The Third Concept of Liberty

John  P. Clark

Forthcoming in Journal of Environmental Thought and Education

and in Synthetic Anthropology

The Senses of Freedom

Isaiah Berlin, in his famous essay “Two Concepts of Liberty,1 popularized the idea that there are two main conceptions of freedom in modern political thought. These he called the “negative” and “positive” concepts. Ever since, debate has raged about whether he identified the two concepts correctly and whether they are, in fact, the two most significant ones. There seems to be little doubt that he described the concept of negative freedom accurately. However problematical this concept may be, it has the merit of being a rather clear and distinct idea. It is has been the dominant conception of freedom in the Western liberal tradition, associated with theorists such as Locke, Mill, Spencer, and more recently, Hayek, Friedman, and Nozick. It is what has generally been meant by “freedom” in the classical liberal tradition over the past several centuries, and in what Anglo-Americans call “libertarian” thought today (that is, right-wing libertarianism).

According to Berlin, the negative concept of freedom poses the question, “What is the area within which the subject a person or group of persons is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?”2 Thus, negative freedom means freedom from coercion and the threat of coercion. From its standpoint, “if I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do, I am to that degree unfree; and if this area is contracted by other men beyond a certain minimum, I can be described as being coerced, or, it may be, enslaved.”3 Negative freedom focuses on ones ability to “do what one wants to do” without being prevented from doing so by force and coercion or by the threat of force and coercion.  Whether one is unable to do so for other reasons, or whether it is advisable for one to do so, are not relevant to this issue.

Berlin holds that the positive concept of freedom focuses on the question “What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?”4 He says that it “derives from the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master. I wish my life and decisions to depend on myself, not on external forces of whatever kind. I wish to be the instrument of my own, not of other men's, acts of will. I wish to be a subject, not an object; to be moved by reasons, by conscious purposes, which are my own, not by causes which affect me, as it were, from outside.”5 The emphasis is thus not on non-coercion, but rather on self-determination, often interpreted as the ability to carry out ones true will or to act in a truly rational manner.

It has often been pointed out that both conceptions of freedom, as formulated by Berlin, are in a sense both negative and positive.  In each case, there are certain obstacles to freedom that might stand in the way to its attainment, and there are some desired or desirable actions (following ones own desires or choices) or states of being (becoming a rational agent, becoming autonomous) that are goals of free activity.

What Berlin failed to emphasize adequately were the larger positive dimensions of traditional positive conceptions that distinguish them sharply from the negative concepts. He focuses heavily on one aspect, “the positive doctrine of liberation by reason,” stressing the danger that this “doctrine” can lead to coercion imposed by some for the alleged good of others. He claims that various forms of this view “are at the heart of many of the nationalist, communist, authoritarian, and totalitarian creeds of our day.”6  However, it is important to remember that many theories of freedom as self-determination have not gone in such directions, and that there are many theories of freedom as self-realization that are much more far-reaching than one would suspect from Berlins discussion.

In Western political thought the idea of freedom as self-realization falls broadly in the Aristotelian tradition, and has been found not only in explicitly Aristotelian traditions such as Thomism, but also in the neo-Aristotelian dimensions of idealist and Marxist philosophies, among others. This tradition is carried on today most notably in the human capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum.  The realization of human capacities can be formulated according to this theory as the attainment of positive freedom.7 If it is looked upon this way, it encompasses both positive and negative forms of freedom, but is as a whole a positive self-realization conception.

Nussbaums Central Human Functional Capabilities Approach specifies ten areas of capability that are significant. These are the following: 1) life; 2) bodily health; 3) bodily integrity (including freedom of movement, freedom from aggression, and sexual and reproductive freedom); 4) the senses, imagination, and thought (including educational and cultural opportunities, freedom of expression, and religious freedom); 5) the emotions (including freedom of personal development and freedom from fear); 6) practical reason (including freedom to plan ones own life and freedom of conscience; 7) affiliation (including the ability to develop social feelings and relationships, freedom of speech and assembly, dignity, and freedom from  arbitrary discrimination; 8) relationships to other species (development of an engaged relationship to the natural world); 9) play (access to various forms of enjoyment); and 10) control over ones environment (including freedom of political participation, the right to hold property, freedom from arbitrary interference, and the right to rewarding and dignified work.8

If an approach such as Nussbaums is looked upon as a theory of positive freedom, it is one that is not easily subject to the extreme abuses against which Berlin warned. Its larger focus is on freedom in the positive sense of attaining certain state of being that are identified with the human good, but it includes a strong dimension of negative freedom,. Nevertheless, it is plausible that arguments could be made on the basis of such a conception for a level of social coercion that is far beyond what would be acceptable to classical liberals and to many anti-authoritarians and libertarians both right and left. It touches on the issue of self-determination (in point 4), but does not make this a central area of concern or critical analysis.9

The third concept of freedom that will be discussed here is a dialectical one. It looks back to Hegel for inspiration, but seeks to overcome the ideological limitations of that philosophers position. It is based on concepts of communal individuality, social self-realization, self-determination, strong agency and recognition. It is an attempt to synthesize and reconcile the dimensions of freedom that are central to the negative conception of freedom as non-coercion, the positive conception of freedom as self-determination, and the positive conception of freedom as self-realization. While only a sketch of a dialectical conception of freedom will be presented here, a fully-developed dialectical theory of freedom requires a detailed exploration of the ways in which these three dimensions are mutually reinforcing, the ways in which they are in tension with one another, and the ways in which they might come into partial or radical contradiction with one another.

The underlying thesis of this discussion is that this project of synthesizing these three dimensions can be seen to be a viable one, based not any mere abstract thought-experiment but rather on critical reflection on real historical experience and existing social possibilities.

Abstract Freedom

Hegel attacks what he sees as abstract ideas of freedom. The goal of his analysis of such concepts is to show that they are one-sided and non-dialectical, and that they point in the direction of a more consistent, comprehensive, and fully-developed conception. They fail to recognize the complexity of phenomena, including that of the self and its experience, and fail to understand phenomena within the context of a larger matrix of determination. Hegel explains that an “abstract and formal freedom of subjectivity” finds its content, or more accurately, fails to find adequate content “only in its natural, subjective embodiment, i.e. in needs, inclinations, passions, opinions, fancies, &c.”10

According to this analysis, Berlins negative freedom would be the paradigm case of abstract freedom, in seeing “liberty” as the absence of forces that hinder, through force or the threat of force, the expressions of ones will and desires. Hegel does not deny that the existence of a significant sphere of uncoerced choice is an important dimension of freedom, or that it is, indeed, a necessary condition for developed freedom. However, he contends that, in itself, it does not constitute meaningful freedom, and is compatible with merely instinctual, manipulated, or mechanistic action. 

The negative concept of freedom does capture a certain moment of the relationship to the other, that is, the other as resistant force and obstacle that must be overcome.  However, it becomes fixated at that stage and fails to see the possibility of passing over beyond that moment.  Hegel explains that “in all impulses I begin from an other, from something which is for me external,” but “freedom is only there where there is no other for me which I myself am not,” therefore “the natural man, who is determined only by his desires,” and thus trapped at the level of mere negative freedom, “is not at home with himself: however self-willed he is, the content of his willing and opining is yet not his own, and his freedom is only formal.11 The key issue is what it would mean to have substantive rather than merely formal freedom.  Hegel explains that minimally this would mean that: 1) what is willed is in a meaningful sense ones own; and 2) what is willed much have developed or realized content. Negative freedom satisfies neither of these requirements.

It should be noted that although Hegels critique of abstract freedom would seem to be aimed primarily at theories of negative freedom, this is not entirely true. He also raises questions about positive conceptions of freedom that focus exclusively on freedom as the satisfaction of needs or as the teleological unfolding of potentiality.  Such theories usually entail an inadequately critical theory of need, overlook ways in which the concrete development of freedom requires much more than the fulfillment of needs, and fail to grasp the aspects of human agency and social self-determination that go beyond the limits of the actualization of inherent potentialities. Such theories typically overlook aspects of mutual determination, the dynamic historical nature of phenomena, and the determination of phenomena within larger contexts. A positive concept of freedom is also an abstract concept if it fails to be adequately critical and dialectical in any of these ways.

Freedom as Self-Determination

Hegels concept of freedom is in many ways a classic example of what Berlin depicts as freedom as self-determination. In addition, his position is a development of Kants view that we must be “self-legislators.” However, Hegel moves this requirement from the level of abstract moralism to that of social reality. What remains is the idea that for us to be full moral agents or ethical beings, our activity cannot be something imposed upon us by an arbitrary, alien authority or by brute force, but rather must be something that is the product of our own deliberation, affirmation, and autonomous choice. 

Hegel contends that for authentic, developed freedom to exist, the will must be “related to nothing except itself and so is released from every tie of dependence on anything else.” If this is achieved it will then be “true, or rather truth itself, because its self-determination consists in a correspondence between what it is in its existence ( i.e. what it is as objective to itself), and its concept; or in other words, that the pure concept of the will has the intuition of itself for its goal and its reality.”12  In Hegels terminology, the correspondence between the wills existence and its concept means that it has gone through a process of development and unfolding and has attained complete realization.

In an undeveloped form, the will is under the control of mere impulse, whim, or desire. The world (including objects, persons, and even society in general) is looked upon as an obstacle to the self-assertion of the will.  The achievement of freedom requires a condition in which the other is no longer experienced as an alien force resisting the will. There is, rather, a reconciliation between self and other.  “Freedom and reason consist in my raising myself to the form of I = I, in my knowing everything as mine, as I, in my grasping each object as a term in the system of what I myself am, in short in my having my ego and the world in one and the same consciousness, finding myself again in the world and, conversely, having in my consciousness what is, what has objectivity.”13

A passage such as this one can easily give the impression that Hegels position is a form of abstract idealism, in which the needed reconciliation is achieved merely through a change in thought-processes.  But this is exactly what Hegel rejects. Instead, he shows “how finding myself again in the world” is based not merely on thinking but on changes in the world, in social institutions and practices. One finds oneself in the world because through ones action one has left the trace of ones activity in the world. One has consciousness of objectivity not merely because one has imagined objectivity, but because one has engaged in practical activity, thus engaging objectivity.  When Hegel lapses into idealism, it is not on the superficial level of recommending the overcoming of contradictions through positive thinking or a retreat into a world of abstract ideals; it is rather on a deeper ideological level.

Hegels conception of freedom is based on a theory of strong agency, in which a community can only be said to be free if its members actually participate in processes of self-determination. The existence of strong agency implies that the community has passed, in Marxs terminology, from pre-history into the period of real history. No longer do conditions from which human beings are alienated constitute the major social determinants, in other words, that things make them what they are. Instead, the members of the community have developed a critical awareness of the processes of social determination (and the necessary limitations of those processes), and they take these processes into their own hands.  They use things to make themselves what they are (though as cultural-situated, communal beings they do not create themselves ex nihilo). Moreover, they do it as a community, and do not allow this determination to fall into the hands of any particularistic interest.  Strong agency implies not only that the community is the collective agent of social determination, but that in a meaningful sense the individual members of the community exercise such agency.

A carefully-argued and convincing (I would say conclusive) case for the existence of a theory of strong agency in Hegels social philosophy is presented by Robert Pippin in his book Hegels Practical Philosophy.14  Pippin discusses a number of conditions that must be fulfilled for authentic agency and social freedom to exist according to Hegels account.

First, in true agency the activity of the agent must be understood and endorsed by that agent.  In Pippins words, “it must make a certain kind of sense to the agent, and that means it must fit in intelligibly within a whole complex of practices and institutions within which doing this now could have a coherent meaning.” The implication is that the members of the community must have a common understanding of the action within the context of the communitys life, and must will the action in a collectively meaningful sense.15

Secondly, the actions must be non-coerced and flow from the agents own deliberative processes.  One will have “reflectively endorsed the action as, all things considered, what I ought to be doing,” so that it is done “voluntarily” and is non-coerced.”16 Here, the truth of the claims of negative freedom is recognized.  One cannot in a strong sense be said to be a “free agent” if ones actions, as admirable as they might be when considered in some abstract manner, are in a very concrete manner the result of force or the threat of force.

Third, the action must not only be understood and endorsed in a narrowly rational sense, but it must also be felt and experienced as a form of free self-expression. As Pippin puts it, there is “an actual and experienced identification with ones deeds and practices and social roles,” so that they are experienced as ones own actions.17 Elsewhere, he explains that what one determines to occur “shouldnt seem or be alien, as if belonging to or produced by someone or something else or as if fated or coerced or practically unavoidable, and so forth.”18

Fourth, as the reference to reflective endorsement implies, the actions must not only be “endorsed” but must be a product of ones own reason in the relevant sense.  A true agent would act out of consideration of “moral, ethical, and political normative constraints” that “are not experienced as external,” but are rather “internal.” This means that they are a product not of any hypothetical or collective reason, but of “the subjects own reason.”19 The nature of moral and political reason is, of course, a crucial question, and there is no reason to think that Hegel understood all its dimensions. However, the important point is his contention that if social freedom is to exist, the social agents must be capable of reasoned deliberation concerning the moral and political good, and of endorsing actions based on a conception of that good.

This last criterion has important implications for ethics.  It means that social norms are not preexisting realities to be discovered, or particular modes of  instantiation of preexisting realities, as in some forms of Platonism, natural law theory, or Kantian deontology. Rather, social norms (and obviously, for Hegel, this has nothing to do with merely descriptive norms but refers only to morally prescriptive ones) are creative products of processes of participatory social determination. “It is by being instituted and held to that [norms] function as norms at all, are actual. Their normative authority is not an expression of nature, but they function as independent forms of self-regulation.”20 In a sense, this is the Hegelian version of the Lacanian dictum that “the Big Other does not exist.” There is no purely transcendent source of moral authority that can be separated from human creative activity, imagination, and volition.

Agency and Critical Reason

The implications of Hegels requirement of rational reflection are much more radical than Hegel himself thought, or  than Pippin implies in  his sympathetic presentation of the Hegelian position.  Pippin notes the important point that “what can look like a purely rational reflection on the limitations of some normative institution is in reality the pull of another unavoidable, already-in-place institutional commitment.”21 He gives as examples of such contending commitments the appeal to contractual obligation, conscience, professional standards, status in the family, and national loyalty.  If the goal is strong agency, all of these standards for decision-making must be subject to fundamental critique. It is true that, as Pippin notes of the paradigmatic example of Antigone and Creon, “each is trying to argue for what, respectively, any sister or any ruler must do.”22 However, the very ultimacy of the conflict between duties in this case, its disruptive and traumatic nature, opens the way to a reconsideration of the grounds for any delivered views of what family members and rulers must do.

Pippin points out that while the Hegelian position emphasizes duties that result from the “station” that one occupies in society, based on “the sort of critical reflection available at the time,” it is quite plausible to claim that in many cases the “station” itself  “does not in itself conform to the demands of reason.”23 However, the “critical reflection available” should not be identified with a de facto prevailing level of critical reflection, much as arguments in obscenity cases have appealed to lhomme moyen sensuel.  No one can literally step outside of his or her age, but one can make use to a greater or lesser degree the historical, scientific, and philosophical resources that are available to ones age. One can, in effect, often overrule “the ruling ideas of ones age.”

One of the obvious strengths of Hegels position is his critique of abstract, ungrounded views of society and social change, and his withering attack on proposals for reconstructing society (or realizing “freedom”) based on moralität, and appealing to abstract moral idealism, when what is needed is an ethical analysis that is grounded in sittlichkeit, and exhibits a deep understanding of historical realities and complex social conditions and possibilities. Pippin notes accordingly that in moral reasoning “requesting, providing, accepting, or rejecting practical reasons, in other words, are all better viewed as elements in a rule-governed social practice.”24 It should be added, however, that they are also part of a much larger social (and natural) world that encompasses the practice and contains many other elements that may ultimately challenge or even demolish it. 

Pippin states that “the practical issue of adequacy must be answerable only within such a practice, all given the way a practice or institution has come to embody the crises, breakdowns, and changes that have made it what it is.”25 But this addresses only one dialectical dimension, the way in which a phenomenon is a product of its own history, and contains within itself that history, with all the possibilities and contradictions contained in that history.  However, other relevant dialectical dimensions concern the way in which a phenomenon is determined by what it is not, and the way in which it is determined by its place in larger wholes of which it is a part. “Given” all this, what is “within such a practice” is identical with that which is outside the practice, and that which exceeds the bounds of the practice.  A line between the various spheres can only be drawn dogmatically and ideologically.

Pippin vacillates between unusually acute insights into the radical implications of Hegels position and certain innocuous illustrative commonplaces that work to limit that radicality. Thus, he observes that “the trust and solidarity without which cooperative action is impossible, and which cannot be justified on egoistic premises, or on the basis of self-interest rightly understood is, if it exists and if Hegel is right, best understood as the product of a collective historical experience of its absence and only partial presence.”26 This points directly to the overwhelming majority of human history that was lived in communities of solidarity based on kinship (a history only recently ended for much of the world), and to the long subsequent history of the commons, caring labor, and cooperative endeavor during an age in which such solidarity has been only “partly present.” But his valid observation on historical experience leads Pippin to comment: “So, for us, now, because families should try to foster independence in their children might count as a perfectly fine and conclusive reason in such a practice, with no more needing to be said, for the agent.”27 It may be true, as Pippin contends, that the agent does not have to appeal to a comprehensive philosophy of history to justify practices; however, it is necessary that that agent should posses the degree of consciousness of social processes that is necessary for agency. Not only does the conclusion (“So . . .”) mentioned by Pippin not follow from the premise, what is more, it is a recipe for disaster in a world in which “independence” is (“for us, now”) an ideologically charged concept that means anything but true “independence.” Indeed, the adoption of such a concept requires the systematic forgetting (by the “agent”) of precisely that “collective historical experience” that might point to a path of reconciliation between the freedom and independence of the person and a mutual solidarity with and dependence on the community.

Recognition and Non-Domination

For Hegel, true freedom can only exist in a community of mutual recognition. An essential moment of freedom is the recognition by each person of the personhood of each other person, that is, that they are not mere objective beings in themselves but that they are subjective beings capable of being being-for-themselves, that is self-conscious, self-creating, self-determining beings. As Hegel states in the Encyclopedia, It is necessary that the two selves standing over and against one another in their determinate being for others, posit and recognize what they implicitly are, or are according to their concept, namely they are not merely natural [things] but are rather free.”28

Hegel describes this mutual recognition as a form of reciprocity. He says that “universal self-consciousness is affirmative self-knowledge in another self” in which “each self as a free individual retains its absolute independence,”29 providing that it fulfills the criteria for agency.  At the same time, “by negating its immediacy or desire [Begierde], it no longer distinguishes itself from the other.”30 In other words, it overcomes bondage to the uncritical, heteronymous willing that forms the basis for abstract negative freedom. Consequently, “each has real universality in the shape of reciprocity. Each knows itself to be recognized in the other free person, and knows this insofar as it recognizes the other and knows him to be free.”31

A prerequisite for knowing that the other is free, and recognizing the other as free, is, of course, the fact that the other is, in fact, free. This theme in Hegels works is best known through the Master-Slave Dialectic, though it is a persistent undercurrent in his thought. He states in the Encyclopedia version of the Master-Slave Dialectic that “it is only with the release and liberation [Freiwerden] of the slave that the master also becomes fully free. In this condition of universal freedom, in being reflected into myself, I am immediately reflected in the other person, and conversely, in relating myself to the other I am immediately related to myself.”32 It is only within the context of a certain kind of equality that true recognition can possibly exist. Recognition cannot exist between a person who has the status of personhood and another person who is assigned the status of a thing, or that of a mere means. The implications of this principle are far-reaching.

Hegels position is far from the idealist one in which freedom could result from a pure mental act recognition, or from collective acts of mutual recognition, so that the act of recognition would in itself confer freedom. This would be an deeply ideological position, which would posit that by some miracle of recognition the slave could be free even while enslaved, the exploited worker could be accorded dignity even while being forced into dehumanizing labor, ones neighbor could achieve equality even while being subjected to racist oppression, and women could gain their rights, even while suffering under the yoke of patriarchal domination. Contrary to all such illusions, freedom requires, as Hegel says, the “release and liberation” of the oppressed and enslaved. Recognition is not a sufficient condition for liberation, whereas liberation is a necessary precondition for recognition.

Williams notes that one of the most important elements of freedom for Hegel is what he called Freigabe.33 This concept means, negatively, “the renunciation of attempts to dominate and control the other,” and more positively, allowing the other to be, being open to the other, and affirming the other as she determines herself to be,” and thus implies an obligation “to accept and respect the other as an end in herself such that controlling, dominating, and manipulating behaviors are inappropriate.”34 Hegelian freedom can thus be significantly realized only in a community in which all systematic forms of domination are eliminated. It is only thus that it can be called a free community, that is, a community of self-realizing beings who are agents in their own development.

A corollary to this principle of non-domination is that mutual recognition requires the abolition of a social order based on coercive force. Williams, in his carefully argued analysis of Hegels theory of recognition, draws this logical conclusion. He explains that “coercion is a negation that must itself be negated; coerced recognition ends in failure. Genuine reciprocal recognition requires that the other be allowed to be, and this implies that coercion, force, and violence must be renounced as the basis of human relationships.”35 In the end, Hegels politics of recognition requires him to posit a state that will negate its own nature as the supreme coercive institution in society.

Reconciling Universality and Particularity

An issue that is of crucial importance to Hegels view of freedom in history and to his entire social philosophy is the question of how the universal is to be reconciled with the particular. One of his criticisms of abstract conceptions of freedom is that they are based on a contradiction between the individual on the one hand and society, and indeed reality as a whole, on the other. As long as this contradiction is not overcome, the “finding oneself in the other” that Hegel sees as basic to self-determination cannot be achieved.  The theme of the next part of this discussion is the ideological nature of Hegels defense of the state as the universal mediator, and the ways in which the failure of his defense of the state points toward another solution to the problem that he faced.

For Hegel, the state is the historical institution that performs the function of mediating between the particular and the universal.  The state, he says, “is the actuality of concrete freedom” in which “personal individuality and its particular interests . . . pass over of their own accord into the interest of the universal,” so that “they know and will the universal,” they “recognize it as their own substantive mind,” and they “take it as their end and aim and are active in its pursuit.”36 Thus, through the state, the individual and general interest are identified, and the individual consciously wills the universal. For Hegel, it is not only that some future state whose existence is one with its concept that the universal and particular will be thus reconciled. Rather, he asserts that “the principle of modern states has prodigious strength and depth because it allows the principle of subjectivity to progress to its culmination in the extreme of self-subsistent personal particularity, and yet at the same time brings it back to substantive unity, and so maintains this unity in the principle of subjectivity itself.”37 Hegel sees this reconciliation as the tendency inherent in existing modern states.

Hegel is obligated to make such an exaggerated claim, for otherwise it would be impossible for him to defend the legitimacy of the state. The legitimate state would be nothing more than an abstract, ungrounded ideal of the sort that he so often subjects to devastating critique. But how can one look at the history of the modern nation state, either up to Hegels own time, or during the period since, and conclude that what was taking place was such reconciliation, rather than the precise opposite?  Only seventeen years after Hegels death Marx could write that “all that is solidity melts into air,” and it is clear that what he was describing was not only the corrosive effects of the economic rationality and commodification of the market economy but also those of the techno-bureaucratic and administrative rationality of the modern state.

According to Hegel, “in dealing with ethical life,” we either” start from the substantiality of the ethical order, or else we proceed atomistically and build on the basis of single individuals.”38 Hegels contention is valid, but it undermines his own position if applied consistently and non-ideologically. According to his argument, one must start from real substantiality, not a hypothetical substantiality of some idealized entity. And Hegels state is such an idealized entity. Ethical substantiality (in Hegels time and ever since) has been embodied not primarily in nation-states but rather in the histories, values, and practices of evolving communities and cultures. This substantiality developed through most of its history entirely outside the bounds of the state, and since then has existed in contradiction to the state, which has acted as an alien, atomizing force in society, reshaping communal beings into single individuals organized externally through the proliferation of complex legal systems, vast bureaucracies, and powerful punitive and coercive mechanisms of the state apparatus.

The State and the Problem of Agency

Hegel is unwilling to accept the radical implications of his theory of agency. Thus, he states that “the right of giving recognition to what my insight sees as rational is the highest right of the subject,” but he immediately adds that “owing to its subjective character it remains a formal right; against it the right which reason qua the objective possesses over the subject remains firmly established.”39 This formulation has questionable implications. It can imply a hierarchy of the objective over the subjective that reduces a necessary condition of agency to a formal condition that can be negated. Hegel recognizes elsewhere, however, that such a formal condition is capable of being developed and given content so that its most salient element, action in accord with ones own “insight,” can be preserved.  A fully dialectical approach would reject the hierarchizing of the objective over the subjective and explores the possibilities for achieving an actualization of the subjective in a realm of objectivity, through a community and ethical order in which there is a dynamic tension between individual insight and social institution, in which the dialectic between communal solidarity and various elements of freedom is at the heart of the social order.

In the end, Hegel leaves us with a theory of strong agency but with no hint of where we might find a strong agent. Redding points out that Hegel attacks republican politics for producing “a general will without a willing subject,” thus failing to express “the experience of subjects at all.”40 But the same issue arises concerning Hegels own conception of the statist politics, which shows him to be in some ways a good neo-Rousseauian. Hegels proposed political order lacks the institutions and practices that would permit agency and expression of will in the strong sense that his theory requires.  As Pelczynski comments, “after the breath-taking conceptualization of the modern state in §260 [of the Philosophy of Right], Hegel's description of its political organization comes rather as an anti-climax.”41 The section in question, which was cited above, expresses Hegels extravagent claims for the overcoming of the opposition between universal and particular through the state. However, his description of the structure of the state is difficult to imagine as a form of individual and collective self-determination.

Consider the constituents of Hegels proposed political order. He explains that this order will consist of:  first, a constitutional monarch who will symbolize the unity of the society; second, an executive consisting of a “universal class” of civil servants;  third, a legislature, consisting of Estates based on the de facto class structure (and in which the aristocrats representing the agricultural class gain positions by birth, the business representatives are elected not by the public but by their professional associations, and civil servants are sent as advisors on behalf of universality); and finally, the force of “public opinion.”  It is obvious that such a system fails to take into account the most distinctive aspects of personal experience, interpersonal relationships, and social particularity, which relate not primarily to that vast abstraction called the state (whether in its various historic forms or in Hegels idealized version), but rather to the true loci of cultural specificity: the locale, the place, the basic community.  These simply have no place in Hegels system of determination.

Hegel contends (in Kolbs formulation) “that to be free we need customs, ways of life that are not our own arbitrary construction or imposed on us immediately but conform to the nature of our freedom.”42 This means that we need a more participatory, localized and regionalized ethos.  The great enemies of such an ethos have been, in addition to traditional hierarchical forms of domination (patriarchy, authoritarian religion, racism) the reductionist, atomizing, deracinating forces of capitalism and the state. The issue of sensitive, responsive, caring living in community is crucial. But as a result of his statism, the mature Hegel has little to say about the art of living in community.

A Non-Coercive State?

Hegel is unusual among classical political theorists in his recognition of what political anthropology has told us about the state: that it arose out of force, coercion and conquest. He says that “the struggle for recognition and subjection to a master constitute the phenomenal shape out of which the common life of human beings has arisenthe origin of the state.”  He argues, however, that while coercion is “the ground of this phenomenon,” it is not “the ground or basis of right.”  For Hegel, “coercion is a necessary and relatively justified moment in the transition from the condition of self-consciousness sunk in desire and particularity to the condition of the universal self-consciousness [ethical life]. Coercion is the external or phenomenal origin of the state, but not its substantial principle or basis.”43 In effect, the states whole bloody history of conquest, imperialism, war, mass-murder, oppression, and enslavement is justified as part of the states fulfillment of its destiny, which is to move beyond coercion.

It was not Marx but Hegel who first presented an fully-elaborated theory of the withering away of the state as a coercive apparatus. He should be thanked, therefore, not for inventing a new ideology of state power, but for presenting one of the most devastating (though implicit) immanent critiques of state power.  For his message is, in effect, that the state can only realize its true destiny, and justify itself, by doing precisely that which it cannot possibly do, given its nature as the state. It is quite obvious when Hegel lapses into ideology, because at that point he begins to say things that he could never have said if he had read Hegel carefully.  The true concept of the state, its real historical destiny, can only be understood through reflection on the content and context of the real historical state. It can be nothing other than what its actual determinants dictate. Hegel could have told him this.

Williams expresses Hegels predicament vis-à-vis the historical state very clearly in his explication of the implications of the theory of recognition. According to Hegels own analysiscoercion is a negation that must itself be negated; coerced recognition ends in failure. Genuine reciprocal recognition requires that the other be allowed to be, and this implies that coercion, force, and violence must be renounced as the basis of human relationships.”44 Thus, a social order based on recognition requires the abolition of the state.  Hegel was, of course, quite aware of the implications of his own ideas. His solution to his dilemmaeither he must give up the possibility of freedom in history or he must give up the statewas to give up the state. But fortunately, from his ideological point of view, it was only in giving it up that he would truly find it. This meant proposing an impossible development of the historical state in which the realization of its concept would mean the abolition of its character as a coercive mechanism, which is taken as a non-essential moment in the unfolding of its historic destiny. He substitutes for the real negation of coercion the ideological illusion of its negation. For all his rationalism, it is at this point that reason succumbs, and we might say succumbs “absolutely,” to imagination.  For not only does he dream of the “mature state,” the object of his fantasies, it is also when he gazes on the actually-existing state that he sees instead this sublime object of desire.

Nevertheless, Hegel must offer some rational account of how the state will in practice reconcile the universal and particular. Quite appropriately, the ideological answer to this question is that it will do it through ideology. What is it that assures in Hegels state that citizens exercise their all-important agency by willing the universal, thus achieving the reconciliation between the individual and the universal, so that no massive coercive mechanism will be required to enforce social order? As Kolb points out,45 it is such eminently ideological forces as organized religion and institutionalized patriotism.  We might describe it more generally as statist ideology, whether religious or political.  For Hegel, “the guarantee of the constitution . . . lies in the spirit of the whole people, namely in the determinate way . . . in which it has the self-consciousness of its reason. Religion is this consciousness in its absolute substantiality.”46 Furthermore, it will rely on patriotism, which is “trust (which may pass over into a greater or lesser degree of educated insight), or the consciousness that my interest, both substantive and particular, is contained and preserved in anothers (i.e., in the states) interest and end, i.e., in the others relation to me as an individual.”47

Hegel fails to appeal to the third major sphere of statist ideology, its economistic form. He has or very good reasons for neglecting this mode of legitimation, even though it is in reality the one most closely tied to the real historical destiny of the modern state and the actualization of its true concept. The recognition of the states claim to legitimacy based on its service to economic self-interest and its guarantee of a higher standard of living conflicts with Hegels view that the state takes humanity beyond the realm of mere satisfaction of need. Moreover, it is in this mode of legitimation that the ideological mechanism becomes most transparent. Thus, Hegels appeal must be limited to the religious and nationalist forms of statist ideology.

At this point, the requirement of   real agency retreats far into the background. Acts of consciousness are substituted for effective political action, and the real course of history is systematically fantasized away. Kolb points out that Hegel hoped that an ideological force such as nationalism could function as “a check on the unbridled expansion of civil society's self-interested psychology.”48 However, what Hegel failed to recognize is how the state and capitalism could both propagate forms of technical and instrumental rationality that would reinforce one another (even as the various forms contended with one another), and ultimately create the illusion that there is no alternative to such rationality, while at the same time mystifying it through such ideological concepts as loyalty to ones country, and later, the happiness and self-realization of each person. Hegel could hardly imagine what “an expansion of self-interested psychology” might ultimately mean in an age in which a bürgerliche Gesellschaft that had become far less “civil” than “bourgeois” had turned us all into très petit bourgeois, members of the final universal class of the society of mass consumption.

The Kingdom of God Was Within Hegel

There was in Hegels thought from the beginning a tendency that pointed in a direction quite contrary to his later statism. In his early theological manuscripts (Theologische Jugendschriften), Hegel saw in the idea of the “Kingdom of God” a vision of a free community of mutual self-realization based on love and solidarity. This idea should be looked upon as part of the Joachimite tradition (inspired by 12th century mystic Joachim of Fiori) which divides history into three stages, the Age of the Father, in which obedience to law is central, the Age of the Son, in which faith becomes all-important, and the Age of the Holy Spirit, in which love becomes the animating and organizing force in society. From this perspective, history achieves fulfillment through the triumph of a social order based on love (mutual aid, solidarity, voluntary cooperation), while the imposition of order based on force and coercion (law), or ideology (faith), is a regression.

In his early works, Hegel describes the community of love, the Kingdom of God, as “the living harmony of men” through which human beings “enter through being filled with the Holy Spirit,” that is, by “living in the harmony of their developed many-sidedness and their entire being and character.”49 Such a community is thus one that attains the unity and non-alienation, and also the self-realization that are identified with freedom in Hegels mature work. He says of the unity that is achieved in such a community that “the same living spirit animates the different beings, who therefore are no longer merely similar but one; they make up not a collection but a communion, since they are unified not in a universal, a concept (e.g., as believers), but through life and through love.”50 What Hegel means is that they are not united through an abstract universal, in which the idea of unity is a substitute for the substance of unity.  Rather they are unified through the concrete universal of an embodied  form of life. He explains that in such a community founded in love, “the separate does still remain, but as something united and no longer as something separate."51 There is a unity-in-diversity, the reconciliation between universal and particular that he will later describe as the basis for the ethical order. Hegels crucial concept of recognition based on equality was also present in these early texts. “True union, or love proper,” he says, “exists only between living beings who are alike in power and thus in one another's eyes living beings  from every point of view; in no respect is either dead for the other.  This genuine love excludes all oppositions.”52

The concept of a community of love receded into the background of Hegels later thought, but did not disappear. For example, in the Science of Logic, Hegel identifies the concrete universal with love. He states that the universal can “be called free love and boundless blessedness, for it bears itself towards its other as towards its own self; in it, it has returned to itself.”53 And as late as in the Philosophy of Right, he states that the content of concrete freedom is already present “in the form of feelingin friendship and love, for instance. Here we are not inherently one-sided; we restrict ourselves gladly in relating ourselves to another, but in this restriction we know ourselves as ourselves. In this determinacy a man should not feel himself determined; on the contrary, since he treats the other as other, it is there that he first arrives at the feeling of his own selfhood."54

Of course, all this is to be sublated, or sublimated, into its statist forms, in which there is much more negation than preservation.  However, such passages are an implicit critique of his statism.  For in statist relationships (including in a social order of the sort Hegel depicts in the Philosophy of Right), does one “feel oneself to be oneself,” and “feel undetermined,” or does one, suffering under the burdens of a society of division and alienation, only struggle, perhaps with the soothing aid of ideology,  to convince oneself that one has such feelings?

In such passages, moreover, Hegel continues to point to the fact that relations of affinity, love, and solidarity, the most immediate free relationships of one to another, can be the basis for a larger free community. In such relationships, we discover the self in the other, that is, as a subject who shares our own internality, our own wealth of personhood, while still recognizing the other as other, as a being whose unique mode of being must be respected, who should not be coerced of manipulated. We do this first through our most immediate affinities, and then extend them out from the smaller to larger communities of recognition and care. This libertarian communitarian moment never disappears entirely in Hegels thought. Throughout his works, there is always this other Hegel, perhaps haunted by his own Joachimite roots, haunted by the Free Spirit, pointing toward another solution. 

The Free Community

Recently, some of the most important strains of communitarian social thought have looked to Hegel as a major source of inspiration. This is not entirely without reason. His emphasis on the inescapable context of social meanings in which any decision-making processes take place is a healthy corrective to the dominant abstract, acultural tendencies in modern and contemporary political thought. His focus on the community of mutual recognition offers a strong, and indeed inspiring, basis for revitalized communitarian thinking. And, as has been noted, there is a submerged Joachimite communitarian moment in his philosophy. Nevertheless, one does not find in Hegels thought any detailed investigation of the nature of actual communities, any extensive study of the actual history of community, or any developed inquiry into the subjective dimensions of communal experience. It is not surprising that the social theories of the liberal tradition that Hegel rightly attacks as abstract, ungrounded, and ahistorical should neglect such historical realities. However, within a theoretical framework such as Hegels, which emphasizes so heavily the importance of concrete historical development, it is more striking. This cannot, of course, be a mere oversight.

Hegels philosophy is, despite its communitarian dimensions, deeply infected with an ideology that demands the denial, the negation, and ultimately, even the annihilation of the actuality of community. Just as he overlooks most of the history of embodied freedom in his analysis of freedom in history, he overlooks most of the history of communal solidarity in his history of social formations and institutions. He minimizes (as merely transitional stages to something much more substantial) or completely dismisses (as primitive social forms outside the course of world history) the ethical substantiality of womens caring labor, most of the forms of cooperation within families (especially extended kinship groups), mutual aid in villages and small communities, tribal and traditional institutions of solidarity, and various forms of the commons, to mention a few notable lapses. But in reality the products of this enormous yet neglected history of communal solidarity constitute the real ethical substantiality out of which any free, non-alienated, non-dominating society of the future must emerge.

Despite these serious limitations, the Hegelian concept of freedom, if it is subjected to dialectical critique and purged of various ideological elements, offers a powerful basis for theorizing this other path toward free community. One of the thinkers who contributes most to this project is the German philosopher Gustav Landauer, a major anarchist and cooperativist political theorist of the early 20th century, who was a leader the Bavarian Council Republic and was martyred in the crushing of that historic experiment in 1919.

Landauers concept of freedom has much in common with Hegels, above all in his analysis of spirit as the force that creates and sustains freedom in history. Spirit, he says, is something “communal,” it is “union and freedom,” it is the “One and Universal Idea” that creates “coexistence, community, agreement and interiority.”55 He also states that spirit is another name for solidarity, though for him this term has a deeper and richer meaning than it does for most political theorists.56 He explains that “spirit is a grasping of the whole in a living universal. Spirit is a unity of separate things, concepts and men. In times of transition, spirit is ardent enthusiasm, courage in the struggle. Spirit is constructive activity.”57 Landauers concept of spirit as “a living universal” is very much in the tradition of Hegels idea of concrete universality.  For Landauer, universality finds reality in the particular, as objectivity is embodied in living and developing subjectivity, that is, in the spirit-filled community that is aware of its own destiny and capable of self-determination.

Landauers radically libertarian politics includes a strong commitment to the actuality of participatory deliberation and decision-making at the most basic level. He envisions the establishment of cooperatives at the most basic level, for production, consumption, and life in common. The community would, through many-sided cooperative endeavors, pursue an ideal of voluntary agreement to the greatest degree possible. Thus, in his libertarian socialism there would be the kind of concrete, practical realization of the idea of agency through self-determination that is far from fulfilled in Hegels own thought. 

In Landauers view, the unity of the community would not result only, or even primarily, from rational deliberation, but rather would flow from diverse forms of collective selfexpression. For Landauer, spirit operates through the most dynamic and creative dimension of communal life. He says that “in our most secret dream and desire, in the figures of art, our strongest will, deep contemplative insight, purposeful action, love, despair and courage, psychic distress and joy, in revolution and unity, there life, power and glory dwell; spirit is hidden and generated and wishes to erupt and create a people with beauty and communality.”58 There would thus be two poles of the communal self-expression, what Landauer describes as, on one hand, the fulfilling and gratifying work of free, voluntary cooperation, and, on the other, the joyful and exhilarating play of free cultural creativity.

Unlike Hegel, who was under the sway of progressivist and Eurocentric ideology, Laudauer recognizes the value of humanitys traditional communal institutions, the magnitude of the losses inflicted by a destructive civilization, and the importance of dissident historical tendencies that carried on the traditions of free community. Breaking rather radically with the conventional wisdom of his time, he contends that “we have to shed our fixation on some linear development according to which all previous periods were nothing more than precursors to our own.”59 According to Landauer, in primordial human society individuals were “held together by a common spirit,” but this was destroyed and replaced by what he calls “external organization.” As history progresses, “the church and the secular organizations of external coercion gain strength and grow continually worse: serfdom, feudalism, the various departments and authorities, the state.” The result is “an eventual decline of spirit” and “of the immediacy that flows from the individuals and leads them to unity.”60 The state plays a crucial role in the tragedy of history because at the same time that it dissolves spirit it also grows and develops as a substitute for spirit.  “Where there is no spirit and no inner compulsion, there is external force, regimentation, the state. Where spirit is, there is society. Where unspirit is, there is the state. The state is the surrogate for spirit.”61

Still, spirit lives on. For Landauer, it is crucial that we focus all our efforts on rediscovering all the submerged and neglected expressions of spirit and make them the basis for larger processes of social regeneration. Within a larger social order that is spiritually moribund, spirit expresses itself in part through “isolated thinkers, poets, and artists without a social context, without external roots.”62 But it also continues to survive in social practices and institutions. Landauer criticizes Marx for rejecting the significance of the history of communal freedom (in this area he was too loyal a student of Hegel). Thus, he overlooks the significance of “a medieval republic of cities or a village mark or a Russian mir or a Swiss Allmend or a communist colony.”63  He rejects Marxs contention that communism must, or even can, be reached through a transition through a highly centralized state.  In his view, such a state, far from creating a transition to the free community, acts to “kill the forms of living community” that form our priceless communitarian heritage and “contain the seeds and living crystals of the coming of socialist culture.”64 Landauer laments the fact that most socialists of his time had no interest in “farm cooperatives, credit unions, or worker cooperatives” but rather found inspiration for their future socialism in “capitalist department stores.”65

The Community of Communities

Landauers thesis, taken up and communicated to a larger audience by his close friend, the Jewish mystical philosopher Martin Buber,66 is that society can only become a free community if it is made of of smaller communities in which freedom and solidarity are practiced in all aspects of life. "Society is a society of societies of societies; a league [“Bund” or “union”] of leagues of leagues; a commonwealth of commonwealths of commonwealths; a republic of republics of republics.”67 In the original text, Landauer says: “Gesellschaft ist eine Gesellschaft von Gesellschaften von Gesellschaften; ein Bund von Bünden von Bünden; ein Gemeinwesen von Gemeinschaften von Gemeinden; eine Republik von Republiken von Republiken.”68 The free society is thus, stated in various forms, a “community of communities of communities.” The triple iteration should not, of course, be taken to mean literally that there are precisely three levels of social organization, but rather signifies that at each of the federative levels of society there must be a concrete realization of freedom and solidarity, embodied in personalities, sensibilities, practices and institutions, that makes possible its reality at the next level.  It is only in this way that freedom as agency and self-determination can have substantial social reality.

Thus, free community, according to Landauers libertarian socialism, must be created from the bottom up. It must attain fulfillment and then express itself at all levels, from the individual, to the family, to the workplace, to the “autonomous local community,” to “the county or group of communities” and to “more comprehensive groups that have an ever smaller number of duties.”69 If citizens are to be effective social agents, then as many responsibilities as possible must be retained at the more primary levels, where democracy and participation can be actualized most fully.  It is only when some function cannot be carried out at a more basic social level that it should be delegated to a higher level. Landuaer calls a society organized through such free federation “le contrEtat,” which he describes as “the state that is no state,” but rather “a community of people outside the state; not as a sum of isolated atoms, but as an organic unity, a web of many groups.”70

According to Landauer, a necessary condition for the development of such free community on a scale that sufficient to challenge the existing social order is the example that can be offered only through realized communal practice. “Only example can do it.”71 The primary reason why Landauer is a crucial figure in transformative social theory is the fact that he grasped with passionate intensity a simple and obvious truth that has been neglected by almost everyone else: a movement for freedom cannot possibly succeed when the ethos, the all-important ethical substantiality emphasized by Hegel, is overwhelmingly on the side of unfreedom. The actual title of Landauers book is Aufruf zum Sozialismus; it is a “call” to socialism. Thus, he calls lovers of freedom to put their greatest efforts into the practical project of creating communities, of entering into the realm of ethical substantiality that actually exists, and, from within it, to foster organically the expansion of the realm of freedom.

It might seem surprising that Landauer identifies “envy” as one of the forces for such liberatory transformation. However, his recognition of this force constitutes an acute insight into the nature of social movements. Others on the left must surely share this insight, if only vaguely, but perhaps reject it reactively for its associations with self-interest, or with the ressentiment for which the left is regularly indicted by the right. However, in reality it is merely an expression of the ancient truth that human beings desire the good, and are moved to action when there is some good end in view. According to Landauer, “once socialist colonies with their own colonies are scattered everywhere on the land,” everyone will observe “their joy in life, in its inexpressible though quiet manner,” so that “envy will become greater and greater,” and “people will begin to see, to know, to be certain.”72 One problem that this analysis poses for members of the left is that it that it puts them in a painfully precarious position. It requires them to do something that would actually cause others to envy them.

Landauer, drawing on his deep knowledge of the history of free community, is quite confident (unlike the demoralized left) that this is possible. This is not to accept “envy” as we know it as a desideratum of the good society.  In fact, the free community will begin to move beyond the psychology of egoistic calculation and life as a game of zero-sum competition (alias phallocentrism).  However, those who are not yet part of such a liberatory culture cannot be expected to respond as if they are. It would not be a bad thing if they feel intense feelings of envy for a community whose members no longer suffer under the heavy burden of enviousness. They may very well feel compelled to join such a community. In Landauers view, this peaceful propaganda of the deed, carried out through the force of example, is the most powerful force for liberatory social transformation. Through it, “hope” will cease being a mere slogan or cliché in a society of resignation, and will become a lived sensibility.

Landauer correctly sees that the only real, material basis for the abolition for the state is the growing reality of free community. He outlines, in his 1908 work Revolution, the nature of the only problematic of “dual power” that truly promises an end to the system of domination:

On the one side, we have the power of the state and the powerlessness of the masses, which are divided into helpless individuals on the other side, we have socialist organization, a society of societies, an alliance of alliances, in other words: a people. The struggle between the two sides must become real. The power of the states, the principle of government and those who represent the old order will become weaker and weaker. The entire system would vanish without a trace if the people began to constitute themselves as a people apart from the state.73

The revolutionary project should not have as its primary goal the development of forces capable of seizing state power and using that power as an instrument for social transformation. Instead, the primary goal should be the achievement of widespread, pervasive social transformation (communization), and then for the transformed (not merely prefigurative but transfigured) community to challenge state power.  Landauer concludes Revolution with his most famous statement, which is in effect his final judgment on the fateful issue of “state and revolution”:

The state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e., by people relating to one another differently. . . . We, who we have imprisoned ourselves in the absolute state, must realize the truth: we are the state! And we will be the state as long as we are nothing different; as long as we have not yet created the institutions.74

Without the emergence of communal organization as a realized, substantial counterforce to the concentrated power of the state and the class interest that is inseparable from it, the resurgence of domination is inevitable. As Landauer states, “the revolutions of today . . . no longer focus on the absolute king, but do not yet turn against the new form of totalitarian power: the absolute state.”75 It matters little whether there is a determinate or an empty “place of power” in a system. If its “place of power” is a place of concentrated power, it will quickly become a site of domination. 

One of the great merits of Zizeks political analysis is his unwavering critique of forms of superficial radicalism that ultimately reduce to ungrounded, abstract negation.  He justifiably attacks the contemporary left and pseudo-left for abandoning the classical Hegelian-Marxist idea of determinate negation, in which “the New will emerge from the very contradictions of the present society, through its immanent self-overcoming,” and he warns against vain hopes for deliverance through some “unmediated Outside.”76  A crucial issue is just how determinate determinate negation must be. Landauer, though at best impressionistic in his analysis of the nature of social contradictions, is highly suggestive concerning an issue that is seldom confronted directly: the manner in which structural social contradictions can take on material expression in the embodied activity of social contradiction, the very activity of “immanent self-overcoming.” This is certainly something that was a powerful reality in the classical workers movement, and was expressed most memorably in the IWWs slogan, “building the new society within the shell of the old.” And it is also something that seems quite alien to most of todays left, particularly in the global North. Zizek himself seems to limit the radical implications of determinate negation when at one point he equates it with having a “concrete program of changes or idea of the new order to be installed.”77  True, the contemporary left has in general abandoned even this dimension of negation, but ultimately social reality cannot be negated through programs of change, even concrete ones, or ideas, even of a new order. The great virtue of Landauer is in his insistence that the dominant order, including state power on which it rests, must be negated through the immediate creation of a counterpower consisting of real, communal “ethical substance, the living, embodied contradiction of the present society of domination.

Thus, one dimension of the struggle against domination is the immediate negation of state power. Yet everything, despite any moments of immediacy, is at the same time mediated. So it is necessary to consider the ways in which the struggle against domination might be successfully mediated under a spectrum of historical possibilities. At one point Landauer considers, I think wisely, the possibility of a role for the state in the transition from the system of domination to a system of free community of communities.  He describes a “socialist” position that holds that “after the discovery of society and the free and diverse forces of multiplicity, the state is left with only one task: to prepare for its own abolition and to make way for the endless ordered multiplicity of federations, organizations, and societies that aspire to take its place and the place of economic individualism.”78  What Landauer proposes should be distinguished from the self-defeating authoritarian socialist strategy of centralizing power in the state, so that the state can itself enforce the resolution of social contradictions, which would then allow the state to begin withering away.  Instead, the state, after having been successfully subordinated the power of the free community of communities (and one could imagine various possible means of attaining this goal), would be forced to progressively dismantle itself and redirect resources into the hands of these communities. According to such a problematic of transition, the process of destatification would be proportional to that of communization. 

Todays most acute political philosophies diagnose the roots of present impasse of the left in its reduction to a standpoint of reactivity and a politics of permanent protest, and point out the crucial need to discover the preconditions for the possibility of the world historical act, the socially transformative event. Landauers libertarian socialism, as theoretically limited as it may in many ways be, offers inspiration and guidance for such a project. It is a politics that centers all of its attention on the need for the creative act. Its act is not, however, “the Act” depicted in the heroic masculinist myth of “le Grand Soir,” the cataclysmic revolution in which all is overturned. There is no authentic revolution that “ne sautorise que delle même,” though one can always find revolutionaries who “ne sautorisent que deux mêmes.” And it is far from clear that their standpoint has exhibited courage more often than it has been driven by fear and anxiety. Creative revolutionary activity is a definitive break with all Promethean revolutionary mythology. Landauer very perceptively notes that every revolution requires a “supplement.” Revolutions, he says, are usually “a period of health between two periods of sickness.”79 The problem is that as events they are much too auto-autorisant. Typically, there is a “common spirit” that arises during a revolution, but once the revolution is over, it disappears.  The problem is that while the revolution generates spirit it is not deeply grounded in spirit. The supplement to revolution is all the evolutionary activity that is embodied in what Landauer calls “spirit.” The fetishism of the heroic Act represses awareness of the need for the moment-to-moment act.

The creative act is a paradoxical synthesis between the act of creation of being ex nihilo and the act of nurturing that which is becoming. Both of these are species of act that require negative capability, that “doing without doing” that allows being to emerge out of the depths. This approach avoids what Hegel criticized so aptly and incisively in radicalism and revolution, the tendency not merely to “get to the roots” of things, but to pull things up by their roots, to succumb to the illusion of the blank slate, to seek to force transformation on the basis of abstract ideals. Landauer recognizedin fact, far more acutely than Hegel didthe importance of concrete ethos, of basing a many-sided vision of freedom on socially embodied practice and actual forms of life. This is expressed well when Landauer epitomizes “socialisms solution” to the social question as “land and spirit.”80 The community must be animated by a creative spirit of solidarity and freedom. But it must also be grounded in a place (in the physical, bioregional, psychological, cultural, historical, and spiritual topos).

The view of spirit developed by Landauer has had few echoes in contemporary social philosophy and political theory. A notable exception is Kovels History and Spirit, in which a strikingly similar conception is developed with considerable philosophical and psychological sophistication. For Kovel, spirit concerns “what happens as the boundaries of the self give way.”81 Drawing on the Hegelian-Marxist dialectical tradition, psychoanalytic thought, and existential and phenomenological philosophy (among other sources), Kovel shows that the history of the human species and the history of civilization have produced a mode of consciousness in which the differentiation of beings within the context of an encompassing unity is transformed into forms of alienation and radical separation that not only distort reality but create the preconditions for forms of social domination based on the objectification and instrumentalization of the other. Whereas “in the universe as a whole, there is no real separation between things; there are only, so far as the most advanced science can tell us, plasmatic quantum fields; one single, endlessly perturbed, endlessly becoming body” consciousness  becomes “a mark of the separateness of beings,” and self-consciousness “a reflection of radical separateness.”82

For Kovel, like the early Hegel, love and solidarity are the forces that can reverse this alienation and objectification, and for him, like Landauer, they are the forces that are at the core of revolutionary political transformation. Kovel explains that love is a condition that exists “when, through the union with another being, subject and object are rejoined within the individual,”83 and as Hegel explained, it is only through such a reconciliation that a social order based on freedom is possible. Kovels analysis takes seriously the moments of both unity and difference and preserves the dialectical relationship between parts and wholes in intersubjective relationships and in the relationships between humans and nature. Kovels thought suggests the direction that radical politics might take if were it to fulfill the promise, hinted at in the early Hegel, and in Landauer, of becoming “the Party of Eros” and creating an “Erosocialism” that is also an “Ecosocialism.” The connections cannot be explored here, but it is clear that the concepts of spirit and love that underlie the relationship between humans in Landauers vision of socialism imply a similar transformed relationship of reconciliation between human beings and the ecological communities of which they are a part. It is noteworthy that exactly ten years after History and Spirit appeared, Kovel coauthored “An Ecosocialist Manifesto,” in 2001, at the beginning of a century in which the crucial question will clearly be “Eco-Socialism or Eco-Barbarism?”84

Neither Hegel nor Landauer, nor both taken together, answer fully the question of how freedom, in its third and most meaningful sense, can be achieved in a living communitys institutions and practices. However, they contribute enormously to our understanding of what this question might mean in the most radical and concrete sense.  In doing so, they reveal one aspect of this question that requires the most intense investigation.  They challenge us to inquire into how the moment of explicitly deliberative and participatory self-determination, that is, a liberatory politics, can be related to, and placed in a condition of mutual determination with, the moment of non-deliberative, historically situated, organically developing cultural creativity, that is, a liberatory ethos.

The most intense investigation in matters of practice requires, as both Hegel and Landauer understood, a search for truth in which essential dimensions of what one seeks can be discovered only in through a creative process in which the idea finds concrete, determinate fulfillment in the act.

1 Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty” in Four Essays of Liberty (London and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969).

2 Berlin, pp. 121-122.

3 Berlin, p. 122.

4 Berlin, pp. 121-122.

5 Berlin, p. 131.

6 Berlin, p. 144. Berlins polemical goals, which strongly conditioned the direction of his analysis, are not a central concern here. 

7 This is what Amartya Sen does in his book Development as Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1999), especially Ch. 1, “The Perspective of Freedom,” in which he discusses development in relation to many-dimensional “substantive freedom.” Nussbaum accepts Sens view of freedom, but objects that the content of such freedom must be specified more clearly through as detailed discussion of the capabilities involved, as she has in fact herself done. See her article “Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice,” in Feminist Economics 9 (July 2003): 33-59.

8 The “central human functional capabilities” are listed and discussed many times in Nussbaums recent works. See, for example, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 70-86.

9 The merits and demerits of human capabilities theory cannot be investigated here. For a detailed discussion of some of its strengths and weaknesses, including its lack of critical dimension on certain crucial issues, see John P. Clark, “Capabilities Theory and the Limits of Liberal Justice: On Nussbaums Frontiers of Justice” in Human Rights Review, Volume 10, Issue 4 (2009), pp. 583604; online at

10 Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T.M. Knox (London: Clarendon Press, 1952) §123, p. 83.

11 Enz.[Enzyclopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse] I. 24Z.2, quoted in M.J. Inwood, Hegel (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983), p. 478.

12 Philosophy of Right, pp. 30-31.

13 Enz. III. 424Z, quoted in Inwood, p. 480.

14 Robert Pippin, Hegels Practical Philosophy (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008). 

15 Pippin, p. 4.

16 Pippin, p. 4.

17 Pippin, p. 5.

18 Pippin, pp. 36-37.

19 Pippin, p. 43.

20 Pippin, p. 113.

21 Pippin, p. 265.

22 Pippin, p. 265.

23 Pippin, p. 270.

24 Pippin, p. 270.

25 Pippin, p. 270.

26 Pippin, p. 270.

27 Pippin, pp. 270-271.

28 Encyclopedia §431, Zusatz, quoted in Robert R. Williams, Hegels Ethics of Recognition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p. 76.

29 Encyclopedia §436, quoted in Williams, p. 80.

30 Encyclopedia §436, quoted in Williams, p. 80.

31 Encyclopedia §436, quoted in Williams, p. 80.

32 Encyclopedia, §436, Zusatz, quoted in Williams, p. 79.

33 Hegel mentions three other elements:  autonomy; union; and self-overcoming.

34 Williams, p. 84.

35 Williams, p. 76.

36 Philosophy of Right, §260, pp.160-161.

37 Philosophy of Right, §260 p. 161.

38 Philosophy of Right, §156, Addition, p. 261.

39 Philosophy of Right, §132, p. 87.

40 Paul Redding, Hegels Hermeneutics (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 19960, p. 241.

41 Z. A. Pelczynski, “Political Community and Individual Freedom in Hegel's Philosophy of State”; online at

42 David Kolb, The Critique of Pure Modernity: Hegel, Heidegger, and After Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 266-267.

43 Encyclopedia §433, quoted in Williams, p. 77.

44 Williams, p. 76.

45 Kolb, p. 114.

46 Encyclopedia §540; quoted in Kolb, p. 114.

47 Philosophy of Right, §268, p. 164.

48 Kolb, p. 115.

49 Hegel, Early Theological Writings, trans. T. M. Knox (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 277.

50 Early Theological Writings, pp. 277-278.

51 Early Theological Writings, p. 305.

52 Early Theological Writings, p. 304.

53 Hegel, Science of Logic, trans. A.V. Miller (New York: Prometheus Books, 1969), p. 603.

54 Philosophy of Right, §7, Addition, p.228.

55 Gustav Landauer, For Socialism (St. Louis, MO: Telos Press, 1978), pp. 4-5, 34. In quotes from Landauer, I have used the lower case for the word “spirit,” contrary to the translation cited. Nouns are not ordinarily capitalized in English, unlike German, so the use of the upper case might be taken to imply more metaphysical baggage than Landauer intended. However, there are plausible arguments for either choice.

56 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 55.

57 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 45.

58 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 34.

59 Gustav Landauer, Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader, ed. and trans. by Gabriel Kuhn (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010), p. 123.  Landauer wrote this in 1908, near the end of the period of almost unquestioned Eurocentric progressivist optimism that has been called the “long 19th century.”

60 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 33.

61 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 42.

62 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 33.

63 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 61.

64 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 63.

65 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 64.

66 Buber developed ideas similar to Landauers, in a libertarian socialist though not anarchist direction, especially in his classic work, Paths in Utopia (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958).

67 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 125.

68 Gustav Landauer, Aufruf zum Sozialismus; online at

69 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 126.

70 Landauer, Revolution, p. 168.

71 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 141.

72 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 141. Zizek notes that “Lacan shares with Nietzsche and Freud the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy: the envy of the other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the other should be curtailed, so that everyone's access to enjoyment will be equal.” [Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan (New York: Norton, 2006), p. 37.] Landauer recognizes the power of envy, but for him the goal of free community (what “should be”) implies a break with such ideas of justice and equality, and with envy itself. Much of Landauers analysis is aimed at overcoming the reactivity of the left, and the politics of ressentiment.

73 Landuaer, Revolution, p. 214.

74 Landauer, Revolution, p. 214.

75 Landauer, Revolution, p. 166.

76 Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes (London and New York: Verso, 2008), p. 337.

77 Zizek, p. 482 (in the “Afterword” to the 2009 edition).

78 Landauer, Revolution, p. 169. It is not clear that Landauer foresaw the implications of his statement, which point to the need for an anarchist politics of the transitional state, a heresy for many purist anarchists, but these implications should be drawn out.

79 Landauer, Revolution, p. 160.

80 Landauer, For Socialism, p. 133.

81 Joel Kovel, History and Spirit: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991), p. 1.

82 Kovel, p. 161.

83 Kovel, p. 192.

84 For the “Manifesto” and the “Belem Ecosocialist Declaration” that developed out of it see Unlike the “Declaration,” I formulate one alternative of the dilemma as “Eco-Barbarism” for a specific reason.  I agree that if the ecosocialist alternative of a society of shared abundance and reconciliation with nature is not chosen, humanity will enter an era of  intensifying crisis, and, ultimately social and ecological collapse, the result of which will can only be described a new barbarism.  However, the more immediate dilemma is between such an ecosocialism and emerging forms of instrumentally rational eco-Fascism that will attempt to resolve the social and ecological crises through authoritarian and repressive means combined with strategies of manipulation through the consumptionist imaginary.  Eco-Fascism in this sense is the trajectory of state capitalism, and should be conceived of as an institutional form.  In a cyber-consumptionist era it can take the form of a relatively rational barbarism with a relatively human face. It is the most likely future for humanity, in the absence of a historic reversal in the direction of ero/ecosocialism.