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Hegel's Philosophy of Politics: Idealism, Identity, and Modernity.

Hegel's philosophy of politics, according to Brod, is to be found primarily in the third part of the Philosophy of Right, supplemented by Hegel's historical writings and his philosophy of history. All of these need to be read in the context of some knowledge of contemporary political events. This approach to the Philosophy of Right sets aside the question of how Hegel construed the unity of his own text and project, in order to use a portion of the text as a means of answering a set of questions which the author has framed as a relevant context for focusing on just that portion (p. 21). The context tacitly invoked by Brod would appear to be something like standard Western political theory of the modern period, perhaps as represented by Sabine's classic commentary (mentioned more than once by the author). The project of the book might be characterized (somewhat crudely) as making Hegel's political philosophy intelligible to someone raised on Sabine's categories. At one point the author refers to Sabine's opinion that in the Philosophy of Right, "the arrangement [of topics] hopelessly dislocated the subject matter" (p. 91). Brod clearly anticipates that his more informed reading of Hegel will render it more intelligible to an audience reared in the Sabine tradition. Such a project is not unworthy of attention, but it seems to me that the author's efforts achieve only mixed success.

The work, which began ten years earlier as a doctoral dissertation, contains an Introduction and eight chapters. The Introduction articulates the author's view that Hegel's understanding of contemporary history shaped "the basic structure and intent of his philosophic system" (p. 6). He characterizes Hegel's political philosophy as "idealist" in that "its primary concern is with the consciousness of the citizens in the Hegelian state" (p. 3). The first chapter elaborates on the theme of the historical basis of Hegel's political philosophy, while the second and third dwell on Hegel's conception of contemporary events, especially the French Revolution. Chapters 4 through 7 offer a commentary on political aspects of Sittlichkeit, that is, on the family and property rights, the dialect of civil society, Hegel's treatment of representative political institutions, and the rational state. A final chapter attempts to draw some conclusions concerning contemporary notions of society, law, and gender.

In the course of the work Brod refers to a considerable range of secondary literature. He arrives at defensible, if familiar, conclusions on a number of issues; he produces some questionable interpretations on other points, but arrives at no significant readings which struck this reviewer as both distinctive and sound. As an example of the sort of reading which I found troubling, Brod declares that "Marx rejects in Hegel the idea that the economic realm of civil society remains in the sphere of nature. . . . This explains why Marx ultimately calls for the overcoming of the civil society-state dualism and why Hegel ultimately rejects the standpoint of civil society in favor of the state" (pp. 75-6; cf. p. 90). If one has in mind Hegel's fundamental contrast between nature and spirit, then referring to civil society as "nature" can only lead to confusion. Similarly, one finds the author using "culture" on occasion as a synonym for Hegel's "spirit." The difficulty (and ambiguity) arises out of the original decision to translate Hegel's terminology into some of the more familiar categories of standard political theory without first attempting to orient the reader properly within Hegel's project (for example, skipping "Abstract Right" and "Morality" as not germane to the book's interpretive project). The book could perhaps be recommended as a relatively gentle and readable introduction to the topic for a reader not previously acquainted with Hegel, but should be viewed only as a starting point.
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Author:Grier, Philip
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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