Was Hegel an Authoritarian Thinker? Reading Hegel’sPhilosophy of Historyon the Basis of his Metaphysics

Charlotte Baumann 1
  • 1 Technische Universitat Berlin, Institut für Philosophie, Berlin, Deutschland
Charlotte Baumann


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.

  • Adorno, T. W. 2006. Zur Lehre von der Geschichte und der Freiheit. Frankfurt.

  • Baumann, C. 2018a. “Irrationality and Egoism in Hegel’s Account of Right”. British Journal for the History of Philosophy (online first), DOI: 10.1080/09608788.2018.1444581

  • –. 2018b. “Hegel and Marx on Individuality and the Universal Good”. Hegel Bulletin 39(1), 61–81.

  • Bartuschat, W. 2007. “Hegels neue Metaphysik”. Internationales Jahrbuch des Deutschen Idealismus 5, 211–34.

  • Beiser, F., 1993. “Hegel’s Historicism”. In Cambridge Companion to Hegel. Ed. F. Beiser. Cambridge, 270–300.

  • –. 1995. “Hegel, a Non-Metaphysician? A Polemic”. Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain 32, 1–13.

  • –. 2005. Hegel. New York.

  • Berlin, I. 1969. Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford.

  • Bowman, B. 2013. Hegel’s Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity. Cambridge.

  • Brandom, R. 2009. Reason in Philosophy. Cambridge.

  • Brooks, T. 2007. Hegel’s Political Philosophy. Edinburgh.

  • Bubbio, P. 2017. “The I and World History in Hegel”. British Journal of the History of Philosophy 25(4), 706–26.

  • Buchwalter, A. 2016. “A Critique of Non-Metaphysical Readings of Hegel’s Practical Philosophy”. In Hegel and Metaphysics. Ed. A. Laurentis. Berlin, 71–88.

  • De Boer, K. 2010. On Hegel. London.

  • Chytry, J. 1989. The Aesthetic State. Berkeley/Los Angeles.

  • Flach, W. Negation und Andersheit. Munich.

  • Gardner, S. 2007. “The Limits of Naturalism and the Metaphysics of German Idealism”. In German Idealism: Contemporary Perspectives. Ed. E. Hammer. London, 19–49.

  • Günther, G. 1987. Grundzüge einer Neuen Theorie des Denkens in Hegels Logik. Hamburg.

  • Habermas, J, 1988. Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne. Frankfurt.

  • –. 2000. Theorie und Praxis. Frankfurt.

  • Henrich, D. 1976. “Hegels Grundoperation”. In Der Idealismus und seine Gegenwart. Ed. U. Guzzoni. Hamburg, 208–30.

  • –. 1982. “Logische Form und Reale Totalität”. In Hegels Theorie des Rechts. Ed. D. Henrich/R-P. Horstmann. Stuttgart, 428–50.

  • –. 1983. “Vernunft in Verwirklichung”. In Hegel. Philosophie des Rechts. Die Vorlesung von 1819/20. Ed. D. Henrich. Frankfurt, 9–39.

  • Hodgson, P. 2012. Shapes of Freedom. Oxford.

  • Honneth, A. 2000. Suffering From Indeterminacy. Amsterdam.

  • Horstmann, R-P. 1979. “Subjektiver Geist und Moralität”. In Hegels philosophische Psychologie. Ed. D. Henrich. Bonn, 191–99.

  • –. 1984. Ontologie und Relationen. Königstein, Ts.

  • –. “Hegel über Unendlichkeit, Substanz und Subjekt”. Internationales Jahrbuch des Deutschen Idealismus 1, 183–200

  • Houlgate, S. 2005. An Introduction to Hegel. Malden, MA.

  • –. 2006. The Opening of Hegel’s Logic. West Lafayette, IN.

  • Iber, C. 2000. “Was will Hegel eigentlich mit seiner Logik?”. In Hegels Seinslogik. Ed. A. Arndt. Berlin, 13–32.

  • Inwood, M. 1984. “Hegel, Plato and Greek Sittlichkeit”. In The State and Civil Society. Ed. Z. Pelczynski. Cambridge.

  • Kreines, J. 2015. Reason in the World. Oxford.

  • Lumsden, S. 2020. “Freedom and the Logic of History”. In Palgrave Hegel Handbook. Ed. M. Bykova/K. Westphal. Basingstoke, 467–84.

  • Marx, K. 1956. Marx Engels Werke. Vol. 1. Berlin.

  • Moyar, D. 2011. Hegel’s Conscience. New York.

  • Neuhouser, F. 2000. Foundations of Hegel’s Social Theory. Cambridge.

  • Pinkard, T. 2017. Does History Make Sense? Cambridge, MA.

  • Pippin, R. 2000. “What is the Question for which Hegel’s Theory of Recognition is the Answer?”. European Journal of Philosophy 8, 155–72.

  • –. 2008. Hegel’s Practical Philosophy. Cambridge.

  • –. 2018. Hegel’s Realm of Shadows. Chicago.

  • Popper, K. 1957. The Open Society and Its Enemies. Vol. 2. London.

  • Russell, B. 2008. A History of Western Philosophy. New York.

  • Stern, R. 2009. Hegelian Metaphysics. Oxford.

  • Stolzenberg, J., 2017. “Metaphysik nach Kant”. In Metaphysik – Metaphysikkritik. Eds. H. Ferreiro/T. Hoffmann. Berlin, 75–96.

  • Taylor, C. 1975. Hegel. Cambridge.

  • Thanassas, P. 2009. “Hegel’s Hermeneutics of History”. Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 91(1), 70–94.

  • Theunissen, M. 1982. “Die verdrängte Intersubjektivität in Hegels Philosophie des Rechts”. In Hegels Philosophie des Rechts. Ed. D. Henrich. Stuttgart, 317–81.

  • Vieweg, K. 2012. Das Denken der Freiheit. Paderborn.

  • Westphal, K. 2003. Hegel’s Epistemology. Indianapolis, IN.

  • Wood, A. 1990. Hegel’s Ethical Thought. Cambridge.

  • Yeomans, C. 2011. Freedom and Reflection. Oxford.

  • –. 2015. The Expansion of Autonomy. Oxford.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues