Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 March 2017
You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.The Revelation to John, 3:1
A Hegelian Bomb
In § 244 of his Elements of the Philosophy of Right Hegel introduces what he refers to as ‘the rabble’, the Pöbel. It is this peculiar, and seemingly and allegedly marginal, ‘topic’ of Hegel's thought that can ultimately show why an early formulation of Hegel applies to (the late) Hegel himself. At one point between the ages of thirty-three and thirty-six Hegel wrote in his so-called Wastebook that ‘original, completely wonderful works of education [Bildung] resemble a bomb, which falls into a lazy city in which everyone sits in front of their beer-mug and is extremely wise and does not sense that it is their flat well-being that caused the very crash of thunder’ (Werke 2: 550). In what follows I will argue that Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right resembles such a bomb: a bomb whose explosive character derives, at least partially, from the issue of the rabble. How could this be? This has already been argued in a similar vein by Domenico Losurdo, who contended that the Philosophy of Right was immediately after its publication perceived as containing some highly explosive material because of Hegel's theory of the corporation. This very theory, as Losurdo reconstructs it, implies the sketch of an organizational model and a conception of a political instrument for the working class in the very historical moment of its formation, a sketch of a proto-trade union that would enable the working class to distance itself from the ossified structures of the mediaeval guild system and to influence economic factors such as working hours, wages and further general factors linked to the workers’ interests.
This would already be enough – considering the state of Prussia in the 1830s – to justify reading the Philosophy of Right as a metaphorical bomb. And it led, for example, Rudolf Haym in his Hegel and His Time (1857) to formulate his famous criticism of Hegel for being an apologist of the Prussian state. Yet it is important to remark that Haym was a proponent of the liberal-bourgeois camp that emphasized first and foremost the individual realization of freedom in the sphere of the market and whose domain is economic competition.