The legacy of post-Kantian German thought

P22_Rosen_web_1102043hMichael Rosen at the Times Literary Supplement:

Liberal political philosophy post-Rawls is directed towards justification. It takes many different approaches, all designed to identify the circumstances under which the exercise of coercive authority by the state is legitimate – that states should conform to principles that would be agreed to by rational individuals behind a “veil of ignorance”, that they follow principles that no one could “reasonably reject”, that they could have arisen spontaneously without the violation of fundamental rights, and so on.

Communitarians and other modern admirers of idealism object that such justifications presuppose an instrumental conception of political life, measuring it by its contribution to the pursuit of individual self-interest. They argue that unless we appreciate that human beings are fully social and that the state is in some strong sense a political community, we perpetuate the alienation that the idealists diagnosed so trenchantly. From which it follows that law and authority must be understood as embedded within a concrete ethical life – Sittlichkeit, to use Hegel’s own, untranslatable, German word. Yet how are such political communities to be assessed?

“Thought”, for Hegel, is a technical term used to refer to the content of his own philosophy. So when he writes that something can be “justified in thought”, that means that it is justifiable from the standpoint of that philosophy. But it hardly needs saying that the speculative philosophy found in Hegel’s Science of Logic will not be the sort of justification available to the average passenger on the Stuttgart omnibus.

more here.

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