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Nietzsche and Politics


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Modern European Philosophy

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Humanities


Friedrich Nietzsche is well known as a fierce critic of democracy and was pleased with the title ‘aristocratic radicalism’ coined for him by Georg Brandes. Yet over the last 20 years or so, democratic political theorists have shown an increasing interest in Nietzsche, especially in his concept of limited ‘agonistic’ conflict as a means to revitalise our tired, late modern democracies. Many of these appropriations are, however, based on false or tenuous readings, and hardly any of them confront his critique of democracy. The purpose of this course is to reassess the critical and constructive potential of Nietzsche’s thought for contemporary democracy and democratic ideals. Do Nietzsche’s criticisms of democracy allow for a politics that is compatible with our democratic commitments? A central place will be given to the concept of the agon and its potential for rethinking egalitarian values and concepts in a way that addresses the problems Nietzsche locates in democracy. This will include confronting Nietzsche with Rawls and Arendt in the context of contemporary debates around justice, personhood and the public sphere.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete the course will have:

  • an understanding of Nietzsche’s shifting positions on democracy against the background of the fundamental principles and impulses of his thought (ontological, ethical, social, cultural and political: critique of metaphysics and substance ontology in favour of pluralism, conflict and becoming; life-affirmation and perfectionism; critique of morality and ressentiment; the roblem of nihilism.

  • a basic understanding of the chronological development of Nietzsche’s thought from Menschliches, Allzu Menschliches to the late Nachlass, and the chief characteristics of the three main periods;

  • a detailed understanding of a number of key concepts of Nietzsche’s relevant to political thought and vice versa, including: popular sovereignty, equality, equilibrium, contract theory, liberalism, republicanism, personhood and the social sources of the self, agon and agonism, ressentiment, the slave revolt of morality, great politics.

  • an understanding of the critical and constructive potential of Nietzsche’s thought for contemporary democratic theory, especially agonism: Owen, Hatab, Connolly, Mouffe, Schrift, Dombowski. But also liberalism (Rawls) and republicanism (Arendt).

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • read any primary Nietzsche text in the original (with or without a translation at hand) in such a way that they can interpret, reconstruct and evaluate the claims and arguments therein in a defensible manner;

  • read papers / excerpts from the research literature on Nietzsche (in English, German or Dutch) and political theory in such a way that they can extract the main points and arguments, answer structured questions (in writing), and make a summarising oral presentation and evaluation in class;

  • write a paper on a topic of the student’s choice that is relevant to the course material, with attention given to: the development of a clear plan combining a sustained, overall argument with shorter arguments for specific points; clarity of style; soundness and transparency of argumentation; adequate textual evidence and referencing in support of points, including close commentaries on selected Nietzschean (and post-Nietzschean) texts; techniques for further research on specific topics in the paper; formal features and presentation (bibliography, references, notes); written academic English (optional).


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Seminars

The meetings will take the form of lectures and a seminar discussion OR seminar discussions of key texts, introduced by the instructor, and presentations by students.
Class attendance is mandatory.

Assessment method


  • Presentations and reading preparations (50%)

  • Final exam (5,000-6,000 word paper and text commentaries) (50%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of the subtests (presentation and paper/commentaries). See above.


The resit consists of a revised or new final paper (50% of the overall grade). The grade for other comonments (presentations and reading preparations) remains in place. Students who have obtained a satisfactory overall grade for the first examinations cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Required literature

Various texts from the ‘Kritische Studienausgabe’ (DTV/de Gruyter, 1980ff.) of Nietzsche’s writings, available online (Nietzsche Online) via the library or via Nietzsche Source (open access: Nietzsche’s writings are all translated into Dutch. The published texts and most of the Nachlass are translated into English. Students will have to read the German together with their chosen translation.Various articles / chapters from the secondary literature, to be assigned on a weekly basis.

Secondary literature

Useful introductions to the course topics include:

  • Daniel Conway, Nietzsche & the Political (Routledge, 1997);

  • Keith Ansell-Pearson, An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker (CUP, 1994);

  • David Owen, Nietzsche, Politics & Modernity (Sage, 1995);

  • Tracy Strong, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration (Univ. California Press, 1975, 1988)

  • Various essays in the volume Nietzsche, Power & Politics. Rethinking Nietzsche’s Legacy for Political Thought (H.W. Siemens. & V. Roodt eds., 2008: de Gruyter).

A good comprehension of German is a great advantage.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • 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.