The Vitality of Contradiction

The Vitality of Contradiction: Hegel, Politics, and the Dialectic of Liberal-Capitalism

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    The Vitality of Contradiction
    Book Description:

    In The Vitality of Contradiction, Bruce Gilbert provides an exposition of Hegel's political philosophy to establish not only that societies fail because of their contradictions, but also how the unsurpassable oppositions of social life cultivate freedom. He moves beyond Hegel's works to consider the limits of liberal-capitalism and the contemporary social movements around the world that stretch us beyond the global economic system. Drawing on key Hegel texts such as Phenomenology of Spirit and the Philosophy of Right, Gilbert shows how societies outgrow themselves as they come to recognize key aspects of freedom and justice. He argues that the dialectic requires that we recognize how liberal-capitalism has both cultivated freedom and yet fails to lead us to more sophisticated forms of freedom. Gilbert also highlights organizations including Brazil's Movement of Landless Workers and the Mondragon cooperative in Spain and the sophisticated ways in which they are teaching the world new and better ways to be free. Engaging and perceptive, The Vitality of Contradiction illuminates the basic principles behind Hegel's political thought and indicates the ways in which his work encourages people to strive for a form of socialist democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8949-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations of Hegel’s Works
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    The argument of this book is built on two claims by Hegel. The first:

    Contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only insofar as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.¹

    Hegel asserts that “There is no proposition of Heraclitus which I have not adopted in my Logic.”² One in particular is important here. Heraclitus states, “They do not apprehend how being at variance, it agrees with itself: there is a back-stretched connexion, as in the bow and the lyre.”³ For Hegel the world is in constant motion and...

  6. PART ONE The Dialectic of Political Life
    • 1 Empirical and Conceptual Dialectic
      (pp. 15-33)

      Dialectic is the process by whichbeing, and a fortiori,human being, elaborates, develops, and embellishes itself into more sophisticated forms of self-determination. Life lives out this self-elaboration as thevitality of contradiction. Thus the life of a plant is dialectical: a plant develops itself as it becomes a flower. Each stage of this development demands that the previous stages be realized, but then opposed and surpassed. That is, when the seed germinates and sends out a shoot, the original seed is negated. Hegel states in theScience of Logic, as we saw in the introduction, that “Contradiction is the...

    • 2 Mutual Recognition, Freedom, and Vital Contradiction
      (pp. 34-63)

      With the introduction to conceptual dialectic in the previous chapter, I turn to Hegel’s dialectic of human relationships in chapter 4, “Self-Consciousness,” of thePhenomenology of Spirit. His argument is complex, multidimensional, and, unfortunately, extremely condensed. I certainly do not try to do justice to its full breadth and depth here, but study Hegel’s argument with three goals in mind. First, as our initial study of conceptual dialectic in Hegel’s texts, it teaches us much about the formal structure of most conceptual dialectics. Second, the study allows me to examine not only the form of dialectic but its content – in...

    • 3 The Conceptual Dialectic of Political Life: First Steps
      (pp. 64-86)

      Dialectic, for our purposes, is the process by which we learn what it means to be free. We have already seen that freedom is much more than choice. It is most fully realized when we engage in relationships of mutual recognition such as to be “at home” in our worlds. Yet even the experience of being at home is characterized by an abiding tension, a vital contradiction. Our freedom is achieved only by developing the institutions of human cooperation and development that allow us to flourish in the midst of this constitutive drama. Like the tension that sustains the strength...

    • 4 The Dialectic of the Ethical Society
      (pp. 87-108)

      The Ethical Society is the society that is not aware that it is a society. This is to say, the Ethical Society does not recognize about itself that it is self-determining. Its explicit view of itself is that human life is determined by other forces – natural or divine forces. Or again, it is a society that thinks of itself in heteronomous terms – it laws come from “elsewhere.” The Ethical Society is unaware that it is a result of a history in which its members have, over time, created its juridical structures and its cultural images by interpreting its existential situation....

    • 5 The Condition of Right: Individual Freedom and Tyranny
      (pp. 109-118)

      In the Ethical Society, Hegel says, “Self-consciousness has not yet come forth in its right assingular individuality.” “The singular individual” [dieser Einzelne],¹ which counts in the Ethical Society “only as theinactual shade,” is precisely the kind of self-consciousness that had to emerge and assert itself when the contradiction between human and divine law began clearly to emerge. In its fully developed form, the freedom of the singular, abstract self, which Hegel calls the “person,” adopts a skeptical attitude toward custom and severs itself from the ethical “substance.” It locates the authority to judge, for the first time, in...

    • 6 Alienation and the Society of Absolute Freedom
      (pp. 119-132)

      We seem to have arrived at a dilemma. If societies recognize singular, arbitrary freedom, they are destroyed by the concentration of wealth and power created thereby. Yet, if they restrain singular freedom in an organic body-politic, they become repressive, generating the rebellious and subversive powers of singular freedom. Indeed, once the genie of human liberty has been let out of the bottle, it is impossible to put it back in. The predicament which we now confront in conceptual dialectic is, in reality, one with which all societies must cope. The failure to resolve this predicament condemns humanity, it would seem,...

  7. PART TWO Freedom and the Just Society
    • 7 The Fundamental Institutions of a Just Society
      (pp. 135-161)

      The vital contradictions of freedom have propelled us past the Society of Absolute Freedom and its cultivation of abstract, Enlightenment rationality. It may well seem, however, that we have reached an impasse: the rationality of freedom appears to be at odds with itself. The three essential elements in the concept of freedom that we have identified – universality, particularity, and singularity – are persistently in conflict with each other. The Ethical Society was able to maintain the harmony of particular spheres within a concrete universal whole, but the fact that it excluded the third term, singular freedom, led to its downfall. The...

    • 8 The Vital Contradiction of Civil Society and the State
      (pp. 162-185)

      Hegel anticipates Marx in showing that unemployment, serious poverty, and alienated labour are caused by thesuccessfulfunctioning of civil society.¹ For Marxists, Hegel’s political philosophy falls short not because he fails to recognize some of the contradictions of emerging capitalism but because he has no theory of class and exploitation and because, in their view, he naively tries to protect society from the worst effects of capitalism by means of a very strong state – a state, Marxists argue, that would disappear with the inauguration of socialism. Stephen Houlgate is a good representative of the moderate, roughly social democratic Hegel...

    • 9 Economy and Governance
      (pp. 186-210)

      The vitality of contradiction in civil society comes down to this: Particular institutions, economic and otherwise, are simultaneously a threat to freedom and its necessary condition. It is only too easy to say that “the concrete universal of the state must be cultivated in and through particularity in civil society,” but the forces at work in civil society are formidable. Indeed, the key to finding the requisite balance lies in recognizing on a deeper level what the vitality of contradiction in civil society and the state really means.

      The logic of civil society institutionalizes the mutual recognition of singular selves...

  8. PART THREE Liberal-Capitalism and the Cultivation of Freedom
    • 10 The Dialectics of Liberal-Capitalism
      (pp. 213-249)

      It should now be reasonably clear why the communitarian tradition, which includes philosophers like Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel, Michael Walzer, and many others, draws deeply on Hegel’s philosophical legacy. The atomistic individual, for both Hegel and the communitarian tradition, is not the first premise of political philosophy but the result of historical development. Ontogenetically, she is the result of a family and educational system whose goal is to cultivate the self-confidence, skills, and self-concept of autonomous life in civil society. Yet the very mode in which the family and the educational system cultivate the individual is itself the product of...

    • 11 Liberal-Capitalism and Socialist Civil Democracy
      (pp. 250-282)

      Hegel, in hisPhilosophy of Right, provided a detailed prescription for what he considered to be a free and just society, appropriate to early nineteenth-century Germany. He did this not only because he wanted to influence politicians who would conceivably write a new constitution for Prussia (politicians who were, in fact, defeated before they could do so), but also for the philosophical reason that the generalities of philosophy must be shown to be capable of determinate specification. That is, they must be shown to be rational by virtue of the power to be made actual. Hegel thus leaves few stones...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 283-284)

      As we have now seen in some detail, Hegel holds that “Contradiction in motion, instinctive urge, and the like, is masked for ordinary thinking.”¹ Ordinary thinking is beguiled by what simply is, or better yet, is too anxious in face of difference to withstand contradiction. It lunges for the simple consolations of mere “identity,” only to discover that this “is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being.”

      On the other hand, “Instinctive urge in general … is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the negative of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 285-328)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 329-346)
  11. Index
    (pp. 347-350)