One more time, from the introduction of Elements of the Philosophy of Right:
For Hegel,as for Mill, the function of representative institutions is not to govern, but to advise those who govern, and to determine who it is that governs. Hegel expects deputies to the Estates to be ordinary citizens, not professional politicians. One evident reason for this is that he wants the Estates to be close to the people, and to represent its true sentiments; another reason (unstated, but quite evident) is that he does not want the Estates to be politically strong enough to challenge the power of the professionals who actually govern. But he does not intend the Estates to be powerless either. In his lectures, Hegel describes a multi-party system in the Estates, and he insists that the government’s ministry must always represent the ‘majority party’; when it ceases to do so, he says, it must resign and a new ministry, representing the majority of the Estates, must take its place….This idea takes the Hegelian constitutional monarchy most of the way toward presently existing parliamentary systems with a nominal hereditary monarch (as in Britain, Holland and Sweden).
And we all know about iron hand of totalitarian terror that Queen Beatrix has.
Later, there is a vitally important point: “Hegel distinguishes between the ‘political state proper’ from the state in the broadest sense, the community as a whole with all its institutions….He regards the state in the latter sense as the individual’s final end [italics mine-DL].” In other words, as far as a political telos is concerned, Hegel is arguing for a position that is substantially similar to that of Aristotle: the citizen’s end is realised in and through the life of the political community, because man is a political animal and this end is appropriate to his nature. It is our latter-day, impoverished understanding of what a political community fully means that causes many to mistake the importance these philosophers give to this broader political community for a theoretical endorsement of unlimited governmental power. A polity is more than its government (thank God!), and there are many philosophers whose political thought will make no sense if we do not keep this distinction in mind. We may or may not find this account of political life satisfactory, but we are not free to describe it as totalitarian or proto-totalitarian. It is, by definition, exactly not that, because it assumes that there is more to the political community than the all-encompassing government and party machine.
Speaking of Hegel’s legacy, the editor goes on:
This is the case with traditional images of Hegel as reactionary, absolutist, totalitarian. Taken literally, of course, these images have been long discredited [italics mine-DL]. Yet in our liberal culture they nevertheless possess a kind of symbolic truth, because they represent this culture’s self-doubts projected with righteous venom into its iconography of the enemy. Hegel is especially unappealing to that dogmatic kind of liberal who judges past social and political thinkers by the degree to which (it has been decided beforehand) all people of good will must share. The value of Hegel’s social thought will be better appreciated by those who are willing to question received views, and take a deeper look at the philosophical problems of modern life [bold mine-DL].
It is especially rich that defenders of the Popperian caricature believe that they are the ones engaged in the rigorous independent thinking and resistance to “official” interpretations. The last fifty years of Hegel scholarship, from what I understand, have been filled with the debunking of myths woven by those in thrall to the politically correct interpretations of their own time. Incidentally, the disparagement and dismissal of many early American heroes on account of their insufficiently enlightened attitudes come from this same instinct to measure past thinkers against present standards and condemn them when they (inevitably) fail to measure up.
Popper’s view of Hegel was the ideologically-driven modern liberal view of the man for decades, and its perpetuation today is simply a continuation of something not much better than propaganda, which in the Anglo-American world was already more than a little coloured by a dislike for things German. Popper had a very good argument to make against 20th century historicists who used language about the direction of history–language that everyone knows I abhor, by the way–to justify appalling crimes against their fellow men. Popper was writing a polemic against totalitarians of his own time, and he was right to do this. Where he went awry was to try to find roots for the woes of the 20th century in Hegel’s actual thought, among other places, rather than in the ideologically filtered abuses of it.
If a Nazi likes and promotes Wagner, whatever else you might rightly say about Wagner’s attitudes, that does not make Wagner a proto-Nazi or his music proto-Nazi music. Obviously. I suppose I am especially annoyed by the Hegel-bashing tradition because it is just one more aspect of the old, wearisome obsession to read all of modern German thought and history as one big prelude to the Nazis (the ultimate example of this was, naturally, on The History Channel, where a program actually stated that if the Romans had not been ambushed in the Teutoberg Forest in AD 9, Hitler would never have come to power!), as if we could not find many more relevant proximate sources specific to the post-unification and post-WWI scene. It is an attempt at a more sophisticated Goldhagenism, but the idea is the same. It is itself a kind of essentialism–the sort of thing Popper rightly warned against–inasmuch as it seeks to find something particularly twisted in German culture to explain what happened later, but in the process succeeds in twisting everything to fit the preconceived pattern of some perverse Teutonic state-worship (to which we Anglo-Americans are, of course, immune). This is a comforting myth that we tell ourselves, as it persuades us that we are somehow inherently less prone to the political and moral insanity of totalitarianism–that sort of thing only happens to other people. How some parts of the Anglo-American world would love to be able to discredit a culture that did more to create Western civilisation than almost any other, and how better to do this than to smear the philosophical and artistic giants of the German past with the taint of somehow contributing to the rise of Hitler? Just consider the stupidity of this: nationalists try to appropriate the cultural achievements of their countrymen over the centuries, regardless of whether the creators of the appropriated works would have anything to do with such people, and then it is taken by later observers as proof of their perfidy that some chauvinists have sullied their name by speaking it with admiration.
At bottom, reading totalitarianism into Hegel’s thought is the worst sort of “precursorism” (interpreting earlier works in the light of what came later, rather than according to their own time and proper meaning) and an old standby of bad teleological historical narrative, those banes of real intellectual history, in which an idea that seems as if it could have led to something that happened later is taken as an inspiration for these later events. Then there is the old habit of “so-and-so interpreted this thinker this way, therefore the thinker must mean what so-and-so says.” Two things would have to be demonstrated for this to be a worthwhile point: the person citing the thinker would need to have shown that he understood what the original thinker meant, and this person would have to avoid making interpretations that flatly contradict what the thinker said. Failure on either point makes the later “follower” of the thinker a bad student and a poor representative of the man’s thought.
Nietzsche scholars are constantly battling against similar popular misrepresentations, as have scholars of Maistre (who was an important philosopher of science as well as a political thinker) and Bolingbroke, among others. It makes no sense why a certain batch of interpretations or the tradition derived from them should be given priority if they do not do their subject justice. If Byzantinists did that, no one would have bothered to say anything after Gibbon, and certainly not after Bury and Ostrogorsky. Obviously, some interpretive battles will go on forever, but as more scholars dig into the material there will be more interpretations firmly established by the persuasiveness of the arguments and their support in the evidence. Once well-supported and serious arguments have been made, however, it is not sufficient to go back to the old interpretation, unaltered, and declare that most people who have given the matter much thought don’t know what they’re talking about.