Z. A. Pelczynski (1984)
Source: The State and Civil Society, Cambridge University Press, 1984.
To the best of my knowledge Hegel never once uses the expression 'political community'. He is, in fact, very sparing with the term 'community' (Gemeinwesen) itself. It occurs, for example, in paragraph 150 of the Philosophy of Right: 'In an ethical community, it is easy to say what man must do, what are the duties he has to fulfil in order to be virtuous; he has simply to follow the well-known and explicit rules of his own situation.' Although the idea of community is crucial to his political thought, he is very casual and eclectic about the terms in which to express it. In different contexts he calls it 'substance', 'organism', 'organic whole', 'totality' and 'the universal', das Allgemeine.
When Hegel has in mind specifically political community he calls it der Staat (the state). His definition of the state is therefore highly stipulative, and quite removed from the conventional meaning of this term. 'The state' for Hegel means any ethical community which is politically organised and sovereign, subject to a supreme public authority and independent from other such communities. Ancient oriental empires, Greek city-states, the Roman republic and the modern nation-states are all 'states' in his sense. A few paragraphs after the reference to 'ethical community' in the Philosophy of Right, there is a good example of his usage: 'When a father inquired about the best method of educating his son in ethical conduct, a Pythagorean replied: "Make him a citizen of a state with good laws" ' (§ 153). Here, as in innumerable places, Hegel refers to the polis, which was an ethical and political community, simply as 'the state'.
Hegel seems to have been extremely unselfconscious about his esoteric use of the term 'state', so different from the one common in his time and even more today. Only in one place in the Philosophy of Right (§ 267) does he feel the need to distinguish the all-embracing sense of the state as a sovereign ethical community from what he there refers to as 'the strictly political state and its constitution'. 'The strictly political state' is a system of public organs, powers or authorities through which an independent nation, a sovereign community, governs itself.' I can think of only one place in the whole corpus of Hegel's writings where the distinction between the esoteric and the common sense of 'the state' is clearly made, and where he offers something that might be taken as a mild apology for his peculiar usage of the term. The place is Reason in History, a name sometimes given to the Introduction to the Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. I would like to quote Hegel's remarks in full.
The spiritual individual, the nation - in so far as it is internally differentiated so as to form an organic whole - is what we call the state. This term is ambiguous, however, for the state and the laws of the state, as distinct from religion, science, and art, usual ave purely political associations. But in this context, the word 'state' is used in a more comprehensive sense, just as we use the word 'realm' to describe spiritual phenomena. A nation should therefore be regarded as a spiritual individual, and it is not primarily its external side that will be emphasised here, but rather what we have previously called the spirit of the nation . . . in short, those spiritual powers which live within the nation and rule over it. (LPhWH, 96)
This is Hegel's clearest admission that the state and its laws 'usually have purely political associations', but that he chooses nevertheless to define it much more widely, to include not just the ethical life of a nation (as he does in the Philosophy of Right) but all 'those spiritual powers which live within the nation and rule over it'. Hegel goes on to list these spiritual powers' a few pages further on in Reason in History:
A nation's religion, its laws, its ethical life, the state of its knowledge, its other particular aptitudes and the industry by which it satisfies its needs, its entire destiny, and the relations with its neighbours in war and peace - all these are extremely closely connected. (LPhWH, 101-2)
These two remarks in Reason in History are worth quoting in full also for another reason. They draw our attention to an important but to my knowledge never before noticed ambiguity in Hegel's idea of community. In the Philosophy of Right it is the narrower concept of ethical life (Sittlichkeit), derived from Plato and Aristotle, and Greek experience generally, which underlies his theory of political community. An independent nation is a political community when its members share certain ethical ideals and are united by a generally accepted system of social morality prescribing their duties, roles or functions in society. In other writings it is the wider concept of national spirit (Volksgeist) which is the foundation of community life. Derived from Montesquieu, as Hegel generously acknowledges in many places,' it is not only a wider but a more modern idea. It corresponds in most respects to our contemporary concept of culture. The state from this viewpoint is a political community because it is a cultural community, because its constitution is grounded in a national culture, because its political institutions are deeply interwoven and interdependent with all the other aspects of culture, and similarly express the genius, character or 'principle' of national culture . 4 While Montesquieu is justly credited with the discovery of the idea of political culture, and Tocqueville with its brilliant use in Democracy in America, it seems to me that Hegel too deserves some recognition for the development and application of Montesquieu's insight.'
Hegel's primary source of inspiration and model of political community, however, is to be found in Plato and not Montesquieu. Hegel respected Aristotle as a metaphysician and in several ways was deeply influenced by him, but he thought poorly of his practical philosophy. In Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy (the Haldane-Simson translation in three volumes published 1892-6) Hegel gives Plato's Republic twenty-six pages of print, compared with the less than four that he gives to Aristotle's Politics. He regarded Aristotle's main political work as a common-sense but pedantic and largely empirical treatise, while the Republic seemed to him a work of true genius and a most profound theory expressing the essence of Greek society and culture (PhR, Preface). The fundamental presupposition of the Republic and ancient Greek political life generally (Hegel argues) was the absolute priority of the community over the individual. Hegel refers to it usually as the 'substantiality' of the polis or 'the substantial character of ethical life' in Greece. The ancient Greek thought of himself as a political animal by nature. He saw himself as a son of his city, a member of an ongoing and historical community and not as an independent individual, facing other similar individuals in an atomistic state of nature or some rather loosely structured society which they had voluntarily established. A Greek citizen was so wholly immersed in the politics and ethos of his city that he cared little for himself. He guided his actions not by his self-interest or some private conception of happiness and virtue, but by the traditional ideals of his city, which he accepted without questioning.' One could say that he had no individuality in the full sense of the word; he was merely an instrument, a member of an organism, which acted through him in pursuit of its own universal ends.
We are accustomed to take our start from the fiction of a condition of nature, which is truly no condition of mind, of rational will, but of animals among themselves: wherefore Hobbes has justly remarked that the true state of nature is a war of every man against his neighbour . . . The fiction of a state of nature starts from the individuality of the person, his free will, and his relation to other persons according to this free will. What has been called natural law is law in and for the individual, and the condition of society and the state has been looked upon as the means of the individual person, who is the fundamental end. Plato, in direct contrast with this lays as his foundation the substantial, the universal, and he does this in such a way that the individual as such has this very universal as his end, and the subject has his will, activity, life and enjoyment in the state, so that it becomes his second nature, his habits and his customs. This ethical substance which constitutes the spirit, life and being of individuality, and which is its foundation, systematises itself into a living, organic whole, and at the same time it differentiates itself into its members, whose activity brings the whole into existence. (LHPh, II, 92-3)
The basis of Plato's Republic was the ideal of justice, defined as keeping one's proper place in the city or fulfilling the traditional duties of one's station in life; it was the honouring of the established social morality of the city, its ethical life or Sittlichkeit. This, in general, was the true Greek ethical ideal, but in the Republic according to Hegel it was given an unusually oppressive interpretation. Plato was conscious of elements of self-interest and critical reflection, which he feared had undermined the existence of the polis, and he sought to counter them through restrictions on marriage, property, the choice of career and other rights, and the despotic power of the guardians. The fact that he was prepared to go to such length, Hegel argues, revealed a fundamental defect of Greek ethical life - its indifference to 'subjectivity' or 'subjective freedom'. It needed centuries of cultural and social development, above all the rise of Christianity, for the ideal of subjective freedom to become recognised and accepted, at least in the Western world.
The thinker in Hegel's opinion who expressed the ideal most clearly in the context of modern secular life and society was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau's political thought is therefore the antithesis of Plato's, so to say the opposite pole of the community-individuality relationship. On Hegel's rather extreme interpretation Rousseau asserts the absolute primacy of the individual over the community. The individual, his conscience and his will, however arbitrary, are the foundation of society and the state. Traditions, customs, established institutions and laws have no validity whatever unless men have accepted them voluntarily. The essence of human liberty consists precisely in this voluntary acceptance. In the Lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel sets up the antithesis of Plato and Rousseau with great clarity - "
The lack of subjectivity is really the defect of the Greek ethical idea . . . Plato has not recognized knowledge, wishes, and resolutions of the individual, nor his self-reliance, and has not succeeded in combining them with his idea; but justice demands its rights for this just as much as it requires the higher elucidation of the same, and its harmony with the universal. The opposite to Plato's principle is the principle of the conscious free will of individuals which in later times was more especially by Rousseau raised to prominence: the necessity of the arbitrary choice of the individual, as individual, the outward expression of the individual. (LHPh,II, 114, 115)
Later in the Lectures, in a short section which does little justice to Hegel's considered estimate of Rousseau's significance in the history of political philosophy, Hegel quotes the famous words of Du contrat social with complete approval (if somewhat incorrectly): 'liberty is the distinguishing feature of man. To renounce one's liberty is to renounce one's manhood' (LHPh, III, 401). And a page later he writes:
The principle of freedom emerged in Rousseau, and gave man, who apprehends himself as infinite, this infinite strength. This provides the transition to the Kantian philosophy, which theoretically considered made the principle its foundation. (LHPH, III, 402)
Rousseau rejected the validity of all established morality, religion, customs and institutions. Nothing external to the individual could claim any authority. His personal conscience was the supreme judge of morality. Only that to which the individual gave his free consent was binding on his will. The will of each individual, unrestricted and unguided by anything except his own deeply felt conception of virtue or the common good, was the foundation of law and political association. There was nothing to ensure that the General Will de facto differed from the will of all or the will of the majority. Rousseau confused the truth that there could be no freedom without the consent of one's mind and will with the very different proposition that such consent constituted freedom. Without an external, objective, rational principle to guide our will it becomes arbitrary and amoral. By systematically rejecting all established order as the source of such principles Rousseau ended with no ethical leg to stand on. The logical consequence of Rousseau's approach when followed in practice was the dissolution of all society, community and state. In a long passage in the Philosophy of Right Hegel attributes the excesses of the French Revolution to Rousseau's ideas on will, consent and freedom, and to 'the reduction of the union of individuals in the state to a contract and therefore to something based on their arbitrary will':
when these abstract conclusions came into power, they afforded for the first time in human history the prodigious spectacle of the overthrow of the constitution of a great actual state and its complete reconstruction ab initio on the basis of pure thought alone, after the destruction of all existing and given material. The will of its refounders was to give it what they alleged was a purely rational basis, but it was only abstractions that were being used; the Idea [the true concept of community] was lacking; and the experiment ended in the maximum of frightfulness and terror. (PhR, § 258)
The same idea of course Hegel had expressed thirteen years earlier in the brilliant chapter on 'Absolute freedom and terror' in the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807).
Hegel's own political philosophy may be seen as his reply to Rousseau's conception of individual freedom or (to put it another way) as an attempt to do justice both to Plato's and to Rousseau's insights into the human condition. The Philosophy of Right is the most fully developed and the most theoretical statement of Hegel's own position and offers us what he believes is a theory of political community adequate to the modern world. Despite its schematic form and extremely difficult and obscure terminology there is unfortunately no better single place in which to explore Hegel's ideas on political community.
Hegel tries to come to terms with the truth of Rousseau's - and Kant's - moral position - the concept of an autonomous subject whose essential freedom consists in not being forced to accept anything as valid unless his conscience, will and reason have given consent to it - in three major but distinct ways. The first concerns the construction of his theory of political community as we find it in the Philosophy of Right. There, in the long Introduction, Hegel starts with the concept of the individual will (as Rousseau required that one should) and not with the Platonic substantial' ethical, legal and political order. He believes, and indeed argues, that such normative order (Recht, 'law' or 'right', as he generally calls it) must be proved to be in some deep philosophical sense the creation of the individual will, the outcome of its immanent development towards full freedom, if it is to have legitimacy in the modern world. In this philosophical endeavour he may have learned something from Hobbes - beside Rousseau the only modern political philosopher Hegel takes seriously - who in his 'rational generation of the commonwealth' in The Leviathan also starts from the abstract individual and deduces the necessity and authority of the state from the will of the multitude of such individuals.
The second major way in which Hegel seeks to meet the challenge of Rousseau is by developing, within the framework of his theory of political community, a theory of 'civil society' as its distinct but necessary aspect ('moment' in the Hegelian jargon). In the city-states of ancient Greece and in republican Rome, Hegel believes, citizens enjoyed freedom only in so far as they participated in the political life of their community and through their actions - in peace or war - sustained its existence and furthered its welfare. The unhampered pursuit of private, selfish interests, although it made an appearance at the end of the Hellenic era and was institutionalised in civil law in the era of the Roman Empire, was not conceived as freedom by the ancients. It is a peculiarly modern idea of freedom - civil or bourgeois rather than political or citizen freedom and it creates a new form of interdependence among men. Instead of men aiming consciously at the common good, they now aim at their own good, the acquisition of property or the furtherance of individuality. But, without realising it, they indirectly satisfy the needs or promote the interests of other men and establish new kinds of social bonds.
The Greeks were still unacquainted with the abstract right of our modern states, that isolates the individual, allows of his acting as such, and yet, as an invisible spirit, holds all its parts together. This is done in such a way, however, that in no one is there properly speaking either the consciousness of, or the activity for the whole; but because the individual is really held to be a person, and all his concern is the protection of his individuality, he works for the whole without knowing how. It is a divided activity in which each has only his part, just as in a factory no one makes a whole but only a part, and does not possess skill in other departments, because only a few are employed in fitting the different parts together. It is free [i.e. republican] nations alone that have the consciousness of and activity for the whole; in modern times the individual is only free for himself as such, and enjoys citizen freedom alone - in the sense of that of a bourgeois and not a citoyen. We do not possess two separate words to mark this distinction. The freedom of citizens in this signification is the dispensing with universality, the principle of isolation; but it is a necessary moment unknown to ancient states. (LHPh, II, 209)
In the Philosophy of Right Hegel uses the term 'civil society' to describe this particular dimension of the modern state as a political community the 'civil' sphere in which individuals seek to satisfy each other's needs through work, production and exchange; in which there is a thorough-going division of labour and a system of social classes; and in which law courts, corporate bodies and public regulatory and welfare authorities ('the police') promote security of property, livelihood and other rights, This system of interdependence, says Hegel, 'may be prima facie regarded as the external state, the state based on need, the state as the Understanding envisages it' (PhR, § 183), but only prima facie.
The state in the proper sense of the word - as a sovereign political unit, which is also an ethical and cultural community - implies more than a system of needs', civil rights and social welfare. It implies an institutional public forum in which matters concerning the community as a whole are debated and decided upon, and the decisions carried out by the government. In this public or political arena the needs of civil society and of the national community are appraised and evaluated, and the unity of private interests and community values is realised in a conscious and organised manner.
The state is the actuality of concrete freedom. But concrete freedom consists in this, that personal individuality and its particular interests not only achieve their complete development and gain explicit recognition for their right (as they do in the sphere of the family and civil society) but, for one thing, they also pass over of their own accord into the interest of the universal, and, for another thing, they know and will the universal; they even recognise it as their own substantive mind; they take it as their end and aim and are active in its pursuit. The result is that the universal does not prevail or achieve completion except along with particular interests and through the co-operation of particular knowing and willing; and individuals likewise do not live as private persons for their own ends alone, but in the very act of willing these they will the universal in the light of the universal, and their activity is consciously aimed at none but the universal end. The principle of modern states has prodigious strength and depth because it allows the principle of subjectivity to progress to its culmination in the extreme of self-subsistent personal particularity, and yet at the same time brings it back to the substantive unity and so maintains this unity in the principle of subjectivity itself. (PhR, § 260)
We are not concerned with the details of Hegel's conception of 'the political state and its constitution', the political organisation of the modern national community. After the breath-taking conceptualisation of the modern state in § 260, Hegel's description of its political organisation comes rather as an anti-climax. The supreme public authority consists of hereditary monarchy, an executive of ministers and higher civil servants responsible to the king, a representative body based on estates and corporations, and a system of public opinion or (as he puts it) 'public communication' (§ 319). Through this political mechanism and the mechanism of civil society the 'abstract' freedom of the individual, conceived by Rousseau in complete isolation from all ethical, social and political context, is made 'concrete'. The individual finds a scope both for his personal interests and subjective choices and for the disinterested service to the ethical ideals and public interests of the community. He is (as Hegel is fond of expressing it) a bourgeois by virtue of belonging to the civil realm but a citoyen because of his membership of the political realm.
The third major way in which Hegel responds to Rousseau's challenge is by developing in the Philosophy of Right a theory of freedom, which is more adequate that Rousseau's own ideas. I use the term 'theory' deliberately, because it is not just a single alternative concept of freedom, say 'positive' freedom, which Hegel offers us instead, but a whole series of separate but related concepts linked together in a systematic way.
At the heart of Rousseau's political philosophy lies the well-known conundrum which Hegel, in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy, quotes in full in German and the original French.
The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.'
Hegel denies that Rousseau has succeeded in solving the conundrum. Man cannot 'remain as free as before' after entering the political community. He must either restrict his freedom or transform its nature. Starting from a will that is only potentially free, he must develop it to its full capacity - to make it actually free, in the community. He will then not be 'as free as before', but more free; he will have achieved a higher, more adequate and more satisfying type of freedom - true, real or actual freedom. Many of Rousseau's interpreters have seen him as moving in the same general direction as Hegel. As a result of the social contract man no longer 'obeys himself alone' but the 'general will', which is both his own higher will, and the will of the community of like-minded citizens, and is articulated and expressed through the mechanism of direct popular legislation in a republican state. But if this is Rousseau's solution, Hegel rejects it as unsatisfactory; he denies that Rousseau can logically arrive at a conception of a general will which genuinely transcends particular wills.
The merit of Rousseau's contribution to the research for a rational basis of the state is that by adducing the will as the principle of the state, he is adducing a principle which has thought both for its form and content, a principle indeed which is thinking itself . . . Unfortunately, however, as Fichte did later, he takes the will only in an indeterminate form as the individual will, and he regards the universal will not as the absolutely rational element in the will but only as a 'general' will which proceeds out of the individual will as out of conscious will. (PhR, § 258)
In other words Rousseau's general will remains an artificial construct, the will of all or majority will, instead of becoming the living ethos of a political community which Hegel argues is 'the absolutely rational element in the will'.
In his solution of the problem of liberty in the Philosophy of Right Hegel enlists the help of his speculative philosophical method. He treats freedom as a concept which develops dialectically, as a result of contradictions inherent in its own nature and so unfolds new features at different stages of development until the process is completed and 'the idea of freedom' - the full actualisation of the concept - is reached in the structure of the rational modern state. The movement is from an 'abstract' concept of freedom, linked to a single individual will, to a 'concrete freedom' actualised in a political community as a rational system of wills. In this essay I shall not follow Hegel's footsteps faithfully, i.e. dialectically. Apart from the enormous difficulty and obscurity of the dialectic method I believe that it does not really work in the Philosophy of Right. Hegel does not succeed in proving the necessity of transition from one stage to another, and his attempt to do so produces many tortured and implausible arguments. I shall nevertheless follow Hegel's stages of development, restating and simplifying them somewhat, and hoping in this way to throw sufficient light on his solution of the individuality-community problem.
Hegel's conception of freedom might perhaps be called 'contextual', though this is a term which to my knowledge has not been applied to his or any other idea of freedom. I mean by this that Hegel conceives freedom always in a social context, or more accurately in the context of human interaction. The structure of such interaction constitutes the context of freedom in which it becomes something concrete and definite, an actuality rather than a mere idea. In pursuing Hegel's line of inquiry it is possible to distinguish four major kinds of freedom and four corresponding contexts or models of human interaction. These are: natural, ethical, civil and political, and I propose to look at them in this order.
The foundation of the Hegelian theory of freedom rests on his concept of the will. Will is not a separate faculty, distinct from reason; thought and will are simply two aspects or modes of reason: 'the will is ... a special way of thinking, thinking translating itself into existence, thinking as the urge to give itself existence' (PhR, § 4 A). In choosing, deciding and acting a man thinks, reflects and uses concepts; he manifests or expresses his rationality, which is his essential characteristic. The way a man views himself, the image he has of himself or, more adequately, the conception he has of himself as a human being determines what kind of will he has and therefore what kind of interaction with other men is possible for him. Freedom is therefore bound up with self-consciousness and true freedom presupposes true self-consciousness.
The self-consciousness which purifies its object, content, and aim, and raises them to the universality effects this as thinking getting its own way in the will. Here is the point at which it becomes clear that it is only as thinking intelligence that the will is genuinely a will and free. The slave does not know his essence, his infinity, his freedom; he does not know himself as human in essence; and he lacks this knowledge of himself because he does not think himself. This self-consciousness which apprehends itself through thinking as essentially human, and thereby frees itself from the contingent and the false, is the principle of right, morality, and all ethical life. (PhR, § 21R)
The will itself, at its most basic, is a complex idea; in the simplest act of willing Hegel distinguishes three elements or 'moments'. According to Hegel's theory of 'subjective spirit' will is foreshadowed in impulse and sentiment, which largely determine our conduct in childhood. At the level of development at which will and thought can be clearly distinguished from desire and feeling an act of will contains according to Hegel:
(1) 'the element of pure indeterminacy or that pure reflection of the ego into itself which involves the dissipation of every restriction and every content' (PhR, § 5). This is the element of withdrawal from, or rejection of, all external determinators, an assertion of the will's independence vis-á-vis the external world.
When the will's self-determination consists in this alone, or when representative thinking regards this side by itself as freedom and clings to it, then we have negative freedom or freedom as the Understanding conceives it. (PhR, § 5)
(2) The second moment, 'the particularisation of the ego', consists in the ego giving itself 'differentiation, determination and positing a determinacy as a content and object' (§ 6). This content may be something natural a need or desire - or something rational - some thought or principle of action. The determination or focusing of the ego on something definite or particular, the self-identification of the ego with it, constitutes the second, 'positive' element involved in willing, the second partial but essential aspect of the will.
(3) 'The will is the unity of both these moments.... It is the selfdetermination of the ego, which means that at one and the same time the ego posits itself as its own negative, i.e. as restricted and determinate, and yet remains by itself, i.e. in its self-identity and universality' (i.e. as a source of all determinations). 'This is the freedom of the will and it constitutes the concept or substantiality of the will, its weight so to speak, just as weight constitutes the substantiality of a body' (§ 7). Differently put, an act of will implies an agent capable of rejecting all courses of action except the one that he really chooses to follow.
When a man is so self-determined but the only content of his will the only source of his determinations - are his impulses, appetites and desires, he has what Hegel calls an 'immediate or natural' will (§ ll). Such a will does not act according to its rational nature, although it is capable of utilitarian rationality; Hegel admits that impulses can be compared and evaluated in the light of experience and selected on grounds of satisfaction or happiness (§ 20). The indeterminacy of the will in the absence of a truly rational criterion of choice constitutes 'arbitrariness' (Willkiir). Such indeterminate, arbitrary will has sometimes been considered a paradigm of free will, but this is a serious mistake in Hegel's view.
The choice which I have is grounded in the universality of the will, in the fact that I can make this or that mine. This thing that is mine is particular in content and therefore not adequate to me and so is separate from me; it is only potentially mine, while I am the potentiality of linking myself to it. Choice, therefore, is grounded in the indeterminacy of the ego and the determinancy of a content. Thus the will, on account of this content, is not free, although it has an infinite aspect in virtue of its form. No single content is adequate to it and in no single content is it really at grips with itself. Arbitrariness implies that the content is made mine not by the nature of my will but by chance. Thus I am dependent on this content, and this is the contradiction lying in arbitrariness. The man in the street thinks he is free if it is open to him to act as he pleases, but his very arbitrariness implies that he is not free. When I will what is rational, then I am acting not as a particular individual but in accordance with the concept of ethics in general. In an ethical action, what I vindicate is not myself but the thing. (PhR, § 15A)
In other words, true freedom is ethical freedom and can only be reached in an ethical community. Because the arbitrary wills of men do not coincide when they act capriciously, an orderly, structured society of natural men is impossible. It can only be conceived as an abstraction, 'a state of nature', in which impulse and violence reign unchecked, a Hobbesian state of 'war of all against all' in which life is 'nasty, brutish and short' and from which man should seek to escape by all means. Hegel regards 'natural freedom' as the freedom peculiar to such a state of nature; it is the only freedom which independent, egocentric and impulse-driven individuals can possibly have when they find themselves in a shared physical space. However, arbitrary choice has a place in a rational normative order, as Hegel admits in his account of civil society; in fact it is one of its fundamental constituents.
In order to have a minimum kind of stable interaction possible it is necessary that all men should recognise certain rules or principles of action, and follow them in practice. The minimum amount of rules that a rational agent will recognise and accept as rational will obviously be those which safeguard his life, limb and possessions, and which guarantee to him an area of activity free from the invasion and interference of others. Within this area each man can do what he pleases and can exercise his natural, immediate or arbitrary will to the fullest extent compatible with an equal opportunity of everybody else in society to do the same. The system of such rational rules, based on reciprocity and a necessary minimum of restriction, Hegel calls 'abstract right'. It is really the natural law of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which was based on the revival of Roman law; in his discussions of the Roman Empire Hegel makes it clear that the idea of law as defining and protecting private rights of individuals was discovered precisely in that epoch of world history.
Hegel's analysis of abstract right and its component elements of personality (capacity for rights), property, contract and wrongdoing in the Philosophy of Right add much to our understanding of his conception of freedom. Hegel bases the system of personal rights on man's appropriation of natural objects and the recognition of possessions as rightful property by other men. By appropriating things man rises above nature and asserts his independence as a free agent: 'a person is a unit of freedom aware of its sheer independence' (PhR, § 35A). However, the principles of abstract right are 'actualised' in the positive legal system of civil society and thus become a part of the broader normative order of Sittlichkeit. They need not be discussed separately.
The same applies to the sphere of morality which in Hegel's view forms another element of ethical life. By morality Hegel means conduct determined by one's conscience, noble intentions or subjective judgement of what is absolutely good. Abstract right (and the positive law based upon it) is indifferent to motives and merely requires external conformity to objective rules of conduct. The
question about the self-determination and motive of the will now enters . . . in connection with morality. Since man wishes to be judged in accordance with his own self-determined choices, he is free in this relation to himself whatever the external situation may impose upon him ... Man's worth is estimated by reference to his inward action and hence the standpoint of morality is that of freedom aware of itself. (PhR, § 106A)
As we have already seen this is the conception of freedom Hegel ascribes to Rousseau and Kant and criticizes as inadequate - false in theory and disastrous in practice. However, as an element of Sittlichkeit it has an essential place in modern social and political life. It is a necessary corrective to all normative structures based on positive law, conventional morality and traditional institutions.
Sittlichkeit is the real context in which men achieve freedom or selfdetermination. It is a structure of human interaction based on established laws and institutions which have survived the test of experience but also theoretical scrutiny. It is the actual, social mechanism through which men are shaped into ethical agents - creatures in practice acting according to laws, recognising and fulfilling obligations, sometimes sharing aims and purposes with other men, and pursuing them through their joint endeavours. When Hegel speaks of ethical life as a 'substance' and men as its accidents' he wishes to draw our attention to the thoroughgoing way in which ethical life moulds man's nature or 'socialises' individuals." Sittlichkeit comprises the existing normative world, the historical world of human relations and ideals, and is so to speak the soil in which abstract right and morality grow. Without it the other two are meaningful only as hypothetical conditions or abstract models of human interaction.
The right and the moral cannot exist independently; they must have the ethical as their support and foundation, for the right lacks the moment of subjectivity, while morality in turn possesses that moment alone, and consequently both the right and the moral lack actuality by themselves. (PhR, § 141A)
In concrete historical terms the right and the moral are simply 'moments' or aspects of Sittlichkeit, which develop within the matrix of man's traditional social life in the course of world history, in the modern era, and enrich the primitive, simple, undifferentiated customary ethics with new and important elements: self-interest and conscience or, in Hegelian terminology, 'particularity' and 'subjectivity'. In terms of European culture Sittlichkeit is the ethical existence of the modern European man when he has become aware of his individuality, asserted its rights in theory and practice, and at the same time has accepted the necessity of an objectively existing ethical order in which his individuality is realised.
Looked at from another angle ethical life is the sum total of the determinants of the will - the ethical norms, rules or principles of actions which provide the substance of human decisions in so far as they are the acts of concrete thinking, choosing and willing agents. The key normative idea of Sittlichkeit is duty (Pflicht).
In Sittlichkeit the agent is faced with clusters of duties arising out of his concrete social position, for example as husband or father, employer or employee, teacher or student, member of an estate, profession or corporation, a voter, a parliamentary representative or a civil servant. These duties are not abstract or general as Kantian categorical imperatives are; they are contextual, particularised, tied to our special social roles, dependent on the sphere of activity in which we are engaged. The more complex, articulated and developed a structure society or community forms, the wider is the range of roles available to its individual members, but also the more elaborate the system of duties which ethically bind them. In other words duties are the content of laws, institutions, organisations and communities which together make up the structure of an ethical community. And in so far as they have been internalised as habits and dispositions, they are the content of volitions (cp. PhR, § 150R).
Hegel defines the freedom peculiar to Sittlichkeit ('ethical freedom') in terms of duty. This is paradoxical only if we accept the Hobbesian view that duties bind us and restrict our freedom of movement. But for Hegel there is no paradox.
The bond of duty can appear as a restriction only on indeterminate subjectivity or abstract freedom, and on the impulses either of the natural will or of the moral will which determines its indeterminate good arbitrarily. The truth is, however, that in duty the individual finds his liberation; first, liberation from dependence on mere natural impulse and from the depression which as a particular subject he cannot escape in his moral reflections on what ought to be and what might be; secondly, liberation from the indeterminate subjectivity which, never reaching reality or the objective determinacy of action, remains self-enclosed and devoid of actuality. In duty the individual acquires his substantive freedom. (PhR, § 149)
In the Addition to this paragraph he concludes:
Thus duty is not a restriction on freedom, but only on freedom in the abstract, i.e. on unfreedom. Duty is the attainment of our essence, the winning of positive freedom.
This conception of freedom as the conscientious acceptance and fulfilment of one's ethical obligations (in Bradley's famous phrase 'my station and its duties') may at first sight appear somewhat unattractive. Even if Hegel's perfect freedom was not simply the obedience to the Prussian state that it has sometimes been alleged to be, this kind of 'substantial' or 'positive' freedom appears compatible with all sorts of situations in which there is very little liberty as it is generally understood by liberals or democrats. A traditional patriarchal society, a feudal monarchy or a modern collectivise, highly regulated state would all seem happily to fit Hegel's conception of an ethical order. But to think that would be to ignore the peculiar modern dimensions of Sittlichkeit represented by abstract right and morality, which have just been mentioned. To count as true Sittlichkeit the ethical order in our own epoch must be shot through with personal rights and spheres of autonomy, and be acceptable to individual conscience. It must (in other words) incorporate the principles of particularity and subjectivity (cp. PhR, § 260 quoted above).
Hegel develops this point at great length in the Philosophy of Right in the sections of ethical life dealing with civil society and the state, but a word must be said about his concept of family which is, in fact, the basic form of ethical life. The family (i.e. the modern family) also has a subjective dimension - for example in the free choice of partners in marriage or the decision to beget children. It may also satisfy particular needs and desires of individuals for companionship, affection, emotional security and sexual gratification; to some extent it still has an economic function. Yet the dominant elements even in the modern family are 'universality' and 'objectivity'. It is a community which, despite love and affection, often faces its members as something burdensome, something which essentially restricts their arbitrary will. It requires of everybody frequent acts of self-sacrifice and the submersion of particularity in a common life. It is also, for the children at least, a necessity they cannot easily escape. The family is the only community in the modem world where Sittlichkeit in its primordial sense operates in a more or less pure form through precept, habit, unconscious imitation and other devices; these shape the individual's natural will and teach him the elements of ethical life - the recognition and acceptance of multifarious duties and moral discipline over desires and appetites, a discipline which is external to start with, but gradually becomes internalised as self-discipline.
In one sense Sittlichkeit pervades all aspects of social life, all relations, institutions, organisations and communities; it is, so to speak, their ethical substratum. But in the modern world it takes on the shape of two distinct ethical systems - complex and interdependent ('organic') social wholes the civil and the political order. In the latter, as in the family, the universal and the substantial elements predominate.
By contrast with the family and the political community the elements of particularly and subjectivity (self-interest and personal choice) come to the fore in, and are the dominant characteristics of, civil society. In civil society men interact with the minimum of ethical or legal constraints. In § 206 of the Philosophy of Right Hegel observes that in modern society, in the choice of a career or trade (and therefore class or estate membership), 'the essential and final and determining factors are subjective opinions and the individual arbitrary will, which win in this sphere their right, their merit and their dignity'. In Plato's Republic and in the ancient world generally (as Hegel points out in PhR, § 206R) one's social status was largely determined by the accident of birth or by the fiat of a despotic authority; free choice of one's role in society was not recognized or secured by appropriate law and institutions as it is in the modern civil society.
when subjective particularity is upheld by the objective order in conformity with it and is at the same time allowed its rights, then it becomes the animating principle of the entire civil society, of the development alike of mental activity, merit and dignity. The recognition and the right that what is brought about by reason of necessity in civil society and the state shall at the same time be effected by the mediation of the arbitrary will is the more precise definition of what is primarily meant by freedom in common parlance. (PhR, § 206R)
'Freedom in common parlance', or what one might call 'civil freedom' in the context of civil society, implies for Hegel the presence of various civil and economic rights, the right of association, the right to a trial by jury, the right to promote group interests through corporations, and the right to public assistance and protection against misfortune or the vagaries of the market. Many of them represent the enactment and institutionalisation of the sphere of abstract right - the realm of legal prohibitions which make it possible for men to act without getting into each other's way. In § 230 he seems to anticipate the rise of the so-called social or welfare state rights because he argues that 'the right actually present in the particular requires . . . that the securing of every single person's livelihood and welfare be treated and actualised as a right, i.e. that particular welfare as such be treated'. 'The police' in his special sense of the word and the corporation are concerned with the security of such social rights.
If we consider the question of duties, we can see that civil society with its complex and increasingly articulated structure provides individuals with a host of new social roles and ethical duties. They are not left to custom or convention alone. They are formulated in clear and unambiguous laws. Positive law, when rationally reformed, ensures that our actual social obligations do not contradict the principles of abstract right and morality, for example do not involve slavery, serfdom, arbitrary restrictions on property, compulsory religious attendance or membership of a religious sect. As a self-conscious ethical agent the modern man accepts his obligations gladly and performs them willingly. But he does nevertheless make a sacrifice of a part of his individuality in so doing. Modern community, so to speak, compensates the individual for this sacrifice by furthering his self-interest, by protecting his private rights and welfare, by caring for him as an individual. And this care is extended to him equally and universally as a man, irrespective of religion or nationality, as his basic human right (cf. PhR, § 209R).
The culminating point of the development of individual will towards freedom in the Philosophy of Right is the political realm, the sphere o' the supreme public authority of 'the strictly political state'. it would seem to follow that 'political freedom' - the ethical freedom corresponding to this sphere of interaction - is the highest form of human freedom. We find, however, that 'political freedom' is an elusive concept in the Philosophy of Right, and Hegel has rather more to say about it in his minor political works, especially those which he wrote before he took up residence in Berlin. The most likely explanation is that the completion of the Philosophy of Right coincided with the onset of reaction in Prussia, after a period of considerable liberalism, and it is more than likely that prudence (or political expediency) tempered Hegel's theoretical zeal in this area of his political philosophy. In fact the clearest acknowledgment of the importance of public freedom occurs in the Philosophy of Right not in the section on the constitution of the state, but in the context of Hegel's discussion of the corporation, which is an institution of civil society. The primary work of the corporation is to achieve security and other sectional benefits for its members, to promote group interests; but it incidentally fosters various ethical characteristics in its members - a sense of honesty, group pride, a sense of belonging and the consciousness of a common end for which they are united. 'As family was the first, so the Corporation is the second ethical root of the state, the one planted in civil society' (PhR, § 255).
Under modern political conditions, the citizens have only a restricted share in the public business of the state, yet it is essential to provide men - ethical entities - with work of a public character over and above their private business. This work of a public character, which the modern state does not always provide, is found in the Corporation. . . . It is in the Corporation that unconscious compulsion first changes into a known and ethical mode of life. (PhR, § 255A)
In the strictly political section of the Philosophy of Right we get only a vague idea what political freedom means and why it is the culminating moment in the development of the will to complete self-determination. Although Hegel purports to offer a dialectical argument, it is clear that for pragmatic reasons he does not think that the opportunity to exercise political freedom need be as wide as the scope to enjoy civil freedom, and makes political freedom a universal right of all citizens only in a very attenuated form. Effectively political participation is a privilege of an elite.
There are a number of reasons why Hegel nevertheless thinks the state to be vitally important for freedom and why it is in the state, a politically organised and governed community, that human freedom reaches it fullest embodiment. Let us imagine that we are members of a Hegelian civil society which appears to be fully rational and developed, in that it genuinely respects and promotes our particular interests and subjective choices through an appropriate system of laws and institutions. We fully enjoy what Hegel calls 'freedom in the common parlance', or civil freedom. Are we then completely self-conscious and self-determined, or is there still some extra element or dimension of freedom which is lacking? Hegel would probably answer this question along the following lines.
(1) Civil society, although autonomous, is ultimately subject to the political state and its governmental authority ('state power'). Rights may be abrogated, as they are in times of war or civil disturbance; property may be taxed for public purposes; corporate rights may be curtailed or independent social activities taken over by public bodies.
In contrast with the spheres of private rights and private welfare (the family and civil society), the state is from one point of view an external necessity and their higher authority; its nature is such that their laws and interests are subordinate to it and dependent on it. (PhR, § 261)
When the need for the state's intervention arises there is no machinery within civil society to explain and justify the need, and without it the intervention has the appearance of an arbitrary, high-handed activity. The certainty that sacrifices for the sake of the common good or some other higher ethical principles are justified requires an exchange of views, an expression of opinions, an institutional channel for the debate of public issues. Although Hegel in the Philosophy of Right goes out of his way to stress the capricious and often trivial character of public opinion, and wishes to curb its 'excesses', he regards it as a necessary element of political life and the chief manifestation of 'subjective freedom' in the public realm.
The formal subjective freedom of individuals consists in their having and expressing their own private judgments, opinions and recommendations on affairs of state. This freedom is collectively manifested as what is called 'public opinion'. (PhR, § 316)
The operation of public opinion presupposes the freedom of the press, publication and association, all of which can exist in civil society and indeed constitute essential civic freedoms. Hegel, however, argues - quite correctly - that such public opinion is either impotent or dangerous as long as it is not related to governmental authority. It is the function of a representative body to remedy this defect. This body, which Hegel call, 'the Assembly of Estates', forms part of the governmental authority or state power', and is a specifically political, not civil, institution.
The Estates have the function of bringing public affairs into existence not only implicitly, but also actually, i.e., of bringing into existence the moment of subjective formal freedom, the public consciousness as an empirical universal, of which the thoughts and opinions of the Many are particulars. (PhR, § 300)
in them [the Estates] the subjective moment in universal freedom - the private judgement and private will of the sphere called 'civil society' in this book - comes into existence integrally related to the state. (PhR § 111)
It is well known that in the Philosophy of Right Hegel is extremely vague about the power of the Estates' Assembly, and in all his political writings he insists that rational suffrage is not universal, direct and individual, but limited, indirect and based on communities or organised interests. It should reflect the social articulation of the national and ethical community. Nevertheless, even in the Philosophy of Right, he treats the principle of representation as a rational feature of the modern state.
(2) Hegel makes the further point that the representative assembly, like the rest of the supreme public authority, is concerned with laws and policies which are necessarily general and must be discussed in universal, rational terms.
The state, therefore knows what it wills and knows it in its universality, i.e. as something thought. Hence it works and acts by reference to consciously adopted ends, known principles, and laws which are not merely implicit but are actually present to consciousness. (PhR, § 315A)
In the final analysis such ends and principles are part of the general culture of a particular country and express its 'national spirit'. Public opinion and representative institutions are the means through which the principles are related to the practical concerns of the community, where fundamental issues of public life are raised and thrashed out in debate. This makes deputies and the country at large conscious of the principles underlying the actual ethical order, reveals possible inadequacies and contradictions, and generates demands for reform. As for J. S. Mill, so for Hegel, representative government is an essential agency of national education (see PhR, § 315A). Political institutions promote the kind of national and political self-consciousness which men do not acquire by being mere members of civil society, and they contribute to freedom because they clarify the principles on which the ethical, social and political life of their community is based.
(3) Another reason for Hegel's dissatisfaction with civil freedom as an adequate form of ethical freedom stems from the form of human interaction peculiar to civil society. Although 'burghers' come to depend closely on each other and form a relatively integrated society, their social interdependence is brought about to some extent by the external forces of needs, labour, the division of labour and the market, and not merely through inner individual commitment or personal choice. Also, while performing their duties to each other and cooperating closely, men remain primarily their own private ends - they (or as Hegel would say, their wills) do not consciously pursue their 'substantial' end, which is the existence of an ethical community making complete freedom possible, They promote the interest of such community only implicitly, indirectly, unconsciously. To this extent they remain within the realm of necessity more akin to nature than to the spiritual realm of freedom. The unity of particularity and universality in civil society is achieved without the knowledge and will of its members and so
is not the identity which the ethical order requires, because at this level, that of division, both principles are self-subsistent. It follows that this unity is present here not as freedom but as necessity, since it is by compulsion that the particular rises to the form of universality and seeks and gains its stability in that form. (PhR, § 186)
By contrast in the political community or the state
the universal does not prevail or achieve completion except along with particular interests and through the co-operation of particular knowing and willing and individuals likewise do not live as private persons for their own ends alone, but in the very act of willing these they will the universal in the light of the universal, and their activity is consciously aimed at none but the universal end. (PhR, § 260)
Man as potentially free, self-determined agent, once he has become conscious of his nature, cannot allow himself to be determined by social forces operating on him externally, like natural forces, all the more so as those forces are in the last resort the product of his thought and will and so are potentially under his control. His proper end - the membership of a rational ethical community - must be his own conscious aim, otherwise he is not fully free. By participating in political activities, the public affairs of his state, the individual makes a direct contribution to the life and development of the community and thereby increases his selfdetermination. As we have seen, a start towards this kind of freedom is made already in civil society through the corporation, which changes the unconscious compulsion' of working for others in the market economy into 'a known and thoughtful ethical mode of life' (PhR, § 255A). The modern state creates further opportunities for participation to its citizens, although it allocates different shares according to education, property and status.
(4) Hegel's final line of argument that political freedom is distinct from civil freedom, and represents the highest stage in the development of freedom, is his version of Rousseau's idea of the General Will. Rousseau insisted that the General Will had to express or manifest itself in the actions of individual citizens performing public functions, especially voting on laws. The General Will is the rational or moral will of citizens acting for the common good (the general interest of the body politic) rather than for their own personal good or private interest. For Hegel the common good or public interest is identical with the totality of rational laws and institutions of a community and constitutes the 'objective will' of the community.
Confronted with the claims made for the individual will, we must remember the fundamental conception that the objective will is rationality simplicity or in conception, whether it be recognised or not by individuals, whether their whims be deliberately for it or not. (PhR, § 258R)
But although Hegel differs from Rousseau by postulating a transcendent General Will which, as the 'objective will' of a rationally structured community, is more than the sum of individual wills, he agrees with him that such will must express or manifest itself in the actual thinking and willing of individual citizens, consciously identifying their subjective will with the 'objective will' and its needs. This union of subjective and objective will constitutes 'concrete freedom', which is higher than the abstract subjective and objective freedoms taken by themselves. It is through the political institutions of the ethical community that the reconciliation of the subjective and objective aspects of the will is effected.
In the Philosophy of Right the necessity of the subjective will assenting to laws and other requirements of the common good is argued by Hegel only with the reference to the monarch, as the official head of the political community, but in his Philosophy of Mind, the third part of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), this necessity is explicitly stated also with reference to the mass of citizens. In paragraph 544 of this work Hegel raises the question 'in what sense are we to understand the participation of private persons in state affairs?', and after ruling out superior intelligence or good will of the people as an adequate reason he answers his question as follows:
The desirability of private persons taking part in public affairs is partly to be put in their concrete, and therefore more urgent, sense of general wants. But the true motive is the right of the community (collective) spirit to appear as an externally universal will, acting with orderly and express efficacy for the public concerns. By such satisfaction of this right it gets its own life quickened, and at the same time breathes fresh life in the administrative officials; who thus have it brought home to them that not merely have they to enforce duties but also to have regard to rights. Private citizens are in the state the incomparably greater number and form the multitude of such as are recognised as persons. Hence the rational will (will-reason) exhibits its existence in them as a preponderating majority of freemen, or in its 'reflectional universality' which has its actuality vouchsafed it as a participation in the sovereignty.
The meaning of this somewhat poorly translated passage is fairly clear: the rational will of the ethical community, public, affairs must be mediated through the wills of the multitude and must take the form of an externally universal (general) will', i.e. one embodied in the particular wills of the citizens exercising political rights or participating in sovereignty. Only then does the general will become fully alive and acquire universal existence.
We may therefore conclude that Hegel has largely justified his claim that 'the [modern] state is the actuality of concrete freedom'. Freedom defined as the self-determination of a rational, moral and ethical agent reaches its fullest development only in a politically organised modern community, in which he interacts with other citizens and the government through free public debate, suffrage and representation. Political liberty, involved in these activities, is distinct from civil liberty. The raison d'étre of civil society and the justification of civil freedom is the private interest and subjective choice of the individual bourgeois which, mediated through a system of economic and social relations as well as laws, institutions and authorities, promotes the interest of the ethical community only indirectly and in the last resort. The raison d'étre of political community and the justification of political liberty are the good of the ethical community itself, the common good or the public interest, which the fully self-conscious and self-determined citizen promotes for its own sake. In so doing he actualises his own deepest freedom and realises his nature not simply as a particular but as a universal, communal being. Political freedom, although roughly hewn, is the indispensable coping stone of Hegel's theory of freedom which (so to speak) is the obverse of his theory of political community. And the two theories taken as a whole represent Hegel's adaptation of Plato's idea of 'ethical substance' to the modern world and the solution of Rousseau's problems of political association how to live in community with others and yet remain a free individual.