Hegel and Capitalism

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Hegel and Capitalism (ed) Andrew Buchwalter
State University of New York Press, Albany, 2015. 256pp

Reviewed by Christopher Araujo in Marx & Philosophy Review of Books 

Negri once paid ‘homage’ to Hegel by calling upon Marxists to ‘liberate our praxis’ from an ‘ideology that desires the exploitation of man,’ yet speaks of the ‘hope of liberation’ (2011, 44). But even if his treatment of civil society does not cut as deeply as Marx’s critique of capitalism, conferring upon Hegel the title of official ‘philosopher of the bourgeois and capitalist organization of labor’ is a caricature (ibid., 37). Before we bury the ‘dead dog’ Marx himself tried to resuscitate, Marxists should pause to consult the more measured criticisms and nuanced appraisals of Hegel’s economics in the Buchwalter-edited Hegel and Capitalism. Within the confines of this review, I cannot do justice to the diversity of views expressed there, but I hope to highlight themes relevant to Marxist readers not yet ready to cast Hegel onto the dustbin of history.

Hegel’s relationship to capitalism is contested throughout the text. The opinions range from Michael J. Thompson ─ who argues that capitalism represents a ‘deficient modernity’ and individuals have no ‘obligation’ to reaffirm its irrationality (128-9) ─ to Richard Dien Winfield ─ who criticizes those that read Hegel as having problematized the ‘ethical standing of economic relations’ and drawn ‘modernity under suspicion’ (133, 143). However, most of the authors are in agreement that, while Hegel afforded a certain justification to the market as a sphere in which subjectivity is first raised into universality, he rejected the pure particularity of unbridled capitalism. His political philosophy envisions some sort of ‘determinate negation of capitalism’ ─ although, as Nathan Ross notes, this turns upon comprehending the precise meaning of the claim that the ‘state is the sublation of civil society’ (165). Nicholas Mowad goes so far as to suggest that if ‘Hegel felt capitalism to be severely flawed, yet still legitimate’ in a modified form, then he must not have been ‘fully aware of the critique of capitalism contained in his work’ (71). Perhaps, as Michalis Skomvoulis questions, Lukács was right: ‘frightened’ by his critique, Hegel ‘retreated’ (23).

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