GER20260 Radical Thinkers

Academic Year 2023/2024

'Radical Thinkers' will present some of the ideas from the German-speaking lands that have either sparked controversy, or sought to stir up revolutionary thought (examples include Georg Büchner, and Marx/Engels); Others have a utopian dimension, e.g. the idea that 'Perpetual Peace' (Kant) is possible. Of course, radicalism can also be destructive: Although this module will not focus on Nazism, we will examine the rise of anti-Semitism (focusing on Hannah Arendt's account in "The Origins of Totalitarianism").

This module will introduce a range of essays or excerpts from longer texts spanning the 18th century to the 20th century. Some of the controversies presented here might still spark anger, excitement or even hope for change today. An example would be the Cosmopolitanism mentioned in Immanuel Kant's essay on Perpetual Peace: - Are we citizens of the world, or who 'owns' a country or a nation? - Who is a guest? Who is welcome? And who is excluded? In the light of anti-migrant sentiment and the resurgence of the far-right in many parts of today's world, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland, it is useful to look to historical perspectives and consider their legacy. We will see how (looking at an essay by J.-J. Rousseau, radical thinking from the French-speaking world also at times influenced German-speaking writers. Overall, the module hopes to show that culture is not 'fixed' once and for all, but can be shaped by the discussions we continue to have.

Show/hide contentOpenClose All

Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

What will I learn in concrete terms, if I take this module?

- insight into the German-speaking countries.
- ability to contextualise 'radical' thinking or radical movements. The module
does not aim for comprehensive historical coverage - it will equip you as a student with an ability to
question and sometimes to see connections between contemporary 'radicalisms' and ideas from the past.
- analysis and discussion: You will have encountered some of the 'radical thinkers' of the German-speaking
world, and will be able to analyse why we might call their ideas radical (or not, as the case may be).
- culture as "changeable": 'Radical' thinking is not something that applies universally and across all cultures,
but you will gain experience in this module of questioning what 'radical' might mean, and, in doing so:
- develop intercultural awareness and competency.

Indicative Module Content:

Examples include:

Georg Büchner, "Der hessische Landbote" (1834) - a political pamphlet, considered revolutionary; addressed social injustice; led to Büchner's having to flee (he was captured, and died not long afterwards in prison)

Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels, "Das Manifest der kommunistischen Partei" (1848) - a political manifesto / contains early ideas of communism, calls for revolutionary change

Friedrich Nietzsche, "Menschliches, Allzumenschliches. Ein Buch für freie Geister" (extract) Existentialism; freedom; critique of morals and religion.

Hannah Arendt, "Die Freiheit, Frei zu sein" (essay) What is freedom? What is revolution? Who were the revolutionaries (in specific contexts).

Hannah Arendt, "Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft" (extract) - on Antisemitism, Totalitarianism, the Nation-State - theories of power.

Theodor Adorno, "Aspekte des neuen Rechtsradikalismus" (1967) - will be discussed in relation to contemporary populism and chauvinistic right-wing discourse today, as well as in the historical context.

Normally, you will be required to read a short text (primary literature) each week. Texts will usually be essays or extracts from essays or longer writings; in particular weeks, you may be asked to focus on a piece of secondary literature. (Wider secondary reading, as with any module, is always recommended). Material will be in German, but, in most cases, you be able to source translations which can be used to consolidate your learning, and also improve your German!

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Teaching (contact hours) for this module will normally be 'Face-to-Face', consisting of a combination of lecture-format and accompanying tutorial. The tutorial is strongly discussion-centred, but also based on close-reading and interpretation. It is important for you to have attended the lecture (which will be the Monday class) in order to be able to engage fully in the tutorial class on Wednesdays. Questions for discussion that should help prepare you for the Wednesday class will normally be available in Brightspace in advance. In some weeks, additional lecture material may be made available to you as a video in Brightspace. This is a 'blended' element of your learning, part of the number of autonomous hours required for the module.
The tutorial hour will be discussion based. As such, it will facilitate a problem-based approach to learning:- what was new or difficult in a text? What questions arose from the reading? Are there different ways of approaching the question? What conclusions can we draw, and are there differing possibilities for interpretation?
As well as deepening your understanding of the German-speaking world, this problem-based learning is a transferable skill that will be of benefit to you in a broad range of situations, from academic to professional to practical communication.

Note on possible changes to how the module is taught in the event of high incidences of Covid-19:

In the event of normal face-to-face teaching on campus being interrupted by high incidences of Covid-19, the module would then switch to an online or blended format. This is unlikely, however, and it is to be expected that we will be able to meet twice weekly.
Should it be necessary due to pandemic-related developments to switch to the online mode, then the first of the two weekly sessions will still be the lecture. This may be either 'live' or asynchronous, consisting of a Slide Presentation / Lecture which can be accessed in Brightspace. In all events, the second hour will be the discussion-based 'seminar' (tutorial) format: Like the lecture, this would switch to 'Zoom', should our attendance on campus not be possible.

Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Class Test: This will be an MCQ assessment covering the material discussed up to approx. week 5. Week 6 n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Examination: 2-hour written examination. 2 hour End of Trimester Exam No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Presentation: If class size is large, then your presentation will be in a group, uploaded as a video. The presentation should show engagement with the material selected, ability to question and to problem-solve. Varies over the Trimester n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

You are very welcome to come to see me (during designated office hours or by appointment - these may be in person or via Zoom) to discuss any aspect of the course, or if I can help with specific questions. This applies throughout the semester, not only towards the end as you prepare for the examination. The Learning Journal is a form of self-assessment activity. It is a formative exercise, intended to help you reflect on your learning, identify key themes and also note any problems or questions arising as you engage with individual readings. As such, it will not be graded, but will be marked on a pass-fail basis, depending on whether you have submitted all three Journal Entries. Keeping up to date with the Learning Journal is intended to help with exam preparation and should also help you approach your presentation. You are welcome to use my office hours for feedback or discussion on what you have written: Feedback is therefore available at your request. The presentation gives you the opportunity to discuss key ideas of the text and to demonstrate insight into an example of 'radical thinking'. Presentations should also stimulate class discussion; as such, their communicative competence is important. Clear delivery and ability to be easily understood play a role. Feedback on presentations is available on request.

GER 20260 Radical Thinkers (Dr Jeanne Riou)


Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (New York, 1951, Penguin Classics edition) (Excerpts in English will be read in class. Note: Arendt first published this text in English in exile in the USA. References to German translation available on request).

Georg Büchner, Complete Plays, Lenz and Other Writings, Transl. with Introduction and Notes by John Reddick, Penguin: London, 1993.
Georg Büchner, “Der Hessische Landbote“, in G. Büchner, Werke und Briefe, ed. by Josef Goertz, (Diogenes: Frankfurt a.M., 1988)

Immanuel Kant, Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace and History, ed. with an Introduction by Pauline Kleingeld, trans. David Colclasure, (New Haven & London, Yale U. P., 2006).
(The English translation will be used in class, but the German text is available as Immanuel Kant, “Zum ewigen Frieden”, Schriften zur Anthropologie, Geschichtsphilosophie, Politik und Pädagogik. Werkausgabe Bd. X ed. by Wilhelm Weischedel (Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a.M., 1981)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Part 2, trans. by Franklin Philip (Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 1994).
(The English translation will be used in class, but a French-German bilingual version is available on request).


On Arendt


Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
URL:_ (Good Introductory Article on Hannah Arendt)

Sigwart, Hans-Jörg, “Political characterology: On the method of theorizing in Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism”, in: The American Political Science Review, 2016, no. 110 (2), pp. 265-277.
doi: (This is quite a difficult article, and cross-references quite a few Arendt scholars. It does contain a few paragraphs on anti-Semitism in The Origins of Totalitarianism which some may find helpful.)

Staudenmaier, Peter, “Hannah Arendt's analysis of antisemitism in The Origins of Totalitarianism: a critical appraisal”, in: Patterns of Prejudice, 2012, no. 46:2, pp. 154-179, DOI: 10.1080/0031322X.2012.672224 NB. Staudenmaier himself is highly critical of Arendt’s analysis of anti-Semitism, and summarises similar criticisms that have been made by other scholars.

Video Material

The short video (below) offers a very short, but succinct overview of The Origins of Totalitarianism:

Interview with Hannah Arendt from 1964 on Modernity. Followed by another video. Not directly relating to The Origins of Totalitarianism, but interesting and informative. NB. In German, but with English subtitles, so strongly recommended!


Hannah Arendt über das Jahr 1933 (1964 Interview in German). In this video in German, Hannah Arendt speaks about her experience of the year of Hitler’s coming to power in 1933.


Canovan, Margaret, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1992. (In James Joyce Library)


Kienpointner, Manfred, “Revolutionary Rhetoric”. Georg Büchner’s ‘Der Hessische Landbote’ (1834) – A Case Study, in: Argumentation (2007) 21:129–149.
(Note: Kienpointner is a ‘rhetorician’ – a scholar who studies rhetoric. His article is informative, if slightly wooden. The first sections may be of most benefit!)

Schaub, Gerhard, Weidig, Friedrich Ludwig, Der Hessische Landbote: Texte, Materialen, Kommentar', Volume 202;1;(, München, Carl Hanser, 1976) (In James Joyce Library)
This is a very good volume. In German!


Doyle, Michael W.,, "Kant and Liberal Internationalism", in: Immanuel Kant, Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace and History, ed. with an Introduction by Pauline Kleingeld, trans. David Colclasure, (New Haven & London, Yale U. P., 2006), pp. 201-242.

Holland, Ben. “The Perpetual Peace Puzzle: Kant on Persons and States.” Philosophy & Social Criticism, vol. 43, no. 6, July 2017, pp. 599–620.
NB. While this author ultimately defends Kant from those critics who have argued that the text is too contradictory, the Ben Holland article itself could be quite confusing, as it spends some time going into these contradictions (which not everyone agrees are contradictions).

Huggler, Jørgen, “Cosmopolitanism and Peace in Kant’s Essay”, in: Studies in Philosophical Education, (2010) 29:129–140.

Kleingeld, Pauline. "Approaching Perpetual Peace: Kant's Defence of a League of States and His Ideal of a World Federation." European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 12, no. 3, 2004, pp. 304-325.
NB. This is a good article, but it is quite long and also not altogether easy, as it goes into a number of criticisms of Kant’s essay in order, ultimately, to defend it.

Pojman, Louis P. "Kant's Perpetual Peace and Cosmopolitanism," in: Journal of Social Philosophy, vol. 36, no. 1, 2005, pp. 62-71.

ON MARX/ENGELS (and slightly more broadly on German History)

Available on JSTOR through UCD Connect/My Library:

Ormerod, R. J., “The History and Ideas of Marxism: The Relevance for OR”, in: The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol. 59, No. 12 (Dec., 2008), pp. 1573-1590 (esp. the first 10 pages are helpful)

Laski, Harold J., Introduction to the Communist Manifesto, in: Social Scientist, Vol. 27, No. 1/4 (Jan. - Apr., 1999), pp. 49-111

Additional Reading Available In UCD Library:

Hobsbawm, Eric: The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1995 (11962)
The Age of Empire 1875-1914, Abacus: London 1994 (=11987)
Sheehan, James J., German History 1780-1866, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1989.