Hegel and Marx on the Rabble and the Problem of Poverty in Modern Society

Iyyun 50 (1):23-40 (2001)
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The problem of poverty and the emergence of a rabble (Pöbel) in modern society does not find any reasonable solution in Hegel's Philosophy of Right (henceforth PR). Some scholars have stressed how unusual this is for Hegel, claiming that it would have been uncharacteristic for him to leave a major, acknowledged problem of his system unsolved: "On no other occasion does Hegel leave a problem at that." The importance of this problem is not limited to the threat it poses to the sphere of ethical life (Sittlichkeit). It also pertains to some central issues in Hegel's philosophy of history and the role he assigns to philosophy and philosophers in the making of history. In the present paper, I have three objectives. First, I will point out some bold, radical claims in Hegel’s discussion of poverty and examine the way he restrains them. Second, in contrast to the common view which holds that Marx ignores Hegel’s discussion of poverty in the PR, I will point to one of Marx’s early works which clearly refers to this discussion and in fact makes an intriguing use of Hegel’s claims by uncovering their radical elements and setting them free. Finally, I will argue that the deep reason for Hegel’s avoidance of social radicalism lies in his philosophy of history. The last point will also serve to explain Hegel’s willingness to leave the problem of poverty unsolved. I will begin however, with a short summary of Hegel’s discussion of poverty.
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