Political Philosophy Part 2


Conservatism (pp19) Part (i)


Key Conservative Ideas; Burke; and Hegel.



Links: Imagining Other Index Page


                                                                                                                                                Political Philosophy Contents Page


                                                                                                                                                Oakeshott and Nozick (20th century Conservatism) (part ii)


                                                                                                                                                Thatcherism (part iii)


                                                                                                                                                Hayek, Liberal Conservatism, New Right Economics (part iv)



(i) key ideas of conservatism – a reminder of Burke’s thinking (18th century)

(ii) 19th century: Hegel and the belief in the state

(iii) extracts from Hegel’s writings.

Index to notes on Hegel:

1. context link

1.1 reason link

1.2 Hegel’s ‘system’ link

1.3 the dialectic link

1.4 history link

1.5 society and the state link




(i) key ideas of conservatism:


Edmund Burke 1729 – 1797 (pp11 link): supported the Americans in their objection to being answerable to parliament in England when they had no representatives there (they were wanting back their civil rights), but opposed the French revolutionaries whose demands were based on ‘abstract rights’ [see below] (‘rights of man’ – ‘natural rights’) which, he argued, could be taken to extreme.


1. - Tradition and custom:

The ideas of the “philosophes” and revolutionaries had no background, no tradition; but collective experience builds up tradition and we know what “works” because of this. These points (and others) are very much a part of conservative thinking: whatever has been developed and tried over a long period of time - custom, tradition - should not be rashly discarded. For Burke, the English institutions of Monarchy and Parliament had evolved since at least the 11th century, and thus were legitimate.


2. - Rights:

Burke was in favour, then, of ‘concrete’ rights, derived from society – he opposed the ‘abstract rights’ demanded by the French revolutionaries and others. As McClelland (1996) puts it: ‘natural rights’ were what we were given by God before society was established; now that we have society and community, of course people must have ‘rights’ within these contexts – but to argue, as Tom Paine (see the link above to pp11) did that government and society should be based on ‘natural rights’ was to try to base government on something completely ‘abstract’ and ‘metaphysical’.


3. - Organic model of society and the state:

Burke held to an organic model of society: all the parts in society are inter-dependent, and play their natural roles. The state is not simply an association for expediency (like a commercial organisation) but it is an “overarching entity” that keeps historical continuity going. Government is “a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants”. Burke supported a balance of powers in government, as was the practice in England.

Note that this emphasis on the importance of the organic ties in a society and community is essential to traditional conservatism – Margaret Thatcher thus was breaking with tradition when she decried ‘society’.  We might also note (2010) that Cameron has brought back the traditional approach with his ‘big society’ (small state) slogan.


4. -Deference is natural:

For Burke (in complete contrast to Paine!) it was “natural” to feel awe at monarchs, “reverence to priests” etc. The reverse of this is a tendency, which Burke shared, to view ordinary citizens as fallible, or ignorant; each has only a little reason and cannot envisage the whole of society. We can only draw on experience, and “prejudice” (‘pre-judging’), not on individual abstract “reason”.


Our “natural” condition is dependency and the need for security and leadership. Only those who have experience and background are able to govern – ordinary citizens cannot envisage the whole of society, thus he believed in an “aristocracy” – that is, rule by the “best”. Their role is also more important because they have more “invested” in society.


The people, on the other hand, should be “tractable and obedient” – if they do not get rewards in this life, they will in Heaven. The most important goal for society is good order (“the foundation of all things”), and government can bring this provided it acts to restrain “human passions”.


5. - Piecemeal and gradual change:

Burke is not opposed to change, but argues (like Sir Karl Popper in the 20th century) that it should be “piecemeal” – the more sweeping a change is, the more difficult it is to control, and the more likelihood of violence.


His ideas led on to ‘one nation Toryism’ – the new right did (does) not share Burke’s belief in the importance of tradition.


(ii) 19th century: G.W.F. Hegel (1770 – 1831) and the belief in the state.


Introductory Notes:


(i) there is disagreement as to whether Hegel was a liberal or a conservative thinker. His followers split into two opposed trends, one of which became Marxism. I include him here because of his philosophical view that the state is the highest level of human organisation. Nationalism is more often associated with the right than the left – though of course socialists can be nationalistic too!


As I see it, his ideas are politically ambivalent, though in the end conservative.  See 1.1 below…


(ii) these notes are quite detailed – and Hegel is very difficult – but I would justify spending this much time on him because, as Berki (1977, p 179) says:

“...Hegel’s thought, taken in its entirety, undoubtedly represents one of the biggest watersheds in our entire intellectual tradition. … its giant shadow still extends over our horizon after 150 years… “


Berki goes on to note the impact of his political thought on conservatism (through the approach to the state), but also: liberalism (in Croce, T.H. Green and Bosanquet), socialism (social democracy and Marxism), and even (he acknowledges controversially!) Italian fascism.


More recently Hegel’s ideas can be traced in Oakeshott see Oakeshott and Nozick (20th century Conservatism) – and Marcuse (on the New Left)!


Hegel’s key ideas:


The dialectic as method of knowing about the world.

Philosophical idealism - the Absolute Idea.

The dialectic used to explain: (a) historical progress, and (b) the social and political order – the state, civil society, family.

The state as the realisation of Absolute Idea (Absolute Idea made real).

Self and other.


Hegel’s main works:


Science of Logic (1812-1816)

Philosophy of Right (1821)

Philosophy of History (1831)


A Controversial Introduction, concerning some controversies!


I have said that for me Hegel is a conservative thinker. On the other hand, there are several ways in which his thinking is similar to Marxism:


- the question that is central to Hegel’s thought - the relation between existing reality and an ‘ideal’ [see 1.1 below] - is one on which Marxists also base their philosophy: clearly, though, Marxists want ‘to change the world’.


- it is argued that Marxism ‘inverted’ Hegel’s dialectic – see Notes on Marx. In fact, it is possible to argue that Hegel was more logically consistent in his use of the dialectic [see 1.3 below] than Marx: he puts ideas ‘first’, and argues that they proceed dialectically- that is by a series of steps involving contradictions (see below). Marxists use a ‘dialectical’ approach (‘class struggle’ is a conflict of ‘opposites’, there is a contradiction between the ‘relations of production’ and the ‘forces of production’ etc) but they argue that this ‘dialectic’ is based on material reality. Stalin was mocked for his crude attempt to explain this idea in terms of water turning into steam, and yet there is surely a problem in seeing a dialectic (as opposed to ‘change’) at work ‘in nature’?


- both Marxism and Hegelianism also have to deal with the question: in the event of disagreement over how things are (whether ‘things’ refers to ideas, for Hegel, or to the material or economic reality, for Marx), how do we know which interpretation of existing reality is the correct one? I think what I am saying is that with a dialectical approach, the difficulty will always arise of evaluating a range of dialectical alternatives, and identifying which is the best, the step forward (the movement in a new and better direction) as distinct from the ‘step backwards.’ This is seen – for me – most clearly in Lenin’s polemics against those he disagreed with (e.g. the ‘economists’): especially when he calls on the dialectic to claim that anyone who disagrees with him is in opposition to him (a ‘class enemy’ in fact)!


[Sadly, in 2010 we still find the North Koreans identifying someone as a ‘bourgeois opponent’ of the regime – and executing him… Pak Nam-gi, the ‘chief for planning and the economy’ described as ‘a son of a bourgeois conspiring to infiltrate the ranks of revolutionaries to destroy the national economy’ according to a South Korean news agency. His ‘crime’ was to have been responsible for currency reforms which damaged the economy. Watch out Gordon Brown!]


It is not surprising that Hegel had (and has) followers on both the left and the right, since each can find something they can support in his complex theory:


- conservative followers stressed Hegel’s views on the importance of the state, its organic construction, its superiority to the individual, and the need for individuals to obey; they also supported Hegel’s rejection of the revolutionary call for popular sovereignty and “absolute freedom” in favour of constitutional monarchy (cf. Burke’s opposition to the idea of abstract rights – see above); and finally they agreed with Hegel that philosophy cannot give advice, and its aim is self-knowledge;


- radicals (especially Marx) drew on the dialectic and the idea of constant change and progress, and the power of reason – though Marx maintained that Hegel’s philosophically idealist dialectic had to be replaced with a materialist one. There is also an important strand in Hegel of concern with man’s “fragmented” existence in the modern world, and with man’s “alienation” and “objectification” [see 2.3 below] – both of which, with somewhat changed meanings, were important to Marx. Hegel’s emphasis on ‘constitutional monarchy’ even puts him in the mainstream liberal strand of thought! (cf. McClelland 1996, p 520)


My own assessment of Hegel as a conservative thinker is based on the view of his conservative followers – despite the common ground, as it were, with socialist ideas of the intrinsic connection between individuals and their social environment, I feel that Hegel’s ‘community’ would be one in which hierarchy, deference, duty, tradition etc would be the dominant values!


1.  Context and contribution:


1.1     The re-instatement of “reason”. In the early eighteenth century several thinkers had undermined confidence in the power of “reason” (see Lancaster, 1959: Hume’s scepticism, Rousseau’s emphasis on sentiment).  Kant (1724 – 1804) had attempted to demonstrate the power of reason; however, by distinguishing: (a) “theoretical” from “practical” reasoning, and distinguishing (b) “phenomena” (things as they appear in the world), from “noumena” (things-in-themselves, which must be inaccessible to reason), Kant had reinforced the Cartesian (Descartes) split between mind and matter.  See below * extract 1: ‘What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational’ and the aim of philosophy is to get beneath the appearances – but in the ‘temporal and transient’ there is an ‘immanent’ ‘substance’, and rationality is not separable from ‘external existence’ (it ‘enters upon existence simultaneously with its actualization’). 


Hegel tried to develop a philosophy in which reason was able to understand everything (including itself!). Yet he believed that philosophy could not understand the world “in advance” (my words) – he likened philosophy to “the owl of Minerva that only appears at dusk” – it “comes on the scene too late” to give advice. 


For Hegel, also, history reveals the progress of reason; therefore political institutions have been moving towards greater rationality, and they may be subject to improvement as our reasoning examines them. But if philosophy is always ‘behind the times’, then we can only think in the way that corresponds to existing reality. Hence: ‘the real is the rational and the rational is the real.’ This can be read as a ‘conservative’ position surely?


His philosophy is called objective idealism, and it is based on the dialectic (see 1.3 below).


Further Notes:

(i) the idea that all limits to the self-realisation of reason can be removed was common in late 18th/early 19th centuries: the Faust myth, the French Revolution and the Age of Reason, “progress”, and modernism….


(ii) Hegel retained the (Kantian) distinction between Vernunft (the common-sense view of the world as a collection of separate, finite and distinct entities) from Verstand, which “saw deeper” into the reality or essence behind the appearances. (cf. Plato). [see 1.4  below]


1.2     An all-encompassing philosophy: humanity’s progress towards self-understanding and (therefore) freedom. That is, he built up a philosophical system which brought together an explanation of the nature of reasoning, the process of history, the development of ethics, the structure and workings of society/politics and (the history of) philosophy.  He saw a dynamic process at work, whereby reason (or “Idea”, or “Spirit” – Geist) progressively (- dialectically, see 1.3) reveals the truth of everything, and history marks the progress of (human) reason/spirit/Idea towards this state of total understanding – in which humanity will be truly free for the first time. This is, as it were, a total theory, concerned ultimately with totality.


* See extract 2: progress means moving from the imperfect to the perfect, but the former already contains the latter (see next point). There is an ‘instinctive… inherent impulse’ in living humans, ‘to break through the rind of mere nature’ i.e. things outside ourselves, to reach consciousness (which is what we really are). 


* Also extract 3: ‘Reason’ is the ‘powerful essence’ underlying all ‘natural and spiritual life’ – it ‘reveals itself in the World’


For both Marx and Hegel, there is a necessary progress (my emphasis) away from fragmentation, alienation and objectification, and towards freedom, self-fulfilment and self-understanding – finding our place in the world.



(i) freedom = self-understanding, but in the context of the whole…[see also on the individual below: 2.3]

(ii) historicism: are there different moralities at different points in time?

(iii) Hegel was the last thinker to attempt such a total system (except Marx?)? 


1.3     The “dialectic”, “contradiction”, and the relation between reason and reality

* see extract 2: there is a ‘contradiction’ in the ‘Imperfect’, which is resolved by consciousness.

[Other extracts demonstrate the application of the dialectic to e.g. cultural history (* extract 5) and society (* extracts 6 – 8).]


The “key” to all this - to Hegel’s theory - is dialectical thinking: a way of explaining both the process of change in the world, and the process of correcting errors in previous ways of thinking or understanding – i.e. reasoning itself.


Nothing (no thing…) is ultimately and completely real unless taken as part of something (thing – or concept see below) bigger and more complete. 

Therefore only the whole (for Hegel: the Absolute) is completely real.

For example, what is a pencil? (an implement for àwriting, what is writing for? à education, what do we mean by education? à institutions, culture, development of the individual etc… or: writing is an expression of àlanguage, language is part of à culture, or: writing is for memory  àpsychology….)


All things are parts of a whole/Absolute, and their reality lies in being aspects of the whole.


When we try to describe the whole, anything we say (now – given our incomplete understanding?) - will be contradictory (because the opposite will also be true). Hence, a true account of the whole will be non self-contradictory. And the only account of any kind that we can give that will be non-self-contradictory is an account of the whole…


So, to understand the world (anything!) better requires a new way of thinking, which is dialectical, i.e. proceeding by opposites/contradictions and attempting to transcend or super-cede each contradiction.  This “going beyond” (in German ‘aufhebung’) the contradiction will retain whatever is true in the previous statement(s).


To put it another way: the finite world comprises “accidents” (contingency) – but behind this is spirit/the infinite i.e. Idea.  This is one sense of the aphorism: “All that is real is rational and all that is rational is real”.  But Idea (ideas) must to be expressed in, or mediated through the real world – truth has to live in the “empire of chance” “like fire burning in water”.  Therefore, progress (reality) involves contradictions, struggle etc.


Thus we proceed by steps: a thesis is opposed by an antithesis, (both of which have some truth in them) and transcended by a synthesis. The antithesis is a negation of the thesis, and the synthesis is a “negation of the negation” (!).


The pattern followed in Hegel is usually: concrete, particular, accidental or objective, followed by abstract, general, necessary or subjective, through to universal, where particular and general, subjective and objective, concrete and abstract are reconciled and no longer distinct. 

(See below on family, civil society and state, but consider also: Being – not-Being – Becoming…. )


The dialectic is the only method of thinking we can use to understand the world, as reality is dialectical – since reality is Idea or reason.  “The dialectic... is a cognitive power and a cognitive method, because and insofar as being, which is true reality, is dialectical.” (Marcuse)


Hegel’s philosophy is therefore “objective idealism.” The ‘idea’ is objectively real, and the only thing that is objectively real.


1.4 History itself is also seen as the working-out of Idea

* Extract 5.


Different views of justice etc. represent “moments” … (each of the stages described above is a ‘moment’) “in the Idea of the world mind” … “History is mind clothing itself with the form of events or the immediate actuality of nature…”


When one nation is dominant in world history it is “world-historical” – its ethical life is at its highest point of development; however, this is also the point at which it begins to decline, as a higher principle emerges. 

* See extract 4.


Hegel summarised history as the movement towards freedom:

the Orientals (ancient oriental regimes e.g. Egypt) only allowed one person to be free (the absolute, god-like ruler);

the Greeks and Romans developed the notion of “citizenship” but restricted this to non-slaves – i.e. only some are free;

modern democracy (constitutional monarchy) recognises that man as man, i.e. all men, are (should be?) free.



1.5 Reality (society) is also structured dialectically:

* Extracts 6 – 8.

The emphasis on freedom can be argued (e.g. by Heywood, 2003) to mark Hegel as a liberal thinker. However, since his goal was to understand things in their totality, he believed (unlike Kant) that the individual could not be understood outside of society and the state.


Hegel took this even further, arguing that the individual was not fully developed – ethically whole – unless understood in the context of his/her relations with others, and that the state represented the highest evolution of ethical thinking and behaviour. In this sense he strengthened the “collectivist” side of Rousseau (see Rousseau): the state is an organic whole, superior to the sum of its parts (the individual, the family, civil society) [see 2.3 below].  The state is in fact “objective spirit”. The logic of Hegel’s thinking led him to believe that the constitutional monarchy (of the post-Napoleonic “restoration” – see Berki) was the ideal.


His thinking starts, however, with the individual and the family (a procedure not unlike Aristotle’s: we start with the simplest things and their inter-connections):


The individual in the family is bound by love not morality (though the individual recognises him/herself through others) - * see extracts 6 and 7.


However * extract 7, as the children grow into adults themselves of course they set up separate families.


In ‘civil society there is an ethical order, based on exchange and on reason (mutual interests etc) - * extract 8.


Only in the state do we have a higher level of ethical life, where all interests are considered - * extracts 11 - 14.


These two “triads” represent stages in the dialectic – or “moments” – which Hegel treats as “parallel” (see Berki). 



(a) the first “moment” for the individual is one of “objectification” and “externalisation”. In order to establish his own Being, man has to objectify himself in the world – but this negates Being in the move from subject to object, and from freedom to “determination”.  So man sees himself and whatever he does or finds in the world (hence his work as well as his ideas) as external (although they are in a sense part of him). He may also see himself as determined by these objects – i.e. he has lost the freedom that is essential to Being as a human.  (Alienation, for Hegel, was inevitable – intrinsic to being alive).


So long as there is no unification of man with himself and the objects (and people?) around him, he will be alienated (the subject is separate from the object). Hence the argument that overcoming the contradictions and separations, by using this kind of thinking (i.e. bringing about “wholeness”) will remove alienation and bring freedom. We will see the influence of this on Marx later.


(b) Hegel talks of the individual “will”, not of “human nature”.  The will, as far as I can understand, is the active aspect of reasoning – it leads to the external manifestation of reasoning. This approach is connected with his view that the state evolves along with the individual (as individuals “reason and will” so society develops): the state is for Hegel therefore not a mere “contrivance” to meet the needs of human nature (contrast social contract thinkers).


Note: I find echoes of Hobbes here (reasoning is a natural process, the last stage of which for each individual involves/becomes the will – hence the Leviathan must be based on force in order to be able to overcome all the rival “wills” of the combined citizens!), as well as of the “modern” view that humans are (have to be – it’s inevitable and somehow natural) engaged in imposing their will on nature. This is what Castoriadis calls one of the social imaginary significations of our time: and the dominance of this attitude is to me an indication of the irrationality of our world-view; the opposing view is that we are not simply dependent on nature, but a part of it (see [forthcoming] Notes on 'environmentalism'.)


(i) Individuals are joined in families, where they first recognise the existence, usefulness, and needs of others.  Here there is “unity” of individuals, but who are not independent. The family is built on feelings such as love – not on morality or reason. (Think of the – to me obnoxious – expression “unconditional love” which is used sometimes to describe the family. Does this really mean that no matter how evil a member of your family may be you still have to love them?) Hence, for Hegel, the family is only the first step towards true ethics and true freedom.  This is not to say that the family must be abolished, since it contains an essential basis for life in society and the state. To ‘go beyond’ this ‘moment’ however, we need something that provides ethical principles based on reason and freedom… i.e. ultimately the state. However, intermediate between the state and the family lies:


(ii) Civil Society (contract and exchange):


The notion of “will” leads to the notion of “right” – the necessity for consciousness to “realise” itself, i.e. to act.  The fundamental right of the individual is to property (cf. Adam Smith and John Locke), which Hegel sees as “the first embodiment of freedom”.  Mutual recognition of each others’ rights is expressed in “contract”.  However, note that each person tends to treat “others” as “objects” – there are two implications to this: first, that we ourselves only exist through others, and second that the role of the “other” in relation to us is a restrictive one. (Existentialism will build on this later).


However, Hegel is describing a process of change and development. So, with the “breaking up” of the family, when the children become adult, “civil society” is created.  This operates on the basis of exchange, (in order to fulfil each others’ needs). In civil society individuals recognise and aim to satisfy others’ needs and rights, so there is a basic morality here; but this recognition is not freely given, but on the basis of need.  Hegel compares this “moment” to what Understanding (Vernunft) calls the state –the state as a system based on needs; but since needs are “capricious and accidental” this cannot be the basis of a truly ethical order. In other words, civil society is the realm of the economic, or property rights, and of punishment for infringement of property rights.  Punishment (like revenge) is a kind of low-level morality, and promotes obedience to the law based on self-interest (it is, for Hegel: “subjective”) rather than truly ethical (“objective”) recognition of each others’ rights.


Note (* see extract 8) that Hegel seems to see inequality, and the creation of a “rabble of paupers” as inevitable. The division of labour increases also, which leads to “dependence and distress” for the working class. Marx would echo this later – and Hegel does seem to be saying (as did Marx) that civil society contains the seeds of its own destruction (new needs always being created, for instance).

However, critics on the left would point out that Hegel here emphasises the “inability to feel and enjoy the broader freedoms and especially the intellectual benefits of society” – not the poverty and powerlessness (because of exploitation) that Marx would describe. Since Hegel’s definition of the problem is in terms of intellectual deprivation, it is not surprising that his “solution” (the state as the actuality of ethical idea) is “idealist”.

Note: critics of the (Marxist) critics (of Hegel) - viz. Castoriadis - would point out that Marx seems to envisage a society which has abolished scarcity – i.e. put an end to the creation of ever new needs: is this likely?


(iii) The State:

* see extracts 11 – 17.


Civil society does provide some “universality” through education, but its main purpose is “the security and protection of property and personal freedom”. In civil society individuals do not exist in full harmony, conscious of each other as subjects and of an over-riding moral/ethical order.


This is what the State provides: “since the State is mind objectified, it is only as one of its members that the individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life”.  The state represents “universality”.


For Hegel the state (PR sub-section 3, para 257):  “is the actuality of the ethical idea. It is ethical mind qua that substantial will manifest and revealed to it, knowing and thinking itself, accomplishing what it knows insofar as it knows it….


Further on, he writes: [the state exists when individuals in civil society] know and will the universal; they even recognise it as their own subjective mind; they take it as their end and aim and are active in its pursuit… The state is actual only when its members have a feeling of their own self-hood and it is stable only when public and private ends are identical.


This final end has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state”… (quoted by Berki, 1977 p 178).


It is easy to find similar quotations that reinforce the anti-libertarian character of Hegel’s position: “only that will which obeys law is free”, and: “in duty the individual finds his liberation”.  However, one has to be a little cautious: Hegel was not talking of obedience to any law (what is called legal positivism) but to laws that arise as a result of the progressive development of universal ethical reason (the Idea/Spirit).  He talks of such laws taking on the character of “custom”… note the similarity to Rousseau’s idea of the “general will”, an idea which clearly influenced Hegel. And, as with Rousseau, we may well want to ask: how does one recognise such laws? Against Hegel’s ‘Idealist’ grounding, I can only suggest that the best answer lies in a society which has achieved thorough and complete democratisation – a society in which everyone participates, and in which everyone freely feels the need (or, as Hegel put it, the duty) to participate, for the general good (not for their own self-centred goals).




(iii) Extracts:


Note: these extracts are printed in: Lancaster, L.W.: Masters of Political Thought Vol 3, Harrap 1959.

Key: Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: PR, and Philosophy of History: PH.


1. What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational. On this conviction the plain man like the philosopher takes his stand, and from it philosophy starts in its study of the universe of mind as well as the universe of nature. If reflection, feeling, or whatever form subjective consciousness may take, looks upon the present as something vacuous and looks beyond it with the eyes of superior wisdom, it finds itself in a vacuum, and because it is actual only in the present, it is itself mere vacuity.  If on the other hand the Idea passes for “only and idea”, for something represented in an opinion, philosophy rejects such a view and shows that nothing is actual except the Idea. Once that is granted, the great thing is to apprehend in the show of the temporal and transient the substance which is immanent and the eternal which is present.  For since rationality (which is synonymous with the idea) enters upon external existence simultaneously with its actualization, it emerges with an infinite wealth of forms, shapes, and appearances. Around its heart it throws a motley covering which consciousness is at home to begin with, a covering which the concept has first to penetrate before it can find the inward pulse and feel it still beating in the outward appearances.

From: PR: Preface pp. 10-11, in the edition translated by T.M. Knox, OUP 1942, Lancaster op cit p. 23


2. Spirit begins with a germ of infinite possibility, but only possibility – containing its substantial existence in an undeveloped form, as the object and goal which it reaches only in its resultant – full reality. In actual existence Progress appears as an advancing from the imperfect to the more perfect; but the former must not be understood abstractly as only the imperfect, but as something which involves the very opposite of itself – the so-called perfect – as a germ or impulse. So – reflectively, at least – possibility points to something destined to become actual; the Aristotelian dynamis is also potentia, power and might. Thus the Imperfect, as involving its opposite, is a contradiction, which certainly exists, but which is continually annulled and solved; the instinctive movement – the inherent impulse in the life of the soul – to break through he rind of mere nature, sensuousness, and that which is alien to it, and to attain to the light of consciousness, i.e. to itself.

From: PH: p. 57 in the edition translated by Sibree, J. reprinted, Wiley 1944. Cited in Lancaster ibid. P 34


3. The only Thought which Philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of History is the simple conception of Reason; that Reason is the Sovereign of the World; that the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process.  [Reason] is Substance as well as Infinite Power; its own Infinite Material underlying all the natural and spiritual life which it originates, as also the Infinite Form – that which sets the Material in motion… That this “Idea” or “Reason” is the True, the Eternal, the absolutely powerful essence; that it reveals itself in the World, and that in the World nothing else is revealed but this and its honour and glory – is the thesis which, as we have said, has been proved in Philosophy, and is here regarded as demonstrated.

From: PH pp. 9-10, Lancaster p. 44


4. Justice and virtue, wrong doing, power and vice, talents and their achievements, passions strong and weak, guilt and innocence, grandeur in individual and national life, autonomy, fortune and misfortune of states and individuals, all these have their specific significance and worth in the field of known actuality; therein they are judged and therein they have their partial, though only partial justification. World history, however, is above the point of view from which these things matter. Each of its stages is the presence of a necessary moment in the Idea of the world mind, and that moment attains its absolute right in that stage. The nation whose life embodies this moment secures its good fortune and fame and its deeds are brought to fruition.

          History is mind clothing itself with the form of events or the immediate actuality of nature…

          The nation to which is ascribed a moment of the Idea in the form of a natural principle is entrusted with giving complete effect to it in the advance of the self-developing self-consciousness of the world mind. This nation is dominant in world history during this one epoch, and it is only once that it can make its hour strike…

          The history of a single world-historical nation contains (a) the development of its principle from its latent embryonic stage until it blossoms into the self-conscious freedom of ethical life and presses in upon world history; and (b) the period of its decline and fall, since it is its decline and fall that signalizes the emergence in it of a higher principle as the pure negative of its own. When this happens, mind passes over into the new principle and so marks out another nation for world-historical significance.

From: PR paras. 345-347, Lancaster p. 47


5. The Orientals have not attained the knowledge that Spirit – Man as such – is free; and because they do not know this they are not free. They only know that one is free. But on this very account, the freedom of that one is only caprice… That one is therefore only a Despot; not a free man.  The consciousness of Freedom first arose among the Greeks, and therefore they were free; but they, and the Romans likewise, knew only that some are free – not man as such. Even Plato and Aristotle did not know this. The Greeks, therefore, had slaves; and their whole life and the maintenance of their splendid liberty, was implicated with the institution of slavery… The German nations, under the influence of Christianity, were the first to attain the consciousness that man, as man, is free; that it is the freedom of Spirit which constitutes its essence… The Eastern nations knew only that one is free; the Greek and Roman world only that some are free; while we know that all men absolutely (man as man) are free. 

From: PH pp. 18, 19, Lancaster p. 45


6. The family, as the immediate substantiality of mind, is specifically characterised by love, which is mind’s feeling of its own unity. Hence in a family one’s frame of mind is to have self-consciousness of one’s individuality within this unity as the absolute essence of oneself, with the result that one is not as an independent person but as a member…

          Marriage, as the immediate type of ethical relationship, contains first, the moment of physical life; and since marriage is a substantial tie, the life involved in it is life in its totality – i.e. as the actuality of the race and its life-process. But, secondly, in self-consciousness the natural sexual union – a union purely inward or implicit, and for that reason existent as purely external – is changed into a union on the level of mind, into self-conscious love. 

          On the subjective side, marriage may have a more obvious source in the particular inclination of the two persons who are entering upon the marriage tie, or in the foresight and contrivance of the parents, and so forth. But its objective source lies in the free consent of the persons, especially in their consent to make themselves one person, to renounce their natural and individual personality to this unity of one with the other. From this point of view their union is a self-restriction, but in fact it is their liberation, because in it they attain their substantive self-consciousness.

From: PR paras. 158, 161-162, Lancaster p. 28


7. They live, therefore, in a unity of feeling, love, confidence, and faith in each other. And in a relation of natural love, the one individual has the consciousness of himself in the consciousness of the other; he lives out of self; and in this mutual self-renunciation each regains the life that had been virtually transferred to the other; gains, in fact, that other’s existence, and his own, as involved with each other.

From: PH p. 42, Lancaster p. 29


8. The ethical dissolution of the family consists in this, that once the children have been educated to freedom of personality, and have come of age, they become recognised as persons in the eyes of the law and as capable of holding free property of their own and founding families of their own, the sons as heads of new families, the daughters as wives. They now have their substantial destiny in the new family; the old family on the other hand falls into the background as merely their ultimate basis and origin…

          The family disintegrates (both essentially, through the working of the principle of personality, and also in the course of nature) into a plurality of families, each of which conducts itself as in principle a self-subsistent concrete person and therefore as externally related to its neighbours…

          The concrete person, who is himself the object of his particular aims, is, as a totality of wants and a mixture of caprice and physical necessity, one principle of civil society. But the particular person is essentially so related to other particular persons that each establishes himself and finds satisfaction by means of the others… 

          In the course of the actual attainment of selfish ends – an attainment conditioned in this way by universality – there is formed a system of complete interdependence, wherein the livelihood, happiness, and legal status of one man is interwoven with the livelihood, happiness, and rights of all. On this system, individual happiness, etc, depend, and only in this connected system are they actualized and secured. This system may be prima facie regarded as the external State, the State based on need, the State as the Understanding envisages it.

          Particularity by itself, given free rein in every direction to satisfy its needs, accidental caprices, and subjective desires, destroys itself and its substantive concept in this process of gratification. At the same time, the satisfaction of need, necessary and accidental alike, is accidental because it breeds new desires without end, is in thoroughgoing dependence on caprice, and external accident, and is held in check by the power of universality. In these contrasts and their complexity, civil society affords a spectacle of extravagance and want as well as of the physical and ethical degradation common to them both.

          But in developing itself independently to totality, the principle of particularity passes over into universality, and only there does it attain its truth and the right to which its positive actuality is entitled. This unity is not the identity which the ethical order requires, because, as this level, that of division, both principles are self-subsistent. It follows that this unity is present here not as freedom but as necessity, since it is by compulsion that the particular rises to the form of universality and seeks and gains its stability in that form.

          Individuals in their capacity as burghers in this State are private persons whose end is their own interest. This end is mediated through the universal which thus appears as a means to its realization.

From: PR paras 177–187, Lancaster pp. 29–31


9. When the standard of living of a large mass of people falls below a certain subsistence level – a level regulated automatically as the one necessary for a member of the society – and when there is a consequent loss of the sense of right and wrong, of honesty, and the self-respect which makes a man insist on maintaining himself by his own work and effort, the result is the creation of a rabble of paupers. At the same time this brings with it, at the other end of the social scale, conditions which greatly facilitate the concentration of disproportionate wealth in a few hands.

From: PR paras. 243-244, Lancaster pp. 32-33


10. When civil society is in a state of unimpeded activity, it is engaged in expanding internally in population and industry. The amassing of wealth is intensified by generalizing (a) the linkage of men by their needs, and (b) the methods of preparing and distributing the means to satisfy these needs, because it is from this double process of generalization that the largest profits are derived. That is one side of the picture. The other side is the subdivision and restriction of particular jobs. This results in the dependence and distress of the class tied to work of that sort, and these again entail inability to feel and enjoy the broader freedoms and especially the intellectual benefits of civil society.

From: PR paras. 243-244, Lancaster pp. 32-33


11. Actually he State… is not so much the result as the beginning. It is within the State that the family is first developed into civil society, and it is the Idea of the State itself which disrupts into these two moments. Through the development of civil society, the substance of ethical life acquires its infinite form, which contains in itself these two moments: (1) infinite differentiation down to the inward experience of independent self-consciousness, and (2) the from of universality involved in education, the form of thought whereby mind is objective and actual to itself as an organic totality in laws and institutions which are its will in terms of thought.

          If the State is confused with civil society, and if its specific end is laid down as the security and protection of property and personal freedom, then the interest of the individuals as such becomes the ultimate end of their association, and it follows that membership of the State is something optional. But the State’s relation to the individual is quite different from this. Since the State is mind objectified, it is only as one of its members that the individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life. Unification pure and simple is the true content and aim of the individual, and the individual’s destiny is the living of a universal life. His further particular satisfaction, activity, and mode of conduct have this substantive and universally valid life as their starting point and their result.

From: PR paras. 256-8, Lancaster pp. 33-4


12. For Law is the objectivity of Spirit; volition in its true form. Only that will which obeys law is free; for it obeys itself – it is independent and so free. When the State or our country constitutes a community of existence; when the subjective will of man submits to laws – the contradiction between Liberty and Necessity vanishes.

From: PH p. 39, Lancaster p. 43


13. The bond of duty can appear as a restriction only on indeterminate subjectivity or abstract freedom, and on the impulses either of the natural will or of the moral will which determines its indeterminate good arbitrarily. The truth is, however, that in duty the individual finds his liberation; first, liberation from dependence on mere natural impulse and from the depression which as a particular subject he cannot escape in his moral reflections on what ought to be and what might be; secondly, liberation from the indeterminate subjectivity which, never reaching reality or the objective determinacy of action, remains self-enclosed and devoid of actuality. In duty the individual finds his substantive freedom.

          But when individuals are simply identified with the actual order, ethical life appears as their general mode of conduct, i.e. as custom, while the habitual practice of ethical living appears as second nature which, put in the place of the initial purely natural will, is the soul of custom permeating it through and through, the significance and actuality of its existence. It is mind living and present as a world, and the substance of mind thus exists now for the first time as mind…

          The right of individuals to be subjectively destined to freedom is fulfilled when they belong to an actual ethical order, because their conviction of their freedom finds its truth in such an objective order, and it is in an ethical order that they are actually in possession of their own essence and their own inner universality.

From: PR paras. 149-153, Lancaster pp. 35-6


14. Confronted with the claims made for the individual will, we must remember the fundamental conception that the objective will is rationality implicit or in conception, whether it be recognised or not by individuals, whether their whims be deliberately for it or not.  We must remember that its opposite, i.e. knowing and willing, or subjective freedom (the only thing contained in the principle of the individual will) comprises only one moment, and therefore a one-sided moment, of the Idea of the rational will, i.e. of the will which is rational solely because what it is implicitly, that it also is explicitly.

From: PR p. 157, Lancaster p. 39


15. Summing up what has been said of the State, we find that we have been led to call its vital principle, as actuating the individuals who compose it – Morality. The State, its laws, its arrangements, constitute the rights of its members; its natural features, its mountains, air, and waters, are their country, their fatherland, their outward material property; the history of this State, their deeds; what their ancestors have produced, belongs to them and lives in their memory. All is their possession, just as they are possessed by it; for it constitutes their existence, their being.

          Their imagination is occupied with the ideas thus presented, while adoption of these laws, and of a fatherland so conditioned, is the expression of their will. It is this matured totality which thus constitutes one Being, the spirit of one People. To it the individual members belong; each unit is the Son of his Nation, and at the same time – in so far as the State to which he belongs is undergoing development – the Son of his Age.

From: PH pp. 52-3, Lancaster p. 41


16. All the worth which the human being possesses – all spiritual reality – he possesses only through the State. For his spiritual reality consists in this, that his own essence – Reason – is objectively present to him, that it possesses objective immediate existence for him. Thus only is he full conscious; thus only is he a partaker of morality – of a just a moral social and political life. For Truth is the Unity of the universal and subjective Will; and the Universal is to be found in the State, its laws, its universal and rational arrangements. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.

From: PH p. 40, Lancaster p. 42


17. In considering freedom, the starting-point must not be individuality, the single self-consciousness, but only the essence of self-consciousness; for whether man knows it or not, this essence is externally realised as a self-subsistent power in which single individuals are only moments. The march of God in the world, that is what the State is.

From: PR p. 279, Lancaster p 43





Berki, R.N. (1977): The History of Political Thought, a short introduction, Dent.

Heywood, A. (2003): Political Ideologies, an introduction, Palgrave Macmillan.

McClelland, S. (1996): A History of Western Political Thought, Routledge.