In my MA-seminar this semester I teach liberalism and the critique of liberalism. The question is whether the widespread critique that political liberalism insufficiently incorporates subjectivity into political theory is really true - a critique that is also a premise of my thinking.

In my BA-seminar Foundations of Political Theory I first introduce the hegemonic liberal political theory of the West, and then teach the classics of critical political theory. Students learn to question power and normalization in contemporary capitalism, among others by reading Luhmann’s Love as Passion and, on the occasion of current debates, texts by Achille Mbembe.

Liberalism and its Critique (summer semester 2020 / online)

Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, MA Political Science

The seminar serves to discuss the critique of political liberalism, which is the core business of critical theory of all kinds. The critique of liberalism is put forward on a continental scale by both French (the tradition of “political difference” and “the political”) and Frankfurt (Honneth, Jaeggi), as well as in the American debate on communitarianism (Taylor, Sandel) and a new liberal Aristotelism (Nussbaum). At the centre of these debates is the relationship between law and politics and the question of the extent to which individual subjectivity and ’the private’ should be included by a political theory - and what normative claims on and interventions in the subjectivity of individuals (for example through specific political education programmes) are necessary or justified. Liberalism is criticized for blanking out subjectivity, dependence and neediness by a purely negative concept of freedom and an atomistic social ontology related to it. Thus liberalism ideologically petrifies the existing conditions. In recent years, this debate has been given new topicality by Christoph Menke’s critique of law, who radically formulates the criticism of liberal subjective rights.

But is it really true that liberalism resorts to a purely atomizing social ontology and is unable or (for political reasons) unwilling to consider subjectivation - that is, the social constitution of subjectivity? And how convincing are the concepts of freedom and subjectivity presented by critics of liberalism as an alternative? In the seminar we will explore these questions through contrasting readings of selected texts of liberalism and critiques of liberalism. It begins with an introductory part in which we will deal with the central systematic concept of debate - freedom - and differentiate the concepts of negative, positive and social freedom. The second part is devoted to the US-American debate between Rawlsian liberalism and communitarian criticism. In the third part, we analyze the German debate between Habermas’ Kantianism and Honneth’s and Jaeggis’s Hegelianism with regard to the similarities and differences to the US-American debate. This selection of texts and the method of comparing theories on similar systematic problems aims to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the basic problems of political theory negotiated here, which also helps them to work independently on other varieties of liberalism criticism.


  1. Introduction, 13.05.2020

Part 1: Concepts of freedom

  1. Negative freedom (Berlin), 20.05.2020
  2. Positive freedom (Taylor), 27.05.2020
  3. Social freedom (Neuhouser), 03.06.2020

Part 2: The US debate

  1. Rawls’ universalist liberalism, 10.06.2020
  2. Rawls’ political liberalism, 17.06.2020
  3. Sandel’s Communitarianism, 24.06.2020
  4. Taylor’s Communitarianism, 01.07.2020

Part 3: The German debate

  1. Habermas’ Kantianism, 08.07.2020
  2. Habermas’ legal theory, 15.07.2020
  3. Honneth’s Socialism, 22.07.2020
  4. Jaeggis’s Forms of Life, 29.07.2020

Foundations of Political Theory, 2020 (summer semester / online)

Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, BA Political Science

The seminar introduces contemporary political theory by reading representative texts of key authors. It is systematically divided into two parts: the liberal tradition and critical political theory.

The first part serves to study central texts of political liberalism, which is the hegemonic political doctrine in the Western world. Here, we will get to know normative political theory as a social discourse of self-reflection and legitimization, and discuss different methods of establishing normative theories. We focus on the concept of freedom (Berlin), modern contract theory (Rawls), the needs and capabilities of people (Nussbaum), and reason in the democratic public sphere (Habermas).

The second part is devoted to critical political theory. Here political theory is understood less as a normative legitimation of the existing than as a diagnosing critique of society and politics. Responding to the social question that arose in the 19th century, the young social sciences developed systematic approaches to the analysis and critique of social pathologies. We discuss the manifold methods of critique that introduce historical, economic, epistemological, sociological, socio-ontological and psychological arguments into political theory. The objects of critique are capitalism (Marx), subject (Freud), science (Horkheimer/Adorno), power (Foucault), love and sexuality (Luhmann) and colonialism/postcolonialism (Mbembe). With Marx, Freud, Adorno, and Horkheimer, we read authors who are among the cornerstones of critical political theory today. Luhmann’s and Foucault’s sharp analyses of social systems and the effects of power respectively stand for critical methods that do not require the development of clear normative positions and that have become widely used in contemporary political theory. Mbembe’s analyses of colonialist thought continue the criticism of Enlightenment universalism in the context of globalism.


  1. Introduction, 12.05.2020

Part 1: The contemporary hegemony of liberalism

  1. Negative and positive freedom: Isaiah Berlin’s anti-paternalism, 19.05.20
  2. Legitimation of Western democracy: John Rawls’ liberalism, 26.05.20
  3. Human needs and capabilities: Martha Nussbaum’s liberal Aristotelism, 02.06.20
  4. Communicative Reason and Rule of Law: Jürgen Habermas’ deliberative theory of democracy, 09.06.20

Part 2: Political theory as social criticism

  1. Exploitation under capitalism: Karl Marx’ historical materialism, 16.06.20
  2. Disenchantment of consciousness: Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, 23.06.20
  3. The totality of the wrong: Adorno and Horkheimer’s Critique of Modernity, 30.06.20
  4. Love in the gears of society: Luhmann’s systems theory, 07.07.20
  5. The normalization of sexuality: Foucault’s power analysis, 14.07.20
  6. Colonial condemnation: Achille Mbembe’s Postcolonial Critique, 21.07.20
  7. Discussion of homework and feedback, 28.07.20

Under Teaching you find information about past seminars.

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