Skip to main content

Political Theory in Modern Germany: An Introduction



Political Theory in Modern Germany: An Introduction

Chris Thornhill

ISBN: 978-0-745-66878-9 June 2013 Polity 272 Pages


This book provides an accessible and comprehensive introduction to the major political thinkers of modern Germany. It includes chapters on the works of Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, Franz Neumann, Otto Kirchheimer, Jurgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann. These works are examined in their social and historical contexts, ranging from the period of Bismarck to the present day.

A clear picture is presented of the connections between individual theoretical positions and the general political conditions of modern Germany. Areas of political history covered in particular depth include nineteenth-century legal and parliamentary history, aspects of German liberalism, Weimar social democracy, political Catholicism, Adenauer and Erhard, Brandt's reforms and the Tendenzwende of the late 1970s. By closely linking intellectual and political history, this work examines how recent German political theory has developed as a set of varying responses to recurring aspects and problems of political life in modern Germany. At the same time, it addresses the philosophical and political implications of the works which it treats, and it critically examines how modern German political theory has contributed to broader attempts to theorize political legitimacy and politics itself.

This book will be of interest to students of political theory, German studies and European political history.



1. Max Weber.

2. Carl Schmitt.

3. Franz Neumann and Otto Kirchheimer.

4. Jurgen Habermas.

5. Niklas Luhmann.




'This is as much a work on German political institutions as it is a book on theory ... Thornhill situates each thinker's theory within the debate over the direction of political institutions in Germany.' New Political Science

‘This immensely learned and informative study examines in detail the work of four of the leading political theorists in Germany in the 20th Century: Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, Jürgen Habermas, and Niklas Luhmann, along with a briefer treatment of Franz Neumann and Otto Kirchheimer. Thornhill's aim is not only to explain ideas, but also to “illuminate the interrelations between political theory and political event.” He provides a penetrating account of the main themes of each of his chosen authors and situates them carefully in terms of political developments within Germany. The objective might seem to invite a superficial survey, but there is nothing superficial in Thornhill's treatment. He seems to have read everything written by and about his subjects and to know the history of political and economic developments in Germany very thoroughly. The result is an authoritative, stimulating, and quite challenging account of an influential body of work. It is accompanied by a very extensive bibliography, devoted mostly to primary sources. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above.'

Donald J. Maletz, in: Choice July/August 2000.

Selected for the Choice Outstanding Academic Books list for 2000

* A comprehensive introduction to the major political thinkers of twentieth-century Germany.
* Examines how recent German political theory has developed as a set of responses to problems of political life in modern Germany.
* Includes detailed discussion of the political thought of such key thinkers as Max Weber, Carl Schmitt and Jurgen Habermas, as well as authors less well known in the English-speaking world, e.g. Franz Neumann, Otto Kirchheimer and Niklas Luhmann.