Professor Manfred Henningsen

Professor Manfred Henningsen

Background & Interests

Being born 1938 in Germany’s northern-most city Flensburg, which gained in April 1945 the questionable reputation of becoming for a few weeks the last capital of Nazi Germany, I grew up in a post-war country that was occupied by the victors of WWII and whose citizens refused to come to terms with the terror Nazi Germany had perpetrated on the Europe it had conquered. The experience of this deafening silence, which was caused by denial, shaped my interest in political legitimacy and authority in Germany and other societies.

Apart from returning frequently to German history in the 20th century and the processing of Germany’s violent past, my interest shifted to the U.S. when I moved in late 1969 to this country, first as a fellow to Stanford’s Hoover Institution and then in 1970 to the University of Hawai‘i. I published two books in German on the American story, the first (Der Fall Amerika, Munich 1974) dealing with the European misconception of the U.S. as a footnote to European history and the second (Der Mythos Amerika, Frankfurt 2009) focusing on the American mythical self-images from the 17th to the 21st century and their distortions of historical reality.

My research interests were originally centered on themes in political thought and the philosophy of history. I edited with two colleagues at the University of Munich, where I received my PhD in 1967 with a dissertation on A. J. Toynbee (Menschheit und Geschichte, Munich 1967), a history of political thought in 14 volumes. These volumes covered German, English, French, Islamic, and Chinese and other political thinkers and the meaning projects they created. I am still publishing essays and articles in European and American publications on political thought. The most recent examples are “The Death of Civilizations: Three Variations on a Theme -- Huntington, Toynbee and Voegelin" (European Journal of Social Theory, (Vol. 17, No. 2; 2014) and “Eric Voegelin’s Deconstruction of Race in 1933” (Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, (Vol. 35, 1-2; New York 2014).

My main focus at this time, however, is concentrated on a project dealing with terror and memory. How do societies that have been governed by regimes of terror deal with the aftermath of this violence? Always starting with the German configuration and the unusually successful processing of the past, I try to make sense of the German case before the backdrop of an almost universal rule of denial and refusal. Most societies practice denial when it comes to acknowledging macro-criminal chapters in their history and refuse to confront the impact of this history on their own people and peoples they conquered and terrorized. In addition to Germany, S. Africa is an exception, whereas Germany’s ally during WWII, imperial Japan, is the best illustration of the general rule. I’m still looking for an answer why the Japanese political class refuses to accept the obvious and continues to indulge in denial.

Courses Taught

Race and Politics (POLS 271) [sample syllabus: 2015]

Topics in Comparative Politics: European Politics (POLS 307) [sample syllabus: 2015]

History of Political Thought (POLS 335) [sample syllabus: 2013]

Contemporary Political Theory (POLS 610) [sample syllabi: 2012, 2015]

The spectrum of theories and philosophies

The Tradition of Political Philosophy (POLS 611) [sample syllabus: 2014]

A course that traces the notion of politics through Western history by using texts from ancient Greece and Rome, medieval Europe, modern France, Italy, Britain and Germany.

Political Thought (POLS 710)

I repeatedly taught under this number classes on comparative genocide with different foci.

In the undergraduate curriculum I regularly teach the survey course on Western political theory from Ancient Greece to the present; I occasionally teach the course on American political theory; and I frequently teach the only course on contemporary European politics (showing American students how different European politics is from US politics.


Curriculum Vitae (PDF)