Reading Michael Oakeshott acquainted me with the baffling proposition that the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - known to me from secondary sources as the worst deifier of the State - was actually a supporter of a liberal society.
Lacking time to pursue by my own research efforts the intriguing thesis of the trusted authority that Oakeshott is to me, I'm pleased to share with our readers an article that lends further support to that radically different view of Hegel.
Reviewing a book by Lisa Herzog, Nicholas Capaldi commends her for
rescuing [Hegel] from the authoritarians of both the left and of the right who have for so long buried the insights of the Philosophy of Right. Popper is rightly taken to task and even Taylor [presumably Hegels biographer, G.T.] is criticized for making “individuals nothing but vehicles” of Geist (p. 48n). It should come as no surprise that Kant who proclaimed ‘unsocial sociability’ and Hegel who relished the ‘cunning of reason’ had both read and been influenced by Smith, especially the metaphor of the ‘invisible hand’.
Anyone who understands what Hegel meant by ‘dialectic’ should not be surprised to find that he endorsed the notion that a market was a perfect example of the logic of competition and cooperation. More importantly, Hegel looked upon individualism in the form of modern subjective freedom as the final stage of history [a notion made popular by Fukuyama]. Hegel’s system “comprises numerous liberal elements, such as” private property, “the rule of law, free choice of profession, extensive religious toleration and liberty of conscience, and freedom of opinion and of the press.” (p. 51). Like Smith, Hegel overcomes the individual vs. community debate by arguing for how individual freedom is best realized in a certain kind of community (Sittlichkeit) involving what we would now call the intermediate associations of Tocqueville or civil society. Individual autonomy was as important to Hegel as it was to Smith (p. 121).
I think it is important to acknowledge a continental tradition of liberty, a tradition expressed in the writings of Constant, Kant, Hegel, Guizot, and Tocqueville – however much this tradition may have languished. Serious scholars need not concede the greatest philosophers of the 18th and 19th-centuries to the political left.
The entire article.
"Sittlichkeit" ought to be translated as morality (ranging from mores to law) rather than community.