Shlomo Avineri (1972)
Source: Hegel's Theory of the Modern State, Shlomo Avineri, 1972.
In his Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences, Hegel divides the section dealing with the philosophy of spirit into three parts: subjective spirit, objective spirit and absolute spirit. The part on objective spirit is then dealt with in much greater detail in the Philosophy of Right. It is this part which concerns itself with law, morality and ethical life (Sittlichkeit) as the objective, institutional expressions of spirit. And though the state stands, as we shall see, at the apex of objective spirit, it is still inferior (as we have already seen in the Realphilosophie) to the realm of absolute spirit - i.e. art, religion and philosophy.
Objective spirit is the realm within which human consciousness comes into its own: 'Ethical life is the unity of the will in its concept with the will of the individual.' [See Philosophy of Right § 33] This unity of content and form when integrated into consciousness is freedom; its political expression has already been formulated in the System der Sittlichkeit, where Hegel said that 'the organic principle is freedom, so that those who govern are themselves the governed'. [Schriften zur Politik, p. 500.]
Yet the attainment of this freedom is not given; it has to be mediated. The history of man is the history of man gaining selfconsciousness through his interaction with the objective world surrounding him. This is education, Bildung; man becomes free. His freedom is not to be found in any legendary state of nature, but evolves precisely out of his effort to dissociate himself from his state of primeval savagery: 'The savage is lazy and is distinguished from the educated man by his brooding stupidity.' [See Philosophy of Right § 197 Cf. addition to § 153] That Rousseau's romantic notions about education had much in common with a mere utilitarian and instrumentalist view of it is sharply hinted at by Hegel when be establishes his own view of Bildung as the true self-creation of man by himself:
The idea that the state of nature is one of innocence and that there is a simplicity of manners in uncivilised (ungebildeter) peoples, implies treating education (Bildung) as something purely external, the ally of corruption. Similarly, the feeling that needs [and] their satisfaction... are absolute ends, implies treating education as a mere means to this end...
The final purpose of education, therefore, is liberation and the struggle for a higher liberation still; education is the absolute transition from an ethical substantiality which is immediate and natural to one which is intellectual and so both infinitely subjective and lofty enough to have attained universality of form.
[See Philosophy of Right § 187. On Bildung, see the excellent discussion in George A. Kelly's Idealism, Politics and History (Cambridge, 1969), pp. 341-8.]
This mediation, leading man to the consciousness of freedom, is the central theme of the Philosophy of Right. The stages of this mediation of the will are as follows: (a) the will as immediate absolute or formal right; (b) the will reflected - subjective morality; (c) the unity of both - ethical life. Ethical life (Sittlichkeit) is itself divided into three moments:
In most of the traditional discussion of Hegel's social philosophy, the third moment, the state, has usually been central. Hegel's philosophy of the state is, undoubtedly, his major contribution to the realm of social philosophy, but it becomes utterly incomprehensible and even distorted if it is not discussed on the premises of the two moments (family and civil society) which precede it within his systematic exposition. Our discussion will try to regain the internal balance of Hegel's social theory by dwelling at some length on these two moments of family and civil society.
The three moments of ethical life can also be projected as three alternative modes of inter-human relationship. Hegel's argument would be that men can relate to each other in either one of the following three modes: particular altruism - the family; universal egoism - civil society; universal altruism - the state. Let us examine these three modes, beginning with the family, the mode of particular altruism. This is the mode in which I relate to other human beings with a view of their, rather than my, interests in mind. Within the family, I am ready to make sacrifices for the other - to work so that the children can go to school, to care for the welfare of the old and infirm, and so on. All these activities are other-oriented, 'altruistic' in this analytical (not moralistic) sense; all of them are performed not for the actor's own benefit but for the benefit of someone else with whom the actor is connected through ties which are called 'family ties'. These activities are also limited to a fixed sphere of human beings: I do not provide for all women or all children, only for my wife and my children. Hence this altruism is limited and particular and does not apply to all and sundry. This is the family.
Secondly, there is civil society. Civil society is the sphere of universal 'egoism, where I treat everybody as a means to my own ends. Its most acute and typical expression is economic life, where I sell and buy not in order to satisfy the needs of the other, his hunger or his need for shelter, but where I use the felt need of the other as a means to satisfy my own ends. My aims are mediated through the needs of others: the more other people are dependent on a need which I can supply, the better my own position becomes. This is the sphere where everyone acts according to what be perceives as his enlightened self-interest.
Finally, there is the state. Contrary to the traditional liberal theories originating with Hobbes and Locke, Hegel views the state not as an arrangement aimed at safeguarding man's self-interest (this is done in civil society), but as something transcending it. The state to Hegel is universal altruism - a mode of relating to a universe of human beings not out of self-interest but out of solidarity, out of the will to live with other human beings in a community. In this respect, the state is analogous to the family, but its scope is different and the nexus is based on free consciousness, not on a biological determination. If one views the state in terms of safeguarding one's interests, then, Hegel argues, one mistakes it for civil society. Furthermore, the demands put on us by the state in terms of taxation and military service certainly cannot be legitimised in terms of self-interest - a dilemma with which Hobbes was familiar when he ultimately had to admit that if the sovereign demands the sacrifice of your life in war, there is no way to legitimise this demand. Taxation, after all, is used to ameliorate the lot of other people, and not only to provide services in return, while the duty of military service necessarily involves the possibility that I may get killed so that others may live, a prospect which is nonsensical in terms of enlightened self-interest. Nor can military service be justified through the traditional explanations of defending one's family or one, s property. By putting myself in a position in which I may get killed, I am not defending my family or my property at all. If I really wanted to do this, then the best way would be to clear out of the country altogether once the danger of war becomes imminent, making sure that my family will be with me and making doubly sure that my property will be already awaiting us all at the safe haven to which we flee from our war-threatened country. This would be the only rational behaviour in terms of my own enlightened self-interest. That men in fact usually behave otherwise, and even find fault in such 'rational' behaviour, clearly indicates that they relate to the state in a way different from that of mere self-interest. The mode of universal altruism, the readiness to put up sacrifices on behalf of the other, the consciousness of solidarity and community - these, for Hegel, are the ties binding a person to what is commonly called his country or his state. [That problems of war and poverty seem to create so much stress in American society today is probably to be attributed to the fact that America has never been a state (in the Hegelian sense), only a 'civil society', where the common bond has always been viewed as a mere instrument for preserving individual life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This, incidentally was Hegel's view of America in the 1820s (Vernüft in der Geschichte, p. 207). It is probably basically true today as well, despite all the changes America has undergone since then. In the American social ethos, the 'tax payer' always comes before the 'citizen'.]
But before these relationships of ethical life can be discussed in detail, some prior concepts have to be clarified - those of abstract right and subjective morality. Abstract right to Hegel is vested in property, and a whole section of the Philosophy of Right deals with property, followed by a section on contract. [See §§ 41-71 and §§ 71-81.] Hegel views property within a context far wider than that of mere necessity and physical need to which natural law theories have relegated it. For him, the discussion of property is part of his general philosophical anthropology.
Property is not only instrumental; as we have seen in the Realphilosophie, it is a basic requisite for man in his struggle for recognition and realisation in the objective world: 'A person must translate his freedom into an external sphere in order to exist as an Idea.' [§ 41.] Through property man's existence is recognised by others, since the respect others show to his property by not trespassing on it reflects their acceptance of him as a person. Property is thus an objectification of the self which raises it from the realm of pure subjectivity into the sphere of external existence:
The rationale (Vernüngtigkeit) of property is to be
found not in the satisfaction of needs but in the supersession
(Aufhebung) of the pure subjectivity of personality. In his property a
person exists for the first time as reason.
[§ 41.; cf. also § 46.]
Property is thus 'the embodiment of personality', [§ 51.] and the existence of private property becomes a conditio sine qua non in Hegel's social philosophy:
In property my will is the will of a person; but a person is a
unit and so property becomes the personality of this unitary will. Since
property is the means whereby I give my will an embodiment, property must also
have the character of being 'this' or 'mine', This is the important doctrine
of the necessity of private property.
[addition to § 46.]
This inherent connection between property and personality leads to extremely important consequences in the further development of Hegel's social philosophy. One of the immediate corollaries is Hegel's defence of the system of private property and his fundamental opposition to any sort of communism; at one point (§ 46) he actually criticises Plato's Republic for emasculating individual personality through the abolition of private property and the introduction of communism. This is obvious enough. But postulating personality on property must make Hegel conscious of the problem of those deprived of property, i.e. the poor. And since property is basic to Hegel's view of the person, poverty becomes for him not merely the plight of people deprived of their physical needs, but of human beings deprived of their personality and humanity as well.
This concern for the property-less appears very clearly in the passages that deal with property. After rejecting Plato's communism, Hegel remarks that equality of property is not a solution to the problem of lack of property, since even if property were to be equally divided, new inequalities would soon arise as a result of differences in human skills and the size of families. Yet while equality of property is undesirable and unattainable, each person, according to Hegel, must be guaranteed some property:
Of course men are equal, but only qua persons, that is,
with respect only to the source from which possession springs; the inference
from this is that everyone must have property.
[addition to § 49.]
Hegel suggests no mechanism by which such universal possession of property should or could be secured; but although his awareness of the crucial role of property leads him to criticise communistic schemes, it also makes him conscious later, when discussing the working of civil society, of the problem of pauperisation, which he will admit to be one of the most vexing problems facing modern society. This attitude toward poverty is totally incomprehensible unless viewed in the context of Hegel's initially basing his definition of personality on property. Hence the definition of personality in terms of property paradoxically becomes a critical device by which modern society may be judged.
Hegel defines the imperative of personality in a form that is consciously modelled on Kant's categorical imperative: 'The imperative of right is: "Be a person and respect others as persons". [§ 36.] Yet it is at this stage, while paying respect to Kant's moral theory, that Hegel introduces a distinction which ultimately transcends Kant's categorical imperative and leads to its Aufhebung into the wider Hegelian system.
This is the distinction between Moralität, i.e. individual, subjective morality, and Sittlichkeit, the wider totality of ethical life. Moralität has a legitimate sphere in Hegel's system, but it is a limited one: it regulates the relations among individuals with one another qua individuals. But superimposed on this is the broader ethical life of the community, of people relating to each other not as individuals but as members of a wider community. One of Hegel's major arguments against the Kantian heritage is that just as the categorical imperative is inoperative in the family - where it is superseded by love - so its writ does not run in political life. Moreover, the introduction of considerations of individual morality into political problems may create chaos by substituting, as we have already seen Hegel accuse Fries of doing, purely subjective good intentions, whatever their consequences, for an objective code of behaviour governed by universal considerations. Kant's morality, according to Hegel, remains something which 'has to be' (Sein-sollendes) and the point is to find an institutional form that would be comprehensive and universal and could thus be actualised.
Hegel's insistent distinction between subjective intent and objective results, which, as we shall see when discussing his philosophy of history, is crucial to his system, is brought out very forcefully in his argument against the purely subjective moralism:
It is one of the most prominent of the corrupt maxims of our time
to enter a plea for the so-called 'moral' intention behind wrong actions and
to imagine bad men with well-meaning hearts, i.e. hearts willing their own
welfare and perhaps that of others also ... Today this has been resuscitated
in a more extravagant form, and the inner enthusiasm and the heart, i.e. the
form of particularity as such, have been made the criterion of right,
rationality, and excellence. The result is that crime and the thoughts that
lead to it, be they fancies however trite and empty, or opinions however wild,
are to be regarded as right, rational and excellent, simply because they issue
from men's hearts and enthusiasms.
[Philosophy of Right § 126; cf. also § 135, where Kant is accused of 'mere formalism'.]
The universality of law, as expressed by the state, supersedes the mere intentions of individuals. Hegel's contention in his Württemberg essay in favour of rational codification appears here in his plea against romantic subjectivism:
Similarly, in the state as the objectivity of the concept of
reason, legal responsibility cannot be tied to what an individual may hold to
be or not to be in accordance with his reason, or to his subjective insight
into what is right or wrong, good or evil, or to the defrauds winch he makes
for the satisfaction of his conviction ... By means of the publicity of law
and the universality of manners, the state removes from the right of insight
its formal aspect and the contingency which it still retains for the subject
at the level of morality.
[Philosophy of Right § 132; cf. also Philosophy of Right § 140]
It is not difficult to see how such a position could be so construed as to mean that Hegel made individual self-determination 'tributary' to the state. [See Haym, Hegel und seine Zeit, p. 375.] The truth of the matter is that in the context of the debate Hegel has been engaged in, the thrust of his argument is aimed at the terroristic implications of the romantic notion which viewed every limitation coming from the state as purely external coercion. Hegel's argument, which here can be seen following that of Rousseau very closely, is that what we call 'the state' is nothing other than a further aspect of our own self-determination. To view the state as external, as did so much of subjective romanticism, means dooming men to servitude. Human emancipation, according to Hegel, depends upon the ability to raise the brutal relations of natural dependence and domination into conscious relations of mutual interdependence.
What stands out in Hegel's treatment of the family is his insistence that it is not a contract. Contractual relations, Hegel argues, are ail instrument of civil society and are dissolvable at will. The attempt to view the family - or the state - in contractual terms means subsuming everything under civil society, thus making the relational modes of civil society operative in all spheres of human life. Hegel is aware that this tendency of civil society concepts to arrogate to themselves all other spheres of life is very strong; but he speaks against it when civil society encroaches on the realm of the family as well as when it encroaches on that of the state:
The object about which a contract is made, is a single external since it is only things of that kind which the parties' purely arbitrary will has in its power to alienate.
To subsume marriage under the concept of contract is thus quite
impossible; this subsumption - though shameful is the only word for it - is
propounded in Kant's Philosophy of Law [§§ 24 - 7]. It is equally far
from the truth to ground the nature of the state on the contractual relation,
whether the state is supposed to be a contract of all with all, or of all with
the monarch and the government.
[Philosophy of Right, § 75. Cf. Hegel's similar argument in Realphilosophie I, 222.]
If marriage were a contract, Hegel argues, it would degrade marital relations to 'a level of a contract for reciprocal use'. [Philosophy of Right, addition to § 161] Marriage cannot be a contract because it has a telos in ethical life - the achievement of one's consciousness in the other. Though there appears to be an element of contract in the act of entering into the married state, the goal is in fact to transcend it: 'On the contrary, though marriage begins in contract, it is precisely a contract to transcend the standpoint of contract, the standpoint from which persons are re(larded in their individuality as self-subsisting units.' [Philosophy of Right§ 163.] Rights are the focus of contractual relations, and in the marriage there are duties, not rights: the rights emanating from marriage appear only at its dissolution - either by death (inheritance) or by divorce (alimony, maintenance, etc. ). [Philosophy of Right § 159: 'The right which the individual enjoys on the strength of the family unity . . . takes on the form of right (as the abstract moment of determinate individuality) only when the family begins to dissolve.' Hegel allows divorce, but maintains that it should not be made too easy, so that marriage should not turn into mere caprice (Philosophy of Rightaddition to § 163).] A marriage in which each partner claims in court his or her rights is one which is already in the process of breaking up.
The nexus linking members of the family to each other is love. Though Hegel has little patience for the Schwärmerei typical of the romantics in their discussion of this subject, he incorporates something of the awareness that characterised their attitude, though in a controlled way, and elevates it to a dialectical realisation of the basic contradiction in love. In a family, Hegel maintains, one's frame of mind is to have self-consciousness of one's individuality within this unity as the absolute essence of oneself, with the result that one is in it not as an independent person but as a member' [Philosophy of Right § 158.], In this unity persons transcend their own egoism and 'renounce their natural and individual personality ... From this point of view, their union is a self-restriction, but in fact it is their liberation, because in it they attain their substantive self-consciousness.' [Philosophy of Right § 162. Cf. Hegel's earlier fragment on 'Love' (Early Theological Writings, pp. 302-8). In Realphilosophie II, 228, Hegel sees marriage as the unity of personality and impersonality, of the natural and the spiritual. All this is interestingly similar to Marx's extraordinary excursus on sexual relations in Early Writings, p. 154.] The internal contradiction, however, is always present:
The first moment of love is that I do not wish to be a self-subsistent and independent person and that, if I were, then I would feel defective and incomplete. The second moment is that I find myself in another person, that I count for something in the other, while the other in turn comes to count for something in me. Love, therefore, is the most tremendous contradictions. [Philosophy of Right § addition to 158.]
Yet along with the subjective side of love in marriage there is an objective side as well. Though Hegel regards the subjective side, love, as the sublimation of the sexual drive into a will to identify with the other, he also warns against leaving it at that, i.e. at the level of romanticism. Schlegel, for example, would have suggested that if there is love, there is no need for any ceremony or any other objective' aspect. Hegel insists here, as elsewhere, on institutionalisation, and sees in the family capital (Vermögen) this objective side. He even goes to some length to show that family property is not vested in the individual but in the family unit, since otherwise inheritance by relatives would have no justification whatsoever. [Philosophy of Right §§§ 170-1, 178.]
The family's own objectification appears in the children. Following a theme developed in the Realphilosophie, Hegel argues that 'it is only in the children that the unity [of marriage] exists externally, objectively, and explicitly as a unit, because the parents love the children as their love, as the embodiment of their substance'. [Philosophy of Right §§ 173: cf. also additions to Philosophy of Right §§ 123 and 125. See Realphilosophie I, 221, 223. ]
But the family, by its own definition, is a transitory stage; its natural unity is integrated 'into a rurality of families, each of which conducts itself as in principle a self-subsistent concrete person'. [Philosophy of Right § 181.] We have thus arrived at civil society.
Civil society is the tremendous power which draws men into itself and claims from them that they work for it, owe everything to it, and do everything by its means. [See Philosophy of Right Addition to § 238]
This realisation of the power of civil society in the world of man is central to Hegel's discussion of it in the Philosophy of Right. We have already seen how in his Realphilosophie Hegel came to attribute a crucial position to labour within his system of a philosophical anthropology; but the discussion about the division of labour and commodity-producing society was still, despite its astonishing foresight, rather rudimentary on the conceptual level. Only at a later stage did the term 'civil society' (bürgerliche Gesellschaft) differentiate itself in his thought, though the internal subdivisions of the relevant chapters in the Realphilosophie already correspond to those of the Philosophy of Right. It is true that the Philosophy of Right seems to lack some of the forceful critical thrust of the Realphilosophie in its discussion of the working of civil society; yet it would be a mistake to see it merely as quietistic. Though the criticism in the later work may be more guarded in its language, its theoretical significance is unmistakable and, as we shall see, the critical arguments are sometimes worked out in even more detail in their implications when compared with the parallel statements of the Realphilosophie. [There is also evidence that during his years in Berlin Hegel had been reading Adam Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society. See Berliner Schriften, p. 690.]
What stands out in Hegel's account of civil society as the sphere of self-regarding aims is its relation to historical developments. As a differentiated and institutionalised sphere, civil society is the child of the modern world:
The creation of civil society is the achievement of the modern
world which has for the first time given all determinations of the Idea their
[See Philosophy of Right Addition to § 182]
A distinction has to be made here between the principle of civil society as a sphere of universal egoism, which exists in every society, and its fully developed institutionalisation into a distinct and differentiated social sphere. It is the latter which is typical of modern societies, where individual self-interest receives legitimisation and is emancipated from the religious and ethico-political considerations which until then had hampered the free play of individual interests to their full extent.
Hegel's definition of civil society follows the classical economists' model of the free market, and Hegel's early acquaintance with Steuart and Smith is evident in this definition:
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.
[Philosophy of Right § 157.]
Hegel is aware that the similarity between this model and the natural law heritage could lead to a confusion of civil society with the state (and the English term of 'civil society' certainly echoes some of this confusion). Hence he issues a warning against it:
This system [of universal interdependence] may be prima facie
regarded as the external state, the state based on need, the state as the
understanding envisages it.
[See Philosophy of Right § 183]
[The specific difference of the state is stressed also in Philosophy of Right § 258: 'if the state is confused with civil society, and if its specific end is laid down as the security and protection of property and personal freedom, then the interest of the individuals as such becomes the ultimate end of their association, and it follows that membership of the state is something optional.']
This confusion, Hegel adds, is very common in political thought. 'If the state is represented as a unity of different persons, as a unity which is only a partnership, then what is really meant is only civil society. Many modern constitutional lawyers have been able to bring within their purview no theory of state but this. In civil society, each member is his own end, everything else is nothing to him. [Philosophy of Right, addition to § 182] What social contract theories call a state is, to Hegel, but civil society, based, as it were, on needs and a lower kind of knowledge - 'understanding'. This lower kind of knowledge, Verstand, is juxtaposed against the higher level of reason, Vernunft, which is to be found in the state. 'Understanding' implies in this context cognitive ability grasping only the external necessity binding people together, not realising the inherent reason for it. This expresses itself, for example, in the fact that civil society, though it precedes the state in the logical order, is ultimately dependent upon the state for its very existence and preservation.
[Philosophy of Right, addition to § 182.: 'Civil society is the [stage of] difference which intervenes between the family and the state, even if its formation follows later in time than that of the state, because as [the stage of] difference, it presupposes the state: to subsist itself, it must have the state before its eyes as something self-subsistent.' See also Philosophy of Right § 256.]
This epistemological distinction also leads Hegel to regard political economy, the theory of civil society, within its proper context. Hegel's discussion brings out the dialectical nature of political economy; while paying tribute to its theoretical achievements, Hegel points to its limitations, which be then attributes to its belonging to the level of 'understanding':
Political economy is the science which starts from the 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 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 it ... But if we look at it from the opposite point of view, this is the field in which the understanding with its subjective aims and moral fancies vents its discontent and moral frustration. [See Philosophy of Right § 189]
It is for this reason that the universality of civil society is merely instrumental, not - as in the state - an end in itself:
Individuals in their capacity as burghers in this state are
private persons whose end is their own interest. This end is mediated through
the universal which thus appears as a means to its realisation.
[Philosophy of Right, § 187; see also § 182 and addition to § 184.]
The basis of civil society is the system of needs; yet human needs are not raw, natural needs, rather they are mediated through man's labour:
The means of acquiring and preparing the particular means appropriate to our similarly particularised needs is work. Through work the raw material directly supplied by nature is specifically adapted to these numerous ends by all sorts of different processes. Now this formative change confers value on means and gives them their utility, and hence man in what he consumes is mainly concerned with the products of men. It is the product of human effort which man consumes ...
There is hardly any raw material which does not need to be worked on before use. [See Philosophy of Right § 196 and addition.]
Labour is thus the mediator between man and nature and therefore in labour there always exists an intrinsic moment of liberation, since labour enables man to transcend the physical limits set upon him by nature. Not only is the satisfaction of human needs dependent upon human labour and consciousness but human needs themselves are not purely material, physical needs. Their articulation implies the mediation of consciousness and hence human needs are of a different order from animal needs which are purely physical. Because human needs are 'a conjunction of immediate or natural needs with mental needs arising from ideas', there is a liberating aspect in the very process of defining and satisfying these needs:
Since ... [needs arising from ideas] because of their universality
make themselves preponderant, this social moment has in it the aspect of
liberation, i.e. the strict natural necessity of need is obscured and man is
concerned with his own opinion, indeed with an opinion which is universal, and
with a necessity of his own making alone, instead of with an external
necessity, an inner contingency, and mere caprice.
[Philosophy of Right,§ 194. The similarity between this and Marx's view of man as homo faber is again striking. While the parallel passages in the Realphilosophie were unknown to Marx, he was, of course, acquainted with the Philosophy of Right, though his detailed commentary on it, written in 1843, limits itself to §§ 261-331; see Marx's Critique of Hegel's 'Philosophy of Right', ed. J. O'Malley (Cambridge, 1970).]
This mediation and Generation of human needs through consciousness implies that, unlike animal needs, human needs have no fixed and determinable limits:
An animal's needs and its ways and means of satisfying them are both alike restricted in scope. Though man is subject to this restriction too, yet at the same time he evinces his transcendence of it and his universality, first by the multiplication of needs and means of satisfying them, and secondly by the differentiation and division of concrete need into single parts and aspects which in turn become different needs ...
An animal is restricted by particularity. It has its instincts and
means of satisfying them, means which are limited and which it cannot overstep
... Intelligence, with its grasp of distinction, multiplies these human needs,
and since taste and utility become criteria of judgement, even the needs
themselves are affected thereby.
[Philosophy of Right,§ 190 and addition. Cf. Philosophy of Right, addition to § 185: 'By means of his ideas and reflections man expands his desires, which are not a closed circle like animal instinct, and carries them on to the false infinite.']
Such a view is, of course, diametrically opposed to the protoromantic idealisation of the 'state of nature' as a model of an equilibrium between man and his needs and between human consciousness and nature. Hegel takes up here an argument with Rousseau which goes to the roots of their opposing views about human civilisation:
The idea has been advanced that in respect of his needs man lived in freedom in the so-called 'state of nature' when his needs were supposed to be confined to what are known as the simple necessities of nature... This view takes no account of the moment of liberation intrinsic to work... Apart from this, it is false, because to be confined to mere physical Deeds as such and their direct satisfaction would simply be the condition in which the mental is plunged in the natural and so would be one of savagery and unfreedom, while freedom itself is to be found only in the reflection of mind into itself, in mind's distinction from nature, and in the reflex of mind in nature. [Philosophy of Right,§ 194.]
Yet it is precisely this liberating aspect of man as not being limited in his needs by his natural determination which also drives human society to the endless pursuit of commodities. This is the inner restlessness of civil society to which Hegel bad already alluded in his Realphilosophie. Man imagines that he expands his consciousness by acquiring new commodities, while in actual fact he only satisfies the desire for more profit by the producer. Civil society is the mechanism through which not only felt needs are satisfied but through which a new demand is also created consciously by the producers: 'Hence the need for greater comfort does not exactly arise within you directly; it is suggested to you by those who hope to make a profit from its creation.' [Philosophy of Right, addition to § 191.] In a passage strongly reminiscent of Tocqueville, Hegel maintains that the tendency toward equality which is typical of modern society pushes civil society ever more into the direction of expanding production since equality means pressure for more consumption:
[The social moment in needs] directly involves the demand for equality of satisfaction with others. The need for this equality and for emulation, which is the equalising of oneself with others, as well as the other need also present here, the need of the particular to assert itself in some distinctive way, become themselves a fruitful source of the multiplication of needs and their expression. [Philosophy of Right,§ 193.]
This craving after unlimited desires creates, however, its necessary opposite - poverty. Society creates not only 'new desires without end'; 'want and destitution are measureless too', and the pursuit of unlimited wealth breeds poverty: 'In these contrasts and their complexity, civil society affords a spectacle of extravagance and want as well as of the physical and ethical degeneration common to them both.' [Philosophy of Right,§ 185.]
Poverty is then not an accidental by-product of civil society; it is -inherent in it. Hegel's position on this is as critical in the Philosophy of Right as it had been almost twenty years earlier in the Realphilosophie.
The dialectics of civil society create a universal dependence of man on man. No man is an island any more, and each finds himself irretrievably interwoven into the texture of production, exchange and consumption: 'In the course of the actual attainment of selfish ends - an attainment conditioned in this way by universality - there is formed a system of complete interdependence, wherein the livelihood, happiness, and legal status of one man is interwoven with the livelihood, happiness and rights of all.' [Philosophy of Right,§ 183; cf. Philosophy of Right, addition to § 192]
This universal interdependence is further enhanced through the division of labour, which in its turn tends towards the maximisation of production and profit through the introduction of machinery:
[The division of labour] 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 work more and more mechanical, until finally man is able to step aside and install machines in his place. [Philosophy of Right,§ 198.]
Mechanisation and industrialisation are therefore the necessary consequences of civil society. Thus civil society reaches its apex and it is here that Hegel integrates the Smithian model of a free market into his philosophical system, by transforming Smith's 'hidden hand' into dialectical reason working in civil society, unbeknownst to its own members. Self-interest and self-assertion are the motives of activity in civil society; but these can be realised by the individual only through inter-action with others and recognition by them. [This is a recurring theme: see §§ 48, 57, 133, 153, 207, 214-15, 218-19, 355.] The mutual dependence of all on all is inherent in every individual's self-oriented action:
When men are thus dependent on one another and reciprocally related to one another in their work and the satisfaction of their needs, subjective self-seeking turns into a contribution to the satisfaction of the needs of everyone else. That is to say, by a dialectical advance, subjective self-seeking turns into the mediation of the particular through the universal, with the result that each man in earning, producing, and enjoying on his own account is eo ipso producing and earning for the enjoyment of everyone else. [Philosophy of Right,§ 199.]
This is the role political economy plays in Hegel's system. The political economists are mistaken when they represent their limited reasoning as an ultimate explanation of human behaviour. Yet there is more to political economy than meets the eye or than political economists themselves are aware of. Economics is the handmaid of reason acting in the world; behind the self-seeking, accidentality and arbitrariness of civil society there looms inherent reason:
It is to find reconciliation here to discover in the sphere of needs this show of rationality lying in the thing and effective there ...
To discover this necessary element here is the object of political economy, a science which is a credit to thought because it finds laws for a mass of accidents. It is an interesting spectacle here to see all chains of activity leading back to the same point; particular spheres of action fall into groups, influence others, and are helped or hindered by others. The most remarkable thing is this mutual interlocking of particulars. [Philosophy of Right,§ 189 and addition.]
Civil society thus becomes integrated into Hegel's system as a necessary in moment in man's progress towards his realisation of the consciousness of freedom. But it is subordinated to the higher universality of the state. Adam Smith is thus aufgehoben - both preserved and transcended - into the Hegelian system.
We have previously seen how in his Realphilosophie Hegel realised that the mechanism of the market creates social polarisation, poverty and alienation; in the Philosophy of Right the same radical critique of civil society emerges from Hegel's discussion of the consequences of allowing' it free reign, In both works Hegel suggests state intervention in order to mitigate some of the harsher aspects of poverty; yet ultimately he is unable to provide a radical solution.
Hegel's acceptance of Smith's 'hidden hand' does not entail following the optimistic and harmonistic implications of the model. Smith contended that if everyone were to follow his enlightened self-interest rationally, the general good of all would evolve out of this clash of interests. Hegel accepts Smith's view that behind the senseless and conflicting clash of egoistic interests in civil society a higher purpose can be discerned; but be does not agree with the hidden assumption which implies that everyone in society is thus being well taken care of. Poverty, which for Smith is always marginal to his model, assumes another dimension in Hegel. For the latter, pauperisation and the subsequent alienation from society are not incidental to the system but endemic to it. Moreover, Hegel goes to some length to show that every suggested remedial policy put forward to overcome poverty in modern society seems to be useless, and some of these policies may even boomerang. The extraordinary thing about Hegel's discussion of these social problems in the Philosophy of Right is that in an analysis which attempts to depict bow modern society in its differentiated structure is able to overcome its problems through mediation, the only problem which remains open and unresolved according to Hegel's own admission is the problem of poverty.
Poverty, according to Hegel, grows in proportionate ratio to the growth of wealth; they are the two aspects of a zero-sum equation, and poverty in one quarter is the price society pays for wealth in another. Far from being a relic of the old, undeveloped society, poverty in modern society is a phenomenon as modern as the structure of commodity-producing society itself:
When social conditions tend to multiply and subdivide needs, means and enjoyments indefinitely - a process which, like the distinction between natural and refined needs, has no qualitative limits - this is luxury. In this same process, however, dependence and want increase ad infinitum, and the material to meet this is permanently barred to the needy man because it consists of external objects with the special character of being property, the embodiment of the free will of others, and hence from his point of view its recalcitrance is absolute. [Philosophy of Right,§ 195.]
It is the economic expansion of civil society which brings about social polarisation and intensifies it. Modern poverty is accompanied by industrial overproduction which cannot find enough consumers who have sufficient purchasing power to buy the products offered on the market. Not the malfunction of civil society causes poverty, but precisely its opposite, the smooth functioning of the powers of the market:
When civil society is in a state of unimpeded activity, it is engaged in expanding internally in population and industry. The amassing of wealth is intensified by generalising (a) the linkage of men by their needs, and (b) the methods of preparing and distributing the means to satisfy these needs, because it is from this double process of generalisation that the largest profits are derived. That is one side of the picture. The other is the subdivision and restriction of particular jobs. This results in the dependence and distress of the class tied to the work of that sort, and these again entail inability to feel and enjoy the broader freedoms and especially the intellectual benefits of society. [Philosophy of Right,§ 243. It should be noted that just as in the Realphilosophie Hegel is using here the modern term Klasse to denote the workers, rather than Stand which he always uses otherwise.]
One of Hegel's most fascinating insights into the dialectical working of civil society y is his awareness of the fact that poverty is not to be understood in objective terms only. When discussing previously the system of needs, Hegel bad clearly indicated that needs have both an objective and a subjective aspect; he had also pointed out that there is no minimum standard of living which can be fixed and determined beforehand. The historicity of needs and the development of civil society turn the minimum standard of living into a measure always relative to prevailing conditions. [Philosophy of Right, Addition to § 244: 'The lowest subsistence level, that of a rabble of paupers, is fixed automatically, but the minimum varies considerably in different countries. In England, even the very poorest believe that they have rights.'] The main problem of the poor is that while they cannot attain that which is considered as the minimum in their particular society, they nevertheless have the felt need to achieve this level. Civil society thus succeeds in internalising its norms about consumption into the consciousness of its members even while it is unable to satisfy these norms. This is exacerbated because civil society continuously overproduces goods which the masses cannot buy because of their lack of purchasing power. Thus poverty becomes a dialectical concept; it is the expression of the tension between the needs created by civil society and its inability to satisfy them:
Not only caprice, however, but also contingencies, physical conditions, and factors grounded in external circumstances may reduce men to poverty. The poor still have the needs common to civil society, and yet since society has withdrawn from them the natural means of acquisition and broken the bond of the family ... their poverty leaves them more or less deprived of all the advantages of society, of the opportunity of acquiring skill or education of any kind, as well as of the administration of justice, the public health services, and often even of the consolations of religion, and so forth.. [Philosophy of Right,§ 241; cf. Philosophy of Rightaddition to § 244]
This is a strikingly modern and sophisticated description of the culture of poverty and it parallels many much more recent attempts by social scientists to drive home the point that poverty cannot be described merely in quantitative terms. To Hegel, the culture of poverty entails the deprivation of educational and vocational skills, exclusion from the normal working of the system of justice and the public welfare services and exclusion even from the institutional organs of society - organised religion - which aim at alleviating man's suffering on a spiritual level. Since Hegel in his social philosophy was searching for a system through which man could be integrated into his world, he must have been more aware than many of his contemporaries what an exclusion from these integrative organs would entail.
It is only when poverty reaches this qualitative dimension of exclusion that a rabble (Pöbel) is created - a heap of human beings utterly atomised and alienated from society, feeling no allegiance to it and no longer even wishing to be integrated into it. The element of consciousness is once again central to Hegel's description of the emergence of this group within civil society which finds. itself totally outside it:
When the standard of living of a large mass of people falls below a certain subsistence level - a level regulated automatically as the one necessary for a member of the society - and when there is a consequent loss of the sense of right and wrong, of honesty and the self-respect which makes a man insist on maintaining himself by his own work and effort, the result is the creation of a rabble of paupers. [Philosophy of Right,§ 244.]
Hegel stresses again and again the dialectical nature of the emergence of poverty, the fact that pauperisation is accompanied by enormous enrichment: 'At the same time this brings with it, at the other end of the social scale, conditions which greatly facilitate the concentration of disproportionate wealth in a few hands.' [Philosophy of Right,§ 244.]
This analysis leads Hegel to call for the intervention of the state. The situation, be believes, can be brought into harmony only by means of the state which has power over it. [Philosophy of Right,§ 185.] Yet, just as in the Realphilosophie, Hegel's program of state intervention is fraught with internal difficulties for it is clear that Hegel sees it necessary, from the theoretical premises of his system, to preserve the autonomy of civil society. Therefore he limits his advocacy of state interference to external control only, and avoids the conclusion that the state should simply take over economic activity. And when he calls for more direct initiative, he himself quickly realises that it will be no more than a palliative so long as the whole system is not overhauled. Hegel's dilemma is acute: if he leaves the state out of economic activity, an entire group of civil society members is going to be left outside it; but if be brings in the state in a way that would solve the problem, his distinction between civil society and the state would disappear, and the whole system of mediation and dialectical progress towards integration through differentiation would collapse.
Hegel's call for curbs on industry, mainly through price control is grounded in his insistence that after all civil society exists in a public context. The clash of interests can be overcome not through an automatic 'hidden hand' but only through conscious direction and supervision:
The differing interests of producers and consumers may come into collision with each other; and although a fair balance between them on the whole may be brought about automatically, still their adjustment also requires a control which stands above both and is consciously undertaken. The right to the exercise of such control in a single case (e.g. in the fixing of prices of the commonest necessities of life) depends on the fact that, by being publicly exposed for sale, goods in absolutely universal daily demand are offered not so much to an individual as such but rather to a universal purchaser, the public; and thus both the defence of the public's right not to be defrauded, and also the management of goods inspection, may lie, as a common concern, with a public authority. [Philosophy of Right,§ 236.]
Hegel is further conscious of the fact that it is the large industrial concerns which also require public control:
But public care and direction are most of all necessary in the case of larger branches of industry, because these are dependent on conditions abroad and on combinations of distant circumstances which cannot be grasped as a whole by the individuals tied to these industries for their living. [Philosophy of Right,§ 236. See also what follows in the same paragraph]
Yet in the same paragraph Hegel mentions ancient Oriental societies, such as Pharaonic Egypt, in which the state had taken over the function of civil society and had itself become the economic entrepreneur. Hegel objects to such a system as injurious to freedom and emphatically warns against the tendency of the state to encroach upon economic activity and step directly into it in its zeal to protect its weaker citizens. Whatever the ills of civil society, it should not be crushed by the state.
Hegel does, however, proceed to discuss various mechanisms through which the lot of the industrial poor could be alleviated. This discussion brings out both his rare and astonishing grasp of the nature of civil society as well as his ultimate inability to cope with the problem of poverty. While he commends individual charity, he clearly sees that it is not enough: 'A false view is implied . . . when charity insists on having this poor relief reserved solely to private sympathy and the accidental occurrence of knowledge and a charitable disposition.' [Philosophy of Right,§ 242.] Alongside private charity, public authority must step in.
Hegel sees three alternative ways in which the alleviation of poverty can be approached: (a) through voluntary institutions; (b) by redistribution of wealth through direct taxation; (c) through public works. The point, however, is that none of these methods solves the problem, which is one of overproduction and under-consumption, and it is in these terms that Hegel understands the intrinsic problem of modern society. Solutions (a) and (b) do not restore to the recipient of welfare, whether voluntary or public, his own dignity and self-consciousness as a self-subsistent member of civil society, since civil society is based, according to Hegel, on individuals who view themselves as capable of maintaining themselves. Solution (c), on the other band, only adds more goods to a market that is already glutted with unsaleable goods. Though Keynsian welfare economics was later able to find a way out of this latter predicament by resorting to public works which did not produce immediate consumer goods, Hegel's dissatisfaction with the third solution derives from his familiarity with the economic theory of his day and bears witness to his basic insight that the crisis of modern society differs from the traditional problem of poverty in ages past. Society can now produce an unlimited quantity of goods; the problem is one of distribution and of consumption, not of production. The relevant passage should be quoted here in its entirety:
When the masses begin. to decline into poverty, (a) the burden of maintaining them at their ordinary standard of living might be directly laid on the wealthier classes, or they might receive the means of livelihood directly from other public sources of wealth (e.g. from the endowments, of rich hospitals, monasteries, and other foundations). In either case, however, the needy would receive subsistence directly, not by means of their work, and this would violate the principle of civil society and the feeling of individual independence and self-respect in its individual members. (b) As an alternative, they might be given subsistence directly through being given work, i.e. the opportunity to work. In this event the volume of production would be increased, but the evil consists precisely in an excess of production and in the lack of a proportionate number of consumers who are themselves also producers, and thus it is simply intensified by both of the methods (a) and (b) by which it is sought to alleviate it. it hence becomes apparent that despite an excess of wealth civil society is not rich enough, i.e. its own resources are insufficient to check excessive poverty and the creation of a penurious rabble. [Philosophy of Right,§ 245. Hegel then proceeds to cite Britain as an example for these conditions.]
After thus discarding the various possible alternatives for the elimination of poverty, Hegel gloomily remarks that it remains inherent and endemic to modern society. The very text attests to the depth of his pessimism: 'Against nature man can claim no right, but once society is established, poverty immediately takes the form of a wrong done to one class by another. The important question of bow poverty is to be abolished is one of the most disturbing problems which agitate modern society.' [Philosophy of Right, addition to § 244. In a surprising aside on the Cynic school, Hegel sees its emergence as a protest against the extremes of luxury and poverty in late Athenian society: See the addition to § 195).] Yet no solution is offered by Hegel himself.
To these observations Hegel adds the remark that any given civil society may attempt to find a solution to its particular problem of industrial overproduction and poverty by seeking markets as well as raw materials abroad. Again, it is fascinating to reflect that the following was written around 1820:
This inner dialectic of civil society thus drives it - or at any rate drives a specific civil society - to push beyond its own limits and seek markets-, and so its necessary means of subsistence, in other lands which are either deficient in the goods it has overproduced, or else generally backward in industry, etc. [Philosophy of Right,§ 246. This process has, however, an obvious geographical limitation since it cannot go on forever and hence cannot be a solution to the intrinsic problem of civil society.]
A further aspect of these drives by civil society to seek solutions to its problems outside itself is colonisation, i.e. the export and emigration of superfluous members of society to overseas territories. There they are able to find not only economic security but also the ethical sustenance and social integration which the brutalising conditions of their life in the metropolis have denied them:
This far-flung connecting link [i.e. the sea] affords the means for the colonising activity - sporadic or systematic - to which the mature civil society is driven and by which it supplies to a part of its population a return to life on the family basis in a new land and so also supplies itself with a new demand and field for its industry ...
Civil society is thus driven to found colonies. Increase of population alone has this effect, but it is due in particular to the appearance of a number of people who cannot secure the satisfaction of their needs by their own labour once production rises above the requirements of consumers. [Philosophy of Right,§ 248 and addition. In the addition Hegel further remarks that ultimately the European colonies will gain independence, as in the case of the English and Spanish colonies in America, but adds that 'colonial independence proves to be of the greatest advantage to the mother country, just as the emancipation of slaves turns out to the greatest advantage of the owners'.]
We have thus seen Hegel analyse the functioning of civil society and come up with a theory of pauperisation, social polarisation, economic imperialism and colonisation. Few people around 1820 grasped in such depth the predicament of modern industrial society and the future course of nineteenth-century European history. What is conspicuous in Hegel's analysis, however, is not only his farsightedness but also a basic intellectual honesty which makes him admit time and again - completely against the grain of the integrative and mediating nature of the whole of his social philosophy that he has no solution to the problems posed by civil society in its modern context. This is the only time in his system where Hegel raises a problem - and leaves it open. Though his theory of the state is aimed at integrating the contending interests of civil society under a common bond, on the problem of poverty be ultimately has nothing more to say than that it is one of 'the most disturbing problems which agitate modern society'. On no other occasion does Hegel leave a problem at that.