Although Hegel is very critical of representative democracy, his views on political participation are in many ways richer and more sophisticated than the ones favoured today by most Western societies. The present paper aims to shed light on this apparent paradox by dispelling some of the misunderstandings still associated with Hegel’s ethical and political thought. I argue, on the one hand, that Hegel’s emphasis on the notion of freedom does not amount to an endorsement of political liberalism, but to a critique of its underlying principles. On the other hand, I show that the Hegelian theory of the modern state, albeit falling short of a fully democratic constitutional solution, is by no means opposed to social justice or political pluralism. Hegel views political freedom as the result of a global web of mutual recognition, embodied by social institutions destined to bridge the gap between private and communal interests. Despite the ambiguous and outdated elements of Hegel’s description, I believe his overall solution remains uniquely relevant, and an important source for the ongoing debate about the merits and limitations of contemporary democracies.