May 1, 2020


Capitalism at Dusk: Hegel and the irrationality of modern economy (Robert Pippin, 4/15/20, The Point)

Hegel's most important book on these issues, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821), is certainly a defense of the rationality of an interconnected web of modern institutions, including private property and wage labor. These institutions had either already appeared by the beginning decades of the nineteenth century--some in Germany, and many in England--or were, as he saw it, inexorably emerging. Two things, at least, are distinctive about his approach to thinking about them. First, by rationality, Hegel does not mean what any suitably informed ideal contractor would choose to commit to, either for strategic or ethical reasons. He has instead a substantive and not a formal theory of rationality. Human beings are essentially historically developing, socially dependent, self-aware, deliberative, free beings, and if they come to live in a way that, as he would put it, does not agree with this concept, then that way is irrational. This means for him, given the enormous significance of his claim about our social dependence, that a human being can only be what it is, a free being, by participating in social institutions, including an economic system. As he put it, a person can only be "fully" free as a citizen in the modern republican state. He did not merely mean that a state indifferent or hostile to the freedom of its citizens is unjust, or that one cannot act as the free agent one is in such an irrational state (although he certainly did want to make both claims), but rather that one is not yet a fully free agent in such an irrational situation. However much the capacity of freedom (as Hegel understands it) is a potentiality characteristic of every member of the human species, the state of being free is an achievement of a distinct sort. That achievement relies on the right sort of social bonds in the family, as fellow workers, and as citizens of a representative state. Absent that achievement, freedom is unrealized.

There's no such thing as individual liberty.

Posted by at May 1, 2020 9:37 AM