Many Hegel scholars have sung the praises of Hegel’s treatise on civil society.1 It is indeed a highly original part of his work, through which he simultaneously assimilated and strongly renovated the tradition of social philosophy. “Bürgerliche Gesellschaft” (civil society), the German translation of the scholastic societas civilis, which refers back to Aristotle’s koinonia politike,2 is the name for that dimension of the ethical world that is intermediary between the most intimate and emotional union of the family and the fully rational community of the state. Like the family, civil society is itself an element of the state, and thus must be called abstract in relation to the concrete totality of an organized nation, but if compared with abstract right and morality, it is the concrete functioning of a social network based on individual and familial needs, rights, and moral demands. Personality, property, contractual relations, wrongdoing, individual actions, moral claims, intersubjective assistance, and association together compose a constellation that Hegel sometimes calls a “totality” or even a “state.” However, since its structure is relational and contractual rather than communitarian (and in that sense total or concretely universal), civil society is only a “relative” (not unitive or conclusive) “totality” (§ 184) and a “state of the intellect” (Verstandesstaat, § 183).
KeywordsCivil Society Political Community Invisible Hand Contractual Relation Economic Mechanism
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