- Strong Family, Weak State: Hegel’s Political Philosophy and the Filipino Family by Lukas Kaelin
In this novel usage of the “family” in Philippine politics and society, Strong Family, Weak State: Hegel’s Political Philosophy and the Filipino Family presents an interesting take on the complex yet often taken for granted interplay between and among the existing, and perhaps even the emerging, modern institutions in the Philippines today. The novelty of Lukas Kaelin’s work comes from his convincing application of Hegelian political theory on these modern institutions: family, civil society, and the state. Using Hegelian concepts, the book reflects on the conceptual openings and concrete opportunities for social change that can be considered in light of the centrality of Filipino “family” in modern Philippine society.
The author, Lukas Kaelin, is a critical theorist and political philosopher. He was assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy of the Ateneo de Manila University from 2006 to 2008. He has written papers and commentaries on the Philippines, which cover topics such as the ethics of organ donation and the migration of nurses, and the family and political dynasties in the public sphere. In 2009 Kaelin became a research fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Law in Medicine of the University of Vienna. He is currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University.
Kaelin begins his work by locating the “family” in today’s political theory of modern political order. With the apparent dominance of the Social Contract theory, he interrogates the common understanding of the Social Contract tradition of political order, which privileges individualism, freedom, and constitutionalism in the structure and practice of modern politics, by understanding the unique role of the “family” in the emergence, [End Page 587] dynamics, and outcomes of modern political order. Despite the recognition of some thinkers of the family’s role in structuring and laying the foundations of the state, he claims that the family “remains marginal and structurally insignificant” (12).
The author uses Hegel’s political theory to engage and go beyond this Social Contract tradition by examining and understanding how social institutions shape norms or practices. Mindful of the inherent challenge that faces political theorists and philosophers—which speaks of the problem of applying one’s theory to reality—his study contrasts Hegel’s political theory with that of the modern Filipino family so that it “sets itself in the tradition of understanding ethical life in the context of concrete culture” (16). Kaelin saw the “family” in Hegel’s political theory as a core social institution that is both necessary for the “reproduction of society” and “ability to foster freedom” (19), and he uses this political theory as his framework to think about the Philippines in terms of the “strong family, weak state” thesis.
The use of the Hegelian idealization of family, civil society, and state provides a philosophical grounding to the centrality of the Filipino family vis-à-vis the state. Readers will easily notice the structure of Kaelin’s application of Hegel’s political theory through two discussion points: first, the points of divergence between the empirical accounts of the twenty-first century Philippine case and the Hegelian conceptualization of a nineteenth-century European society; and, second, the points of convergence between the Filipino family–state–civil society relations and Hegelian thinking on family–state–civil society relations.
For the first point, Kaelin’s creative conceptual comparison between contemporary Philippine society and Hegel’s depiction of nineteenth-century European society involves the identification and elaboration of the differences in the institutions, dynamics, and outcomes of these two social orders. His intent is to draw insights from their unique and distinct characteristics, features, and tendencies, which to him might be useful in coming up with new possibilities and conceptualizations for modern-day society. As he points out,
we can identify seven more or less related points on which the Hegelian conception of social organization can be compared to the Filipino one. Almost all of them point to the different weight, arrangement and interaction of the...