasies of Salvation (Princeton UP, 1998); Stalinism for All Seasons: A Political History of Romanian Communism (University of California Press, 2003); and The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century (University of California Press, 2012). He is the editor of numerous volumes, including Stalinism Revisited, The Promises of 1968, and The End and the Beginning (co-ed., Bogdan C. Iacob), all published by CEU Press. Professor Tismaneanu is a regular book reviewer for Times Literary Supplement and International Affairs and serves on the board of Journal of Democracy. He was a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Fellow in 2008-09. His current project, a book under contract with Cambridge University Press, deals with democracy and memory in post-communist Romania and is based on the author’s experience as head of the Presidential Commission.
Sponsors: CREES, CES, WCED