Shlomo Avineri (1972)

Hegel's Theory of the Modern State

Source: Hegel's Theory of the Modern State, Shlomo Avineri, 1972.

5: Modern life and social reality
Labour, Alienation & the Power of the Market

In the System der Sittlichkeit and the two versions of the Realphilosophie Hegel introduces for the first time his theory of what he would later call 'objective spirit', though the Realphilosophie contains also much else. [13] Both sets of texts remained unpublished in Hegel's own lifetime. The System der Sittlichkeit, composed around 1802-3, was published in its entirety for the first time by Lasson in 1913, though an earlier incomplete version was published by Mollat in 1893. The two versions of lectures known as Realphilosophie I and II, delivered by Hegel at Jena University in 1803-4 and 1805-6 respectively, were published by Hoffmeister for the first time in the early 1930s.

A careful analysis of these two sets of texts, unknown to most of Hegel's traditional commentators, shows that while Hegel's main concern was always the attempt to achieve a comprehensive system of general philosophical speculation, his preoccupation with problems of a social and political nature consistently remained as the focus of his theoretical interest. These texts also point to a remarkable continuity in his political thought and clearly show that the political philosophy of the Philosophy of Right cannot be understood in terms of a mere justification of the Restoration of 1815, since most of its themes and ideas go back to Hegel's thought during the Jena period. [14] Though the System der Sittlichkeit and the Realphilosophie differ on a number of issues, they will be treated jointly here.

The System der Sittlichkeit tries to delineate the context within which a philosophy of social relationships can be justified. Sittlichkeit, ethical life, is defined by Hegel as the identification of the individual with the totality of his social life. [15] What Hegel sets out to do is to describe the series of mediation; necessary for individual consciousness to find itself in this totality.

Hegel's point of departure is nature; consciousness' first moment is the realisation of its apartness and separateness from nature. This realisation dives rise to the impulse to overcome this separation, to integrate nature into oneself. Consciousness seeks its own recognition in its objects. This is the notion of need, in which the human subject relates to objects of nature and seeks to subsume them under his subjectivity and thus restore the primeval identity of subject and object. '.\Ian wants to devour the object, and Hegel projects this process in three stages: (a) need; (b) the overcoming and fulfilment of need; and (c) satisfaction." [16] Through satisfaction the individual achieves this transcendence of separation, but only on an immediate level: this satisfaction, in which the object is being destroyed, is purely sensuous and negative. It is limited to a particular object and cannot be generalised. The consciousness of separation remains after each individual act of subsumption.

The emergence of property is seen by Hegel as another attempt by man to appropriate nature to himself, but this time on a higher level, No longer is the natural object appropriated in order to be negated and destroyed; on the contrary, now it is being preserved.

But the significance of this appropriated object now no longer lies in its relationship to the appropriating subject, but rather in the fact that other Subjects recognise it as belonging exclusively to this one particular subject:

The right of possession relates immediately to things, not to a third party. Man has a right to take into possession is union as lie can as an individual. He has this right, it is implied in the concept of being himself: through this he asserts himself over all things. But his taking into possession implies also that he excludes a third. What is it which from this aspect binds the other? What may I take into my possession without doing injury to a third party? [17]

It is from these considerations that Hegel derives the trans-subjective, non-individual nature of property: property pertains to the person as recognised by others, it can never be an intrinsic quality of the individual prior to his recognition by others. While possession relates to the individual, property relates to society: since possession becomes property through the others' recognition of it as such, property is a social attribute. Thus not an individualistic but a social premise is at the root of Hegel's concept of property, and property will never be able to achieve an independent stature in his system. This is significant because though Hegel's description of the economic process is taken, as we have already noted, from classical political economy, lie holds a totally different view about the basic nature of property. Property always remains premised on social consensus, on consciousness, not on the mere fact of possession.

Property is thus to Hegel a moment in man's struggle for recognition. [18] It does not derive from merely physical needs, and has thus an anthropological significance which it was always to retain in Hegel's philosophy. Yet there still remains an accidental element in possession, even when turned into property, since the objects of property relate to this or that individual in a wholly arbitrary way.

It is at this stage in his philosophical anthropology that Hegel introduces labour into his system. Only through labour, Hegel maintains, 'is the accidentality of coming into possession being transcended (aufgehoben)'. [19] Labour, to Hegel, is the sublimation of primitive enjoyment; in labour 'one abstracts from enjoyment, i.e. one does not achieve it The object, as an object, is not annihilated, but another is posited in its stead'. [20]

Labour is thus a mediated transcendence of the feeling of separation from the object; moreover, by its very nature, it is the locus of a synthesis of the subjective and the objective. The instrument of labour facilitates this mediation, and it is through labour that man becomes recognised by others. Labour is the universal link among men, 'Labour is the universal interaction and education (Bildung) of man . . . a recognition which is mutual, or the highest individuality'. [21] In labour, man becomes 'a universal for the other, but so does the other'. [22]

Labour appears then as the transformation of the appetites from their initial annihilative character to a constructive one: whereas primitive man, like the animals, consumes nature and destroys the object, labour holds up to man an object to be desired not through negation but through re-creation. While the goal of production is thus explained as recognition through the other, its motive is still need. Consciousness, by desiring an object, moves man to create it, to transform need from a subjective craving and appetite into an external, objective force. Labour is therefore always intentional, not instinctual for it represents man's power to create his own world. Production is a vehicle of reason's actualisation of itself in the world. In a passage which prefigures his later dictum about the rational and the actual, Hegel remarks that 'Reason, after all, can exist only in its work; it comes into being only in its product, apprehends itself immediately as another as well as itself'. [23]

But Hegel's views on labour as the instrumentality through which man acquaints himself with his world and thus develops both this world as well as himself is accompanied by a realisation that the conditions of labour postulate not only an actualisation of man but also his possible emasculation. To Hegel labour as practised in history has a double aspect. On the one band, it is the externalisation and objectification of man's capacities and potentialities: through labour, nature becomes part of the natural history of man: 'I have done something; I have externalised myself; this negation is position; externalisation (Entäusserung) is appropriation.' [24] But labour also brines forth conditions which frustrate man's attempt to integrate himself into his world. This element of alienation in the process of labour is, to Hegel, not a marginal aspect of labour which can be rectified or reformed: it is fundamental and immanent to the structure of human society, and it is one of the characteristics of modern society that this element is being continually intensified. What we have in Hegel's discussion of this issue is one of the first most radical realisations that the development of modern society much as it is welcomed by Hegel - adds a further burden to the traditional predicaments of human life.

This vision of the workings of modern society does not come to Hegel through any empirical study of the social or economic conditions in his contemporary Germany. His account of these conditions in The German Constitution certainly does not describe a vital, let alone active and productive society. Nor does he refer to other, more developed societies: Hegel's views here are rather a distillation of the model of society presented by modern political economy raised to the level of a philosophical paradigm. [That this was Hegel's point of departure was clearly realised by Marx, who wrote in his Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts: 'Hegel's standpoint is that of modern political economy. He conceives labour as the essence, the self-confirming essence of man.' But since Marx was not acquainted with the unpublished texts of the System der Sittlichkeit and the Realphilosophie, he was not aware that Hegel did realise that labour entails alienation. Hence he mistakenly concludes that Hegel 'observes only the positive side of labour, not its negative side']. [25]

The problematic aspect of labour is bound up with its social nature, and is hence inescapable. We have seen that to Hegel labour is the mediation through which man is related to his fellow beings. Now Hegel adds a further dimension: in production, man produces not for himself, but, on a reciprocal basis, for others as well. Labour becomes social labour, and men's aims in the process of labour are not only their individual aims, but broader, trans-individual ones: 'Labour for all and the satisfaction of all. Everyone serves the other and sustains him, only here has the individual for the first time an individuated being; before that it has been only abstract and untrue.' [26]

Contrary to the atomistic, individualistic view of labour, which sees labour as primary and exchange as secondary and derivative, based on surplus, for Hegel labour is always premised on a reciprocal relationship, subsuming exchange under its cognitive aspects. No one produces for himself, and all production presupposes the other - hence a basic element of recognition is always immanent in labour.

Yet this reciprocity gives rise to a problem: though every human need is concrete, the totality of needs for which the totality of production is undertaken is abstract and cannot be concretely expressed until the whole process of production and distribution has been completed. Production thus becomes abstract and the division of labour appears related to the needs of production and not to the needs of the producers. Man produces not the objects of his own specific needs, but a general product which lie can then exchange for the concrete object or objects of his needs. He produces commodities, and the more refined his tastes become, the more objects he desires which he cannot produce himself but can attain only through the production of more objects which be then exchanges. There thus appears a universal dependence of each human being on the universality of the producers and the character of labour undergoes a basic change:

Because work is being done for the need as an abstract being-for-itself, one also works in an abstract way ... General labour is thus division of labour, saving ... Every individual, as an individual, works for a need, The content of his labour [however] transcends his need; he works for the satisfaction of many, and so [does] everyone. Everyone satisfies thus the needs of man, and the satisfaction of his many particular needs is the, labour of many others. Since his labour is thus this abstraction, he believes is an abstract self. or according to the way of thingness, not as a comprehensive, rich, all-encompassing spirit, who rules over a wide range and masters it. He has no concrete work: his power is in analysis, in abstraction, in the breaking up-of the concrete into many abstract aspects. [27]

The dialectical nature of social labour is thus evident: on the one hand, by creating sociability, a universal dependence of each on all, it makes man into a universal being. On the other hand, this reciprocal satisfaction of needs creates a hiatus between the concrete individual and his particular and concrete needs. By working for all, the individual does not work for himself any more; an element of distance and a need for mediation is consequently thrust between his work and the satisfaction of his needs. Social labour necessarily entails alienation:

Man thus satisfies his needs, but not through the object which is being worked upon by him; by satisfying his needs, it becomes something else. Man does not produce any more that which he needs, nor does he need any more that which he produces. Instead of this, the actuality of the satisfaction of his needs becomes merely the possibility of this satisfaction. His work becomes a general, formal, abstract one, single; he limits himself to one of his needs and exchanges this for the other necessities. [28]

This universal dependence of man on man, while bringing out man's universal nature, also creates a power over man which grows beyond his control; what men produce under these conditions are not the objects of their immediate desire, but commodities:

This system of needs is, however, formally conceived as the system of universal reciprocal physical inter-dependence. Nobody is for himself [regarding] the totality of his needs. His work, or any method whatsoever of his ability to satisfy his needs, does not satisfy it. It is an alien power (eine fremde Macht), over which he has no control and on which it depends whether the surplus, which he possesses, constitutes for him the totality of his satisfactions. [29]

The more labour becomes thus divided and specialised, the more commodities can be produced; the more labour becomes removed from the immediate satisfaction of the producers, the more productive it becomes. Man thus achieves ever greater comfort at the price of ever greater abstraction and alienation in the process of production itself:

His labour and his possessions are not what they are for him, but what they are for all. The satisfaction of needs is a universal dependence of all on all; there disappears for everyone the security and the knowledge that his work is immediately adequate to his particular needs; his particular need becomes universal. [30]

The process of labour - originally man's recognition through the other, intended to create for each his own objective world - becomes a process over which man loses all control and direction. Man is far from being integrated into the objective world through creative consciousness, i.e. labour; the abstract nature of labour, together with the division of labour, makes him totally alien to this objective world. Hence Hegel comes to be troubled by the real conditions of factory labour, and his general anthropology of labour becomes social analysis. Quoting Adam Smith, Hegel says:

The particularisation of labour multiplies the mass of production; in an English manufacture, 18 people work at the production of a needle; each has a particular and exclusive side of the work to perform; a single person could probably not produce 120 needles, even not one ... But the value of labour decreases in the same proportion as the productivity of labour increases. Work becomes thus absolutely more and more dead, it becomes machine-labour, the individual's own skill becomes infinitely limited, and the consciousness of the factory worker is degraded to the utmost level of dullness. The connection between the particular sort of labour and the infinite mass of needs becomes wholly imperceptible, turns into a blind dependence. It thus happens that a far-away operation often affects a whole class of people who have hitherto satisfied their needs through it; all of a sudden it limits [their work], makes it redundant and useless. [31]

This analysis undoubtedly reveals Hegel as one of the earliest radical critics of the modern industrial system. Hegel goes on to point out the necessary link between the emergence of machinery and the intensification of alienation, and here again be takes a middle position between the idealisers of the machine and the machine-smashers: while recognising the alienation caused by the introduction of the machine, be sees it as a necessary element in the anthropological determination of modern society based on ever-increasing production. Originally, Hegel contends, tools were nothing else than the mediation between man and his external world; as such, they always remained a passive object in the hands of the producer. But,

In the same way, [the worker] becomes through the work of the machine more and more machine-like, dull, spiritless. The spiritual element, the self-conscious plenitude of life, becomes an empty activity. The power of the self resides in rich comprehension: this is being lost. He can leave some work to the machine; his own doing thus becomes- even more formal. His dull work limits him to one point, and labour is the more perfect, the more one-sided it is ... In the machine man abolishes his own formal activity and makes it work for him. But this deception, which he perpetrates upon nature ... takes vengeance on him.

The more he takes away from nature, the more he subjugates her, the baser he becomes himself. By processing nature through a multitude of machines, he does not abolish the necessity of his own labour; be only pushes it further on, removes it away from nature and ceases to relate to it in a live way. Instead, he flees from this negative livingness, and that work which is left to him becomes itself machine-like. The amount of labour decreases only for the whole, not for the individual: on the contrary, it is being increased, since the more mechanised labour becomes, the less value it possesses, and the more must the individual toil. [32]

[The parallels with Marx's description in the Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts are, of course, striking (see Early Writings, pp. 120-34). The major difference has, however, already been pointed out by Lukacs: while Hegel sees alienation as a necessary aspect of objectification, Marx maintains that alienation does not reside immanently in the process of production itself, but only in its concrete historical conditions. For Marx therefore, there exists the possibility of ultimate salvation, whereas for Hegel one will never be able to dissociate the cross from the rose of the present.]

The immanent link between division of labour, mechanisation and the alienating nature of labour becomes more and more the center of Hegel's argument:

Labour, which is oriented towards the object as a whole, is (being) divided and becomes particular labour; and this particular labour becomes more and more mechanical because its manifold nature is (being) excluded ... It becomes alien to totality. This method of working, which is thus divided, presupposes that the remainder of the needs were to be achieved through another fashion, since they have also to be worked out - through the labour of other men. In this emasculation (Abstumpfung) of mechanical labour there directly lies the possibility of separating oneself completely from it: because labour is wholly quantitative, without variety . . . something completely external ... It only depends upon it to find an equally dead principle of movement for it, a self-differentiating power of nature, like the movement of water, of the wind, of steam, etc., and the instrument turns into a machine. [33]

We thus have here, in one of the more speculative documents of German idealist philosophy, one of the most acute insights into the working of modern, industrial society: from an a priori philosophical anthropology, Hegel moves on to incorporate the results of political economy into a Philosophical system - an attempt almost identical in its systematic structure with Marx's program forty years later. How many of Marx's later conclusions are already to be found, explicitly or implicitly, in Hegel's earlier texts would however require a separate discussion. [34]

Commodity-producing society, according to Hegel, needs also a universal, abstract criterion which can mediate between labour and the subject. This is money:

Those multiple labours of the needs as things must also realise their concept, their abstraction: their universal concept must also be a thing just like them, but [it must be] a universal, which represents all. Money is this materially existing concept, the form of the unity of the potentiality of all the things relating to needs. Need and labour are thus elevated into this universality, and this creates in a great nation an immense system of commonality (Gemeinschaftlichkeit) and mutual dependence, a life of death moving within itself (ein sich in sich bewegendes Leben des Toten). This system moves hither and thither in a blind and elemental way, and like a wild animal calls for strong permanent control and curbing. [35]

The ultimate power in commodity-producing society is the power of the market: 'In this system the ruling [element] is the unconscious blind totality of needs and the methods of their satisfaction.' [36] The power of the market is connected with the transformation of the use value of objects into the exchange value of commodities. [37] Man's labour, which had been aimed at achieving both recognition through the other and power over objects, thus ultimately places man in a diametrically opposed condition of utter dependence and total impotence vis-a-vis the powers which were created by him and his own subjectivity - but over which he bad now lost all control.

Hegel's account of commodity-producing society abounds with explicit references to the sociological structure of this society. Aspects of class-domination appear in a very prominent way in Hegel's description when he expresses his awareness of the fact that the wealth of nations can be built only at the expense of the poverty of whole classes: 'Factories and manufacturers base their existence on the misery (Elend) of a class', he remarks .[38] And, in another context, his description is no less brutal in its candour: '[This power] condemns a multitude to a raw life and to dullness in labour and poverty, so that others could amass fortunes.' [39]

The condition of poverty, in which this mass finds itself, is endemic to commodity-producing society: 'This inequality of wealth is in and for itself necessary', because wealth has the necessary, immanent tendency to accumulate and multiply itself. [40] [In these paragraphs Hegel speaks explicitly about 'the working class' (die arbeitende Klasse, p. 498). It should be noted that only in referring to workers does Hegel use the modem term Klasse, rather that the traditional Stand, which he uses when otherwise discussing social classes]. The power driving men to act in the market is infinite and knows no bounds:

Though it appears that enjoyment has to be something definite and limited, its infinity is its ideality, and in it it is infinite ... Cultured enjoyment, in overcoming the roughness of needs, must look to the noblest and most refined and adapt it, and the more differentiated its lustre, the greater the labour that is necessary for its production. [41]

From this Hegel draws the conclusion that wealth and poverty are interdependent and constitute two aspects of the Janus-like immanent forces of the market. The rapid expansion of the market necessitates ever-expanding and continually-changing needs. Again, in a rare insight into the dialectics of ever -changing demand creating pressure for ever-increasing production, Hegel says: 'Needs are thus multiplied; each need is subdivided into many; tastes become refined and differentiated. One demands a level of finish which carries the object ever nearer to its use.' [42]

Fashion becomes the determinant of production, and Hegel is thus one of the first thinkers who has grasped the internal logic of constantly-changing fashions and fads and its function within the productive process. The constant disquiet of concrete life in industrial society is here described from the consumer's point of view as well:

But this plurality creates fashion, the versatility and freedom in the use of these things. The cut of clothes, the style of furnishing one's home, are nothing permanent. This constant change is essential and rational, far more rational than sticking to one fashion, imagining to find something permanent in such particular forms. The beautiful is not ordered by one fashion; but here we have to do not with free beauty, but with luxury that attracts ... Hence it has accidentality in it. [43]

These fluctuations in taste have a bearing on the basic lack of security which characterises modern society. Whole sectors of the population live by the whim of a changing mode. Hegel's description of the conditions of life of these classes sinking into poverty is truly amazing when one reflects that Hegel reaches his conclusions through an immanent development of the consequences of the theories of political economy:

Whole branches of industry which supported a large class of people suddenly fold up because of a change in fashion or because the value of their products fell due to new inventions in other countries. Whole masses are abandoned to poverty which cannot help itself. There appears the contrast between vast wealth and vast poverty - a poverty that cannot do anything for itself ... Wealth, like any other mass, makes itself into a power. Accumulation of wealth takes place partly by chance, partly through the universal mode of production and distribution. Wealth is a point of attraction ... It collects everything around itself - just like a large mass attracts to itself the smaller one. To them that have, shall be given. Acquisition becomes a many-sided system which develops into areas from which smaller businesses cannot profit. The highest abstraction of labour reaches into the most particular types of labour and thus receives an ever-widening scope. This inequality of wealth and poverty, this need and necessity, turn into the utmost tearing up (Zerrissenheit) of the will, an inner indignation (Empörung) and hatred. [44, see Philosophy of Right § 244]

The ultimate consequences of these conditions then push the helpless mass of the poor into personal dependence upon the wealthy, who are their employers. Economic inequality calls for a situation of domination, and out of economic relations there emerges a dangerous pattern of inequality and power:

This necessary inequality ... causes through its quantitative constitution ... a relationship of domination. The enormously rich individual becomes a power, lie transcends the continuing physical dependence [which meant that one] depended upon a universal, not a particular [power].

Man's Promethean attempt has ended in shambles: the forces unleashed by his creative consciousness have become fetters, and the generality of human beings becomes enslaved by its own needs and by the modes of satisfying them.


13 Rosenzweig, Hegel und der Staat, pp. 130ff. That Realphilosophie I is an earlier attempt at a comprehensive system has recently been challenged: see the editor's remark to the new edition of Realphilosophie II (Hamburg, 1967). We shall, however, follow the traditional way of referring to the two works involved as Realphilosophie I and II.

14 Cf. Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, pp. 73-90; Lukacs, Der junge Hegel, pp. 407-31; Mihailo Markovic, 'Economism or the Humanization of Economics', Praxis v (1969), 460-1.

15 'System der Sittlichkeit', in Schriften zur Politik und Rechtsphilosophie, p. 419.

16 Ibid. p. 422.

17 Realphilosophie II, 207; cf. Realphilosophie II, 240, on the transition from possession to property: 'The security of my possession [becomes] the security of the possessions of all; in my property, all have their property. My possession has achieved the form of consciousness.'

18 Schriften zur Politik, p. 439.

19 Realphilosophie II, 217.

20 Schriften zur Politik, p. 424.

21 Ibid. p. 430.

22 Ibid. p. 428.

23 Realphilosophie I, 233.

24 Realphilosophie II, 218.

25 See K. Marx, Early Writings, trans. T. B. Bottomore (London, 1963), p. 203.

26 Realphilosophie II, 213.

27 Ibid. II, 214-15.

28 Realphilosophie I, 237-8.

29 Schriften zur Politik, p. 492.

30 Realphilosophie 1, 238.

31 Ibid. I, 239.

32 Ibid. I, 232, 237.

33 Schriften zur Politik, p. 437.

34 In discussing Marx's views on the alienation of the worker in my The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (Cambridge, 1968) I referred, on pp. 55-56, to Adam Muller's and Franz von Baader's writings to show that the social consequences of industrial society were grasped by German thinkers well before Marx and the advent of industrialisation in Germany itself. At that time I was unaware of the extent to which Hegel dealt with these problems. In fact, his treatment not only antedates both Muller and von Baader, but is carried out in much greater detail and occupies a central position in the formation of his social philosophy - something that cannot be said for two other thinkers quoted by me. There is one further difference, of course: while Muller's and von Baader's writings were published, Hegel's discussions of this problem remained in manuscript, and were unknown to his contemporaries.

35 Realphilosophie I, 239-40. In later years, Hegel coined the following aphorism about money: 'Money is the abbreviation of all external necessity' (Berliner Schriften, p. 731). Again, the parallel with Marx's fragment 'On Money' (Early Writings, pp. 189-94), as well as with Moses Hess' tract on the same subject, is very close.

36 Schriften zur Politik, p. 493. Cf. p. 492: 'This value depends upon the totality of needs and the totality of surplus; and this totality is a power little known, unseen and incalculable.'

37 Ibid. P. 438: 'So this possession has lost its meaning for the practical feeling of the subject, is not any more a need for him, but [becomes] surplus; its relation to use is therefore a universal one.'

38 Realphilosophie II, 257. Cf. p. 232: 'A mass of the population is condemned to stupefying, unhealthy, and precarious labour in factories, manufactures, mines, etc.'

39 Ibid, II, 238.

40 Schriften zur Politik, p. 495.

41 Ibid. pp. 494-5. Cf. p. 496: 'High wealth is likewise connected with the deepest poverty ... Labour becomes.. . on one side ideal universality, on the other really mechanical.' Philosophy of Right § 198

42 Realphilosophie II, 231-2. The slightly censorious tone evokes echoes of Rousseau; but never does Hegel suggest that a recourse to a more simple, less differentiated society is feasible. The yearning for pristine simplicity, evident in both Plato and Rousseau, is totally absent in Hegel.

43 Ibid. II, 232.

44 Ibid. II, 232-3. It is extremely interesting to note that the term 'inner indignation' (Empörung) used here by Hegel, is the same he uses in the addition to § 244 of the Philosophy of Right where he says that 'poverty in itself does not make men into rabble; a rabble is created only when there is joined to poverty a disposition of mind, an inner indignation against the rich, against society, against the government, etc.' Moreover, the only oblique reference in Marx to Hegel's discussion of poverty in the Philosophy of Right is a fleeting hint that Empörung is not enough; see K. marx/F. Engels, The Holy Family, trans. R. Dixon (Moscow, 1956), p. 51.