Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: The Great Ism's: Political and Economic Ideologies Shaping and Distorting Modern Societies

Instructor: Dave Shuster

Economics, as a discipline, responds to the fundamental problem of general material scarcity, which states that "our wants are infinite while our resources are finite." Politics addresses the core issue of "tension arising from the conflict between our individual interests and our collective interests," i.e., the "me" vs. the "we." The last few centuries have projected a few clearly defined economic/political ideologies (in both secular and divine variants) onto our social landscape, each offering less than perfect, but compelling, answers to these unavoidable problems. Some emphasize the "we" over the "me," while others promote the opposite priority. These economic/political "isms" include (with numerous antecedents and variations) Capitalism, Fascism, Socialism and Marxist Communism.

Look at contemporary nation-states and you will find variants (indeed mixtures) of these driving themes embedded in both their cultural psyches (nationalities) and governing institutions (states). Each ism offers a social theory or message (content) and a set of necessary personal and shared behaviors designed to put their theory into practice (method). Herein lay the elements of great human drama, history and literature; war and peace, passion and compassion, love and hate, suffering and renewal. They offer, thereby, a framework within which we can effectively relate, compare and contrast events and ideas that might otherwise seem disparate and devoid of common analysis.

We shall, in this course, illuminate these isms and find consequent insights into present historical trends and possible futures.

Last Update: February 11, 2008