Reason in History: Hegel and Marx
DOI link for Reason in History: Hegel and Marx
Reason in History: Hegel and Marx book
In 1831, one year before Bentham died in London, Hegel died in Berlin. As Hegel died, the Great Reform Bill was being vigorously discussed in England: as Bentham died, it was being given the royal assent. This bill, which radically extended the English franchise, was strongly supported by Bentham and his followers. Yet the last thing which Hegel wrote wasa long critical commentary on the bill. This was only one of many contrasts between Bentham and Hegel; but they did not contrast in every respect. For example, they both attacked English common (or traditional) law, both calling it an ‘Augean stable’, and both wishing to replace it by a rationally formulated, comprehensive code. Both supported their own local reform movements. Both thought, as Hegel put it when writing about the English Reform Bill, that ‘the right way to pursue improvement is not by the moral route of using ideas . . . but by the alteration of institutions’ (Political Writings 287). However, at a fundamental level they were very different, and had very different attitudes to democracy. Bentham, it will be remembered, wanted to have a ‘Public Opinion Tribunal’ acting as a check on the power of the government. Hegel declared in his main political work, the Elements of the Philosophy of Right of 1821 that ‘the first formal condition of achieving anything great or rational, either in actuality or science, is to be independent of public opinion’ (Phil. Right §318; 355). Clearly someone with such views about the people will have a different attitude about, and so will set different questions for, democracy. These questions will be the topic of the present chapter, the last of the historical chapters, which will also deal briefly with Hegel’s heretical follower, Karl Marx. Hegel and Marx may not be comfortable companions for the democratically minded; but they are thoughtful ones.