Accessibility statement

Things fall apart: political thought in times of crisis - POL00067I

« Back to module search

  • Department: Politics
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Tim Stanton
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

W.B. Yeats wrote in 1920 that things fall apart when the centre cannot hold and the blood-dimmed tide is loosed on the world. In such times the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Asked in 1936 to join a campaign to free a German pacifist incarcerated by the Nazis, he responded by recommending his poem, which “foretold what is happening”. Perhaps only “The Second Coming” can rescue us still. In this module you'll examine four times and places in which things fell apart: Ancient Rome, mid-seventeenth century Britain, late-eighteenth century France and Haiti, and post-World War One Germany. The module brings alive classic texts alongside pamphlets, ballads and visual images produced at moments of crisis when the world as people knew it was collapsing and a new order was yet to be born. Resurrecting the political thought of these times offers powerful alternative ways of understanding the crises of the present.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

(1) To develop in students a critical understanding of important texts in the history of political thought;

(2) To cultivate their analytical, argumentative and communicative skills;

(3) To recognise the continued vitality of alternative ways of understanding political life and, more particularly, of identifying and grasping the unique challenges to democracy as a form of government, and recapturing the reasons why historical thinkers reached for alternative ways of organising our collective life.

Module learning outcomes

Critical understanding of some of the key texts in the history of political thought (PLO1)

To interpret and critically analyse philosophical arguments about political ideas (PLO2)

Recognize the power of history to inform and illuminate our understanding of contemporary politics (PLO4)


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 75
Multiple Choice Quiz
N/A 25

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 75
Multiple Choice Quiz
N/A 25

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Students will receive written feedback on their summative assessment no later than 25 working days after submission; and the module tutor will hold a specific session to discuss feedback, which students can also opt to attend. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s regular feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

Extracts from the following primary sources (alongside selected discussions in the secondary literature):

Seneca, De clementia

Cicero, De republica

Richard Overton, Arrow against all Tyrants (1646)

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

Edward Sexby, Killing no Murder (1657)

Abbé Sieyès, What is the Third Estate? (1789)

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1927/32)

Eric Voegelin, “The Preservation of Democracy” (1940)

Political pamphlets, images, ballads from the French and Haitian revolutions, and from the Weimar Republic.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.