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  • The Actual and the Rational. Hegel and Objective Spirit by Jean-François Kervégan
  • Allegra de Laurentiis
KERVÉGAN, Jean-François. The Actual and the Rational. Hegel and Objective Spirit. Translated by Daniela Ginsburg and Martin Shuster. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018. xxxiii + 384 pp. Cloth, $55.00

Kervégan's study of the (in)famous Hegelian statement reflected in the book's title ("What is rational, that is actual; and what is actual, that is rational") centers on three major themes: the existence and nature of "objective spirit," the meaning of "right" (or, as Kervégan prefers, "law"), and the (controversial) logical-metaphysical foundations of both. The book is organized into four parts: I, "The Law: the Positivity of Abstraction;" II: "The Vitality and Flaws of the Social;" III: "The State and the Political;" IV: "Figures of Subjectivity in Objective Spirit: Normativity and Institutions." In a brief disclaimer Kervégan specifies that this massive undertaking is intended not as a systematic interpretation of Hegel's political philosophy but as an explication of basic tenets and conundrums. A preface and preliminary open the volume; an epilogue closes it. In the preface, Kervégan declares his noncommitment to a metaphysical reading of Hegel's Realphilosophie in general, and of Objective Spirit in particular. But the immediately following discussion of "actuality," "reality," and "rationality" in Hegel indicates otherwise, showing Kervégan's thorough familiarity with and reliance on the Science of Logic.

Part I (chapters 1–3) discusses various employments of Recht in Hegel's work between 1807 and 1830, with particular attention given to the [End Page 370] 1817/18 Natural Right Lectures and the 1820 Philosophy of Right (PhR). Kervégan's decision to use "law" (German Gesetz) instead of "right" to render Recht underestimates Hegel's reliance on the fundamental distinction between jus and lex in the Roman Corpus. This does not diminish the value of Kervégan's discussion, which encompasses not just Hegel's works but also 200 years' worth of literature (from Haym and Rosenzweig to Peperzak and Losurdo). Kervégan references to Kant's Doctrine of Right, indispensable for an appreciation of Hegel's, indulge the generic interpretation of Kant's juridical thought as "legalism." (This may be due to the conflation of Gesetz and Recht.) One consequence is that "fiat justitia, pereat mundus" (from Perpetual Peace) is understood as expressing rigorism, while Kant's mundus refers instead to the worldly interests of pseudo-politicians intent on undermining human right. Chapter 1 explicates Hegel's plan to deliver "the idea of right—the concept of right and its actualization" (PhR §1). Chapter 2 discusses the natural cum historical essence of right. Chapter 3 examines "right" as contract, both in its state-foundational role ("Social Contract") and as regulator of interactions in civil society. The strength of this section lies in Kervégan's thorough familiarity with the evolution of Hegel's thought. It is therefore surprising to find Hegel being credited in the end for theorizing a "law below and beyond law," suggesting a Hegelian pedigree of Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss.

Part II (chapters 4–6) first presents the role of Rousseau's distinction of bourgeois and citoyen in German Idealism. The underlying theme here is a reinterpretation of Hegel's notion of civil society in a liberal key, or as "anticipation" of future liberal doctrines. This "liberal Rechtsstaat" would even harbor an "antistate orientation." From Hegel's diagnosis of a conflict between modern individuals' "right to particularity" and their claims to universality, Kervégan further sees Hegel as also prefiguring Hayek's work. In the end, since Hegel's bürgerliche Gesellschaft is construed as a realm of relativism, and juridical personhood is understood as anchored in it—rather than in the Rechtsstaat—Kervégan reaches the unlikely conclusion that for Hegel "the rights of man . . . , their scope and value are relative."

Part III (chapters 7–9) centers on aspects of "objective spirit" that are of contemporary resonance: Hegel's characterization of modernity (chapter 7); his critical appraisal of democratic representation (chapter 8); his criticism of democracy as such (chapter 9). The first is approached by putting...


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