Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Hegel and the Political Philosophy of Brexit

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Hegel and the Political Philosophy of Brexit

Article excerpt

Introduction: Hegel, the European Union and the struggle for recognition

Although it was one of the most surprising and influential political events of 2016, Brexit is only now starting to be understood at its true scale (Webster 2016, 14-30). I intend to assess Brexit through a Hegelian lens, which will prove to be an interesting approach in grasping the underlying causes and possible consequences entailed by Great Britain's exit from the European Union (EU).

The article starts with an introduction to the Hegelian concept of the struggle for recognition. By this logic, Brexit emerges as a consequence of the way in which British society perceives itselfs as being insufficiently recognized (valued) by the EU, and by the desire to obtain new concessions regarding the acquis communautaire. After a short methodological discussion and a brief literature review, the next section discusses the process of Brexit, along with a possible Hegelian interpretation of it on different levels (political, economic and philosophical). Finally, the conclusion synthesizes the whole philosophical endeavour, offers several modest predictions of the impact of Brexit, and outlines some potentially useful avenues for further inquiry.

Let us start with Hegel's opinion regarding European nations, as presented in the Principles of the Philosophy of Right: "European nations constitute, according to the general principle of their legislation, morality, culture, a family, and therefore the international juridical behavior is modified in this sense, even in a situation where reciprocal damage is the rule. The states relation to one another remains uncertain: there is no praetor to settle the disputes; the higher praetor is the universal spirit existing in and for itself, the world spirit" (Hegel 1996a, 325) (2). Today, after two centuries of warfare, disputes and compromises of all sorts between European nations, the institution of the EU may be considered such a praetor. Thus, "reciprocal damage" is no longer a constant of European history, at least not in the unconcealed form of war, as was the case at the beginning of the 19th century, when Hegel was at the height of his intellectual powers.

With reference to Hegel's position regarding European nations, the EU could be considered, to a certain extent, an intermediary spirit between the distinctive spirits of its constituent peoples (Hegel uses the term 'nation' rarely, and not in the sense we are falimiarized with) expressed through states, and the world spirit. That these spirits of peoples wold eventually give birth to a global state, the sole political form in which inter-national and inter-individual recognition to be juridically confined and functional, like Alexandre Kojeve considers, is another discussion, very interesting and fertile, but without a stake for the present paper, although Hegel specifically rejected the idea (Kojeve 2012; Hegel 1967, 290). According to Hegel, the "principles of the spirits of peoples, in a necessary progression of stages, are themselves only moments of a universal spirit which, through them, rises and fulfills itself in history, as totality comprising itself" (Hegel 1997, 77; original emphasis). Hegel would have very likely appreciated the merits of the European construction as a whole, its innovative rationality, at least in the first decades after it was created. Today, I am almost sure he woud criticize the EU, but in an immanent, constructive, not in an exterior-negative way, implying the need to change it through itself, not against and from outside itself, and thus not opting for a radical political alterity. And I am also aware my argument can be contested. One could argue that Hegel was a fierce advocate of war as a mean of moral and political rejuvenation of states.

Indeed, if one take into account some of the Hegelian ideas regarding war one could be, at least initially, horrified:

'sometimes, happy wars have prevented internal disturbances and have consolidated the state's internal power'; 'During peaceful times civil life expands, all spheres find their rightful place and people end up being comfortable, they mire themselves; their particularities grow more and more rigid, until they ossify. …

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