'The Preface' Hegel's Legal Philosophy, and the Crises of His Time

In Johnathan Lavery, William Sweet & Louis Groarke (eds.), Ideas Under Fire. New York: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 161-190 (2017)
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Hegel experienced several personal, political, and professional crises during his life. These crises impacted his dense theory about the importance of rational self-reflection in the organic character and evolution of law. The article argues that Hegel’s Preface to the Philosophy of Right manifests how one philosopher came to terms with the personal, social and political crises in which he found himself. In particular, the article outlines the central themes of the Preface and then explicates the important notion of Bildung in Hegel’s theory – an Enlightenment notion that Hegel absorbed from his own formal education. After retrieving Hegel’s reading of the virtues and flaws in Kant’s theory of law, the article then explicates Hegel’s understanding of freedom. The article then reviews the local politics in which Hegel found himself before, during and after Napoleon’s defeat. The article then turns to his professional rivalries with Jacob Fries and Friedrich Savigny. The article argues that the personal animosities shaped parts of his Preface. These complex influences and concerns explain why Hegel waited 20 years to publish his theory of law. Hegel’s Preface comes to terms with the crises of his own times.

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William Conklin
University of Windsor


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