Fall 2016

Revolutionary Thinking


Bryn I. Geffert (Section 01)


From the early nineteenth century until the early twentieth century, Russia served as the world's greatest incubator of revolutionary thought. Philosophers, politicians, clerics, literary figures, and activists of every stripe asked in publication after publication and debate after debate, "What is to be done?”  How do we fix a country beset by innumerable and seemingly intractable problems? Do we look to the West for answers, or do we look within? Should we face our travails by affirming traditional values, or should we reexamine those values? Must we reform existing institutions, or must we scrap the entire system altogether and start anew?

In this course we will read proposals by those advocating this latter option—outright revolution—and the responses of those horrified by such thinking. All these proposals and counterproposals tackle fundamental questions still relevant in our era: Does history follow rules? Can individuals change the course of history? Is government a tool for good or evil? Does religion function as a reactionary or a progressive force? Can we identify and embrace universal values, or do values rightly differ among regions? Does ideology flow from economics, or do economics develop according to ideology?

We will read arguments by Bakunin, Berkman, Chernyshevsky, Dostoevsky, Herzen, Lenin, Plekhanov, Pobedonostsev, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Zaulich, and others—published in philosophical essays, novels, political treatises, journal articles, and pamphlets. And as we read these thinkers arguing with each other, we will debate their questions ourselves. 

Fall semester. Professor Geffert.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017