- Hegel and the Metaphysical Frontiers of Political Theory by Eric Lee Goodfield
Canonical, system-building philosophers often have a characteristic “way of looking at things,” that is, a specific method for doing philosophy that they apply to a wide array of topics, and which they view as rooted in some basic propositions about, for example, rationality, human nature, or the nature of reality. This is part of what makes them compelling. For contemporary interpreters, however, it raises questions about how much these foundational claims need to impact our ability to understand or learn from other aspects of their thought—especially if we are leery of the foundational claims. Such interpretive vexations are especially urgent with Hegel: Hegel certainly has a characteristic way of looking at things that he applies to everything under the sun; its most general statement seems to be found in his Logic; and while Hegel has been massively influential in some quarters, and his practical philosophy is a current topic of renewed interest, his Logic is neither well-regarded nor well-understood. Hence, there is a prominent strand of Anglo-American Hegel interpretation that holds that while his metaphysics is not defensible, it is unnecessary for appreciating his practical philosophy. Eric Lee Goodfield’s Hegel and the Metaphysical Frontiers of Political Theory forcefully maintains that this is a mistake. He does so through a series of interlocking theses: first, Goodfield argues that Hegel’s political thought is rooted in his metaphysics; to this extent, accounts of The Philosophy of Right (PR) that isolate it from the metaphysics (where Allen Wood’s Hegel’s Ethical Thought is the main target) are “distorting” (chapter 5). Second, Goodfield explains that Hegel’s metaphysics is defensible, its core consisting of a reconsideration of the problem of universals as it appears in Plato and Parmenides. Third, and most generally, Goodfield contends that Hegel’s overall approach is neither wrongheaded nor idiosyncratic: political theory is, at some level, related to metaphysics, and theories that deny or fail to acknowledge this are subject to dogmatism and ideological blind spots. Anyone interested in these questions (scholars of either PR or the Logic, political theorists interested in the relationship between their work and theoretical philosophy, intellectual historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) will find plenty worth considering in his careful study.
This book presupposes more than a casual familiarity with PR: although chapter 5 contains detailed exegesis on its preface, introduction, and sections on ethical life, Goodfield begins with a brief account of Ludwig Feuerbach’s contention that Hegel does violence to sensuous individual being, followed by a more in-depth look at G. E. Moore’s refutation of idealism. Chapter 2 explores at length political science in the English-speaking world, as it developed within an intellectual climate hostile to metaphysics and dubious of its possible relevance to politics. Chapter 3 is a rundown of “non-metaphysical” accounts of Hegel’s political thought that have emerged in this milieu; Goodfield completes his critique of these positions in chapter 5, after he has elaborated on Hegel’s account of universals in chapter 4. [End Page 343]
There is some ambiguity in Goodfield’s criticism of the non-metaphysical Hegel: most often, he contends that Hegel thinks that the state’s role in ethical life mirrors the way individuality emerges out of the dialectic of bare particularity and formal essence, that is, that in order to be actual something must be in the process of relating its sensuous particularity to its conceptual type. Goodfield’s exposition persuades one that Hegel sees this structure mirrored in PR, where persons emerge from the family into the atomism of civil society and then become reconciled to this condition, and to one another, through the state—and that this parallel is important to him, and so appreciating it is necessary to grasp Hegel’s thought as he understands it. It is less clear what would be lost by not insisting on this linkage: Goodfield argues that Hegel’s account of property and punishment are...