Was George Hegel a Liberal Authoritarian

Topics: Liberalism, Political philosophy, Communism Pages: 6 (2212 words) Published: December 12, 2006
Is it fair to call Hegel an ‘authoritarian liberal'?

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is one of the most influential and most difficult political theorists in the history of western thought. This is one of the first points that is realised when researching his works and readings. His name is invoked by many philosophers that followed him yet not often truly understood. This can often be put down to the different way his political theory was perceived by the reader. Even the supporters of Hegels thought were directly split using his thoughts and ideas to argue for both sides of the political spectrum. In the following piece of research I intend to look into whether it is possible to tag Georg Hegel and his readings with a label or whether the complications often spoken about make this impossible to be the case.

A key component of liberal ideas are that of freedom and liberty itself and Hegel wrote on freedom in length. Hegel understood freedom as a variant of what Isiaah Berlin spoke of as ‘positive freedom'. This was the idea that freedom could not exist in the ‘absence of obstacles and impediments' but it existed in the ‘presence of a certain kind of relationship or connection between the agent and his activity' Hegel called this ‘self-determining'. Hegel spoke of freedom as ‘being with oneself in another, I cannot become free by avoiding otherness, by refusing to commit myself to any activity or relationship with others. But even if I do engage with otherness in some way, it does not follow that I am necessarily free. I must be ‘with myself' in the action or relationship in which I engage: it must be an expression of my self-determination'. Hegel talks here that it must be the person; one's self at all times making the decision to do something with others or by oneself for the person to be in a position of freedom. Though a rather complicated way of putting the point across Hegel here shows his liberal tendencies, classic liberalism broadly speaking emphasises individual rights, it searches and seeks out a society with limitations of power on the state so that the citizens can make decisions for oneself.

As already mentioned Hegel's writings were at times complicated and can be taken in many ways by the reader. At times Georg Hegel can be seen as contradicting himself which is one of the reasons it is so hard to label him under a particular heading. This becomes obvious in Hegel's writings on the state, having already spoken of his belief in the freedom of the individual and its grounding in classic liberalism, it is here though where the boundaries begin to cross, in classic liberalism as mentioned there are limitations of power on the state and religion. This does not actually sit comfortably with some of the writings of Georg Hegel who actually spoke of the state as ‘the highest embodiment of the divine idea on earth'. He meant here that the state was highest form of social existence which is made up of the family and the civil society which he deemed lower of forms of social groupings.

Hegel spoke of the state as a superorganic whole made up of individuals grouped into local communities. These individual communities though can be demanded to be sacrificed in the interest of the state. It is Hegel's writings on the relationship between the state and the individual regarding freedom which differ from that of classic and modern liberalism. Hegel writes that the ‘state expresses the universal will and therefore the true will of every individual within it' meaning it is the state that is in the position of power to make decisions for its citizens and the decisions taken by the state would be the right one. Hegel's state has no room for the idea of individual rights or a liberal theory of the state; which is that in order to be free, individuals needed access to the requirements of fulfillment, including protection from exploitation and education. This means that individuals within society needed the help of the...
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