Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation


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Because of the integrating function of the corporation, especially in regard to the social and economic division of labor, what appear as selfish purposes in civil society are shown to be at the same time universal through the formation of concretely recognized commonalities. Hegel says that "a Corporation has the right, under the surveillance of the public authority, a to look after its own interests within its own sphere, b to co-opt members, qualified objectively by requisite skill and rectitude, to a number fixed by the general structure of society, c to protect its members against particular contingencies, d to provide the education requisite to fit other to become members.

Furthermore, the family is assured greater stability of livelihood insofar as its providers are corporation members who command the respect due to them in their social positions. Because individual self-seeking is raised to a higher level of common pursuits, albeit restricted to the interest of a sectional group, individual self-consciousness is raised to relative universality. The political State, as the third moment of Ethical Life, provides a synthesis between the principles governing the Family and those governing Civil Society.

The rationality of the state is located in the realization of the universal substantial will in the self-consciousness of particular individuals elevated to consciousness of universality. Freedom becomes explicit and objective in this sphere. Rationality is concrete in the state in so far as its content is comprised in the unity of objective freedom freedom of the universal or substantial will and subjective freedom freedom of everyone in knowing and willing of particular ends ; and in its form rationality is in self-determining action or laws and principles which are logical universal thoughts as in the logical syllogism.

10. Introduction to Hegel's Social Philosophy

The Idea of the State is itself divided into three moments: a the immediate actuality of the state as a self-dependent organism, or Constitutional Law; b the relation of states to other states in International Law; c the universal Idea as Mind or Spirit which gives itself actuality in the process of World-History. Only through the political constitution of the State can universality and particularity be welded together into a real unity.

The self-consciousness of this unity is expressed in the recognition on the part of each citizen that the full meaning of one's actual freedom is found in the objective laws and institutions provided by the State. The aspect of differentiation, on the other hand, is found in "the right of individuals to their particular satisfaction," the right of subjective freedom which is maintained in Civil Society.

Thus, according to Hegel, "the universal must be furthered, but subjectivity on the other hand must attain its full and living development. As was indicated in the introduction to the concept of Ethical Life above, the higher authority of the laws and institutions of society requires a doctrine of duties. From the vantage point of the political State, this means that there must be a correlation between rights and duties. In fulfilling one's duties one is also satisfying particular interests, and the conviction that this is so Hegel calls "political sentiment" politische Gesinnung or patriotism.

Thus, the "bond of duty" cannot involve being coerced into obeying the laws of the State. According to Hegel, the political state is rational in so far as it inwardly differentiates itself according to the nature of the Concept Begriff. The principle of the division of powers expresses inner differentiation, but while these powers are distinguished they must also be built into an organic whole such that each contains in itself the other moments so that the political constitution is a concrete unity in difference.

Constitutional Law is accordingly divided into three moments: a the Legislature which establishes the universal through lawmaking; b the Executive which subsumes the particular under the universal through administering the laws; c the Crown which is the power of subjectivity of the state in the providing of the act of "ultimate decision" and thus forming into unity the other two powers.

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Despite the syllogistic sequence of universality, particularity, and individuality in these three constitutional powers, Hegel discusses the Crown first followed by the Executive and the Legislature respectively. Hegel understands the concept of the Crown in terms of constitutional monarchy. The third moment is what gives expression to the sovereignty of the state, i. The monarch is the bearer of the individuality of the state and its sovereignty is the ideality in unity in which the particular functions and powers of the state subsist. The monarch is not a despot but rather a constitutional monarch, and he does not act in a capricious manner but is bound by a decision-making process, in particular to the recommendations and decisions of his cabinet supreme advisory council.

The monarch functions solely to give agency to the state, and so his personal traits are irrelevant and his ascending to the throne is based on hereditary succession, and thus on the accident of birth. The "majesty of the monarch" lies in the free asserting of 'I will' as an expression of the unity of the state and the final step in establishing law.

The executive has the task of executing and applying the decisions formally made by the monarch. Also, the executive is the higher authority that oversees the filling of positions of responsibilities in corporations. The executive is comprised of the civil servants proper and the higher advisory officials organized into committees, both of which are connected to the monarch through their supreme departmental heads.

Overall, government has its division of labor into various centers of administration managed by special officials. Individuals are appointed to executive functions on the basis of their knowledgibility and proof of ability and tenure is conditional on the fulfillment of duties, with the offices in the civil service being open to all citizens. The executive is not an unchecked bureaucratic authority. Civil servants and the members of the executive make up the largest section of the middle class, the class with a highly developed intelligence and consciousness of right.

Legislative activity focuses on both providing well-being and happiness for citizens as well as exacting services from them largely in the form of monetary taxes. The proper function of legislation is distinguished from the function of administration and state regulation in that the content of the former are determinate laws that are wholly universal whereas in administration it is application of the law to particulars, along with enforcing the law. Hegel also says that the other two moments of the political constitution, the monarchy and the executive, are the first two moments of the legislature, i.

In the legislature, the estates "have the function of bringing public affairs into existence not only implicitly, but also actually, i. Not only do the estates guarantee the general welfare and public freedom, but they are also the means by which the state as a whole enters the subjective consciousness of the people through their participation in the state.

Thus, the estates incorporate the private judgment and will of individuals in civil society and give it political significance. The estates have an important integrating function in the state overall. Also, the organizing function of the estates prevents groups in society from becoming formless masses that could form anti-government feelings and rise up in blocs in opposition to the state.

The three classes of civil society, the agricultural, the business, and the universal class of civil servants, are each given political voice in the Estates Assembly in accordance with their distinctiveness in the lower spheres of civil life. The legislature is divided into two houses, an upper and lower.

The upper house comprises the agricultural estate including the peasant farmers and landed aristocracy , a class "whose ethical life is natural, whose basis is family life, and, so far as its livelihood is concerned, the possession of land. Landed gentry inherit their estates and so owe their position to birth primogeniture and thus are free from the exigencies and uncertainties of the life of business and state interference.

The relative independence of this class makes it particularly suited for public office as well as a mediating element between the crown and civil society. The second section of the estates, the business class, comprises the "fluctuating and changeable element in civil society" which can enter politics only through its deputies or representatives unlike the agricultural estate from which members can present themselves to the Estates Assembly in person.

The appointment of deputies is "made by society as a society" both because of the multiplicity of members but also because representation must reflect the organization of civil society into associations, communities, and corporations. It is only as a member of such groups that an individual is a member of the state, and hence rational representation implies that consent to legislation is to be given not directly by all but only by "plenipotentiaries" who are chosen on the basis of their understanding of public affairs as well as managerial and political acumen, character, insight, etc.

The deputies of civil society are selected by the various corporations, not on the basis of universal direct suffrage which Hegel believed inevitably leads to electoral indifference, and they adopt the point of view of society. The debates that take place in the Estates Assembly are to be open to the public, whereby citizens can become politically educated both about national affairs and the true character of their own interests.

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Public opinion is a "standing self-contradiction" because, on the one hand, it gives expression to genuine needs and proper tendencies of common life along with common sense views about important matters and, on the other, is infected with accidental opinion, ignorance, and faulty judgment. Moreover, while there is freedom of public communication, freedom of the press is not totally unrestricted as freedom does not mean absence of all restriction, either in word or deed.

Hegel calls the class of civil servants the "universal class" not only because as members of the executive their function is to "subsume the particular under the universal" in the administration of law, but also because they reflect a disposition of mind due perhaps largely from their education that transcends concerns with selfish ends in the devotion to the discharge of public functions and to the public universal good.

As one of the classes of the estates, civil servants also participate in the legislature as an "unofficial class," which seems to mean that as members of the executive they will attend legislative assemblies in an advisory capacity, but this is not entirely clear from Hegel's text.


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Also, given that the monarch and the classes of civil society when conceived in abstraction are opposed to each other as "the one and the many," they must become "fused into a unity" or mediated together through the civil servant class. From the point of view of the crown the executive is such a middle term, because it carries out the final decisions of the crown and makes it "particularized" in civil society. On the other hand, in order for the classes of civil society to actually sense this unity with the crown a mediation must occur from the other direction, so to speak, where the upper house of the estates, in virtue of certain likenesses to the Crown e.

The interpenetration of the universal with the particular will through a complex system of social and political mediations is what produces the self-consciousness of the nation-state considered as an organic internally differentiated and interrelated totality or concrete individual.

In this system, particular individuals consciously pursue the universal ends of the State, not out of external or mechanical conformity to law, but in the free development of personal individuality and the expression of the unique subjectivity of each. However, individuality is not something possessed by particular persons alone, or even primarily by such persons.

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The state as a whole, i. In principle, Mind or Spirit possesses a singleness in its "negative self-relation," i. For any being to have self-conscious independence requires distinguishing the self from any of its contingent characteristics inner self-negation , which externally is a distinction from another being.

This consciousness of what one is not is for the nation-state its negative relation to itself embodied externally in the world as the relation of one state to another. According to Hegel, war is an "ethical moment" in the life of a nation-state and hence is neither purely accidental nor an inherent evil. Because there is no higher earthly power ruling over nation-states, and because these entities are oriented to preserving their existence and sovereignty, conflicts leading to war are inevitable.

Also, defense of one's nation is an ethical duty and the ultimate test of one's patriotism is war. In making a sacrifice for the sake of the state individuals prove their courage, which involves a transcendence of concern with egoistic interests and mere material existence. Moreover, war, along with catastrophy, disease, etc, highlights the finitude, insecurity, and ultimate transitoriness of human existence and puts the health of a state to a test. Hegel does not consider the ideal of "perpetual peace," as advocated by Kant, a realistic goal towards which humanity can strive.

Not only is the sovereignty of each state imprescriptible, but any alliance or league of states will be established in opposition to others. States are not private persons in civil society who pursue their self-interest in the context of universal interdependence but rather are completely autonomous entities with no relations of private right or morality.

However, since a state cannot escape having relations with other states, there must be at least some sort of recognition of each by the other. International law prescribes that treaties between states ought to be kept, but this universal proviso remains abstract because the sovereignty of a state is its guiding principle, hence states are to that extent in a state of nature in relation to each other in the Hobbesian sense of there being natural rights to one's survival with no natural duties to others.

Obviously, if states come to disagree about the nature of their treaties, etc. States recognize their own welfare as the highest law governing their relations to one another, however, the claim by a state to recognition of this welfare is quite different from claims to welfare by individual person in civil society.

States recognize each other as states, and even in war there is awareness of the possibility that peace can be restored and that therefore war ought to come to an end, as well as understandings about the proper limitations on the waging of war. However, at most this translates into the jus gentium , the law of nations understood as customary relationships, which remains a "maelstrom of external contingency. To say that history is the world's court of judgment is to say that over and above the nation-states, or national "spirits," there is the mind or Spirit of the world Weltgeist which pronounces its verdict through the development of history itself.

Michael O. Hardimon, Hegel’s Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation - PhilPapers

The verdicts of world history, however, are not expressions of mere might, which in itself is abstract and non-rational. The history of Spirit is the development through time of its own self-consciousness through the actions of peoples, states, and world historical actors who, while absorbed in their own interests, are nonetheless the unconscious instruments of the work of Spirit. The actions of great men are produced through their subjective willing and their passion, but the substance of these deeds is actually the accomplishment not of the individual agent but of the World Spirit e.

Hegel says that in the history of the world we can distinguish several important formations of the self-consciousness of Spirit in the course of its free self-development, each corresponding to a significant principle. More specifically, there are four world-historical epochs, each manifesting a principle of Spirit as expressed through a dominant culture.

In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel discusses these in a very abbreviated way in paragraphs , which brings this work to an end.


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  2. Michael O. Hardimon, Hegel's Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation. Reviewed by!
  3. The Project of Reconciliation: Hegel’s Social Philosophy - Semantic Scholar.
  4. The Project of Reconciliation: Hegel’s Social Philosophy.
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  8. Here we will draw from the more elaborated treatment in the appendix to the introduction to Hegel's lectures on the Philosophy of World History.

    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation
    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation
    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation
    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation
    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation
    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation
    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation
    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation
    Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation

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