Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State

Shlomo Avineri, Hegel's Theory of the Modern State, Cambridge University Press, 1974.

[…] Hegel has to be seen as the first major modern political philosopher who attempted to confront the realities of the modern age. While many among eighteenth-century philosophers undoubtedly helped to shape the emergent modern world, their basically a-historical approach made the incapable of facing the challenges of the new society[…] French Jacobinism ended up by proclaiming terrorism as political virtue; British utilitarianism made the horrors of modern life into a new law of nature.

It is in this context that Hegel’s attempt to construct a new political theory becomes significant. Its main theme is perhaps best expressed by Hegel’s ambiguous attitude to civil society: on one hand, it is the major achievement of the modern world; on the other, woe to that society of men that allows the forces of civil society to rule unimpeded. This Golem, expressing as it does man’s creativity and subjective freedom, should not be allowed to run free.

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