Classical german philosophy. University of Padova research group

Material: Ludwig Siep, “Formen des Widerstandsrechts bei Kant, Fichte, Hegel und den Frühkonstitutionalisten”

25 April is the Anniversary that commemorates Italy’s Liberation, accomplished by the partisan forces, which put an end to the Fascist regime and the Nazi occupation. On this special occasion, we are extremely pleased to share an essay by Ludwig Siep that has been specifically composed for hegelpd. The essay is entitled “Formen des Widerstandsrechts bei Kant, Fichte, Hegel und den Frühkonstitutionalisten” and is based on Siep’s paper “Widerstandsrecht zwischen Vernunftstaat und Rechtsstaat”, published in the latest volume Ein Recht auf Widerstand gegen den Staat? Verteidigung und Kritik des Widerstandsrechts seit der europäischen Aufklärung, edited by David P. Schweikard, Nadine Mooren and Ludwig Siep (Mohr Siebeck 2018), 99-131.


In this essay, Siep explores the notion of “Widerstandsrecht” (the right to resist) within the German philosophy of the 18th and 19th centuries. This right becomes crucial whenever a State no longer fulfils its duty to ensure its citizens’ fundamental rights: in these circumstances, after having run out of all legal means, citizens have the right to resist. Siep starts its analysis by observing the considerable relevance that such a right has in the contemporary philosophical, political and legal debate concerning both single constitutions and international law. He then shows in detail how a negative attitude towards this notion has prevailed for a long time in German culture. Indeed, both Kant and Hegel do not adequately set out the limits of the sovereignty of the State with respect to citizens’ rights. This is certainly due to the ambivalent echo of the French Revolution: on one hand, the idea of establishing the State authority on a reasonable constitution, in which citizens can identify themselves, is welcomed by Kant and his successors; on the other hand though, the violent overthrow of the legitimate order is set as the root of the derailment in the Terror. According to Siep, to better understand the right to resist, it is therefore necessary to turn to less known philosophers and jurists, such as Carl von Rotteck, Carl-Theodor Welcker and Robert von Mohl, often called “Frühkonstitutionalisten” (early constitutionalists). They give rise to a German tradition of the rule of law, which constitutionally limits the citizen’s obligation to obey: this duty ceases to be valid in the circumstances in which the authorities massively violate the constitution and the fundamental rights. These theorists thus also legitimise active forms of resistance.

The essay first investigates various attempts to attribute to Kant and Hegel a constitutional Widerstandsrecht, since they both belong to the tradition of Hobbes’ criticism to the right to resist and of the primacy of State sovereignty (I). Secondly, the text explores Locke’s tradition of the right to resist, as developed by the “early constitutionalists” (II). In the last part of the essay, which meaning could this right have for the method of political philosophy is then discussed, with particular reference to the concepts of “reason” and “system” (III).


Ludwig Siep is Professor Emeritus at the University of Münster and Seniorprofessor at the Exzellenzcluster “Religion und Politik” at the same university. His books include Hegels Fichtekritik und die Wissenschaftslehre von 1804 (1970), Anerkennung als Prinzip der praktischen Philosophie (2nd edn, 2014), Praktische Philosophie im Deutschen Idealismus (1992), Der Weg der Phänomenologie des Geistes (5th edn., 2018), Konkrete Ethik. Grundlagen der Natur- und Kulturethik (2004), Aktualität und Grenzen der praktischen Philosophie Hegels (2010) and Der Staat als irdischer Gott. Genesis und Relevanz einer Hegelschen Idee (2015). He is also the editor of G.W.F. Hegel: Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (4th edn, 2017).

Hegelpd sincerely thanks Professor Siep for his courtesy and his friendship with our research group.

The essay is available by clicking on the button below.

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