In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hegel's Political Thought

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Hegel’s Development
  • Method

Political Science Hegel's Political Thought
Jeffrey Church
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0163


The great German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (b. 1770–d. 1831) is one of the most important and influential political thinkers of the modern age, alongside Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Karl Marx. His political thought decisively influenced Marx’s views and 19th-century socialism, inspired the British idealists and the development of the welfare state, and informed Frankfurt School critical theory, especially Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas, and Axel Honneth. Hegel was once considered a “closed society” statist, Prussian apologist, or even a protototalitarian, but modern scholarship has refuted these views. His signal contribution to political theory is now recognized to be his grand synthesis of three main traditions in modern political thought: the liberalism of Locke and Adam Smith, with its commitment to individual rights, the rule of law, and commercial society; the republicanism of Rousseau, with its emphasis on civic duty, the general will, and political freedom; and the historical contextualism of Montesquieu and Edmund Burke, with its recognition of the social and historical character of human nature and thought. Hegel’s unique combination of individual and community has more recently influenced the liberal-communitarian debate in contemporary political theory, especially in the work of Charles Taylor and John Rawls.

General Overviews

Since the 1960s and 1970s, scholarly interest in Hegel’s political theory has steadily grown, especially after seminal works by Charles Taylor. Taylor 1979, an abridged version of his much-longer treatment of Hegel’s philosophy as a whole, reads Hegel’s political thought as combining Kantian rational freedom with romantic self-expression. Wood 1990, by contrast, interprets Hegel’s thought as centering on the value of “self-actualization.” Finally, Franco 1999 offers a synoptic account of Hegel’s political theory from his early writings through the late. These three works—by Taylor, Allen Wood, and Paul Franco—provide the best overview of Hegel’s political thought as a whole, whereas Knowles 2002 is an excellent treatment of Hegel’s most famous political text, the Philosophy of Right.

  • Franco, Paul. Hegel’s Philosophy of Freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

    Excellent overview of Hegel’s political philosophy and his concept of freedom. Contains useful chapters on the main influences on Hegel, Hegel’s development, the Phenomenology of Spirit, and the Philosophy of Right.

  • Knowles, Dudley. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hegel and the Philosophy of Right. Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks. New York: Routledge, 2002.

    An engaging and lively written explication of Hegel’s most famous political text, the Philosophy of Right. Its clear section-by-section commentaries can be a helpful guide through the text.

  • Taylor, Charles. Hegel and Modern Society. Modern European Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139171489

    An abridgement of Taylor’s comprehensive reading of Hegel that focuses on his political contributions. This seminal interpretation also became influential in the liberal-communitarian debate in contemporary political theory.

  • Wood, Allen W. Hegel’s Ethical Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139172257

    A clear, thorough, and seminal overview of Hegel’s ethical and political views. Since the book’s focus is on Hegel’s ethics, it contains illuminating chapters on Hegel’s views of self-actualization, happiness, conscience, and his critique of Kantian morality.

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