Power in Political Theory
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleMAN-MPOL027A
Credits (ECTS)6
CategoryMA (Master)
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Nijmegen School of Management; Master Political Science;
prof. dr. M.L.J. Wissenburg
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. M.L.J. Wissenburg
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
prof. dr. M.L.J. Wissenburg
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. M.L.J. Wissenburg
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2023
1  (04/09/2023 to 05/11/2023)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesYes
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
  • The ability to demonstrate, in the analysis of instances of political decision-making, the incompatibility of political authority and moral autonomy, and …
  • … to distinguish valid attempts at moral justification of policies from uses of power overruling moral autonomy.
  • The ability to distinguish, assess and identify the four main conceptions of power in the Anglo-Saxon analytical and Continental hermeneutic traditions, both in texts in political theory and  in real-world cases of politics.
  • The ability to develop valid and convincing argumentative support for political choices, while respecting the limits posed by moral autonomy.
Does not every rule, every law, every command and regulation imply a violation of human autonomy? Are they not insults to humanity? Is there a way to escape from power?
In this course, power, the mother of all political concepts, receives our full and well-earned attention; it is a concept that is too easily taken for granted or ignored by political scientists, political theorists and politicians. Worse: it is often ignored in other contexts - but power is everywhere: in the public and the private sector, in the privacy of home , in our language, in our habits and culture and dreams. 
The course opens with the discovery that authority and autonomy are mutually exclusive. This is a highly abstract problem with highly practical consequences, since it wrecks the foundations of laws and regulations, not to mention supposedly desirable collective ideals such as tolerance and democracy, leaving anarchy as the only legitimate political 'order'. And we shall see that there is (again) no reason to believe that any of this does not also apply to any social context - university, company, family...
Next, we discuss a representative selection of answers to the anarchist challenge - answers that turn out to be only halfway successful, at best in legitimising the use, or threatened use, of force or power. These more or less classical answers all originate in the Anglo-Saxon tradition in political philosophy, where an equally classical conception of power is presupposed: the Weberian 'making someone do what she/he would otherwise not do'. The Anglo-Saxon tradition seems to be inspired by a desire for liberal tolerance, a desire to protect and make room for, a diversity of individuals and of views on the good life. Sooner or later, however, ideas of the good life contradict one another, and one idea has to give way to the other, either under pressure or through 'reasonable' argument. But doesn't the appeal to reason already imply the exclusion of some theories of the good life? Thus, is this just another appeal to authority, another denial of autonomy?
In the Continental philosophical tradition, other, more subtle theories of power have been developed. Using the three conceptions of power of Steven Lukes, combined with Foucault's notion of discursive power and feminist rewrites of them, we re-examine the problem of the incompatibility of power and morality. As illustrations, we look at a number of highly original responses to three 'hot topics': global justice, multicultural coexistence, and gender.
Students should be aware that this is a fairly demanding course: you should not miss any of the sessions, and we expect you to actively participate in each and every session, to have read all the literature before each session, to cooperate with, and support, your fellow students when preparing for sessions, to give multiple presentations during the course, and to hand in a number of assignments on time. Access criteria apply - please contact the course coordinator before registration.

Presumed foreknowledge
BA or BSc in any of the social sciences, arts or humanities (including philosophy and theology). Consult the instructor if you have a different background. No admission under any circumstances for students who are still in a Bachelor's programme.
Test information
Three short papers. Partial grades do not remain valid next year.

Ma 1

Instructional modes

Attendance MandatoryYes

Test weight1
Test typePaper
OpportunitiesBlock 1, Block 2