Hegel’s Political Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives

Pelczynski, Z. Ed. Hegel’s Political Philosophy. Cambridge, 1971.

The following excerpt is from the editor’s own essay, “The Hegelian conception of the state.”

It is noteworthy that the concept of the state as Hegel first elaborated it has all the clarity and simplicity of Hobbes’ ‘commonwealth’ without several of its defects. In an unpublished essay on the German constitution, he was concerned to show that, contrary to the contention of many learned jurists and widespread illusions of ordinary Germans, the Holy roman Empire of the German Nation was no longer a state.

A multitude of human beings can only call itself a state if it be united for the common defence of the entirety of its property. What is self-explanatory in this proposition must nonetheless be stated, namely that this union has not merely the intention of defending itself; the point is that it defends itself by actual arms, be its power and its success what they may… If a multitude is to form a state, then it must form a common military and public authority.

What distinguishes a people which is a state from one which is part of a state or forms a collection of separate states – the latter, Hegel maintains, is virtually the position of the German nation – is its subjection to a common supreme public authority or state power (Staatsgewalt or Staatsgemacht in the original). This authority is organized according to a constitution, and exercised through rules or orders possessing a universally binding character. Hegel insists in his essay that the commands of public authority must be enforceable, must actually produce the intended results, and hence must be backed by all sorts of organized power (military, fiscal, legislative, etc.). Only then do the commands deserve the name of laws, the organization of public authority the name of constitution, and the people united in allegiance the name of the state.

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