Hegel on Freedom and Authority

Hegel on Freedom and Authority

Hegel on Freedom and Authority

Hegel on Freedom and Authority


While Hegel's political philosophy has been attacked on the left by republican democrats and on the right by feudalist reactionaries, his apologists see him as a liberal reformer, a moderate who theorized about the development of a free-market society within the bounds of a stabilizing constitutional state. This centrist view has gained ascendancy since the end of the Second World War, enshrining Hegel within the liberal tradition.

In this book, Renato Cristi argues that, like the Prussian liberal reformers of his time, Hegel was committed to expand the scope of a free economy and concurrently to ensure that the social practice of subjective freedom did not endanger political stability and order. Aware that a system of mutual advantage failed to integrate the members of civil society and that profound social disharmonies were ineradicable, Hegel adopted the views of the French liberal doctrinaires, who sought to realize the principles of the French Revolution by supporting Louis XVIII's sovereign assertion of the monarchical principle. Not surprisingly, Hegel hailed the French Charte of June 1814 as a beacon of freedom. Endorsement of the monarchical principle was meant to prevent the atomized individuals of civil society from gaining control of the state through appeals to popular sovereignty. This challenges most conventional interpretations of Hegel's theory of the state and draws it closer to the conservative-authoritarian end of the political spectrum than is usual.


… beset with those that contend on one side for too great Liberty, and on
the other side for too much Authority, ’tis hard to passe between the points
of both unwounded.

(Hobbes, 1968: 75)

… liberty is the perfection of civil society; but still authority must be
acknowledged essential to its very existence.

(Hume, 1894)

As a contribution to Harvard’s Tercentenary, John Dewey delivered an address on 4 September 1936, which he gave the title ‘Authority and social change’ (Dewey, 1936). This examined the rise of modern freedom, the mounting revolt against authority and the development of a social philosophy that was ‘critical of the very idea of any authoritative control’ (ibid.: 130). This philosophy, which ‘claimed for itself the comprehensive title of liberalism’ (ibid.: 136), postulated the strict separation of the spheres of freedom and authority, and decried the tendency of authority to encroach on freedom. Oppression and tyranny would be avoided only if authority was denounced as the enemy of freedom. But Dewey thought this was a mistake. the real issue concerned the relation, not the separation, of these notions. Freedom and authority, like stability and change, formed an ‘intimate and organic union’ (ibid.: 131). Liberalism was right to point out that authority had become, as a matter of historical fact, a purely external constraint that had grown unyielding and hostile to initiative and innovation. But, at the same time, liberalism created confusion by denying ‘the organic importance of any embodiment of authority and social control’ (ibid.: 132). This state of affairs defined for him the contemporary crisis in liberalism. the solution proposed by Dewey called for an ‘interpenetration’ of freedom and authority (ibid.: 137). Authority should not stifle, but direct and utilize change. Freedom ought to be shared by all and not just a few individuals.

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