Axel Honneth (1992)
Source: Chapter 2 of The Struggle for Recognition;
Published: Polity Press, 1995;
Translated: by Joel Anderson.
By the time Hegel took up the model of social struggle that Machiavelli and Hobbes had each independently implemented, the theoretical context was entirely changed. In his 1802 essay on ‘The Scientific Way of Treating Natural Law’, in which he outlined a plan for his future works on practical and political philosophy, the hundred years of intellectual development that separate him from Hobbes are already expressed in a shift to a completely different set of questions. Under the influence of Hölderlin’s philosophy of unification [Vereinigungsphilosophie], he had come to question the individualistic presuppositions of Kant’s moral theory, a theory which had determined the horizon of his thinking until well into his years in Frankfurt. At the same time, his reading of Plato and Aristotle had familiarized him with a current within political philosophy that ascribed a much greater role to the intersubjectivity of public life than did comparable approaches of his time. And finally, as a result of his study of British political economy, he had also already come to the sobering insight that any future organization of society would inevitably have to rely on a sphere of market-mediated production and distribution, in which subjects could only be included in society on the basis of the negative freedom guaranteed by formal rights.
By the start of the century, these newly acquired impressions and orientations had gradually matured within Hegel’s thought into the conviction that, for the foundation of a philosophical science of society, it would first be necessary to break the grip that atomistic misconceptions had on the whole tradition of modern natural law. This raised, in a fundamental way, a number of theoretical problems for which the long essay on natural law suggests a first approach to a solution.
Despite all the differences between the two conceptions of modern natural law that he distinguishes in his text, Hegel sees them as marked by the same fundamental error. Both the ‘empirical’ and ‘formal’ treatments of natural law categorically presuppose the ‘being of the individual’ to be ‘the primary and the supreme thing’. In this context, Hegel labels all those approaches to natural law ‘empirical’ that start out from a fictitious or anthropological characterization of human nature and then, on the basis of this and with the help of further assumptions, propose a rational organization of collective life within society. The atomistic premises of theories of this type are reflected in the fact that they always conceive of the purportedly ‘natural’ form of human behaviour exclusively as the isolated acts of solitary individuals, to which forms of community-formation must then be added as a further thought, as if externally. The approaches within the natural law tradition that Hegel terms ‘formal’ proceed in principle no differently since, instead of starting from a characterization of human nature, they start from a transcendental concept of practical reason. In such theories, represented above all by Kant and Fichte, the atomistic premises are evident in the fact that ethical acts cannot be thought of except as resulting from the exercise of reason, purified of all of the empirical inclinations and needs of human nature. Here, too, human nature is understood as an aggregate of egocentric (or, as Hegel puts it, ‘unethical') drives, which subjects must first learn to suppress before they can attain ethical attitudes, that is, attitudes conducive to community. Thus, both approaches remain trapped within the basic concepts of an atomism that presupposes, as something like a natural basis for human socialization, the existence of subjects who are isolated from each other. A condition of ethical unification among people can, however, no longer be seen as developing organically out of this fact of nature, but has to be added externally, as ‘something other and alien’. The consequence of this, according to Hegel, is that within modem natural law, a ‘community of human beings’ can only be conceptualized on the abstract model of a ‘unified many’, that is, as a cluster of single subjects, and thus not on the model of an ethical unity.
But what concerned Hegel in his political philosophy was the possibility of theoretically explicating just such an ethical totality. As far back as the period in which, together with Schelling and Höderlin, he drew up the programmatic text that has gone down in intellectual history as ‘The Earliest Systematic Programme of German Idealism’, one can find in Hegel’s thought the idea that a reconciled society could be properly understood only as an ethically integrated community of free citizens. In the meantime, of course, this intuition of his youth had outgrown the aesthetic framework within which it had originated and, as a result of his confrontation with the Classical doctrine of the state, had found in the polis a political and institutional model. In the essay on natural law, whenever Hegel speaks, in a normative sense, of the ethical totality of a society, he has in mind the relations within the city-states of antiquity. What he admires about them is the romantically transfigured circumstance that, in publicly practised customs, members of the community could also witness the intersubjective expression of their own particularity. And down to the details of the account of the Estates, his text reproduces the theory in which Plato and Aristotle had presented the institutional constitution of those city-states.
Already at this point, however, Hegel distils from the concrete ideal that he enthusiastically believed he had found in the idea of the polis the general features of an ideal community. Indeed, he does this so clearly that one gains at least a rough sense of the conception of ethical totality that he employs in the text. First, the singularity of such a society could be seen, by analogy with an organism, in the ‘lively unity’ of ‘universal and individual freedom’. What this means is that public life would have to be regarded not as the result of the mutual restriction of private spheres of liberty, but rather the other way around, namely, as the opportunity for the fulfilment of every single individual’s freedom. Second, Hegel views the mores and customs that come to be employed communicatively within a social community as the social medium through which the integration of universal and individual freedom is to occur. He chose the concept ‘Sitte’ ['mores’ or ‘customs'] quite intentionally, in order to be able to make clear that neither laws prescribed by the state nor the moral convictions of isolated subjects but only attitudes that are actually acted out intersubjectively can provide a sound basis for the exercise of that extended freedom. For this reason, the public ‘system of legislation’ is always intended to express only the ‘living customs’ actually ‘present in the nation’, as the text has it.” Third and lastly, Hegel takes a decisive step beyond Plato and Aristotle by including, within the institutional organization of absolute ethical life, a sphere that he provisionally labels ‘the system of property and law’. This is linked to the intent to show that individuals’ market-mediated activities and interests — Which later come to be gathered under the title ‘civil society’ — comprise a ‘negative’ though still constitutive ‘zone’ of the ‘ethical’ [sittlich] whole. A further example in the text of Hegel’s attempt to render his societal ideal realistic can be found in his departure from the Classical doctrine of the state, through the initial introduction of the unfree Estate as a class of producing and trading citizens.
Insofar as the foregoing discussion adequately describes the framework within which Hegel attempted, in Jena, to reappropriate the societal ideal of his youth, it also outlined the main problem that will confront him from now on. If indeed it turned out that modern social philosophy is not in a position to account for such a higher-level form of social community owing to the fact that it remains trapped within atomistic premises, then the first implication of this for political theory is that a new and different system of basic concepts must be developed. Hegel thus faces the question of what these categorial tools must be like, if they are to make it possible to explain philosophically the development of an organization of society whose ethical cohesion would lie in a form of solidarity based on the recognition of the individual freedom of all citizens. During the Jena years, Hegel’s work in political philosophy was directed towards finding a solution to the systematic problems that this question generates. The various proposals that he developed within the context of the emerging system of the logic of the human spirit have their common roots in this enterprise, and they all refer back to it.
In his essay on the different theories of natural law, however, Hegel has not yet developed a solution to this problem, but he has already marked out the rough contours of the route by which he will reach it. His first step in attempting to give the philosophical science of society a new foundation is to replace atomistic basic concepts with categories that are geared to the social nexus between subjects. In a now famous passage, Hegel quotes Aristotle as follows: ‘The nation [Volk] comes by nature before the individual. If the individual in isolation is not anything self-sufficient, he must be related to the whole nation in one unity, just as other parts are to their whole’. In the context in which this quotation occurs, Hegel merely wants to say that every philosophical theory of society must proceed not from the acts of isolated subjects but rather from the framework of ethical bonds, within which subjects always already move. Thus, contrary to atomistic theories of society, one is to assume, as a kind of natural basis for human socialization, a situation in which elementary forms of intersubjective coexistence are always present. In so doing, Hegel is quite clearly taking his lead from the Aristotelian notion that there is, inherent in human nature, a substratum of links to community, links that fully unfold only in the context of the polis.
What is crucial for everything that follows, however, is the second step, in which Hegel has to show how he can explain the transition from such a state of ‘natural ethical life’ to the form of societal organization that he previously defined as a relationship of ethical totality. in the theories of natural law criticized by Hegel, the theoretical position thus delineated is occupied either by the model of an original social contract or by various assumptions about the civilizing effects of practical reason. They are each supposed to explain how the overcoming of human ‘nature’ can bring about an orderly condition of collective social life. But for Hegel there is no need to appeal to such external hypotheses, for the simple reason that he has already presupposed the existence of intersubjective obligations as a quasi-natural precondition for every process of human socialization. What he has to explain, then, is not the genesis of mechanisms of community-formation in general, but rather the reorganization and expansion of embryonic forms of community into more encompassing relations of social interaction. In order to address the issue this raises, Hegel begins by appealing once again to Aristotelian ontology, from which he borrows the. idea that this transition must have the form of a teleological process in which an original substance gradually reaches its full development. At the same time, however, he emphasizes so decisively the negative, agonistic character of this teleological process that one can easily detect in his reflections the basic thought that he works out, with the help of the concept of recognition, in repeated proposals in the subsequent years. Hegel sets out to conceptualize the path by which ‘ethical nature attains its true right’ as a process of recurring negations, by which the ethical relations of society are to be successively freed from their remaining one-sidedness and particularities. As he puts it, the ‘existence of difference’ is what allows ethical life to move beyond its natural initial stage and, in a series of rectifications of destroyed equilibria, ultimately leads to a unity of the universal and the particular. Put positively, this means that the history of human spirit is to be understood as a conflictual process in which the ‘moral’ potential inherent in natural ethical life (as something ‘enclosed and not yet unfolded') is gradually generalized. In the same passage, Hegel speaks of the ‘budding of ethical life’ as ‘the emerging progressive supersession of the negative or subjective’.
What remains completely unclear with regard to this basic conception, however, is what these undeveloped potentials of ethical life must be like, if they are to be already inherent, as an existing difference, in the initial structures of social ways of life. And left equally open in the text is the question of the proposed shape of this process of recurring negations by which these same ethical potentials could develop in the direction of universal validity.
For Hegel, the solution to these two problems is further complicated by the need to describe the normative content of the first stage of socialization in such a way that a process can arise involving both a growth of community ties and, at the same time, an increase in individual freedom. For only if the world-historical course of the ‘budding of ethical life’ can be conceived as an interpenetration of socialization and individuation can one assume that the organic coherence of the resulting form of society lies in the intersubjective recognition of the particularity of all individuals. In the early Jena years, however, Hegel does not yet have the suitable means for solving the problems generated by this difficult task. He is able to find a satisfactory answer only after, in the course of reinterpreting Fichte’s theory of recognition, he has also given the Hobbesian concept of struggle a new meaning.
In the beginning of his Jena period, just as previously in Frankfurt, Hegel always referred to Fichte only critically. As we have seen, Hegel considered him to be the central representative of the ‘formal’ approach within the natural law tradition, which was unable to provide a theoretical account of a ‘genuinely free community of living relations’. But in the System of Ethical Life — written in 1802, immediately after the completion of the natural law essay — Hegel treats Fichte’s theory positively, drawing on it in order better to describe the internal structure of those forms of ethical relations that he wished to presuppose as a fundamental ‘first’ of human socialization. In his essay, ‘The Foundations of Natural Law’, Fichte had conceived of recognition as the ‘reciprocal effect’ [Wechselwirkung] between individuals that underlies legal relations: by both mutually requiring one another to act freely and limiting their own sphere of action to the other’s advantage, subjects form a common consciousness which then attains objective validity in legal relations. Hegel first removes the transcendental implications from Fichte’s model and then applies it directly to various different forms of reciprocal action among individuals. He thus projects onto the intersubjective process of mutual recognition communicative forms of life, which he had heretofore described, following Aristotle, merely as various forms of ethical life. He now sees a society’s ethical relations as representing forms of practical intersubjectivity in which the movement of recognition guarantees the complementary agreement and thus the necessary mutuality of opposed subjects. The structure of any of these relationships of mutual recognition is always the same for Hegel: to the degree that a subject knows itself to be recognized by another subject with regard to certain of its [the subject’s] abilities and qualities and is thereby reconciled with the other, a subject always also comes to know its own distinctive identity and thereby comes to be opposed once again to the other as something particular. But in this logic of the recognition relationship, Hegel also detects an implicit inner dynamic, which allows him to take a second step beyond Fichte’s initial model. Since, within the framework of an ethically established relationship of mutual recognition, subjects are always learning something more about their particular identity, and since, in each case, it is a new dimension of their selves that they see confirmed thereby, they must once again leave, by means of conflict, the stage of ethical life they have reached, in order to achieve the recognition of a more demanding form of their individuality. In this sense, the movement of recognition that forms the basis of an ethical relationship between subjects consists in a process of alternating stages of both reconciliation and conflict. It, is not hard to see that Hegel thereby infuses the Aristotelian concept of an ethical form of life with a moral potential that no longer arises merely out of the fundamental nature of human beings but rather out of a particular kind of relationship between them. Thus, the coordinates of his political philosophy shift from a teleological concept of nature to a concept of the social, in which an internal tension is contained constitutively.
By thus using a theory of conflict to make Fichte’s model of recognition more dynamic, Hegel gains not only the possibility of providing a first determination of the inner potential of human ethical life but also the opportunity to make its ‘negative’ course of development more concrete. The path that takes him there consists in a reinterpretation of the model of an original struggle of all against all, with which Thomas Hobbes (drawing on Machiavelli) had opened the history of modern social philosophy. If the reason why subjects have to move out of ethical relationships in which they find themselves is that they believe their particular identity to be insufficiently recognized, then the resulting struggle cannot be a confrontation purely over self-preservation. Rather, the conflict that breaks out between subjects represents, from the outset, something ethical, insofar as it is directed towards the intersubjective recognition of dimensions of human individuality. It is not the case, therefore, that a contract among individuals puts an end to the precarious state of a struggle for survival of all against all. Rather, inversely, this struggle leads, as a moral medium, from an underdeveloped state of ethical life to a more mature level of ethical relations. With this reinterpretation of the Hobbesian model, Hegel introduces a virtually epoch-making ?few version of the conception of social struggle, according to which practical conflict between subjects can be understood as an ethical moment in a movement occurring within a collective social life. This newly created conception of the social thereby includes, from the start, not only a field of moral tensions but also the social medium by which they are settled through conflict.
It is only in the Jena writings, however, that the basic theoretical idea resulting from this innovative coupling of Hobbesian and Fichtean themes gradually takes shape. In the System of Ethical Life, the first in this series of writings, this newly acquired model first becomes evident in the construction of the argument, which represents, as it were, a mirror image of the model of the state in Leviathan. Instead of starting from a struggle of all against all, Hegel begins his philosophical account with elementary forms of interpersonal recognition, which he presents collectively under the heading ‘natural ethical life’. And it is not until these initial relations of recognition are injured by various kinds of struggle — grouped together as an intermediate stage of ‘crime’ — that a state of social integration emerges that can be conceptualized formally as an organic relationship of pure ethical life. For methodological reasons, Hegel attempted (following Schelling) to give his text a very schematic form of presentation. But if, subsequently, one peels this form away from the substance of the argument, the individual steps of a social-theoretical model become clearly visible.
Hegel initially describes the process by which the first social relations are established in terms of the release of subjects from their natural determinations. This growth of ‘individuality’ occurs in two stages of mutual recognition, which differ from each other in the dimensions of personal identity that receive practical confirmation. In the relationship between ‘parents and children’, which represents ‘the universal reciprocal action and formative education of human beings’, subjects recognize each other reciprocally as living, emotionally needy beings. Here, the component of individual personality recognized by others is ‘practical feeling’, that is, the dependence of individuals on vitally essential care and goods. The ‘labour’ of raising children, which for Hegel constitutes the inner determination of the family, is directed towards the formation of the child’s ‘inner negativity’ and independence, so that, as a result, ‘the unification of feeling’ must be ‘superseded’. Hegel then follows this (now superseded) form of recognition with a second stage, still under the heading ‘natural ethical life’, of contractually regulated relations of exchange among property owners. The path leading to this new social relationship is described as a process of legal universalization. The practical relations to the world that subjects had in the first stage are then wrenched from their merely particular conditions of validity and transformed into universal, contractually established legal claims. From now on, subjects mutually recognize each other as bearers of legitimate claims to possession, thereby constituting each other as property owners. In the act of exchange, they relate to each other as ‘persons’ who are accorded the ‘formal’ right to respond to all offered transactions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. To this extent, the recognition that single individuals receive here in the form of a legal title represents the negatively determined freedom ‘to be the opposite of oneself with respect to some specific characteristic’.
The formulations with which Hegel chooses to portray this second stage suffice to make clear why he considered this still to be a ‘natural’ form of ethical life as well. The establishment of legal relations actually creates a social situation that is itself still marked by the ‘principle of singularity’, from which only relations of absolute ethical life are completely free. For, in a type of societal organization characterized by legal forms of recognition, subjects are constitutively integrated only via negative liberties, that is, merely on the basis of their ability to negate social offers. By this point, of course, the socializing movement of recognition has already broken through the particularistic constraints placed on it in the first stage by affective family ties. But initially, progress in social universalization is paid for with an emptying and formalizing of the aspects of the individual subject that receive intersubjective confirmation. Within society, the individual is not yet, as Hegel says, posited as a ‘totality’ and thus not yet as a ‘whole that reconstructs itself out of difference’.
What sets the System of Ethical Life apart is the fact that Hegel counterposes the two ‘natural’ forms of recognition (as a whole) to various kinds of struggle, which he summarizes in a separate chapter. Whereas the social-philosophical proposals of the following years are constructed in such a way that the struggle for recognition leads from one stage of ethical life to the next, here there is only one single stage of various different struggles between the two stages of elementary and absolute ethical life. It is difficult to see what theoretical reasons may have moved Hegel to this unconventional model, a model that is not particularly plausible either in terms of social history or of developmental logic. In part, of course, these reasons are generated by the methodological restrictions that accompany the schematic application of Schelling’s epistemology. But they are also, in part, the result of the direct opposition to Hobbes, which may have provoked him to depict the ‘natural’ state of conflict-free ethical life in a unified manner. In any case, Hegel does not yet use his model of struggle here to theorize the transition between the individual stages already distinguished within the movement of recognition. Rather, he follows them with a single stage of different struggles, whose collective effect consists in continually interrupting already established processes of mutual recognition with new conflicts. What primarily interests Hegel is the internal course of the struggle resulting from these disruptions of social life, and his analysis of this is based on interpretating acts of destruction as expressions of ‘crime’.
For Hegel, the various acts of destruction that he distinguishes, in his intermediate chapter, represent different forms of crime. He connects criminal acts with the previous stage of ethical life by characterizing each type as a form of the negative exercise of abstract freedom, specifically, the abstract freedom that subjects had already been granted in juridified relations of recognition. The claim that the form of law, on the one hand, and criminal acts, on the other, are dependent on each other becomes theoretically comprehensible once one also takes into account the conception of ‘crime’ already contained in Hegel’s early theological writings. There, he had conceived of criminal acts as actions that are tied to the social precondition of legal relations, in the sense that they stem directly from the indeterminacy of a form of individual freedom that is merely legal. In a criminal act, subjects make destructive use of the fact that, as the bearer of rights to liberty, they are integrated only negatively into the collective life of society. In the context of the new text, however, Hegel made no further use of the other side of the theoretical determinations that he had developed in his earlier writings for characterizing crime. Excluded here is the motivational consideration that the act of a criminal represents something like a reaction-formation vis-A-vis the abstractness and one-sidedness structurally inherent in legal relations as such. Owing to the lack of this affirmative component, the System of Ethical Life leaves unanswered the question as to which motives provide the impulse for criminal acts. There are only a few places in the argument where one can find comments suggesting an answer along the original lines. ‘Natural annihilation’, for instance, is said to be directed against the ‘abstraction of the cultured’, and Hegel speaks elsewhere of crime in general as an ‘opposition to opposition’. If one pulls such formulations together and connects them with the older conception, one ,begins to suspect that Hegel traces the emergence of crime to conditions of incomplete recognition. The criminal’s inner motive then consists in the experience of not being recognized, at the established stage of mutual recognition, in a satisfactory way.
This far-reaching theory is further supported by the fact that it enables one to decipher the logic upon which Hegel based his account of the different species of crime. The order in which he presents the individual types of destructive behaviour makes sense when one keeps in mind that the point of the enterprise lies in tracing crime back to incomplete forms of recognition. Hegel introduces into his account the idea of a still fully pointless act of destruction. In acts of ‘natural devastation’ or ‘annihilation’, as he calls them, individuals react aimlessly to the experience of the ‘abstraction’ of already established ethical life. It is unclear whether this is to be taken as meaning that elementary forms of disrespect here constitute the occasion for destructive acts. Moreover, such acts of blind destruction are, in Hegel’s sense, not really crimes at all, since they lack the social precondition of legally recognized freedom.
In the stricter sense, crime only emerges with the kind of negative action that Hegel introduces in the second stage. In robbing another person, a subject wilfully violates the universal form of recognition that had already developed with the establishment of legal relations. Although Hegel refuses to say anything about the motives for this type of destructive act, the context of his argument suggests that they may lie in the experience of abstract legal recognition itself. This is supported not only by the activist character of formulations in which Hegel speaks of the ‘injury to the law’ as well as of the ‘goal of robbing’,” but also by his portrayal of the progression of the conflict situation that emerges with the act of predatory crime. The crime of robbery initially only restricts a subject in its right to its own property. But at the same time, the subject is also attacked in such a way that it is injured, in its entirety, as a ‘person’, as Hegel puts it. Since we are still operating here at the stage of natural ethical life — where the abstractness of law ‘does not yet have its reality and support in something itself universal’, and thus lacks the executive power found in state authority — every subject must defend its rights by itself and, hence, each subject’s entire identity is threatened by theft.
The affected subject’s only appropriate response to this injury to its own person is to defend itself actively against its assailant. This ‘repercussion’ of the crime for its perpetrator — in the form of the injured person’s resistance — is the first sequence of actions that Hegel explicitly calls a ‘struggle’. What emerges is a struggle of ‘person’ against ,person’, that is, between two rights-bearing subjects, a struggle for the recognition of each party’s different claim: on the one hand, the conflict-generating claim to the unrestricted development of that subject’s subjectivity; on the other hand, the reactive claim to, social respect for property rights. Hegel considers the outcome of the struggle unleashed by the collision of these two claims to be a foregone conclusion, in that only one of the two divided parties can refer the threat unconditionally back to itself as a personality, because only the injured subject struggles, in resisting, for the integrity of its whole person, whereas the criminal is actually merely trying to accomplish something in his or her own particular interest. Therefore, as Hegel quickly concludes, it is the first, attacked subject that ‘must gain the upper hand’ in the struggle, because it ‘makes this personal injury a matter of its entire personality’.
Hegel follows this social conflict, which starts with a theft and ends with the ‘coercion’ of the criminal, with a third and final stage of negation, namely, the struggle for honour. With regard to its starting conditions alone, this case of conflict represents the most demanding form of intersubjective diremption [Entzweiung]. This conflict is based not on a violation of an individual assertion of rights, but rather on a violation of the integrity of the person as a whole. Admittedly, Hegel once again leaves the particular motives behind this conflict-generating crime indeterminate here. The reasons, in each case, why a person sets about destroying the framework of an existing relationship of recognition by injuring or insulting the integrity of another subject remain unclear. At this point, however, the reference to a totality is presupposed for both participants in the conflict, in the sense that each is fighting for the ‘entirety’ of his or her individual existence. This can be understood to mean that the intention behind the criminal’s insulting act is to demonstrate one’s own integrity publicly and thereby make an appeal for the recognition of that integrity, but then the criminal’s insulting act would, for its part, have its roots in a prior experience of being insufficiently recognized as an individuated personality.
In any case, the two opposing parties in the emerging conflict both have the same goal, namely, to provide evidence for the ‘integrity’ of his or her own person. Following the usage of his day, Hegel traces this mutually pursued intention back to a need for ‘honour’. This is initially to be understood as a type of attitude towards oneself, as it is phrased in the text, through which ‘the singular detail becomes something personal and whole’.’ ‘Honour’, then, is the stance 1 take towards myself when 1 identify positively with all my traits and peculiarities. Apparently, then, the only reason that a struggle for ‘honour’ would occur is because the possibility of such an affirmative relation-to-self is dependent, for its part, on the confirming recognition of other subjects. Individuals can only identify completely with themselves to the degree to which their peculiarities and traits meet with the approval and support of their partners to interaction. ‘Honour’ is thus used to characterize an affirmative relation-to-self that is structurally tied to the presupposition that each individual particularity receives intersubjective recognition. For this reason, both subjects in the struggle are pursuing the same goal, namely, the re-establishment of their honour ~ which has been injured for different reasons in each case by attempting to convince the other that their own personality deserves recognition. But they are only able to do this, Hegel further asserts, by demonstrating to each other that they are prepared to risk their lives. Only by being prepared to die do 1 publicly show that my individual goals and characteristics are more significant to me than my physical survival. In this way, Hegel lets the social conflict resulting from insult turn into a life-and-death struggle, a struggle which always occurs outside the sphere of legally backed claims, since ‘the whole [of a person] is at stake’.
However unclear this account may be on the whole, it offers, for the first time, a more precise overview of Hegel’s theoretical aims in the intermediate chapter on ‘crime’. The fact that, in the progression of the three stages of social conflict, the identity claims of the subjects involved gradually expand rules out the possibility of granting a merely negative significance to the acts of destruction that Hegel describes. Taken together, the various different conflicts seem rather to comprise precisely the process that prepares the way for the transition from natural to absolute ethical life by equipping individuals with the necessary characteristics and insights. Hegel not only wants to describe how social structures of elementary recognition are destroyed by the negative manifestation of freedom; he also wants to show, beyond this, that it is only via such acts of destruction that ethically more mature relations of recognition can be formed at all, relations that represent a precondition for the actual development of a ‘community of free citizens’.” Here, one can analytically distinguish two aspects of intersubjective action as the dimensions along which Hegel ascribes to social conflicts something like a moral-practical potential for learning. On the one hand, it is apparently via each new provocation thrust upon them by various crimes that subjects come to know more about their own, distinctive identity. This is the developmental dimension that Hegel seeks to mark linguistically with the transition from ‘person’ to ‘whole person’. As in the earlier section on ‘natural ethical life’, the term ‘person’ here designates individuals who draw their identity primarily from the intersubjective recognition of their status as legally competent agents, whereas the term ‘whole person’, by contrast, refers to individuals who gain their identity above all from the inter-rsubjective recognition of their ‘particularity’. On the other hand, however, the route by which subjects gain greater autonomy is also supposed to be the path to greater knowledge of their mutual dependence. This is the developmental dimension that Hegel seeks to make clear by letting the struggle for honour, in the end, change imperceptibly from a conflict between single subjects into a confrontation between social communities. Ultimately, after they have taken on the challenges posed by different crimes, individuals no longer oppose each other as egocentric actors, but as ‘members of a whole’.
When these two dimensions are considered together and as a unity, then one begins to see the formative process with which Hegel aims to explain the transition from natural to absolute ethical life. His model is guided by the conviction that it is only with the destruction of legal forms of recognition that a consciousness emerges of the moment within intersubjective relationships that can serve as the foundation for an ethical community. For, by violating first the rights and then the honour of persons, the criminal makes the dependence of individuals on the community a matter of common knowledge. To this extent, the social conflicts that shattered natural ethical life prepare subjects to mutually recognize one another as persons who are dependent on each other and yet also completely individuated.
In the course of his argument, however, Hegel continues to treat this third stage of social interaction, which is supposed to lead to relations of qualitative recognition among the members of a society, merely as an implicit presupposition. In his account of ‘absolute ethical life’, which follows the crime chapter, the intersubjective foundation of a future community is said to be a specific relationship among subjects, for which the category of ‘mutual intuition’ emerges here. The individual ‘intuits himself as himself in every other individual’. As the appropriation of Schelling’s term ‘intuition’ [Anschauung] suggests, Hegel surely intends this formulation to designate a form of reciprocal relations between subjects that goes beyond merely cognitive recognition. Such patterns of recognition, extending even into the sphere of the affective (for which the category of ‘solidarity’ would seem to be the most likely label),’ are apparently supposed to provide the communicative basis upon which individuals, who have been isolated from each other by legal relations, can be reunited within the context of an ethical community. In the remaining parts of the System of Ethical Life, however, Hegel does not pursue the fruitful line of thought thus outlined. At this point, in fact, the thread of the argument drawing specifically on a theory of recognition breaks off entirely, and the text limits itself, from here on, to an account of the organizational elements that are supposed to characterize political relations in ‘absolute ethical life’. As a result, however, the difficulties and problems that Hegel’s reconstructive analysis had already failed to address at the previous stages remain open at the end of the text.
Among the unclarities that characterize the System of Ethical Life as a whole, the first question to be asked is to what degree the history of ethical life is, in fact, to be reconstructed here in terms of the guiding idea of the development of relationships of recognition. Admittedly, one might object to this reading on the grounds that the text’s Aristotelian frame of reference is not at all sufficiently differentiated conceptually to be able to adequately distinguish various forms of intersubjective recognition. In many places, however, the argumentation does suggest a distinction between three forms of recognition, differing from each other with regard to the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ of practical confirmation: in the affective relationship of recognition found in the family, human individuals are recognized as concrete creatures of need; in the cognitive-formal relationship of recognition found in law, they are recognized as abstract legal persons; and finally, in the emotionally enlightened relationship of recognition found in the State, they are recognized as concrete universals, that is, as subjects who are socialized in their particularity. If, furthermore, in each of the relations of recognition, the institution is more clearly distinguished from the mode, the stage theory that Hegel had in mind can be summarized in the schema shown in figure 1.
In such a stage theory of social recognition, different modes of recognition correspond to different concepts of the person in such a way that a sequence emerges of ever more demanding media of recognition. In the System of Ethical Life, however, the corresponding distinctions are too evidently lacking for the certain presence of such a theory
to be unambiguously assumed. Even if it were possible to extract a sufficiently clear distinction of three modes of recognition from Hegel’s application of Schelling’s model of knowledge, the text would still be obviously missing the complementary concepts of a theory of subjectivity, with which one could also effect such a differentiation with regard to what it is about a person that gets recognized.
The second difficulty that the System of Ethical Life fails to consider arises from the question as to the status of ‘crime’ within the history of ethical life. There is good reason to believe that Hegel granted criminal acts a constructive role in the formative process of ethical life because they were able to unleash the conflicts that, for the first time, would make subjects aware of underlying relations of recognition. If this were the case, however, then the moment of ‘struggle’ within the movement of recognition would be granted not only a negative, transitional function but also a positive (that is, consciousness-forming) function. Along the diagonal axis (in figure 1) that points in the direction of increasing ‘universalization’, this moment of ‘struggle’ would then represent, in each case, the practical conditions of possibility for the transition to the next stage in social relations of recognition. Against this reading, however, it must be pointed out that Hegel’s theory leaves the various crimes too unmotivated for them to be able to assume this sort of systematic position in his argumentation. If within this theoretical construct social conflicts were, in fact, supposed to take on the central role of clarifying the reciprocity of specific recognition rules, then it would have been necessary to explicate its internal structure more precisely, both in theoretical and in categorial terms. Thus, in the System of Ethical Life, the social-philosophical model that Hegel develops in Jena in order to explain the history of human ethical life is evident only in outline. He is still lacking the crucial means that would put him in a position to provide a more determinate version of his mediation of Fichte and Hobbes.
It becomes possible for Hegel to take such a step towards greater precision once he begins to replace the Aristotelian framework guiding his political philosophy with a new frame of reference. Up to this point, he has drawn his conception of ‘ethical life’ from a philosophical world of ideas for which the ontological reference to a natural order — however it was conceived — was central. For this reason, he could describe ethical relations among people only as gradations of an underlying natural essence, so that their cognitive and moral qualities had to remain peculiarly indeterminate. In the ‘First Philosophy of Spirit’, written in 1803 / 4, however, which stems from the proposal for a system of speculative philosophy once labelled ‘Realphilosophie, I’, the concept of ‘nature’ has already lost its overarching, ontological meaning. Hegel no longer uses it to designate the constitution of reality as a whole, but only of the realm of reality that is opposed to spirit as its other — that is, prehuman, physical nature. Of course, at the same time that the concept of nature was thus restricted, the category of /spirit’ or that of ‘consciousness’ increasingly took over the task of characterizing exactly that structural principle according to which the social lifeworld is demarcated from natural reality. Here, for the first time, the sphere of ethical life is thus freed up for the categorial definitions and distinctions that are taken from the process of Spirit’s reflection. The place occupied by Aristotelian natural teleology, which still had a complete hold on the System of Ethical Life, gradually comes to be taken by a philosophical theory of consciousness.
Admittedly, in this process of conceptual transformation, which already points in the direction of the final system, the fragments from 1803/4 have only the status of an intermediate stage. Here, Hegel still clings to the formal structure of his original approach, both in the sense that the ethical relations associated with the State continue to form the central point of reference for the reconstructive analysis and in the sense that the category of consciousness merely serves the explication of forms of ethical life. But even by itself, the turn to categories of the philosophy of consciousness is enough to give the model of a ‘struggle for recognition’ a markedly altered formulation. Hegel can no longer conceive of the emergence of a State community as the agonistic development of elementary structures of an original, ‘natural’ form of ethical life, but must instead consider it directly to be the process by which Spirit is formed. This process occurs via the sequence of the mediating instances of language, tool, and family goods, through the use of which consciousness gradually learns to comprehend itself as an ‘immediate unity of singularity and universality’,’ and accordingly reaches an understanding of itself as ‘totality’. In this new context, ‘recognition’ refers to the cognitive step taken by a consciousness that has already developed ‘ideally’ into a totality, at the moment in which it ‘perceives itself — in another such totality, consciousness — to be the totality it is’. And the reason why this experience of perceiving oneself in others has to lead to a conflict or struggle is that it is only by mutually violating each other’s subjective claims that individuals can come to know whether or not, in them, the respective others also re-identify themselves as a ‘totality':
But this, that my totality as the totality of a single consciousness is precisely this totality subsisting, on its own account, in the other consciousness, whether it is recognized and respected, this 1 cannot know except through the appearance of the actions of the other against my totality; and likewise the other must equally appear to me as a totality, as 1 do to him.
As this shows, Hegel has improved the theoretical clarity of his derivation of the struggle for recognition quite a bit, in comparison with the earlier text from the Jena period. The turn to philosophy of consciousness now allows him unambiguously to locate the motives for initiating a conflict in the interior of the human spirit, which is supposed to be constructed in such a way that for its complete realization it presupposes knowledge of its recognition by others, which can only be acquired through conflict. Individuals can feel sure that they are recognized by their partners to interaction only by experiencing the practical reaction with which the others respond to a targeted, even provocative challenge. On the other hand, it is clear that the social function that the struggle thus initiated is to have in the context of the process of ethical formation remains basically unchanged in the new theoretical context. Indeed, as in the System of Ethical Life, conflict represents a sort of mechanism of social integration into community, which forces subjects to cognize each other mutually in such a way that their individual consciousness of totality has ultimately become interwoven, together with that of everyone else, into a ‘universal’ consciousness. As in the earlier text, this now ‘absolute’ consciousness finally provides Hegel with the intellectual basis for a future, ideal community: produced by mutual recognition as a medium of social universalization, ‘the spirit of a people’ is formed, and to that extent the ‘living substance’ of its ethics is formed as well.
Despite these rough points of agreement in outcome, however, there can be no mistake as to the serious difference between the two fragmentary texts at the level of fundamentals. Both texts do, of course, conceive of the struggle for recognition as a social process that leads to increasing integration into community, in the sense of a decentralization of individual forms of consciousness. But only the earlier text that is to say, only the System of Ethical Life — attaches to this struggle the further significance of being, at the same time, a medium of individualization, of increasing ego-competence. This surprising contrast becomes comprehensible in systematic terms when one considers more closely the points of conceptual divergence to which the different approaches must necessarily give rise. As has been shown, the change in human interactive relations described in the System of Ethical Life is a change with a direction. From the start, owing to the text’s Aristotelian frame of reference, the foregoing reconstructive analysis has centred on the normatively substantive relationships of communication out of which individuals must be differentiated before they can understand each other to be individuated subjects. Taken together, however, both the emancipation of individual subjects and their growing communalization among each other should be initiated and driven on by the struggle for recognition, which, to the degree to which it gradually makes them aware of their subjective claims, simultaneously allows a rational feeling for their intersubjective similarities to emerge. But Hegel must distance himself from the complex task thus formulated as soon as he replaces the Aristotelian frame of reference with a theory of consciousness as the basis for his political philosophy. Because the object domain of his reconstructive analysis is now no longer composed primarily out of forms of social interaction that is, of ‘ethical relations’ — but consists rather in stages of the self-mediation of individual consciousness, communicative relations between subjects can no longer be conceived as something that in principle precedes individuals.
Whereas Hegel’s philosophical investigations had, until this point, proceeded from the elementary system of relationships associated with communicative action, here (in the fragments of 1803/4) the analysis begins with the theoretical and practical confrontation of individuals with their environment. The intellectual formative process resulting from this confrontation — the further development of which takes the form of Spirit’s reflection on the mediations that it has already intuitively accomplished — allows, first, a consciousness of totality to emerge in the individual subject, which leads, second, to the stage of universalization or decentralization of ego-perspectives that accompanies the struggle for recognition. To this extent, the conflict between subjects have lost the second dimension of significance that it had in the System of Ethical Life. For it no longer represents a medium for consciousnessformation of individuals as well but is left instead only with the function of being a medium of social universalization, that is, of integration into community. Because Hegel gives up, along with the Aristotehanism of his early Jena writings, the notion of an original intersubjectivity of human life, he can no longer conceive the process of individualization in terms of the agonistic release of individuals from already existing communicative relations. In fact, his political theory of ethical life completely loses the character of a ‘history of society’, of an analysis of directional changes in social relations, and gradually takes on the form of an analysis of the education [Bildung] of the individual for society.
If these considerations are correct, Hegel paid for the theoretical gains of his turn to the philosophy of consciousness by sacrificing his strong intersubjectivism. By making the conceptual modification first introduced in the proposed system of 1803/4, Hegel does create, for the first time, the theoretical possibility for conceptually distinguishing more precisely between the individual stages of individual consciousness-formation. At the same time, this generates the opportunity for differentiating various concepts of the person that his approach had been lacking. But the benefit thus obtained, in terms of a theory of subjectivity, comes at the expense of a communication-theoretical alternative, which was in fact also implicit in the reference to Aristotle. The turn to the philosophy of consciousness allows Hegel to completely lose sight of the idea of an original intersubjectivity of humankind and blocks the way to the completely different solution that would have consisted in making the necessary distinctions between various degrees of personal autonomy within the framework of a theory of intersubjectivity. But the categorial advantages and the theoretical losses that this cognitive step generates for Hegel’s idea of a ‘struggle for recognition’ can only be adequately assessed in connection with the text in which this conceptual reorientation comes to a provisional conclusion. Already in the 1803/4 draft of his Realphilosophie — the last text before the Phenomenology of Spirit — Hegel analysed the formative process of Spirit entirely within the framework of the newly acquired paradigm of the philosophy of consciousness. Despite the fact that virtually all echoes of the System of Ethical Life have disappeared from this text, never again in the later political philosophy is the ‘struggle for recognition’ given such a strong, systematic position as here.