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Hegel's Citizen

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2015

Dudley Knowles*
University of Glasgow


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Hegel's account of freedom is complex and difficult. It integrates a doctrine of free agency, a theory of social freedom, and a self-determining theodicy of Spirit. To achieve full understanding, if full understanding is possible, the student must both disentangle and articulate the components, and then fit together the separate pieces into an intelligible whole. And what is true of the whole is true of the parts; each element is in turn complex and controversial.

In this paper, I want to investigate one very small aspect of this picture — the political phenomenology of the citizen of Hegel's rational state. Whether we are delineating the contours of free agency or re-telling Hegel's story about the modes of freedom constitutive of the institutions of the modern state, sooner or later we shall have to interpret Hegel's description of the self-consciousness of the typical citizen. We shall have to give some account of what citizens take to be their political standing, and show how both this standing and the citizens' understanding of it contribute to freedom.

This should not be a controversial claim. To paraphrase portions of the famous statement at PR §260: The state is the actuality of concrete freedom. Members of families integrated into civil society knowingly and willingly acknowledge their citizenship and actively pursue the ends of the state. They do not live as private persons merely; in understanding, endorsing and acting out their ethical status as citizens they achieve such subjective fulfilment as is necessary for them to be truly free.

Hegel and Social Philosophy
Copyright © The Hegel Society of Great Britain 2004



1 I cite Hegel's Philosophy of Right in Nisbet's translation, thus: Hegel, G.W.F., Elements of the Philosophy of Right [PR], ed. Wood, Allen W., trans. Nisbet, H.B. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Waldron, Jeremy, ‘Hobbes and the Principle of Publicity’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2001) 82: 448 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Knowles, Dudley, Political Philosophy (London: UCL Press, 2001), pp. 240–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Optimistically, for those with an interest, I refer readers to Knowles, Dudley, ‘Gratitude and Good Government’, Res Publica (2002) 8:120 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 This terminology echoes — I cannot claim that it is a straightforward usage of — Bernard Williams' characterisation of external, cf. internal, reasons in Internal and External Reasons’, in Harrison, Ross (ed.) Rational Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)Google Scholar, reprinted in Williams, Bernard, Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 101113 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Kim, Suki, ‘A Visit to North Korea’, New York Review of Books, February 13, 2003, p. 16 Google Scholar.

7 For more detail on what follows, see Sorell, T., Hobbes (London: Routledge, 1986), pp. 14-17, 127–44Google Scholar, and Waldron, Jeremy, ‘Hobbes and the Principle of Publicity’ in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2001) 82: 447–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Rawls discusses ‘the publicity condition’ in a number of places and contexts. It is obviously related to the concept of public reason as that concept is deployed in his post-Theory of Justice writings, but, emphatically, it is not the same concept. Rawls' use of this condition, linking up as it does with a wide range of classic modern as well as contemporary sources, deserves very careful study. See, for example, A Theory of Justice [TJ] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 130–33Google Scholar; Political Liberalism [PL] (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 6671 Google Scholar; Justice as Fairness [JF] (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 120–2Google Scholar, and the indices to these volumes.

9 The point is controversial. Jeremy Waldron identifies a theme of ‘respect for the individual intellect’ in Hobbes' thought (Waldron [2001]: 448).

10 Houlgate, S., ‘Hegel, Rawls, and the Rational State’ in Williams, Robert R. (ed.) Beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism: Studies in Hegel's Philosophy of Right (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2001), pp. 249–50Google Scholar.

11 Patten, A., Hegel's Idea of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 119–20Google Scholar; Neuhouser, F., Foundations of Hegel's Social Theory: Actualizing Freedom (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 175224 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Knowles, D., Hegel and the Philosophy of Right (London: Roudedge, 2002), pp. 306315 Google Scholar.

12 I discuss this issue in some detail in Knowles (2002): 193-7. For a very careful review of the question, and its implications for Hegel's account of Sitilichkeit, see Neuhouser, (2000): 225–80Google Scholar.

13 Hegel's Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences [E], (many editions) §515

14 Tugendhat, E., Self-consciousness and Self Determination, trans. Stern, P. (Cambridge Mass.: The MIT Press, 1986), p. 315 Google Scholar.

15 Neuhouser 2000: 241-9.

16 In correspondence, Stephen Houlgate has pressed this point, emphasising the cognitive content of the trust that the citizen places in the rational state. Trust, he intimates, is the felt recognition that the laws and institutions of the rational state guarantee our freedom. I accept that it is an open question whether such felt recognition meets the publicity constraint. In which case, the reader must examine very carefully the details of the institutions to which the subject ‘bears spiritual witness’ (PR §147). I begin that task in what follows.

17 It is a very great oddity of the Philosophy of Right that Hegel has so little to say about the place of the schoolroom in the education of the citizen.

18 I have in mind Hardimon, Michael, Hegel's Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Frederick Neuhouser, Foundations of Hegel's Social Theory, and Rawls, John, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, ed. Herman, B. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 329–71Google Scholar.

19 This paper has benefited from comments made at the 2003 meeting of the Hegel Society of Great Britain, and from audiences in the universities of Glasgow, Dundee and Stirling. Thanks are due to Michael Rosen and Stephen Houlgate for helpful correspondence.