Review of Metaphysics 32 (2):363-364 (1978)

The principal aim of this work, which is a combination of revised versions of essays that have appeared elsewhere together with some new material, is considerably broader than the title might suggest. Rather than specifically focusing upon Hegel’s relation to romanticism or the vicissitudes of his Grecophilia, the real thrust is nothing less than an attempt to place Hegel’s theory of the state within its historical and systematic context, to rescue it from the many misappropriations and misinterpretations which it has suffered, and to sound out its implications for contemporary political theory and practice. If one were to single out a limited number of the most important themes that serve to unify this collection of essays, at least the following would have to be mentioned. First, Kelly insists at the outset that Hegel’s political philosophy can only be adequately understood within the context of his broader systematic project. Specifically, Hegel’s theory of the state must be approached from out of the more general problematic of his views on the systematic interrelationships between philosophy, politics, history, and religion. Though the author’s discussion of the complex issues lurking in the interstices here will seem to many Hegel scholars much too brief and superficial, particularly given Kelly’s own insistence upon their crucial importance, his discussion at least suffices to allow him to make the point that Hegel’s theory of the state cannot be easily assimilated into either the liberal, conservative, or radical traditions, as understood either in the pre- or post-Hegelian context. Rather, Hegel’s thought contributed to an important shift in the fundamental conceptual constellations which governed political discourse in his own time and which formed the bridge to our epoch. On this basis, Kelly proposes to examine Hegel’s theory of the state, both on its own terms and with an eye to the implications which it might yet have for understanding political phenomena. In both respects, the key notion is that of ‘the neutral state’ which knows "how to compose man’s spiritual strivings and intellectual curiosity... in a stable social whole", a dialectical ‘unity-in-diversity’ "checked by the monarchy from above and the people organized in corporations from below", and ballasted by an impartial legal system and a dedicated phalanx of educated civil servants. For Kelly, Hegel’s idea of the ‘neutral state’ was too soon "buried" in the post-Hegelian reaction, with the result that an original source of insight into the modern political problematic, if not of answers to contemporary political conundrums, was unfortunately and unfairly discredited. Kelly carries through with this idea by showing how Hegel’s theory of the state can serve to shed light on the history and current state of American politics and how it can lead to a renewed reflection upon the meaning and significance of history for contemporary thought. Kelly is at his best at those points where he contrasts Hegel’s political thought to other positions in the context of the modern intellectual and political milieu but is a bit weaker when issues arise which seem to require a shift from political theory to philosophical presuppositions. Nonetheless, especially when read together with the contributions of Avineri and Shklar, this work is helpful in the current re-evaluation of the importance and contemporary relevance of Hegel’s political thought.—J.P.S.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph1978322152
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