Dieter Thomä

Puer robustus - A Philosophy of the Troublemaker

(German title: Puer robustus)
ca. 715 pages
Dieter Thomä
Foto: Dieter Thomä
© Jürgen Bauer

Dieter Thomä, born 1959, is Professor for Philosophy at the University of St. Gallen.

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English world rights (Polity), Spanish world rights (Herder), Italy (Mimesis)

Enter modernity’s secret leading man!


This book delivers a great comeback to a troublemaker – possibly the troublemaker par excellence – sunk into obscurity: the puer robustus, the stout youngster who takes matters into his own hands, doesn’t abide by the rules, offends, rebels and sometimes lunges out.

Over the course of three centuries, he has incensed the minds of great poets and thinkers in the form of bad boy or hero, as an exemplary or a cautionary tale. Hobbes and Rousseau, Schiller and Hugo, Diderot and Tocqueville, Marx, Freud, Carl Schmitt and many others even saw in him a pivotal character embodying the central problem of political philosophy: that of the relationship between order and disruption.

The future of modern society is just as much at stake today. And as ever, it isn’t being decided in the centre of power, but at the margins where the crises are being contended with. This – the threshold of order – is where copycats and troublemakers, loners and rebels congregate, and puer robustus is lurking behind all of them. So it’s about time to rediscover him with Dieter Thomä, who in his fabulous philosophical adventure story shows what we should make of this guy.


»In fluent and energetic style, Dieter Thomä offers a compelling response to the current threats facing our economic, social, and political order. This timely and important book will be of great interest to anyone who is struggling to understand what is going on in the world today.« Joachim Whaley, University of Cambridge

»For some years now, Dieter Thomä has been writing extraordinarily original, elegantly conceived and executed books about topics as varied as parents, fathers, and Americans – in effect, he has been re-defining the proper topics of philosophical reflection. His new book on the puer robustus, a notion introduced by Hobbes about the ›troublemakers‹ in society, is a masterpiece of this genre, the literate philosophical essay. The scholarship is astonishing, ranging over Hobbes, Rousseau, Diderot, Schiller, Hugo, Marx, Freud, and others, the insights acute and important, and the pleasure of reading it constant.« Robert Pippin, University of Chicago

»With an admirable combination of historical serendipity, hermeneutical sensitivity, and philosophical farsightedness, Dieter Thomä manages in this fascinating book to reanimate a political figure always present in the imaginary of democratic societies but never fully disclosed or theorized: the puer robustus, the troublemaker, who since the times of Hobbes has again and again haunted the fantasy of political philosophers as someone either undermining or rejuvenating the democratic order of modern societies. It is the path-breaking thesis of this masterful study that, without revealing the exact role of these troublemakers, we are not capable of understanding both the risks and the potentials for renewal, the dangers and the vitality of democratic regimes. A must read for everyone interested in political theory and philosophy.« Axel Honneth, University of Frankfurt

»As the philosopher Dieter Thomä shows in this brilliant study, the puer robustus is a central element of societies marked by division and uncertainty. His book could not be more timely.« NZZ am Sonntag

»Endlessly lively [...] tremendous entertainment« Catholic Herald

»›Puer robustus‹ […] we can see in him, as does philosopher Dieter Thomä in his brilliant study, the lifeblood of a disputatious, mutable society. In that regard, this book is highly topical.« Angela Gutzeit, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

»Dieter Thomä tells an adventure story of the troublemakers within the societal order. […] Additionally, Thomä accomplishes to narrate this truly adventurous story in a captivating way.« Thorsten Jantschek, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»an intricate, pointed essay, obsessed with details in a thoroughly positive way.« Adam Soboczynski, DIE ZEIT

»a sublime work […] a pleasant tour d’horizon […] wonderfully nimble« Tilman Allert, Literarische Welt

»Thomä remains focused on his subject on over 700 pages in an unpretentiously scholarly fashion and presents a fascinating history of political philosophy according to Thomas Hobbes and at the same time a theory of the political dissident. A great accomplishment!« Florian Baranyi, Falter 41/2016