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Was Hegel an Authoritarian Thinker? Reading Hegel’s Philosophy of History on the Basis of his Metaphysics

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With Hegel’s metaphysics attracting renewed attention, it is time to address a long-standing criticism: Scholars from Marx to Popper and Habermas have worried that Hegel’s metaphysics has anti-individualist and authoritarian implications, which are particularly pronounced in his Philosophy of History, since Hegel identifies historical progress with reason imposing itself on individuals. Rather than proposing an alternative non-metaphysical conception of reason, as Pippin or Brandom have done, this article argues that critics are broadly right in their metaphysical reading of Hegel’s central concepts. However, they are mistaken about what Hegel’s approach entails, when one examines the specific types of states discussed (and rejected) by the philosopher in his Philosophy of History. Even on a traditional metaphysical reading, Hegel is not only non-authoritarian; he also makes a powerful argument concerning freedom, whereupon the freest society involves collective oversight and the shaping of social structures so as to ensure that they benefit everybody.

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Published Online: 2020-09-22
Published in Print: 2021-03-26

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