What is Hegel's legal philosophy about?

Summary of Basic lines of the philosophy of law

Liberalism and Restoration at the beginning of the 19th century

All over Europe at the end of the 18th century there was a discussion about the ideal state that should guarantee human rights and equality for all before the law as well as freedom of the press, property and freedom of expression. Was in Germany Immanuel Kant a pioneer of liberalism. But he always emphasized the limits of civil liberty, rejected popular rule and advocated an enlightened monarchy. While the French Revolution in 1789 enforced popular sovereignty and property and freedom rights to an unprecedented degree, the German Enlightenmentists preferred a rational self-reform of absolutism. The rulers were to be bound by natural law, committed to the purpose of the state, and guaranteed civil liberties. Many intellectuals regarded Prussia as a model country, which around 1818 - when Hegel came to Berlin - was the most enlightened state in Germany. As early as 1740, Prussia had forbidden torture and in 1749 the expropriation of peasants by landlords, it granted its citizens religious freedom and promoted trade and economy. As Prussian ministers sat Karl vom and zum Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg from 1807 through numerous reforms to forestall a dreaded revolution.

To Napoleon Bonapartes Fall urged the European powers at the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15 to restore the old, pre-revolutionary order. Under Friedrich Wilhelm III. Prussian reform enthusiasm was slowed down significantly, press censorship was reintroduced and the surveillance of universities advanced. The student protests, which reached a climax at the Wartburg Festival in Eisenach in 1817, were directed against these restorative tendencies. In some strongly emotionally tinged, romantically exaggerated speeches, participants called for the realization of German unity and the abolition of all feudal privileges. Members of the Jena fraternity demanded, among other things, freedom of property, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press and equality of all before the law - liberal basic positions of the French Revolution. The protests culminated in the burning of books considered reactionary and anti-German, including the poet's work August von Kotzebue. His murder by the theology student Karl Ludwig Sand led in 1819 to the Karlovy Vary resolutions and strict surveillance of the universities.


Hegel began his work on the Basic lines of the philosophy of law probably in the spring of 1819. In his preface, in which he complained that contemporaries no longer argued on the basis of concepts, but only out of feelings and passion, he referred directly to the radical wing of the student movement. One of their spokesmen, the Jena professor and Kantian Jakob Friedrich Fries, who appeared as a speaker at the Wartburg Festival and was the teacher of the assassin Sand, he even called the "army commander of this shallowness". Hegel countered the emotional “chatter” with his systematically elaborated political theory based on concepts and reason, which was also intended to serve as a guide for his lectures and seminars.

Even as a professor in Heidelberg, Hegel had given public lectures on political philosophy, in which he gave his in the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817) tried to illustrate the ideas outlined. A year after the publication of this work, he left Johann Gottlieb Fichtes Successor to the newly founded Berlin University, where he continued his popular lectures. They were visited not only by students and colleagues, but also by state officials. In Berlin, after the family and professional turmoil of the previous years, Hegel found time and peace for the first time to combine the various lecture manuscripts on legal and state philosophy into an independent book. It was published in Berlin in 1821.

Impact history

Hegel Basic lines of the philosophy of law triggered an ambivalent effect. Arthur Schopenhauer roughly judged outright that Hegel's philosophy of law consisted largely of nonsense. Still, the work on Left Hegelianism influenced the boy's political theory Karl Marx as well as the apologists of the existing order and of a strong, authoritarian state via right-wing Hegelianism. The 20th century did Karl Popper emerged as a Hegel critic and even wanted to see his legal theory as a cause for the emergence of National Socialism. In the 1980s, Anglo-American philosophers and advocates of communitarianism, especially Canadians, appealed Charles Taylor, based on Hegel's concept of the state as a grown community.