Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Hegel and Anarchist Communism

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Hegel and Anarchist Communism

Article excerpt


In this essay, I argue that there are two more or less distinct theories of the State in Hegel. The first, and better known, is developed in the Philosophy of Right, wherein Hegel endorses the notion of a coercive, centralised, and hierarchical 'Ideal State'. This is precisely the theory which certain radical Hegelians of the nineteenth century (e.g., Marx and Bakunin) viewed with such deep suspicion. The second, which has not received as much attention by commentators, appears in the Phenomenology and other early writings. Although this theory introduces many of the key components of Hegel's later political philosophy, it is nonetheless far more radical in its political implications - most important, in its gesturing toward a society which makes room for the realisation of the stateless, classless vision of anarchist communism. The point is not to demonstrate that Hegel is inconsistent or self-contradictory, but show that there are elements of creative tension within his political theory which are not only sufficient to vindicate him from the criticisms of Marx and Bakunin, but also to re-contextualise him as a radical precursor. As I shall argue, the kind of society that emerges in the final chapters of the Phenomenology need not contain the elements of coercion and class struggle which appear in the Philosophy of Right and repulse Marx and Bakunin. On the contrary, such a society may be understood as prefiguring the classless, stateless society which both Marx and Bakunin ultimately endorse.

Keywords: Hegel, Marx, Bakunin, Anarchism


The most fundamental questions of political philosophy are those which concern the nature and scope of state authority; for example: What is the State and how does it come into being? Does the State possess a 'right' to rule which implies a correlative 'obligation' to obey? If so, how, and to what extent? The aim of this paper is to explore Hegel's views on these and other questions pertaining to the State and its authority - questions of obvious importance to Hegel given the sheer volume of exacting and comprehensive analysis he devotes to them. The difficulty, of course, comes in interpreting Hegel's answers to these questions, which is a famously daunting task.

Among modern philosophers, Hegel is arguably one of the most resistant to synopsis and circumscription. This explains the proliferation of rival and mutually exclusive interpretations of Hegel's political philosophy following his death in 1831.1 As Shlomo Avineri points out, '[Ajlmost every shade of political philosophy has had protagonists claiming to state its case in what they considered to be a legitimate interpretation or derivative of Hegelianism.'2 An early example of this phenomenon is the conflict between the so-called 'Left' (or 'Young') Hegelians and the 'Right' (or 'Old') Hegelians in the 1840s. Whereas the latter group generally regarded Hegel as an orthodox Christian and a loyal Prussian patriot, the former tended to view him as a bourgeois reactionary.3

Modern and contemporary discussions of Hegel's theory are in many respects mere continuations of the earlier conflict mentioned above. In the middle of the twentieth century, for example, some commentators, following the Right Hegelians, viewed Hegel as a monarchist, authoritarian, and/or crypto-fascist who believed, among other things, that Prussia in the 1830s was the actualisation of the Ideal State.4 More recent commentators, following Left Hegelians such as Bruno Bauer, have tended to see Hegel as a 'philosopher of freedom' whose system, if not altogether radical in its own right, nonetheless laid the groundwork for the radical philosophical tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.5

Perhaps such disagreements are simply a consequence of the 'difficulty' of inter- preting Hegel. But there are other possibilities as well. It is possible, for example, to interpret Hegel as having developed a series of distinct and (more or less) incon- gruous theories of the State rather than a single, uniform theory. …

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