Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini... Oh my!: Professor Flagg Taylor discusses new book on totalitarianism

Posted by Kelsey Nichols

Flagg Taylor's new book, "The Great Lie," is a selection of 36 essays that address the power and scope of totalitarianism, a phenomenon that dominated the 20th century.

The volume aims to make the writings of these notable political authors more accessible and manageable. The work is a hefty piece of reading at around 600 pages and is arranged in six different subsections to help its readers grasp the complex political, philosophical and moral dilemmas detailed in the book.

One of Professor Taylor's favorite sections is titled "Seduction." It emphasizes the allure of the utopia that attracted so many followers. Taylor feels it can be difficult for a generation that did not experience the propaganda of totalitarianism to understand this allure. The most prominent leaders of totalitarian regimes are names that will not soon be forgotten — Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin to name a few. Each leader found multitudes of followers who were seduced by the promise of a better world.

Taylor has always been interested in political science, but it wasn't until he wrote his dissertation about 10 years ago that he found himself overwhelmed by the works of 20th century political dissidents such as Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and Vaclav Havel. In 2005, Taylor had the opportunity to teach a summer class called "Dissident Political Thought," which has since become a regular course offering at Skidmore. After teaching this class, Taylor recognized the need for the creation of a neat compilation of some of the best and brightest authors on this subject.

Taylor's dedication to creating the compilation was prompted by his desire for present and future generations to remember the power of totalitarianism.

"Most of the authors that I collect in the book are either dead or getting old," Taylor said. "We, especially in America, have no direct connection to the experience of what it was like to live under those regimes… [therefore] each generation has to take it upon themselves to learn about political evil and the temptation of ideologies."

Taylor hopes that information about the citizens under these past regimes can prevent the totalitarian temptation from taking hold again. "Evil does not come knocking at the door promising evil. It is attractive and promises good," Taylor said.

Taylor and former Government Professor Carl Scott are currently working on another book of essays that touches on these themes about the award winning German film, "The Lives of Others," a film about life in East Germany under Communism in the 1980s.

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