Jesse's Reviews > Elements of the Philosophy of Right

Elements of the Philosophy of Right by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Jul 18, 2011

did not like it
Read from June 25 to July 17, 2011

Possibly the most morally repugnant treatise on political theory this side of Leviathan, Hegel's Philosophy of Right is ostensibly an account of the modern state, but it is in fact a collection of cheerleading anthems for power by an evil pedant desirous of the destruction of our species. There are three agonizing sections. The first is about how, as a particular human being, you are contradictory and therefore untrue; in contrast, the state, being the embodiment of contradictionless Reason, is true; hence, you have rights insofar as it pleases the state, and there's a hefty price to pay - you have to conform to society! Hegel here takes up the classic right-wing position of how you have to earn your way into civil society, the following "dialectical stage", by conforming to one of its institutions, e.g. the military, which he thinks should consist of a standing army, and he says only analytical, i.e. freedom-loving, thinkers will argue against the evil of a standing army (which happens to be the entire Enlightenment tradition! see, e.g., James Madison Federalist No. 42), or the corporation, which, Hegel thinks, should be the only vehicle for rights. What should be striking you by now, and what immediately struck me, was how much closer this treatise is to present day U.S. political norms (how we, in effect, have a standing army: how we, in fact, get our rights from the "dialectical" mediation of corporate insurance companies, etc.) than those outlined in Locke's Second Treatise, i.e., the treatise that the U.S. is actually supposed to be in support of as a culture, but with the simple fact that Turner owns a third of the nation, we are obviously sitting upon Hegel's lap (who also mentions how the "infinite will", as far as property, i.e., things, goes, cannot be infringed upon). To highlight the contrast, observe: Locke said, representing the liberal and Enlightenment tradition, that the state exists for its citizens as a means. Hegel says here that "the state is an end in itself" and that it exists for itself, nevermind those ghostly particulars, i.e., citizens. Enlightenment said, individuals are ends in themselves. According to the over-generous (every kind interpretation of Hegel is over-generous) interpretation of Allen Wood, Hegel thinks that the citizen is neither an end nor a means, but a member of "the organic unity". What Hegel means by organic unity is a state where no individual rights are asserted. Hegel is against social contract theory, such as Locke's, simply to the extent that it proclaims the rights of individuals. For Hegel, there are no rights for individuals, except what they can find by conforming to the institutions provided by the state (again, note the unbelievable likeness to U.S. neoliberalism here). The next section is simply Hegel’s denunciation of Kantian secular ethics insofar as they are secular and rational, and suggests that there is nothing ethical here because, here, there are only individuals thinking for themselves! What brazen stupidity! So, with a real big hint, Hegel titles the next section, Ethical Life. This is the largest section, and there are again three sections, because there were two things that made Hegel orgasm – the state and threes (proof enough that the man’s books should be distrusted). The first section is on the Family, with a long sub-section on how women are inferior to men. And so the man must run away from the feminine element of the family (which in the Phenomenology is called the realm of the living dead – Hegel’s poetic take on the female spirit) and be robbed and exploited in the marketplace. This section is Civil Society, and it contains the theoretical foundation for much of what Friedman and Rand were to satanically spew on to the public in the twentieth century, specifically corporate externalities: “[P]rivate actions become a contingent matter that passes out of my control and which can wrong or harm other people or actually does so.” Hegel with Rand, in paragraph 299, says that the means for organizing society can be mediated by one of two things: money or the slave whip. He also advocates ethical egoism, calling anything else, like Kantian ethics, merely “formal”, i.e., non-objective. Why do Rand and Hegel think this? Hegel speaks for everyone on the bourgeois Right when he says: “[S]ubjective selfishness turns into a contribution towards the satisfaction of the needs of everyone else.” Imagine if BP used this quote in their defense, though it takes an even greater stretch of the imagination to think BP would ever be tried for their criminal negligence because of Hegel’s defense of externalities, previously cited. Hegel’s dialectical totality is, in fact, simply the totality of bourgeois hatred for humanity and excuses for their crimes. The last section is about the State proper. Hegel talks about how the rabble must be controlled, or at least organized, and that means lots of testing (standardized testing! Actually, not only can you find Bush’s No Child Left Behind in these pages, but also the Bush Doctrine itself – see paragraph 335!). Hegel’s intellectual attraction stems from his ability to “dialectically unfold” the hidden relations between everything; the book’s merit is, in fact, how successful that declared philosophical goal is – one can see where all the thoughts and opinions of the Right come from. But it is morally worse than Leviathan for the simple reason that, at the very least, Hobbes’ gives the citizen the right of self-defense, even before her monarch – Hegel agrees with Rousseau in that death-row inmates should be celebrating their freedom. One cannot help thinking of how GULAG inmates, with Hegelian futility, wrote birthday cards to Stalin. The Enlightenment was well aware how much more dangerous the modern state with its corporations would be compared with the absolutism of the divine-right monarchy; Jefferson warned us, but, it seems, we have heeded the likes of Rand, a true Hegelian, instead.
7 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Elements of the Philosophy of Right.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

09/07 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by C (new) - rated it 2 stars

C Really...

message 2: by Jesse (last edited Jul 18, 2011 10:18AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jesse I can't believe you gave it so much as two stars. On almost every page, Hegel says a morally outrageous and/or an unbelievably inane thing, not to mention in the most deliberately obscure and awful prose, so as to make his atrocious and banal opinions profound-seeming to the feeble, and, as a result of reading Hegel, atrophied mind.

message 3: by C (new) - rated it 2 stars

C I gave it 2 for the few enlightened positions it took: free thought, tolerance of faiths, halt on the lawyer profession, and equal access to state funded education.

message 4: by Jesse (last edited Jul 19, 2011 01:35PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jesse I'm sorry Chris but you have no foundation for believing that those positions are in this book. 1) Free thought isn't free if it can't be spoken: "To define freedom of the press as freedom to say and write whatever one pleases is equivalent to declaring that freedom in general means freedom to do whatever one pleases. - Such talk is the product of completely uneducated, crude, and superficial thinking." 2) There can be tolerance of faiths when the state inwardly believes that "Christianity is the religion of freedom," and "the highest development of Spirit."
3) He doesn't call for a halt on the lawyer profession, but merely cautions, in the interest of patriotism, that the law's language isn't "in a foreign language" with "outdated rituals". If anything, he demands an increase of law, and order - law's inseparable corollary via the state, throughout the whole book, since, in all of our human relations, even with ourselves, we are dealing with things, as outlined in Abstract Right, and therefore, property; property as guaranteed by law, lawyers, and courts. Remember the section where he says that there can be "no settling out of court", that all cases must be tried no matter what the people in the case think?! What lawyer wouldn't orgasm at that opinion? 4) He believes in equal access to state funded education only insofar as one is tested (SAT, GRE; tests that I'm sure you love as much as I) - he thinks you have to earn it, that it shouldn't be open to all without "objective testing". That's not enlightened at all! None of the points you brought up, as they actually exist in Hegel, if they do, are really enlightened; on the contrary, everything Hegel says is unenlightened in the extreme! Admittedly, Hegel is hard to read, but you should read more skeptically Chris, that is, more responsibly; don't throw out compliments where they don't belong.

message 5: by C (new) - rated it 2 stars

C I could offer refutations but...alas, in NY and the books nowhere nearby, and I'm typing from a cell. I mostly agree
Though with your entire review.

message 6: by Jesse (last edited Jul 20, 2011 12:47PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jesse Also, Hegel says the Idea has "an absolute right" to its expression in "legal determinations"; Hegel didn't believe that there should be a separation of church and state either. But you know you should dismiss the Heg-beast! The weary traveller, having come through the Heg-maze, must turn, not to a worship of the Hegs, nor to the ontological insecurity of existentialism, but to the secure ontological basis of socialism!

message 7: by C (new) - rated it 2 stars

C So true...
(scientific socialism)

Jesse In his Conspectus of Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy, Marx writes: "Scientific socialism was only used in opposition to utopian socialism, which wants to attach the people to new delusions, instead of limiting its science to the knowledge of the social movement made by the people itself." The phrase, then, has no meaning today, unless you were to agree with the scientific socialists of the USSR in denouncing Chomsky a utopian socialist.

message 9: by Athens (new) - added it

Athens Mr. Lopes, I am certain from looking at your commentary and from the rating you give this book that I will enjoy and appreciate the book immensely. Thank you for the recommendation and know that I will be buying my copy as soon as reasonably possible. Best regards.

message 10: by Jesse (new) - rated it 1 star

Jesse Good sir Athens, I thank you for your words of thanks, and wish you the best reading this. However, a word of caution: even if you are a state-reactionary, it is very difficult to believe you will enjoy this book, at least immediately, for the simple reason that it is a very involved technical application of Hegel's logic to the subject of statecraft, much like Plato with his Statesman; but just as a proper appreciation of the Statesman requires a reading of the Sophist, and the reading of both those dialogues rather should not be your introductory dialogues to Plato, so does this book require a reading of Hegel's logic and a familiarity with his entire system prior to reading.

message 11: by C (new) - rated it 2 stars

C Why would a 1 star rating make you "certain" that you'll enjoy the book? Isn't it supposed to do the opposite.

Jesse according to your rating system 1 star means you're supposed to dissuade this man from reading this book, and despise him.

message 12: by Jesse (last edited Dec 31, 2012 09:57AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jesse Reaction exists outside of the bounds of rational discourse, necessarily, due to a lack of Edmund Burke style principle. This is exemplified in the first two books of the Republic. Socrates speaks to two conservatives, the first, the old man who possesses an external morality, the second, his son who possesses an unreflecting conventional morality; then Socrates speaks with Thrasymachus, the embodiment of state-reaction - the conversation breaks down at this point, and the reader is ushered to a consideration of the ideal state.

I am charmed by your query, Chris. Don't you know that "certainty" to a reactionary comes only from doing the opposite of whoever your class enemy is? That is why there is a difference between reaction and conservatism.

message 13: by Athens (new) - added it

Athens Hi, On reflection after reading your notes about the reactionary nature of the word, I would not have used the word 'certainly'. Thank you.

message 14: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom McDonald Despite your prejudiced interpretation of the book you have at least provided the virtue of showing that Hegel had a better and richer grasp than Locke on the reality of human life and freedom, seeing how it requires many more structural conditions than are allowed in the merely abstract, delusory idealism and fantasies of libertarians.

message 15: by Jesse (new) - rated it 1 star

Jesse Do you really think my views here were prejudiced, i.e., I did not give sufficient reasons for my views? Or is it that my tone is too hostile?

Did I actually show what you claim I did? Because, to be truthful, I didn't see that, and I would be sore if Locke came off worse than Hegel.

message 17: by Jesse (new) - rated it 1 star

Jesse Two things invariably happen with me and Hegel:

1) I read him, and I believe everything Schopenhauer says about him.

2) I read others about him, who make sense; but at the same time reveal, that the meanings hidden in Hegel are precisely all of those things that are so atavistic, that no one would want to say them aloud.

Matthew It seems you may have fallen foul of the imposition problem. I think your interpretation is very one sided, Hegel focuses on what is (was) but deeper within it he does outline what 'could' be, and it is nothing like Rand's Nietzschean dystopia. Perhaps you should read it again with an open mind. Most of what seemed to upset you would be partial realisations to Hegel, thus they would be wrongs waiting to be recognised as such. He describes, a misinterpretation of his work is to use it to prescribe, his project was to find harmony between individual wills ( by plotting the path of freedom) in a social world. All political narratives draw on great works to legitimate their invested interests (funnily enough Hegel explains this) but this does not make the writings of that thinker a right/left wing piece, We can draw what we want from any work and use literal interpretations out of context to fudge a story, but to read a work semantically is to attempt to see what the writer was trying to do is to be honest with it and with oneself.

back to top