Athens in Paris: Ancient Greece and the Political in Postwar French Thought

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2
Antigone between Ethics and Politics

HEGEL’S ANTIGONE AND THE ETHICS OF
CONSCIOUSNESS

Spirit is the ethical life of a nation in so far as it is the immediate
truth
—the individual that is a world. It must advance to conscious-
ness of what it is immediately, must leave behind it the beauty of the
ethical life, and passing through a series of shapes attain knowledge
of itself. These shapes, however, are distinguished from the previous
ones by the fact that they are real Spirits, actualities in the strict
meaning of the word, and instead of being shapes merely of con-
sciousness, are shapes of the world.

Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit1

For Hegel, Oedipus is the moment of self-consciousness which defined the Greek world and distinguished it from its Egyptian counterpart. But Oedipus’ access to the Spirit is incomplete, barred from full self-consciousness by his inadequate integration into the civil bonds of the community and law. Oedipus, like the Greek world itself, is still a stage to be overcome in the Hegelian dialectic. The ethical life he represents is one that must be left behind. Since the way of ‘being in the world’ that he embodies is a form of unalienated existence. But, in the Hegelian scheme, ‘Reason must withdraw from this happy state; for the life of a free people is only in principle or immediately the reality of an ethical order’.2 ‘Reason’ instead ‘is Spirit when its certainty of being all reality has been raised to truth, and it is conscious of itself as its own world, and of the world as itself’.3

1 Hegel (1977), 265; (1970a), 326.

2 Hegel (1977), 214; (1970a), 267.

3 Hegel (1977), 263; (1970a), 324.

-96-

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