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Continental Political Philosophy


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including History of Modern Philosophy, Griekse en Romeinse filosofie or History of Political Philosophy, Ethiek, Politieke filosofie / Political Philosophy, OR including History of Modern Philosophy, Cultuurfilosofie, Continentale filosofie, Philosophy of Mind.

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including World Philosophies: Greek and Roman Antiquity, World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Ethics, Political Philosophy, OR including World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Philosophy of Culture, Concepts of Selfhood, and at least one of the courses World Philosophies: China, World Philosophies: India, World Philosophies: Africa, World Philosophies: Middle East.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement and who have to complete an advanced seminar, to be selected from package A or B.


What happens to concepts of justice and legitimacy in periods of social or political crisis? What guarantees the rule of law and how are we to conceive the grounds of sovereignty within modern nation states? These questions are at the heart of this module, in which students will gain familiarity with the theories of law and sovereignty that have been central to continental political philosophy in the twentieth century. Starting from Carl Schmitt’s interwar claim that sovereignty is characterised by the ability to transcend the rule of law in the name of the public good and from Walter Benjamin’s reflections on law-constituting and law-preserving violence, this module will consist of a detailed study of extracts from contemporary classics on the complex interrelations between constitutional law, sovereignty, and the state of exception.

Course objectives

In this module, students will be introduced to two key aspects of continental political philosophy: first, to several theories of sovereignty and the state of exception and, second, to different ideas of how political power and law should be yielded and understood. The course is based on primary sources and students are expected to familiarise themselves with the works of a number of important authors. The exposition and analysis of texts will occupy a large part of class time and students will acquire the ability to understand and reconstruct complex philosophical and political argumentations that relate to concepts of sovereignty and the state of exception in the twentieth and twenty-first century.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • key twentieth- and twenty-first-century theories of law, sovereignty and the state of exception in a continental tradition;

  • concepts of biopolitics and necropolitics.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • critically evaluate the ideas and arguments and debates of the authors studied;

  • articulate, both orally and in writing, arguments and criticisms that relate to the authors studied;

  • apply the philosophical resources studied to contemporary problematics.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Class attendance is required. The sessions will take the form of lectures by the instructor, student presentations, and seminar discussions of key texts.

Assessment method


  • Weekly short position papers (compulsory but not marked)

  • Presentation (30 %)

  • Final paper (70%)

Each week, students will be required to write a very short paper (500 words), focused on the primary material assigned for that week. This position paper will consist in an attempt at an explanation of a core point within the text. The purpose of this exercise is to help with comprehension of the materials through argument reconstruction. Though they are not marked, submission of these papers is compulsory and repeated failure to do so will bar access to the final exam.

For the final essay, the students can choose to write an essay which answers a pre-set question or formulate their own question (subject to approval).


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


The resit covers the entire exam (100%) and consists of a paper. Students qualify for a resit if they do not have a passing final grade but have fulfilled all (other) course requirements. No separate resits will be offered for subtests. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

Students will receive feedback on presentations within one week of completing them.
Students will have an opportunity to discuss the grading of their final essays with the instructor.

Reading list

A full course syllabus will be distributed via Brightspace. Subject to changes, texts will include:

  • Agamben, G. ‘The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of the Modern’ Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1998, 119-180.

  • Agamben, G. ‘The State of Exception as a Paradigm of Government’ and ‘Force-of-Law’, State of Exception, trans. Keving Attell, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003, 1-41.

  • Arendt, H. ‘What is Authority’, in Between Past and Future: Six Exercises in Political Thought, New York: The Viking Press, 1961, 91-142.

  • Benjamin, W. ‘Critique of Violence’, in Selected Writings vol. 1, eds. M. Bullock & M.W. Jennings, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, 236-252.

  • Butler, J. ‘Infinite Detention’, Precarious Life, London: Verso, 2004, 50-100.

  • Derrida, J. ‘The Force of Law: The “Mystical Foundation of Authority”’, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, eds. D. Cornell, M. Rosenfeld, D.G. Carlson, New York: Routledge, 1992, 3-63.

  • Foucault, M. ‘Right of Death and Power over Life’, History of Sexuality vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley, New York, Pantheon Books, 135-169.

  • Foucault, M. ‘Lecture 11, 17 March 1976’, in Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-76, trans. David Macey, New York: Picardor, 1997, 239-264.

  • Mbembe, A. ‘Necropolitics’, Public Culture, vol.15:1, Winter 2003, 11-40.

  • Schmitt, C. ’Definition of Sovereignty’ and ‘The Problem of Sovereignty as the Problem of the Legal Form and of the Decision’, in Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, 5-15 and 16-3.

  • Weheliye, A.G. ‘Introduction’ and ‘Law: Property’, Habeas Viscus: Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human, (2014) 1-16 and 77-84.

  • Dossiers on Covid-19 and the Philosophers: European Journal of Psychoanalysis: and


Enrolment through MyStudymap is not possible for this course. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


Not applicable.