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Hegel Bulletin virtual special Issue «Hegel and politics» – Free Access

We are pleased to announce the Hegel Bulletin Virtual Special Issue on Hegel and Politics.

The Issue, with a dedicated Introduction by Mark Alznauer, offers a selected collection of articles published in the Bulletin over the years.

All articles are available for free download, without password for a limited period.

Below you can read the Introduction by Mark Alznauer to the Issue.


Hegel Bulletin
Retrospective Virtual Issue: Hegel and Politics
Mark Alznauer
Northwestern University

With the bicentennial of the publication of Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right quickly approaching, this is an especially fitting time for the Hegel Bulletin to revisit the legacy of Hegel’s political philosophy. It could be argued that the most striking and controversial feature of Hegel’s political thought is the importance it places on certain modern social institutions as necessary conditions for the actualization of individual freedom. Many have viewed Hegel’s emphasis on the institutional foundations of freedom as offering an invaluable corrective to the abstractions and idealizations of the natural right tradition. But others have viewed Hegel’s focus on institutions at the expense of individuals as largely pernicious, as effectively redefining freedom as the ‘freedom to obey the police’, as Bertrand Russell famously put it.

This debate about Hegel’s institutional theory of freedom now has a very long history behind it, one that has gone through a number of distinct phases. When the Philosophy of Right was first published, disagreement centred on the question of whether Hegel’s philosophy of right constituted a conservative defence of the existing Prussian state, or involved a subtle advocacy for certain progressive reforms. The rise of totalitarianism in the first half of the twentieth century gave rise to new concerns: some accused Hegel of being an early enemy of the open society while others praised him for offering us resources for a dialectical critique of these newly emerging political forms. Toward the end of the last century, Hegel’s politics returned to the center of the conversation once again, now in the guise of offering a communitarian alternative to Rawlsian political liberalism.

This retrospective virtual issue of the Hegel Bulletin offers us an opportunity to review the most recent phase in this debate. It includes a selection of articles drawn from the last fifteen years of the journal’s history on the theme of Hegel and Politics. (It is perhaps worth noting that the majority of these were published under the journal’s previous name: Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain). The reader of these articles will find that several important themes unite them, some continuous with the concerns that have attracted the attention of Hegel’s previous readers, and others more specific to our own historical moment. Three themes are particularly prominent—although the articles, of course, deal with many other issues as well.

The first is an old concern, but one that has proved hard to lay to rest. Many have worried that the normal citizen of Hegel’s rational state is a kind of ‘cultural dope,’ someone who unthinkingly reproduces the institutions of a rational society without having any real insight into the rationality of those institutions. It is hard to deny that Hegel is open to this criticism: although he clearly believed that a rational society needs to be justifiable to the individuals who constitute it in principle, he also suggests that the default attitude for a citizen to adopt to the state was trust, not rational conviction. Indeed, Hegel’s own philosophical justification of the state is so abstruse that it is hard to imagine how it could be accessible to anyone without philosophical training. Several of the articles in this virtual issue attempt to address worries about this, asking questions about whether Hegel’s account of freedom satisfies Rawls’s publicity constraint, about whether his reliance on ‘trust’ or on a religious basis for the state is inherently dangerous, and about whether he is guilty of what Axel Honneth called an ‘over-institutionalization’ of ethical life. Needless to say, the conclusions reached differ.

A second important theme concerns the liabilities and promises of Hegelian politics in our contemporary moment. Any account of freedom that emphasizes the importance of specific historical institutions will be exposed to the risk of becoming obsolete as those institutions change or evolve. Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that certain features of Hegel’s account of modern society—such as his treatment of the heterosexual nuclear family and his dated account of the role of the estates in a just society—come in for some criticism in the following pages. But this makes it all the more remarkable how many commentators continue to find Hegel’s political philosophy particularly well-suited to help us understand contemporary social or political pathologies. In the articles gathered here, the reader will find several fine examples of this, cases where a Hegelian analysis is brought to bear on the limitations of Hayekian neoliberalism, on the problems of rightlessness that have been raised by refugee crisis, and on the failure of democracy in the face of the global financial collapse of 2007–2008. These articles make a strong case for the continuing relevance of Hegel’s theory of the modern state, even in very different times.

A third prominent theme in the articles gathered here concerns the relationship of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right to his wider philosophical and metaphysical commitments. Although it has long been clear that Hegel’s philosophy of right was intended to be read as a part of his philosophical system, there is a lively and continuing debate about whether what is valuable in Hegel’s political philosophy is independent of his distinctive metaphysical and logical beliefs. While some still contend that it is precisely Hegel’s breakthroughs in logic that explain the value of his political philosophy, many others find his logic to be obsolete, outdated, or of comparatively little value. For this latter group it has become particularly pressing to determine whether we can retain what is of most value to us in Hegel’s political philosophy without saddling ourselves with this unwanted metaphysical baggage. Several of the following articles show the range of responses to this question that are still being entertained.

The articles collected here demonstrate both that there has been real progress in the framing of traditional problems attending Hegel’s political philosophy, and that his philosophy offers surprising new applications to the contemporary world. They suggest that Hegel’s legacy is far from exhausted.

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