Let me say at the outset that my own reading has concentrated largely on the Logic. This was a result of the direction I was given as a Trotskyist, where we followed Lenin's focus on the Logic. It was only after a couple of years of study of the Logic that I was led to the Philosophy of Right, where the social significance of Hegel's philosophy is far, far clearer than it is in the Logic. Marx was familiar with the whole body of Hegel's work, but the most substantial critique we have of Hegel by Marx is his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. However, this work has received less attention than it deserves, though Georg Lukacs and Herbert Marcuse's study of Hegel's early work on political economy contributed to current understanding of the social and historical significance of Hegel's work.
One of the major avenues whereby Hegel's philosophy has entered current philosophy is via Alexandre Kojeve's lectures on Hegel which focussed largely on the Phenomenology, particularly the section on the Master-Slave dialectic, and via French philosophy, this has created an almost totally distinct current of Hegelian influence. Further, because it is in the Subjective Spirit that Hegel deals with Language, the whole literary and cultural criticism current looks to this part of Hegel, while those interested in Art and/or Religion go to the Absolute Spirit for their Hegel. My own familiarity with Hegel's work outside of the Logic and the Philosophy of Right (Objective Spirit) is very limited, so I will not attempt to explain what I do not know.
The Encyclopedia is made up of three Parts: the Science of Logic, the Philosophy of Nature and the Philosophy of Spirit. The first part was developed in full before the Encyclopedia was begun and the Logic of the Encyclopedia is known as The Shorter Logic. It reflects the material Hegel used in his lectures, and is shorter, more popular in presentation, is published with Notes provided by his students and was amended and improved right up to 1831.
The Phenomenology is a huge book and was Hegel's first major publication and anticipated the Encyclopedia, but it is mainly the Subjective Spirit and the Absolute Spirit that are dealt with in the Phenomenology.
The Philosophy of Nature I find the most difficult to get value out of. It develops the categories of Nature in sequence: Mathematics - Inorganic Physics (Mechanics, Elementary Physics, Physics of Individuality) - Organic Physics (Geology, Vegetable Nature, Animal Nature). The great achievement of the Philosophy of Nature is that Hegel attempted to work out a theory of Nature as a single interconnected whole, and if we judge his efforts in the context of his time, and with a genuinely broad brush, then one could say it is centuries ahead of its time, but that of course is exactly the problem. Although the general idea of Nature as an interconnected whole was possible for Hegel, the empirical and natural-scientific basis for executing this project just wasn't there, and the Philosophy of Nature reads today like any 19th century nature-philosophy, as an idealistic construction.
It is remarkable that while Hegel conceived of knowledge and culture historically, and with a depth which is as profound as anything seen today, his view of Nature was absolutely unhistorical. That is to say, while human concepts of Nature developed in time, Nature didn't. It is difficult to read Hegel's Logic and not believe that Hegel had already read The Origin of Species, but a reading of the Philosophy of Nature shows that this is not the case.
Hegel defines the structure of the Encyclopedia in the Introduction (§ 18) as follows:
"I. Logic: the science of the Idea in and for itself.
II. The Philosophy of Nature: the science of the Idea in its otherness.
III. The Philosophy of Mind: the science of the Idea come back to itself out of that otherness."
The concept behind the construction of the Encyclopedia as Logic-Nature-Spirit, with all of human life and culture appearing in the third part, Spirit, is that the Idea exists/existed prior to and independently of human life. That is to say, the Idea is not a human product, it existed outside of Nature, and even prior to the dawn of civilisation.
This is not a novel idea. All pantheistic world-views, including the dominant view of natural scientists and modern-day people who proudly think of themselves as atheists, believe that "Laws of Nature" exist independently of the scientists who write them down, and that the scientists discover them by studying Nature, much as old Francis Bacon directed us to a study of God's Works in order to understand the nature of God, and Benedicto Spinoza said God didn't create Nature, God is Nature, and resolved the problem of Free Will by conceiving of human beings as agents of God's Will.
To contradict this apparently obvious assertion of the objectivity of the Laws of Nature appears at first sight to be subjective idealism, that is to say, denial of the objectivity of knowledge in favour of one-sided assertion of subjectivity. However, a moment's reflection will show that while Nature exists independently of human culture and is clearly the fundamental source of our knowledge, what we call Laws of Nature, the concepts we use to organise our interaction with Nature, are human products and can arise and be meaningful only as a subordinate part of human culture. One and the same Nature is conceived quite differently in different cultures, and the comparison can only be made between such differing conceptions to the extent that the underlying cultures come into mutual contact with one another.
Now I personally cannot go with Hegel in conceiving of these Laws, so to speak, existing outside of Nature in the form of the Idea, in order to posit itself in Nature, so that human culture can grow up on the basis of Nature, and acquire self-consciousness and thereby allow the "Spirit" to manifest itself in history and culture. As Ludwig Feuerbach said: "modern philosophy, ... is the negation of theology that itself is again theology; this contradiction characterises especially the Hegelian philosophy". However, before weighing in and condemning this "objective idealism" one should give due consideration to the enormous power of this conception, and the fact that it is by no means easy to see just how the strengths of such a conception can be maintained without the conception of a Logic existing prior to and independently of human culture and 'objectified' in Nature. This will be the subject of later discussion. Let us for the moment accept Hegel's construction which very few have improved upon, and have a look at the shape of the Philosophy of Spirit.
The Philosophy of Spirit is made up of three parts: the Subjective Spirit, the Objective Spirit and the Absolute Spirit. The Subjective Spirit deals with individual consciousness - Soul, Consciousness and the Theoretical and Practical Spirit; the Objective Spirit deals with the phenomena of history and society, political economy, law, politics, etc - Property, Morality and Ethics; in the Absolute Spirit Hegel deals with how the individual consciousness is able to grasp and reflect the movement of the objective spirit - Art, Religion and Philosophy. I want to briefly sketch the main concepts dealt with in the Subjective Spirit and the Objective Spirit, which Hegel developed in greater depth in his Philosophy of Right, and then reflect on how Hegel sees the relation between these spheres, and then look a bit deeper into the Philosophy of Right. I will leave the Absolute Spirit for another day.
The Subjective Spirit begins the Soul, which Hegel describes as the "immediate, the spirit of nature- the object usually treated by "anthropology". The Immediate Soul: "The soul, as the concept in itself in general, isolates itself as the individual subject. But this subjectivity is here considered only as the individuation of natural characteristics; it is the mode of the different temperaments, characters, physiognomies, and other dispositions of families or single individuals". Waking from its dream, the Soul becomes accustomed to its body, and "as a thoroughly formed instrument, it dominates the body", which Hegel calls the Reality of the Soul, - an Ego, which forms the basis for Consciousness, the second phase of the Subjective Spirit.
On the basis of this dream-like subjective awareness, Hegel develops the categories of Consciousness: Consciousness-As-Such, Self-Consciousness and Reason - the "Appearance of Spirit". It is in the section on Self-Consciousness that Hegel places his famous essay on the Master-Slave dialectic. It should be noted that this is in the section on individual self-consciousness, not in the section on the Objective Spirit where the development of the division of labour and class relations is dealt with. The three-sided relation between the labourer, Nature and human society is developed here as the origin of individual, genuinely human Self-Consciousness. The original full version of this passage is in the Phenomenology of Spirit. In the first place we have labour:
"The process is a struggle. For I cannot know of myself in the other as myself insofar as the other is an immediate other existence for me. I consequently concentrate on the suspension of this immediacy. But this immediacy is at the same time the existence of self-consciousness, in which as in its sign and instrument self-consciousness has its own feeling of self and its being for others, and has the general means of entering into relation with them. In the same way I cannot be recognised as immediate, except insofar as the "I" suspends the immediacy in myself and thereby brings my freedom into existence." [Subjective Spirit (1817), § 353]
Thus, Hegel places the emergence of language (sign) along with the use of tools (instruments) in the labour process as the basis for the emergence of self-consciousness and links it directly to the division of labour and consciousness of the self alongside other human beings.
"Since life is as essential as freedom is, the struggle ends in the first place - for in this sphere the immediate individuality of the two self-consciousnesses is presupposed - as in inequality: whereas one of the fighters prefers life and retains its abstract or individual self-consciousness, but surrenders its claim for recognition, the other holds fast to this universality, and is recognised by the former as inferior. Thus arises the relation of master and servant.
The struggle for recognition and the subjugation under a master are the phenomena in which the social life of people emerges. Force, which is the basis of this phenomenon, is thus not a basis of law, but only the necessary and legitimate moment in the transition from the state of self-consciousness mired in appetite and selfish isolation into the suspension of immediate self-hood. This other, however, overcomes the desire and individuality of sunken self-consciousness and transforms it into the condition of general self-consciousness." [Subjective Spirit (1817), §355]
On the basis of the unity of Consciousness-as-such and Self-Consciousness, we have Reason, the form in which the categories of Logic which have objectified themselves in Nature and in the Objective Spirit - the 'thought-objects' which are the products of history and unbeknown to the individual, are embodied in the social relations in which the individual labours, struggling to live, struggling with Nature for their essential bodily needs and struggling in society for the recognition which is equally necessary for survival.
"This negative mediating agency, this activity giving shape and form, is at the same time the individual existence, the pure self-existence of that consciousness, which now in the work it does is externalised and passes into the condition of permanence. The consciousness that toils and serves accordingly attains by this means the direct apprehension of that independent being as its self." [Phenomenology IV]
Anyone familiar with the classic works of Marxism in relation to the origins of consciousness and ideology, its basis in labour and the use of tools, and in the social division of labour, will see how much we owe to Hegel. I will not go further in the discussion of the master-slave dialectic, except to urge you to avoid interpreting this brilliant essay as a "Robinson Crusoe" story. For Hegel, the Objective Spirit is developed in a further part of the Encyclopedia, and there is no sense for Hegel that the social relations which penetrate the soul in the master-slave dialectic, have their origin in this relation, or that the master-slave dialectic is in some way the "germ" of the system of social relations.
This is an important point, because as I have said an entire tradition of Hegel-interpretation begins precisely from the Subjective Spirit and the master-slave dialectic in particular. Now Hegel begins the Encyclopedia with Logic, the "science of the Idea in and for itself", and the spirit posits itself in Nature and Spirit comes back to itself in the third part of the trilogy. The whole sequence of development is then in turn acted out in three parts - individual consciousness, history/social life, and art/religion/philosophy. Now this presentation suffers, as is widely recognised, from the defect that it restores God in the guise of the Idea and no-one can say from whence came this Idea and its various forms. If one nevertheless recognises that Hegel "has something" here, the issue is from where to start and how to define the relation between the parts.
For Hegel, the objective thought-forms dominating social life co-exist with individual consciousness just as does Nature, and the development of individual consciousness presupposes the objective thought forms, including those which are the externalisation of human activity. Each develops in its own sphere.
The same criticism applies mutis mutandi, to those who begin from Phenomenology of Consciousness, the second phase of the Subjective Spirit.
Hegel explains the division of the Encyclopedia quoted above:
"Each of the parts of philosophy is a philosophical whole, a circle rounded and complete in itself. In each of these parts, however, the philosophical Idea is found in a particular specificality or medium. The single circle, because it is a real totality, bursts through the limits imposed by its special medium, and gives rise to a wider circle. The whole of philosophy in this way resembles a circle of circles. The Idea appears in each single circle, but, at the same time, the whole Idea is constituted by the system of these peculiar phases, and each is a necessary member of the organisation. [§ 15]
To begin from the Subjective Spirit is in my view completely contrary to the whole 'spirit' of Hegel, and takes Hegel not in the direction of a humanistic, collectivist, holistic or materialist view of the world, but rather towards an individualistic, elitist, narrow and subjective idealistic standpoint. Not surprisingly, such an approach to Hegel fits very well with a politics which seeks to locate the site of oppression in the relation of person-to-person, and to derive history and social problems from the "germ" of personal oppression. Also, since it is in the Subjective Spirit that Hegel locates the origin of language (as he must! Only individuals speak and write!), beginning a reading of Hegel from here places writing at the origin of the whole system, which suits the professional writer down to the ground, and of course almost all Hegel-interpreters have always been professional writers!
Interestingly, in the first version of the Encyclopedia of 1817, Hegel places the beginning of signs, and thus language coincident with the use of instruments of labour in the section on the Master-Slave dialectic, as the emergence of Self-Consciousness in the division of labour, part of the second, negative phase of the Subjective Spirit, which he characterises as Phenomenology. However, in the later Encyclopedia, this consideration is omitted from Self-Consciousness, and extended remarks on language are found in the third section of the Subjective Spirit which Hegel characterises as Psychology. Here language comes as part of Representation under Theoretical Mind, under Imagination, between Recollection and Memory. I am inclined not to see this as a contradiction, but rather to take the two considerations together.
In the last section of the Subjective Spirit, is the Practical Spirit:
"Free will is the individuality or the pure negativity of the self-determining being for itself which is simply identical with reason and therefore general subjectivity itself, the will as intelligence. The immediate individuality of the will in practical feelings thus has this content, but as immediately individual, hence contingent and subjective" [Subjective Spirit § 390]
Thus, people who have attained the ability to externalise themselves by shaping nature to meet the needs of other people through a division of labour, and have internalised these relations in the form of concepts and use signs and language to bring these material relations into a spiritual domain, and who have attained thereby the capacity to reason, are capable of acting purposively, have Free Will, and free will is the basis upon which a society can leave the domain of Anthropology and enter History, the domain where Reason can show itself in the world.
Thomas Hobbes described society as the “war of all against all” and Rousseau as a "social contract". All concepts of social life and history must in one way or another deal with the contradiction between individual free will and the inherently collective nature of human beings, producing and reproducing themselves socially. (Contemporary theories prefer to 'model' human society as structures or processes or networks or other non-human things). Accordingly, the Philosophy of Right begins with the Will, and develops the forms taken by the Will in social relations.
The fundamental relation of the Objective Spirit is not the master-slave relation, but on the contrary, the relation between free human beings, or what is for Hegel the same thing, the relation between property-owners. The "rabble" figure in the Philosophy of Right, but only as a social problem; women figure only in their role in the family and consequently in the production of heirs. Slavery is an unreal aberration, but proletarians figure as owners of their own bodily energies, the use of which for finite portions of time they can sell. The fundamental relation to be developed is, at the beginning, Abstract Right, which is "the absolutely free will".
Let's begin with a quick overview of the phases of this development of Abstract Right.
The three main divisions of the Philosophy of Right are Abstract Right, Morality and "Ethical Life" (the German word is Sittlichkeit, for which there is no real English translation).
Abstract Right is Property, Contract, and Right vs. Wrong. Morality is Purpose, Intention, and Good. Ethical Life is Family, Civil Society and the State. Thus we see "abstract right" developed through from its utterly abstract being to the more concrete categories which express the relations between individual wills, as yet unmediated by morality or the various institutions of social life- the negative, inward form of this abstract ('what you can get away with' is reflected as 'what you allow yourself to get away with').
The truth of Right and Morality is Ethical Life and the truth of Ethical Life is the State. That is to say, property and morality are but 'moments' in the development of the State. Hegel's view of the Family is pretty much that of his times; it is the domain of 'immediate altruism' and its moments are Marriage, the Family Capital and the upbringing of children, and centres very much on land-ownership, with inheritance of property by the first born male a central principle. Only as the head of a family or when the individual emerges from the family, does the individual exist in Civil Society and the State.
Civil Society is a concept for whose development we owe a great deal to Hegel. It was Hegel who first observed that the separation of a domain of civil society from the domain in which family was identified with politics and defined a person's position in the relation of production. Hegel saw the opening up of this domain as characteristic of the modern state. That is to say, Hegel showed that in mediæval society and earlier times, the state was not a separate body, placing itself over and above society, a system of force which stood effectively outside of the family and the system of social production. For example, if you were born into a yeoman's family or into a noble family, then your birth-right defined your property, your 'profession' and your position in the political system headed by the monarch. Modern society arose historically as a differentiation of the State into separate 'moments'.
This is a very powerful conception, because at one and the same time, it shows us that the state is indeed outside the system of production and the family, and its value to the community lies precisely in that separation (thus we see in both the ex-Soviet bloc countries and in the emerging nations like Indonesia the call for the establishment of a Civil Society), and it allows us to understand how the State emerged historically out of the requirements of the system of social production and the most fundamental relations between people. This is not exactly how Hegel would express his idea. For Hegel the State is the "march of Reason in the world" (just as "History is mind clothing itself with the form of events" [PR § 346]), but only a small adjustment of perspective is required to extract Hegel's insight from its theological form.
Thus Hegel's science of politics and history is very holistic. Without a hint of mechanism, Hegel's system of social theory incorporates everything within a single process, the unfolding of objective spirit: "States, nations, and individuals are all the time the unconscious tools of the world mind at work within them" [PR § 344].
The divisions of Civil Society are: A The System of Needs (The Kind of Need & Means of Satisfying them, The Kind of Labour, and Capital & Class Divisions), B The Administration of Justice (Right as Law, Law as Determinately Existing, the Courts) and C The Public Authority (The Police, The Corporations).
The divisions of the State are taken on two sides: (a) The Internal Constitution (A The Crown, B The Executive and C The Legislature) and the side of (b) Foreign Relations (B International Law and C World History).
While we are looking at this overview of Hegel's categories it is worthwhile asking the question: Is this a program for how the state ought-to-be? Or is a system of categories into which empirical data can be poured? Or neither of these? Either way, surely this is a theory which is only applicable to modern, bourgeois, constitutional monarchies.
In the Preface, is Hegel's famous aphorism which is relevant to this question:
"What is rational is real;
And what is real is rational".
And Hegel explains:
"Against the doctrine that the idea is a mere idea, figment or opinion, philosophy preserves the more profound view that nothing is real except the idea. Hence arises the effort to recognise in the temporal and transient the substance, which is immanent, and the eternal, which is present. The rational is synonymous with the idea, because in realising itself it passes into external existence. It thus appears in an endless wealth of forms, figures and phenomena. It wraps its kernel round with a robe of many colours, in which consciousness finds itself at home.
"Through this varied husk the conception first of all penetrates, in order to touch the pulse, and then feel it throbbing in its external manifestations. To bring to order the endlessly varied relations, which constitute the outer appearance of the rational essence is not the task of philosophy. Such material is not suitable for it, and it can well abstain from giving good advice about these things. ...
"This treatise, in so far as it contains a political science, is nothing more than an attempt to conceive of and present the state as in itself rational. As a philosophic writing, it must be on its guard against constructing a state as it ought to be. Philosophy cannot teach the state what it should be, but only how it, the ethical universe, is to be known. ...
"To apprehend what is is the task of philosophy, because what is is reason. As for the individual, every one is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes. If a theory transgresses its time, and builds up a world as it ought to be, it has an existence merely in the unstable element of opinion, which gives room to every wandering fancy. ...
"The, barrier which stands between reason, as self-conscious Spirit, and reason as present reality, and does not permit spirit to find satisfaction in reality, is some abstraction, which is not free to be conceived. To recognise reason as the rose in the cross of the present, and to find delight in it, is a rational insight which implies reconciliation with reality. This reconciliation philosophy grants to those who have felt the inward demand to conceive clearly, to preserve subjective freedom while present in substantive reality, and yet thought possessing this freedom to stand not upon the particular and contingent, but upon what is and self-completed.
"This also is the more concrete meaning of what was a moment ago more abstractly called the unity of form and content. Form in its most concrete significance is reason, as an intellectual apprehension which conceives its object. Content, again, is reason as the substantive essence of social order and nature. The conscious identity of form and content is the philosophical idea."
(This Preface, and also the Introduction to the Encyclopedia and the Preface to the Phenomenology, are highly readable, at times even poetic, introductions to Hegel's philosophy and are worth reading in their entirety).
Now I want to just quote in full Engels' equally famous defence of this statement:
"No philosophical proposition has earned more gratitude from narrow-minded governments and wrath from equally narrow-minded liberals than Hegel's famous statement:
'All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real'
"That was tangibly a sanctification of things that be, a philosophical benediction bestowed upon despotism, police government, Star Chamber proceedings and censorship. That is how Frederick William III and how his subjects understood it.
"But according to Hegel certainly not everything that exists is also real, without further qualification. For Hegel the attribute of reality belongs only to that which at the same time is necessary: "In the course of its development reality proves to be necessity".
"A particular governmental measure - Hegel himself cites the example of 'a certain tax regulation' - is therefore for him by no means real without qualification. That which is necessary, however, proves itself in the last resort to be also rational; and, applied to the Prussian state of that time, the Hegelian proposition, therefore, merely means: this state is rational, corresponds to reason, in so fas as it is necessary: and if it nevertheless appear to us to be evil, but still, in spite of its evil character, continues to exist, then the evil character of the government is justified and explained by the corresponding evil character of its subjects. The Prussians of that day had the government they deserved.
"Now, according to Hegel, reality is, however, in no way an attribute predicable of any given state of affairs, social or political, in all circumstances and at all times. On the contrary." [Ludwig Feuerbach & the End of Classical German Philosophy, I]
Engels knew what he was doing when he began his famous 1880 exposition of Marxism with this aphorism of Hegel's. Engels agrees with Hegel here, and Hegel himself chooses to defend his aphorism in the introduction to the Encyclopedia. It is the role of the philosopher to discern and point out what is rational in the present state of affairs, and what is unreal and must perish.
Thus the Philosophy of Right is an exposition of what Hegel saw as the Rational in the world he lived in. Now, Hegel grew up in Germany, within cannon-shot of the French Revolution of which he was a supporter, but there are definite limitations on Hegel's vision which prevented him from seeing and understanding the storm which was brewing in Europe and which exploded 17 years after his death in 1848, when the organised working class burst on to the scene of history, but we will come to that later. For the moment let us accept that Hegel's Philosophy of Right is an exposition of the modern state, the state in which property-owners have rights.
Abstract Right is the “inherently single will of a subject” confronting an external world. “Hence the imperative of right is: ‘Be a person and respect others as persons.’” So having rights is at the very root of being a person, while a “thing, as something devoid of will, has no rights against the subjectivity of intelligence and volition”.
The most fundamental expression of right, the Being of modern history, according to Hegel, is the giving of particularity to right in the form of a thing, i.e. in the form of Property and possession. Thus, for Hegel, property is about a person putting their will into the external sphere, into a thing and their right to use that thing being recognised by others; so fundamentally it is a relation of mutual recognition between people. The right to property is, for Hegel, the fundamental premise for being truly a person: "The rationale of property is to be found not in the satisfaction of needs but in the supersession of the pure subjectivity of personality. In his property a person exists for the first time as reason"
The moments of Property are Possession ("The will has its embodiment in something positive"), Use ("the will to possess something must express itself") and Alienation (selling, etc., but also the more philosophical connotation of the word "alienation").
Now it should be emphasised that for Hegel thinghood has nothing to do with corporeality or matter in the sense in which goods are contrasted with services in economics today. It is nothing to do with techniques of production or economics in the modern sense or even legal relations in the strict sense. These come later. What Hegel is talking about is the recognition by Others of the right of any person to have exclusive use of their Will in some way or other in the external world. [In passing, he notes the right of the first person to be able to put their will into something which is not yet touched by another's will, for a thing can have no rights against a person.] This right to externalise the will, recognised by others, he calls Property. The dialectic of Property (Possession, Use and Alienation) lead to its negation in Contract, and the unity of Property and Contract giving the basic concepts of Right and Wrong in the relation between human beings. This is the domain of Abstract Right which presupposes no particular morality on the part of the citizens nor yet any social institutions for the enforcement of Rights. This is not to say that such rights can exist without morality or social institutions, but that the rationale of morality and social institutions can only flow from these "elementary" relations between people.
[In passing it is worth noting Hegel's declamation against the concept of collective property, except where it is in the nature of a thing that it cannot be private property, which he says "mistakes the true nature of the freedom of mind and right" since such common property is "an inherently dissoluble partnership". One could conclude from this that the genuinely socialised means of production we find in today's global division of labour would lead Hegel with the same conviction to the opposite thesis.]
Hegel explains the transition from Abstract Right to Morality as follows:
"That is to say, crime, and justice in the form of revenge, display (i) the shape which the will's development takes when it has passed over into the distinction between the universal implicit will and the single will explicitly in opposition to the universal; and (ii) the fact that the universal will, returning into itself through superseding this opposition, has now itself become actual and explicit. In this way, the right, upheld in face of the explicitly independent single will, is and is recognised as actual on the score of its necessity. At the same time, however, this external formation which the will has here is eo ipso a step forward in the inner determination of the will by the concept. The will's immanent actualisation in accordance with its concept is the process whereby it supersedes its implicit state and the form of immediacy in which it begins and which is the shape it assumes in abstract right; this means that it first puts itself in the opposition between the implicit universal will and the single explicitly independent will; and then, through the supersession of this opposition (through the negation of the negation), it determines itself in its existence as a will, so that it is a free will not only in itself but for itself also, i.e. it determines itself as self-related negativity. Its personality - and in abstract right the will is personality and no more - it now has for its object; the infinite subjectivity of freedom, a subjectivity become explicit in this way, is the principle of the moral standpoint ." [§ 104]
This is not an assertion that Abstract Right historically pre-dates morality, but simply that morality is the truth of abstract right and that morality is internalised abstract right, that morality is historically determined since it is the essence of the actual relations practiced between people in a given historically determined system of relations.
Hegel makes the transition from Morality to Ethical Life as follows:
"The unity of the subjective with the objective and absolute good is Ethical Life, and in it we find the reconciliation which accords with the concept. Morality is the form of the will in general on its subjective side. Ethical life is more than the subjective form and the self-determination of the will; in addition it has as its content the concept of the will, namely freedom. The right and the moral cannot exist independently; they must have the ethical as their support and foundation, for the right lacks the moment of subjectivity, while morality in turn possesses that moment alone, and consequently both the right and the moral lack actuality by themselves. Only the infinite, the Idea, is actual. Right exists only as a branch of a whole or like the ivy which twines itself round a tree firmly rooted on its own account." [§ 104 addition]
Thus Ethical Life - the entirety of social institutions - is conceived of as a unity of opposites, a true Notion. Note that not only are social institutions necessary for the enforcement of rights and morals, but "right lacks the moment of subjectivity" - the spiritual side of social institutions is present for Hegel from the beginning. He does not just see production as being about satisfaction of biological needs and the courts for enforcing order, and so on. From the beginning, all these social institutions are extensions, and in fact the truth of, human nature. But equally, they are the presuppositions of Morality and Rights! For "only the Idea is Actual".
The various institutions of social life thus constitute the Notion of the Objective Spirit, which has sundered itself into three components: Family, Civil Society and the State. "Ethical life is the concept of freedom developed into the existing world and the nature of self-consciousness."
"(A) ethical mind in its natural or immediate phase - the Family. This substantiality loses its unity, passes over into division, and into the phase of relation, i.e. into
(B) Civil Society - an association of members as self-subsistent individuals in a universality which, because of their self-subsistence, is only abstract. Their association is brought about by their needs, by the legal system - the means to security of person and property - and by an external organisation for attaining their particular and common interests. This external state
(C) is brought back, to and welded into unity in the Constitution of the State which is the end and actuality of both the substantial universal order and the public life devoted thereto." [§ 157]
Hegel's treatment of the Family, with the "difference in the physical characteristics of the two sexes has a rational basis and consequently acquires an intellectual and ethical significance", girl's losing their honour and "Woman [having] substantive destiny in the family, and to be imbued with family piety is her ethical frame of mind," and so on and so on, deducing the outmoded marriage practices of early-19th century Germany from Reason, is not Hegel at his best.
The breaking of the bounds of kinship relationships, the plurality of families (in Hegel's view), leads to the emergence of Civil Society - prima facie the disappearance of ethical life, but conversely, the world of Ethical Appearance - which Hegel saw as the characteristic of modern society. The functions which the family is no longer able to perform in modern society outside the bonds of familial obligation, must be provided through relations of self-subsistent externally related individuals. Thus the immediate foundation of Civil Society is the System of Needs, its negative, the various institutions of Law and the unity of these two, the foundations of the State, on the one hand the Public Authority (police etc., and the various instruments of state regulation) and on the other, the Corporations (the corporations were more or less industry associations, like the Guilds of feudal society. Hegel saw these voluntary associations between people engaged in one or another industry as playing an important social role, but they have been overtaken by history, particularly the emergence of the organised working class).
"The concrete person, who is himself the object of his particular aims, is, as a totality and a mixture of caprice and physical necessity, one principle of civil society. But the particular person is essentially so related to other particular persons that each establishes himself and finds satisfaction by means of the others, and at the same time purely and simply by means of the form of universality, the second principle here." [§ 182]
Hegel places political economy at the base of his philosophy of Civil Society, a unity of the inherently single will of the individual and the universality of their needs and the means of their satisfaction through other people. Hegel had read the British political economists at an early stage and was enormously influenced by "the science which starts from this view of needs and labour but then has the task of explaining mass-relationships and mass-movements in their complexity and their qualitative and quantitative character. This is one of the sciences which have arisen out of the conditions of the modern world. Its development affords the interesting spectacle (as in Smith, Say, and Ricardo) of thought working upon the endless mass of details which confront it at the outset and extracting therefrom the simple principles of the thing, the Understanding effective in the thing and directing" [§ 189] And it should be kept in mind that the political economists that Hegel was reading also considered their subject matter to be Ethical Life - not a branch of the "human sciences" - a kind of conception that did not arise till some time after Hegel's death.
The place of political economy in Hegel's system is a matter of some interest in itself. Hegel says that it is only in the system of needs that one has man properly so-called. [§ 190] The ancient and medieval worlds did not have a Civil Society, and there was no opportunity for the expression of free individuality. Hegel has already established that self-consciousness arises only by internalising the relation a person has with the external world and then positing this relation as things in the form of instruments of labour and language. This relation develops from immediate immediacy, to particularity, to universality. The emergence of civil society marks the relation of a person to the external world achieving universality. The state and the family then, which of course, already exist, take on specialised roles, and Hegel is adamant that both the State and the Family should have nothing to do with civil society.
Hegel shows that although each individual comes with concrete needs and concrete labour, the universal character of the civil society in which the person's needs and their means of satisfaction are constructed, mean that the division of labour must become ever more developed so that:
"By this division, the labour of the individual becomes less complex, and consequently his skill at his section of the job increases, like his output. At the same time, this abstraction of one man's skill and means of production from another's completes and makes necessary everywhere the dependence of men on one another and their reciprocal relation in the satisfaction of their other needs. Further, the abstraction of one man's production from another's makes labour more and more mechanical, until finally man is able to step aside and install machines in his place." [§ 198]
Hegel is clearly deeply disturbed by what he sees as an inevitable process in which human labour becomes ever more abstract and mechanical. Hegel further demonstrates the labour theory of value, and shows from this that the more productive people become, the poorer they shall be. Since civil society creates both the needs and their means of satisfaction, Hegel sees that growing poverty is an inescapable part of the development of civil society. While he sees the corporations and the state as having a role in alleviating poverty, he demonstrates that neither Keynesian public works not welfare can eliminate poverty, and his only solution to the problem of the inevitable immiseration of the mass of the population is transportation of the rabble to new colonies!
Hegel's conception of the system of needs in civil society is thus enormously rich and explicitly develops ideas which most people believe were originated not by Hegel, but by Marx. It is important to note that Hegel is in no way concerned here with the circulation of things as such, in the sense of dead material objects, but quite explicitly regards political economy as a developed relationship between people, equally producing as satisfying their needs. The conception of commodities expressing human powers that are alienated as things, and money as abstract human labour, (just like words and other universals produced by the relationship between people, taking the form of a thing) circulating in the world outside of consciousness - these conceptions flow naturally from Hegel's standpoint.
Certain weaknesses should be noted at this time, but I do not want to go very far in this direction just now.
Firstly, in the Philosophy of Right, Hegel is dealing only with the society of property owners. He is a liberal and is by no means unconcerned with the plight of the rabble and with women. But for Hegel, a human being is only truly such to the extent that they are property owners. Thus, like the economists of the late 19th century up till today, Hegel deals with 'economic agents'. Labour-as-such, he has left behind in the Subjective Mind. The proletariat figures in the Philosophy of Right, not because they labour, but because they are owners and sellers of labour. In fact, when Hegel comes to define the classes of Civil Society, he enumerates them as the Agricultural class, the Industrial or Business Class, and the Civil Service; he conceives of the agricultural labourers as subsumed in the Agricultural class along with land-owners and naturally led and represented by them, and of the industrial labourers as subsumed by the Business Class, and naturally led and represented by them. The proletariat did not exist for Hegel in the same sense as women did not exist. It follows from this that Hegel regarded popular suffrage as madness and he explicitly campaigned against abolition of the property qualification in England.
Secondly, Hegel regards civil society (and the family and the state) as further manifestations of the World Mind, or Idea. His conception, worked out in the Philosophy of Right, is of people producing their needs as well as the means of satisfaction of their needs, of political economy as expressing a developed ethical, human relationship, rather than the flow of things, demystifies economy and lays the basis for Marx's conception of fetishism and alienation. But this whole demystification rests on an ultimate mystification, the Absolute Idea.
The conception of social life and politics which Hegel builds on the basis of this conception of civil society, is probably the only possible developed conception possible in his day. Just as gender was never included in theoretical treatises until the women's movement entered on to the historical stage, neither women nor labour - in and for themselves - could exist in the Europe prior to the Chartist movement in England and the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe.
Consequently, the kind of politics Hegel advocates and sees as rational is one whose aim is to mediate the conflicting Wills of property owners - not including women or the rabble. However, if we read the remaining parts of the Philosophy of Right with this limitation in mind, his criticism of modern bourgeois parliamentarism will be seen to be very powerful.
In accordance with the plan to present here first a positive exposition of Hegel's philosophy, and then afterwards to posit an historical critique of Hegel, this is not the place to criticise Hegel's conception of alienation and externalisation. However, Hegel's achievement and his short-coming in this respect are so important to subsequent historical development, I want to draw out the distinctions, particularly between Hegel's conception of externalisation and Marx's conception of alienation.
In the 1967 Preface to History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs makes a self-criticism of the 1923 book which both restored the place of Hegel in the understanding of Marx's thought, but also marked the beginning of literary trends which, in ht wake of the revolutionary ebb of that time, moved away from practical struggle:
"Hegel's reluctance to commit himself on this point is the product of the wrong-headedness of his basic concept. For it is in Hegel that we first encounter alienation as the fundamental problem of the place of man in the world and vis-á-vis the world. However, in the term alienation he includes every type of objectification Thus 'alienation' when taken to its logical conclusion is identical with objectification. Therefore, when the identical subject-object transcends alienation it must also transcend objectification at the same time. But as, according to Hegel, the object, the thing exists only as an alienation from self-consciousness, to take it back into the subject would mean the end of objective reality and thus of any reality at all. History and Class Consciousness follows Hegel in that it too equates alienation with objectification (to use the term employed by Marx in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts). This fundamental and crude error has certainly contributed greatly to the success enjoyed by History and Class Consciousness. The unmasking of alienation by philosophy was in the air, as we have remarked, and it soon became a central problem in the type of cultural criticism that undertook to scrutinise the condition of man in contemporary capitalism. In the philosophical, cultural criticism of the bourgeoisie (and we need look no further than Heidegger), it was natural to sublimate a critique of society into a purely philosophical problem, i.e. to convert an essentially social alienation into an eternal 'condition humaine', to use a term not coined until somewhat later. It is evident that History and Class Consciousness met such attitudes half-way, even though its intentions had been different and indeed opposed to them. For when I identified alienation with objectification I meant this as a societal category - socialism would after all abolish alienation - but its irreducible presence in class society and above all its basis in philosophy brought it into the vicinity of the 'condition humaine'.
This follows from the frequently stressed false identification of opposed fundamental categories. For objectification is indeed a phenomenon that cannot be eliminated from human life in society. If we bear in mind that every externalisation of an object in practice (and hence, too, in work) is an objectification, that every human expression including speech objectifies human thoughts and feelings, then it is clear that we are dealing with a universal mode of commerce between people. And in so far as this is the case, objectification is a natural phenomenon; the true is as much an objectification as the false, liberation as much as enslavement. Only when the objectified forms in society acquire functions that bring the essence of man into conflict with his existence, only when man's nature is subjugated, deformed and crippled can we speak of an objective societal condition of alienation and, as an inexorable consequence, of all the subjective marks of an internal alienation. This duality was not acknowledged in History and Class Consciousness. And this is why it is so wide of the mark in its basic view of the history of philosophy. (We note in passing that the phenomenon of reification is closely related to that of alienation but is neither socially nor conceptually identical with it; here the two words were used synonymously.)"
What began as an unintentional conflation of Marx's conception of alienation, a social phenomenon characteristic of one specific social formation, capitalism, with Hegel's externalisation, expressing the essential principle of all genuinely human life, led also to the re-assertion of Hegel against Marx. Consider the theme of Jacques Derrida's book, Spectres of Marx:
'The categories of bourgeois economics consist of forms of this kind. They are forms of thought which are socially valid, and therefore objective, for the relations of production belonging to this historically determined mode of social production. The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour on the basis of commodity production, vanishes therefore as soon as we come to other forms of production' [Capital, Chapter 1, section 4]
[ ... And Derrida comments:]
"For we are wagering here that thinking never has done with the conjuring impulse. It would instead be born of that impulse. ... "
[and quoting Marx again:]
'... I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities. As the foregoing analysis has already demonstrated, this fetishism of the world of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the labour which produces them'
[and Derrida concludes:]
"In other words, as soon as there is production, there is fetishism: idealisation, automatisation and automatisations, dematerialisations and spectral incorporation, mourning work coextensive with all work, and so forth. Marx believes he must limit this co-extensitivity to commodity production. In our view, this is a gesture of exorcism ..." [Spectres of Marx, pp 165-6]
The drift of Derrida's argument is that the fetishistic character of labour in the society of ubiquitous commodity production is the truth of human labour, in exactly the way Hegel sees that the later, developed stage of any unfolding process as the truth of the earlier stage. Thus, there is a strong sense in which Derrida can claim to be a true Hegelian, in that he negates Marx's negation of Hegel's uncritical acceptance of the necessity of bourgeois social relations.
These words each have multiple connotations within the English language; alienation is used to indicate a person's perception of the community being something alien to themselves, or in the simple sense (also that used by Hegel) of releasing ownership of something; objectification is used to indicate the social practice of treating human beings as objects, for example. Without detracting form the perfectly valid use of the words in such other meanings, I would like to offer the following provisional definitions of the words by way of clarification of what Hegel discovered and for what he may be open to criticism.
Objectification and De-objectification denote complementary aspects of human activity. In Objectification, human activity passes into a practically, materially existing form, such as when a person makes something, and the product of their labour is recognised by others, changes them, and thereby expresses their personality and the social relations in which the labour was carried out. In De-objectification, objectively existing, material things are incorporated into social relations and 'humanised' through the significance they take on for human beings.
Both these processes are characteristic of human labour in all its historically developed forms, and this conception is integral to Hegel's original contribution by which he solved the mysteries which had eluded Kant and all his predecessors, a discovery which is fundamental both to Marx and all twentieth century criticism.
Alienation, on the other hand, refers to objectification under conditions when a person's labour not only becomes objective to them, but foreign. So for example, the rearing of a loyal child is objectification of the parents' labour, but it is not alienation. It is to Marx that we owe this conception.
Reification, invariably used to indicate an error, refers to the perception of human concepts as relations existing independently of humanity. Thus, the natural scientist who believes that Hook's Law exists in Nature as such, rather than expressing relations of human practice in dealing with Nature, reifies this Law, just as Hegel reifies Logic when he places it prior to Nature.
Fetishism is the form of social relation and the conception in which human powers and characteristics are attributed to things in themselves. The term originally referred to very early societies in which trees and thunder bolts and so on were deemed to have a personality and religions in which icons are deemed to possess a soul. Marx used the terms specifically to refer to the way in which commodities create the illusion that relations between people are in fact relations between things (commodities) and people, thereby investing human powers in things.
Externalisation and Internalisation have much the same meaning as Objectification and De-objectification, but are typically used in the context of individual activity. Internalisation is used to express the way in which social products (such as language, science, social mores, etc.) are accommodated and assimilated in the individual psyche.
Returning to the Philosophy of Right, I will skip over Hegel's derivation of the system of justice and the police, expressing and guaranteeing the rights of society against evil and contingency, and look briefly at Hegel's conception of the role of the Corporations. Whereas the agricultural class and the civil service have by their nature the capacity to look after their class interests, the Business class, because of the focus of its members on particularity, requires some means of expressing and defending their class interests. The conception of the Corporations then is:
"In accordance with this definition of its functions, 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 the 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 others to become members. In short, its right is to come on the scene like a second family for its members, while civil society can only be an indeterminate sort of family because it comprises everyone and so is farther removed from individuals and their special exigencies." [§ 252]
Hegel is thus able to go on to construct a conception of society in which every property-owner is able to express their personal, property and class interests through organisations that are "like a second family", and the state is constructed on the basis of the family-based landed Estates, the Corporations of the Business Class and the self-appointed Civil Service meritocracy.
It is possible to see how Hegel sees the state as "the march of reason in the world". The state for Hegel is not some kind of umpire standing over society and imposing order and regulation upon it, not something foreign to its (property-owning) citizen, but rather an expression of their own will. Everything we described above in consideration of the Notion in the Logic, is built into Hegel's conception of the State, with the Individual, Universal and Particular assigned to specific arms of government, namely the Crown, the Legislature and the Executive. This edifice grows out of and rests upon, expresses an immense network of mediation. The Legislature is not elected by popular suffrage, but is made up of delegates from the three classes. What is more these delegates are not there as individuals, as in the Westminster system, but are required, as recallable delegates, to express the interests and standpoint of their constituency:
"As for popular suffrage, it may be further remarked that especially in large states it leads inevitably to electoral indifference, since the casting of a single vote is of no significance where there is a multitude of electors. Even if a voting qualification is highly valued and esteemed by those who are entitled to it, they still do not enter the polling booth. Thus the result of an institution of this kind is more likely to be the opposite of what was intended; election actually falls into the power of a few, of a caucus, and so of the particular and contingent interest which is precisely what was to have been neutralised." [§ 311]
So, with the qualifications made above, it is possible to see how Hegel has been involved in the design of a system of thorough-going participatory democracy and rather than simply launching into a campaign against popular suffrage or in favour of constitutional monarchy, he has written an Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, in which his vision for a political structure appears as one phase in the expression of the Idea.
His critique of popular suffrage is found in his critique of formal logic - the absurdity that any kind of rationality is expressed in the fact that such a number of people voted for such-and-such a proposition, in contrast to the kind of rationality elaborated in the Logic. To defend decision by majority voting is to defend formal logic.
Conversely, one can see that actual social institutions that are based on mass multiple-choice voting express existent irrationality and consequently, unreality! One of the things which we have to look at is the conditions which have meant that universal suffrage in geographical electorates comprises tens of thousands, if not millions, of electors have proved not to be unreal, but have in fact become the norm in developed bourgeois democracies!
The other specific aspect of Hegel's vision of the State which may be surprising if we accept the description of Hegel's Philosophy of Right as an exposition in participatory democracy, is that he was an advocate of Constitutional Monarchy. Hegel's arguments justifying the monopolisation of the Crown by the landed aristocracy are ridiculed by Marx in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, and personally I don't believe that they are sustainable today. Quite apart from the emergence of the organised working class which has abolished the basic tenets upon which the Philosophy of Right is founded, Civil Society has destroyed the family and the agricultural class has been totally dominated by industry and finance.
Two things however stand out among the "unsolved problems" of modern society which I think cause us to hesitate before dismissing this part of Hegel's political theory.
Firstly, in all the developed bourgeois societies and especially the settler countries like Australia, the United States of America, New Zealand and Canada, we find a reaching out to restore traditional land-ownership and a grappling with the problem of the dispossession of indigenous people. If we were to understand the Crown in Australia to mean, as it must, that the authority of the Crown belongs as of right to the Indigenous Australians, then I believe that I am with Hegel on this one. The denial of the sovereignty of the indigenous people is now widely recognised to lie at the root of the sickness of the settler societies.
Secondly, the recent constitutional referendum campaign in Australia demonstrated that in total contradiction to the advice of all their political mentors and 'common sense', the mass of the population of Australia wanted a directly elected head of state or a British monarch, but not a compromise head of state nominated by the legislature. While the system of mediation which to one degree or another characterises all democratic (i.e. representative) systems has certain values, and Hegel ably expresses and defends these, Hegel recognised that the Universal must be expressed by an individual subject, i.e. a person, if it is to be real, and this could not be achieved by the system of delegation/mediation. The broad population do not feel that their own will is expressed by Acts of Parliament. They feel, in fact, disenfranchised. The phenomenon of Royal-worship is a strange thing for those who have never felt it, but it appears that people do feel that a Princess Di speaks to them!
We have a problem today, and no one would argue that Hegel had the answer in 1817, even if constitutional monarchy has proved remarkably durable! What I believe can be said with certainty is that (i) any organisation, state or movement requires an individual "figure-head" and (ii) that "figure-head" must one way or another establish a bond directly with all those who identify with the movement, and (iii) that "figure-head" must express the concept and principle of the movement in their life.
Now some of the greatest social movements of our time (the women's liberation movement, and the Civil Rights movement) did not have such a "figure-head", but I think here we must, as elsewhere, be somewhat flexible in understanding these imperatives. What both these movements which I have mentioned as exemplars had was a number of "figure-heads" whose public persona was undoubtedly integral to their destiny. The question formal appointment and unitariness of a movement is not the issue here.
I have mentioned above that Hegel regarded it as indispensable that his philosophy be taken as a whole and that if one or another of its component sciences be developed separately then mystification must result. Philosophy is a circle of circles, he says.
"By virtue of the nature of the method just indicated, the science exhibits itself as a circle returning upon itself, the end being wound back into the beginning, the simple ground, by the mediation; this circle is moreover a circle of circles, for each individual member as ensouled by the method is reflected into itself, so that in returning into the beginning it is at the same time the beginning of a new member. Links of this chain are the individual sciences [of logic, nature and spirit], each of which has an antecedent and a successor - or, expressed more accurately, has only the antecedent and indicates its successor in its conclusion." [Science of Logic p 842]
After writing the Phenomenology in 1807 he was caused to reflect on "Where to Begin?" and the result was the writing of the Science of Logic in 1812, beginning with the utterly abstract concepts of Being and Nothing, and the Encyclopedia in 1817, with the Logic at the beginning, and in which the political matters he had concerned himself with in the System of Ethics (1802) and Realphilosophie (1803-6) wind up in penultimate section, after the Logic has implanted itself in the Philosophy of Nature and popped up again in the Soul, with the Phenomenology at the end.
Lenin remarks in his Philosophical Notebooks: "in this most idealistic of Hegel's works [The Science of Logic] there is the least idealism and the most materialism" and indeed, stripping the Logic of the particulars of its 'application' for Hegel in the Philosophy of Right, this view is appealing. But where did this Logic come from? We are human beings, and our only access to 'laws of logic' or laws of nature is through our collaboration and struggle with other people.
It is not surprising that we find our clearest understanding of things when we have stripped them of all that is contingent, all that is transient and particular to find what is Universal, but if we begin from this universal, then the result can only be dogmatism. The explanation that these laws can be abstracted from Nature misses the point, because again, our only access to Nature is through human practice and all we can say about Nature is the outcome of this or that practice. For example, Einstein's great discovery of Special Relativity was essentially to lay aside the idea that time and space were properties inherent in Nature as such, and consider the human practices from which these concepts were abstracted and the Lorentz shift follows simply from a very precise consideration of the acts of measurement which had formerly been conceived as measuring hypostatised 'properties of Nature'. [As it happened the legitimacy of an objective space-time continuum was a result of his theory, but not space and time separately].
Thus, it seems to me that, while the Logic is admittedly the most enduring achievement of Hegel, it only makes sense within the context of his whole system, and alongside the Philosophy of Right in particular, and the only possibility of going beyond Hegel is to understand how the Logic arises out of the society of Hegel's day, is in fact Hegel's critique of his times, and to critique our times. However, this obliges us not just to make a better Logic, but more importantly, to get rid of the whole idea of a God who exists outside of human society and rules our lives from above and beyond, including all conceptions of "economic laws" and a "dialectics of nature" to boot.
There are a number of different approaches to the critique of Hegel, all of which in one way or another date back to 1841 - Comte, Feuerbach, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx and Engels. I will deal with these in a separate paper.
8th January 2000