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Notes and Discussions AVINERI'S HEGEL Shlomo Avineri's new book, Hegel's Theory o/the Modern State (Cambridge University Press, 1972), should give purveyors of conventional wisdom about Hegel's political thought grounds for pause. Copious citations from a rich variety of texts, both published and unpublished, reveal a Hegel who throughout his life was a sharp (at times bitter) critic of traditional forms of privilege and at least of the more familiar forms of modern bureaucracy, as well as a consistent (though by no means "classical") liberal with respect to constitutional issues, questions of civil right, the character and promulgation of laws, and the individual's pursuit of his economic self-interest. Avineri's portrait, as I shall try to show, is not in all respects convincing; but his efforts have brought us a good deal closer to a picture that makes sense. In his twenties, while tutoring in Berne, Hegel was reading Montesquieu and Hume, James Steuart and Adam Smith, and writing his friend Schelling things like this: "The halo which has surrounded the heads of the oppressors and gods of the earth has disappeared . The philosophers demonstrate [the dignity of man]; the people will learn to feel it and will not merely demand their rights, which have been trampled in the dust, but will themselves take and appropriate them. Religion and politics have played the same game. The former has taught what despotism wanted to teach: contempt for humanity and its incapacity to reach goodness and achieve something through man's own efforts..." (chap. 1, p. 4). Before the turn of the century--i.e, before he had turned thirty--Hegel had already broken with those of his confreres who were urging that the future of Germany lay either in a revival of classical humanism (the socio-economic conditions that made possible the "unmediated" confrontational politics of the polis simply cannot, he thought, be reduplicated in the modern age), or in an unearthing of the customs and habits of the Teutonic tribes--"as strange to us as the imagery of Ossian" (chap. 2, p. 22). By 1800, Avineri contends, Hegel was anticipating Tocqueville's insight into the underlying similarity between absolutistic Prussia and bureaucratized republican France. The passage Avineri quotes from Hegel's essay on the German Constitution is indeed unambiguous: How dull and spiritless a life is engendered in a modern state where everything is regulated from the top downwards, where nothing with any general implications is left to the management and execution of interested parties of the people in a state like what the French Republic has made itself is to be experienced only in the future, if indeed this pitch of pedantry in domination can persist. But what life and what sterility reigns in another equally regulated state, in the Prussian, strikes anyone who sets foot in the first town there or sees its complete lack of scientific or artistic genius.... (Chap. 3, p. 49) For a while, Hegel remained pessimistic about the chances of unifying a pettybourgeois , parficularisfic Germany and indulged in some uncharacteristic daydreaming about a German Theseus (p. 60). Then came Hegel's delight in the Prussian defeat at the hands of the French at Jena, along with a resurgence of hope in Napoleon, a Theseus [235] 236 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY of sorts, "the great constitutional lawyer in Paris" who would teach the German princes what "the concept of a free monarchy" really means (Letter to Niethammer [1807], chap. 4, p. 66). Among Hegel's indispensable criteria of rational modem government are fiscal accountability and a free press. Although by 1813 Hegel knew that Napoleon was done for, he remained faithful to what he conceived to be the Napoleonic political ideals, and he expressed nothing but contempt for the cruder outbursts of German nationalism . Yet Hegel is presently to be found speaking in the voice of moderation and defending at least some aspects of the German established order. Hegel's critics have speculated that it was at this time that Hegel began to repudiate the ideals of his youth and to lay the groundwork for the alleged reactionism of the Berlin period. Avineri does not think so. "It is not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 235-246
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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