Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
Hegel’s most mature statement of political philosophy, the Elements of the Philosophy of Right is an excoriating critique of social contract theory and liberal individualism. Dismissing the liberal conception of self-willing individuals who freely form governments, Hegel argues that freedom is only realizable in the context of the state and in abiding by its laws. Building on the ideas developed in his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel sees in the state the fulfillment of the movement of world spirit (or Reason itself). As such, the state “has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state.” Disorienting to liberal readers, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right electrified its German readership, radicalizing thinkers on both the Right and the Left, and forming, in inverted form, the background to Marxist thought. How can we understand Hegel’s conception of freedom as the ethical obligation to act rightly? And is Hegel’s political philosophy a useful framework for thinking through problems of law, family, and civil society today?
In this course, we will read from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, examining carefully Hegelian ideas of history, spirit, universality, the individual, and the state. We will ask: What role do property rights and contracts play in a free society? What is the role of punishment and the police? What does Hegel mean by the “ethical life of the state” and how is it supposed to shape the self-consciousness of the individual? What is the relationship between morality and politics more generally? And finally, what is the meaning of the emergence of the modern rational state for world history as such?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
October 22 — November 12, 2020