Monday, July 02, 2007

Hegel schmegel already (NB not Schlegel)

Barry Stocker commenting on my post on blogging, defends Hegel by reference to TH Green. Wikipaedia gives a good summary of the modern debate on Hegel, from which I learn than even neo-conservative thought owes some debt to Hegel.

I confess that as a student I gave up trying to read sentences like "The goal is that it come to be known that [Spirit] presses forward only to know itself as it is in and for itself, that it brings itself in its truth to appearance before itself..." Perhaps it loses something in translation. I dread to think what the original German sounds like. Jung said Hegel's language was "reminiscent of the megalomaniac language of schizophrenics".

However, sentences such as "In the state alone has man rational existence" were enough to persuade me that Hegel was no Liberal. I think it's reasonable to describe him as a state-appointed philosopher, given that Frederick William III appointed him rector of Berlin University in 1830 and decorated him for his service to the Prussian regime.


Barry Stocker said...

On Hegel again. Even if the Prussian King gave Hegel the Rectorship and decorated him, it's important to distinguish between those facts and regarding Hegel's philosophy as the philosophy of the Prussian state,i.e. conservative-absolutist. Some chairs at Oxford and Cambridge are approved by the monarch and lead to a knighthood, if Hegel is a 'state appointed philosopher' similar remarks would have to be made about Regius professors. Your 'anti-liberal' quote from Hegel is clearly a deliberate echo of Aristotle's comment that 'man is a political/social animal', i.e. an animal living in a social community with political institutions, along with various comments in Aristotle's ethics and politic which link personal friendship and virtue with political friendship and virtue, and link all of these with education and rationality. If liberalism means some anarcho-capitalist absolutist libertarian position then these kinds of comments are anti-liberal. However, it seems to me that one can go a long way in the direction of free market liberalism and accept these sentiments. Adam Smith certainly would have.

Tristan said...

I'm no expert, but all that I've come across of Hegel is anti-liberal (that's where any sense can be made out of it).

He was appointed a state philosopher to shore up the Prussian state and to justify it.

If your position depends on the state you will say what the rulers want. Some chairs at Oxford and Cambridge were approved by the monarch perhaps, but the British state in the 19th Century was far less authoritarian than 19th Century Prussia the monarch was far less likely interfere.

The observation that we are all part of society and we interact with each other is obvious, but that is not what Hegel was saying there - he was saying that the state is what gives us 'rational existence', it is the state which defines our lives. That is profoundly illiberal.

Barry Stocker said...

Tristan's comments essentially reassert the accusations against Hegel without evidence and offer no evidence whatsoever that he is familiar with Hegel's own relevant text *Philosophy of Right* or any commentary on Hegel since Popper. In the later editions of *Open Society and Its Enemies* even Karl Popper suggested that Hegel may not have been quite the lickspittle of the Prussian monarchy than he had originally suggested. The fact that Hegel accepted a chair and then a rectorship from the Prussian monarchy does not support any claim that Hegel's philosophy is a slavish justification of the Prussian state. It's unlikely anyone would be still reading Hegel if that was the case. In the *Philosophy of Right*, Hegel, refers to the monarchy as a subjective moment whose function is to sign legislation, not formulate it. Precisely the role of the current British monarchy, had the Prussian Kings the intellectual capacity to study the text themselves they would have been most put out. I don't wish to appear to be the defender of Hegel, I have other sources for my political ideas, but Hegel should be recognised as what he was a, a constitutional conservative with a rich thought taken up across a very broad political spectrum. Hegel's thought clearly had a great influence on liberal Communitarianism since T.H. Green. Personally I'm more ndividualistic. Recent Hegel commentators have tended to be social democratic, e.g. Raymond Plant (a Labour peer) and Charles Taylor (a Canadian soc─▒al democrat with Catholic social philosophy leanings). On the right commentators include Paul Gottfried, the American paleo-conservative. A position which overlaps with some Libertarian currents, Gottfried is a fellow of the Mises institute, so may have some positions in common with Tristan. Tristan doesn't answer the point that Adam Smith would have accepted that civilisation, including the market economy, rests on law which requires a state to formulate and enforce it. I wouldn't choose Hegel's way of putting it, but the underlying Aristotelian point would have been accepted by Locke, Hume, Smith, Kant, Tocqueville and most Classical Liberals, i.e. except for a few anarcho-capitalists like Humboldt and Bastiat. If Tristan doesn't think Classical Liberalism includes a state which provides security and enforces law as the basis of civilisation then I find his interpretation eccentric.