The Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths University of London

Research Centre run jointly between the Departments of Sociology and English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths University, London


Critiques of Violence

About the Seminar

CPCT’s annual research seminar meets on a bi-weekly basis and is open to centre members, graduate affiliates, and other interested staff and students at Goldsmiths and beyond. It aims to serve as a forum for philosophical work and dialogue at Goldsmiths.

2021 is the 100th anniversary of the publication of two texts that were seminal for the development of the modern critique of the state: Walter Benjamin’s “Toward the Critique of Violence” and Sigmund Freud’s Mass Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. The years around 1921 were not only the immediate aftermath of a number of revolutionary events in the environs of “Europe” (Russia, Germany), however; they were also coincident with the abolition of the world’s last widely recognized caliphate, the reshaping of the Arab Middle East, and the creation of the first Islamic mass movement of the twentieth-century: the Muslim Brotherhood. Taking this triple anniversary as its point of departure, this seminar will investigate what it means to “critique violence” and what being a “state” stands for during the long decade around and in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, both for contemporaries of the time and for us today who are the heirs to some of the most influential writings in political and legal thought resulting from this period. Alternating between close systematic readings of the texts in question and a genealogical approach to their historical and intertextual contexts, the seminar will seek to return the conceptual and practical stakes of a critique of violence to their full complexity, reconsidering them as articulations of implicit and explicit debates on anti-imperialism, nationalisms old and new, the value of constitutionalism, and the ambiguous role of religion in the modern world.

Convened by Julia Ng ( [at] and Andrea Mura (a.mura [at]

All meetings will take place on Wednesdays from 4:00-6:00pm on Zoom (click here to register).

A detailed session plan including further readings and links to PDFs is available here.


Oct 14 Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895; Dover, 2002)

Oct 28 Wilfred Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (1916) [selections]; and William McDougall, The Group Mind: A Sketch of the Principles of Collective Psychology with Some Attempt to Apply Them to the Interpretation of National Life and Character (1920; Leopold Classic Library, 2016) [selections]

Nov 11 Sigmund Freud, Mass Psychology and Other Writings, trans. J. A. Underwood (London: Penguin, 2004); and “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death,” trans. E. C. Mayne, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, ed. James Strachey et al., 24 vols. (London: Hogarth, 1953-75), 14:273-300.

Nov 25 Hans Kelsen, “The Conception of the State and Social Psychology—With Special Reference to Freud’s Group Theory [1922],” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 5 (1924), 1-38; and Der soziologische und der juristische Staatsbegriff (Tübingen: Mohr, 1922, 1928)

Dec 9Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933)


Jan 27 V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917); and “A Contribution to the History of the Question of the Dictatorship” (1920)

Feb 10  Karl Kautsky, Terrorism and Communism (1918)

Feb 24 Carl Schmitt, Dictatorship (1921)

Mar 10 Adolf Reinach, The Apriori Foundations of the Civil Law (1913); and Edmund Husserl, “Adolf Reinach,” Kant-Studien 13 (1919), 147-149.

Mar 24 Walter Benjamin, “Toward the Critique of Violence” (1921); One Way Street (1928)


Apr 21 Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, ‘Refutation of the Materialists’, pp. 130-174, in Nikki R. Keddie (ed.), An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal ad-Din ‘al-Afghani’ (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968); Ernest Renan, ‘Islam and Science: A Lecture Presented at La Sorbonne: 29 March 1883’, (trans. S. P. Ragep); Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, ‘Answer of Jamal ad-din to Renan’ pp. 181-187, in Nikki R. Keddie (ed.), An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal ad-Din ‘al-Afghani’ (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968).

May 5 Ali Abdel Razek, Islam and the Foundations of Political Power (1925; Edinburgh University Press, 2013); and Kerr, Malcolm H., Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muhammad ‘Abduh and Rashid Rida (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966): Ch. 5, and Ch.6.

May 26 Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Stanford University Press, 2013): ‘The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam’, 116-142; and M. K. Gandhi, Indian Home Rule, or Hind Swaraj (1908): ‘‘A Word of Explanation’ (Preface to the first Hindi translation of the book, 1921) [plus selections].

Jun 16 Sayyid QutbMilestones (New Delhi: Islamic Book Service, 1964/2006); and Hasan al-BannaBetween Yesterday & Today, (Pamphlet, 1939); Towards the Light, (1947).