a1 Peterhouse, Cambridge
The political writings of Kant and of Hegel present two contrasts, whose connection and explanation have (so far as I know) never been adequately explored. The first contrast is in respect of the quality of their discussions of ‘home’ politics—in Kant's language, the ‘problem of establishing a perfect civic constitution’. Here Hegel shines. However much one may dislike the tone of voice, the vocabulary, the style and the arrangement of its arguments, his Philosophy of Right, especially when supplemented by his more topical political writings, presents an array of dicta, judgments and arguments of notable penetration, balance and prescience. Consider for instance his account of the very different political functions of free associations and of representative bodies, and his perception of the symbolic—but crucially symbolic—role of head of state. On these, as on many other issues, Hegel's views deserve the credit that has of late begun to be restored to them. Whatever his philosophical failings, he had a remarkable sense of the key junctures of different strands in the life of politics; so that, although the kind of state he describes and admires retains little practical relevance today, his exposition of it remains a valuable training-ground in political appreciation. By contrast Kant's philosophy of the state, as we find it in Part II of his Philosophy of Right (itself being Part I of his Metaphysics of Morals), in Part II of Theory and Practice and in Appendices I and II of Perpetual Peace, is at first sight little more than an academic exercise. It amounts to a restatement, in dehistoricized terms and in accordance with Kant's rationalist theory of morals, of Rousseau's central political teachings, viz. that an original, unanimous, unrescindable contract explains political allegiance, and that the idea of a General Will is a sufficient criterion of political justice within the state. From these two basic positions Kant develops a theory of civic obedience far more restrictive than that of Rousseau or indeed than that of Hobbes. Throughout, Kant accepts—in the spirit which one might accord to revelation—Rousseau's assumptions that government can be confined to issues that fall under a General Will, and that such a Will can be ‘found’ for the resolution of every political issue, so that honest men need never disagree about what the General Will is. But to say this is to say that Kant's concern with home politics is little more than academic.