Recommended translation: Elements of the Philosophy of Right, trans. H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. In addition, the translation by T. M. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942) is widely used in existing Hegel scholarship. The Nisbet translation is recommended because it is more literal, and includes the canonical "additions" of Hegel's student Eduard Gans in the body of the text where they are relevant. First published in 1820.
Excerpt from the Preface:
This treatise, therefore, in so far as it deals with political science, shall be nothing other than an attempt to comprehend and portray the state as an inherently rational entity. As a philosophical composition, it must distance itself as far as possible from the obligation to construct a state as it ought to be; such instruction as it may contain cannot be aimed at instructing the state on how it ought to be, but rather at showing how the state, as the ethical universe, should be recognized.
᾿Ιδοὺ ῾Ρόδος, ἰδοὺ χαὶ τὸ πήδημα.
Hic Rhodus, hic saltus.
To comprehend what is the task of philosophy, for what is is reason. As far as the individual is concerned, each individual is in any case a child of his time; thus philosophy too, is its own time comprehended in thought. It is just as foolish to imagine that any philosophy can transcend its contemporary world as that an individual can overleap his own time or leap over Rhodes. If his theory does indeed transcend his own time, if it builds itself a world as it ought to be, then it certainly has an existence, but only within his opinions – a pliant medium in which the imagination can construct anything it pleases.
A further word on the subject of issuing instructions on how the world ought to be: philosophy, at any rate, always comes too late to perform this function. As the thought of the world, it appears only at a time when actuality has gone through its formative process and attained its completed state. This lesson of the concept is necessarily also apparent from history, namely that it is only when actuality has reached maturity that the ideal appears opposite the real and reconstructs this real world, which it has grasped in its substance, in the shape of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, a shape of life has grown old, and it cannot be rejuvenated, but only recognized, by the grey in grey of philosophy; the owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk.