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Hegel as Lord and Master

Hegel as Lord and Master
Chris Arthur

The feminist interrogation of philosophy can take two forms. It
can examine what philosophers have had to say about the nature
and destiny of woman: here the record is one of almost universal
sexism (Kennedy & Mendus 1987). In addition, it may ask if this
is merely a local problem of if the entire discourse of philosophy
should be subject to feminist critique (Lloyd 1984, Plumwood
1988, Grimshaw 1986). I will touch on the second question only
briefly at the end. But in this paper I shall be concerned mainly
with what Hegel says about woman and gender relations.

In the first part I shall look at what he says about Antigone. In
the second part I shall look at the master-slave dialectic and the
possibility of appl ying it to marriage. Here I shall draw on Hegel’ s
own marriage. In the final part I shall consider if it is – in general
– possible to save Hegel for feminism.

Throughout I am in part responding to an excellent recent
paper by Susan Easton (1987) in which she brings forward a
wealth of evidence designed to absol ve Hegel of the more serious
charges against him. Certainly there is much that stands in need
of defence. It might have been expected that Hegel’ s anti-naturalistic idealism would have saved him from the grosser forms of
sexism; but, just as private property and monarchy turn out to
incarnate necessary moments in the actualisation of freedom, so
also does Hegel endorse the bourgeois family and its gender
divisions as ethically necessary to social cohesion. The absurdity
of his stereotyping is revealed in such remarks as that in conception the female provides the material element and the male the
spiritual (more exactly: ‘the subjectivity’ para. 368 addition,
Philosophy of Nature, p. 175).

Although he met brilliant self-educated women (see below on
the two Carolines) his official philosophy accepted and vindicated gender stereotyping and included a vigorous assertion of
gender associations with the public/private distinction in social
life. I shall show below that Hegel’ s relegation of women to a
secondary role in social life is not disturbed by his evident
fascination with the heroic figure of Antigone.

How, then, can someone be a feminist and a Hegelian? To
begin with one can argue that Hegel is not as sexist as he looks Susan Easton defends Hegel in this way. She thinks, also, that one
could usefully draw on Hegel’s master-slave dialectic for an
understanding of the position of women. Finally one could argue
that his prejudices are inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the system and the latter should have led to their
abandonment (see Hodge’s trenchant 1987 paper).

Easton believes that Hegel cannot be accounted a vulgar
sexist who ascribes roles and behaviour to women in virtue of
some supposed naturally given predisposition, or functional relation to the male order. In the section on the family in Hegel’s

Philosophy of Right, he contrasts man and woman in terms of
rationality and feeling, and uses this to exclude woman from the
public domain. Easton suggests that on closer examination the
Philosophy ofRig ht ‘reveals a tension between Hegel’ s conservative reductionism and a more progressive anti-reductionist standpoint’ (p. 34). This is because ‘the family provides a means of
escape from the subjectivism of the state of nature through an
institutional commitment to an ethical universal’ (p. 34). The
family transcends rather than instantiates the merely biological.

Easton, through close textual analysis, has no trouble in establishing this. She concludes that Hegel’ s conception of the family does
not ‘devalue women’s biological existence’ but it does’ subvert it
from its prime position as the principal determinant of their social
and political lives’ (p’ 36).

Certainly it is true that Hegel situates gender attributions
within ‘ethical life’ ,i.e. the roles are derived from socio-cultural
determinations. Women also are ascribed an ethical capacity to
recognise objective duties of their own inscribed in this order.

Easton has grounds for claiming that Hegel does Dot present a
naturalistic reduction of women’s role in society. But I want to
argue that in one respect her claims are overstated (Antigone), and
in another area omit some useful texts, in which Hegel discusses
the family, and which document his own marriage. Finally I will
come back to the question of how exactly the mediation of family
structure is supposed to supersede the natural and cast doubt on
Hegel’s account.


Antigone is mentioned in both the Phenomenology and the
Philosophy of Right. Easton claims that Hegel recognises her as
a genuine developed moral agent. Her main concern is to show
that Hegel’ s analysis of woman does not restrict her simply to the
realm of the subjective but that she has a rational and ethical
capacity. Antigone is brought in to demonstrate this. The immediate difficulty here is that Hegel does indeed use the term
‘subjective’ of her. In the paragraph in his Philosophy ofRight on
sexual difference in the family he says:

Family piety is expounded in Sophocles’s Antigone … as
principally the law of woman, and as the law of substantiality at once subjective and on the plane of feeling, the
law of the in ward life, a life which has not yet achieved its
full actualisation … (para. 166)
He refers us to his treatment of Antigone in his Phenomenology
of Spirit, but without remarking that the dialectic there has a
somewhat different strategic purpose (see below). This is illus-


trated in the fact (more favourable to Easton’ s thesis) that the term
‘subjective’ does not seem to appear in the Phenomenolo gy
Anyone who reads Sophocles, and then reads Hegel’s Phenomenolo gy, is led to wonder if he has read the same play as
Hegel. (This is a common reaction; Kaufmann’ s 1971 defence of
Hegel is mere bluster.) As a reading of Sophocles it is perverse;
but perhaps Hegel can be saved from conviction on this count if
one assumes that his treatment of the issues is an independent one
conducted with the benefit of historical hindsight, and supersedes
that of the uncomprehending playwright. Sophocles’s play follows the standard Greek pattern of tragedy as the fate of a blind
or foolish man trasngressing the divinely ordained laws of nature.

Sophocles is not, nor could he be, a dialectician. Hegel, by
contrast, attempts to force tragedy in general, and the Antigone in
particular, into a shape of dialectical reciprocity which is peculiarly rigid.

Hegel locates tragedy in the context of the emergence of
political forms to regulate archaic tribal society, a situation
combining behaviour based on ties of kinship with that based on
more abstract considerations of political authority. The play in

I do not think your edicts strong enough
To overrule the unwritten unalterable laws
Of God and heaven, you being only a man.

They are not of yesterday or today, but everlasting,
Though where they came from none of us can tell.

(lines 450-55; p. 138)
Creon is supposed to represent the standpoint of human law. This
sexual distribution is not accidental but flows from ‘the opposing
nature of man and woman’ (Phil.Rightpara.I66; alsoPhen. 280).

It is, however, essential to Hegel’s account that these standpoints be distributed because he argues that the protagonists must
not choose between them (Phen. 279). The positions need to be
adopted unthinkingly in the first instance; one does what one has
to do in accordance with one’s sex; only in the attempt to live out
its principle does each consciousness clash uncomprehendingly
with the other which it regards as an unfortunate obstacle thrown
up by reality.

Since it sees right only on one side and wrong on the other,
that consciousness which belongs to the divine law sees in
the other side only the violence of human caprice, while
that which holds to human law sees in the other only the
self-will and disobedience of the individual who insists on
being his own authority. For the commands of government
have a universal public meaning open to the light of day;
the will of the other law, however, is locked up in the
darkness of the nether regions, and in its outer existence
manifests [itself] as the will of an isolated individual
which, as contradicting the first, is a wanton outrage.


question concerns the refusal of Antigone (representing the old
family certainties) to bow to the dictates of political reason. Hegel
believes that it is not accidental that this contradiction explodes
around the question of death, given its different meanings within
the two value systems. I cannot do better here than quote at length
from Bernard Cullen’s (1987) illuminating exposition of this

In one sense the death of any citizen is a contingent event
that could happen to anyone, especially anyone involved
in political or social struggles; it remains external to that
struggle and does not modify its content significantly. But
in another sense, as a moment in the life of a family, such
a death is a fundamentally significant and necessary milestone … Thus people can be model citizens, can work for
the good of the city, can risk their lives in defending the
state; but … when death strikes, their spiritual home is with
their family, who will receive their body and will strip
death of all its inessentials – death in some cause or
another, in one manner or another, against this or that enemy – and return them directly into that ontological continuity maintained by the religion of their ancestors. It
matters little to Antigone that Eteocles was struck down
while defending the city and that Polynices, his brother,
was a traitor to the city. As far as she is concerned, they are
both her brothers, and they are both entitled to a proper
funeral in accordance with tradition. (p. 17)
Hegel’s analysis opposes divine law and human law to each other
as equally valid and he says that it is in this opposition that
‘tragedy in the realm of the ethical’ arises. (Natural Law 105;
Phil. Right para. 166; Phen. 449). The fates of Antigone and
Creon are supposed strictly symmetrical. Antigone expresses the
standpoint of divine law – as she does in the play:


In the realm of actuality, where both principles are valid, the
protagonists are humbled and destroy each other. It is in this
always-too-late awakening to guilt that the tragic denouement
exists. What are we to make of this as an analysis of the Antigone?

What it says about divine law is roughly correct but its claim that
the standpoint of human law is equally valid does not apply.

Sophocles clearly takes the standpoint of Antigone. At no point
does she experience any guilt for her actions or any tragic
awakening. She is clearsighted throughout. She never accepts her
punishment is merited; she accepts it only as a contingent consequence of her action, like getting burnt if one has to go through

Hegelleads us up the garden path by citing: ‘Because we
suffer we acknowledge we have erred’ (P hen. 284. Easton, p. 37,
does not notice this ‘quote’ is spurious). This passage is an
adaptation (to put it politely) from the play by Hegel and used to
support his general position. B ut reference to Antigone’ s speech
reveals that the statement is question is a hypothetical one. It
forms part of a passionate plea beginning ‘What law of heaven
have I transgressed?’ (Not ‘human law’ notice.) In this context
she says: ‘But if it is the will of the gods, and if! have sinned, I will
acquiesce in my fate’ (line 926, p. 150; see also Kaufmann’s
discussion). ‘If I am wrong .. .’ she is saying. She finishes by
saying that, if the guilt is Creon’s may he learn the truth ‘in
suffering as great as mine’. And he does of course, thus vindicating Antigone’s position. (For an acute analysis of Antigone’s
final speech see Steiner, Antigones, 277-283.)
Indeed it should be observed that Antigone is not a tragic
figure in the play at all in the Greek sense. For the Athenian
audience the tragedy is Creon’ s, Antigone the instrument the gods
use to teach him his lesson. Her death provokes the suicides of
Haemon and Euridyce (Creon’s family). Antigone’sdreadfulfate
is legitimated for the audience in terms of a tragic story line only
indirectly in the sense that she is fated to suffer for the sins of her

family, as the chorus says at one point: ‘This is the expiation you
must make for the sin of your father [Oedipus]’ (line 852, p. 149).

Incidentally, the audience would undoubtedly afford a ‘comic
spectacle’ (cf. Phen. 279) in that they would have been profoundly moved by Antigone – and then gone home and behaved
like little Creons.

So much for Hegel’ s reading of Antigone. The main point at issue
is not this but Easton’s reading of Hegel- of what Hegel thinks
Antigone is about. So let us turn to that. Easton’ s claim is that
Hegel does not dismiss Antigone’s rebellion as ‘subjective’ but
seesitas ‘rational’. This is a false dichotomy. Thereisa third way.

Let us fIrst look more closely at Hegel’s contrast between Antigone and Creon.

The difference between them is not a contingent one. It is
grounded in the fundamental character of the epoch. The basic
split in the ethical order is that between self-conscious human law,
openly enacted by the community, and, confronting this, divine
law representing ‘the simple and immediate essence of the ethical
sphere’, whose substance is unconsciously present as ‘a natural
ethical community – the Family’ (Phen. 269). In it the man
represents the family in the public sphere while the woman
remains ‘the guardian of the divine law’ (p. 275). Their relationship mediates the extremes of spirit: universal self-consciousness
is chiefly manifest in the man, unconscious individualised spirit
in the woman (p. 278).

Easton notes that ‘Hegel sees tragedy disappearing with the
development of modem society predicated on individualism,
being replaced by romantic art concerned with the “boundless
subjectivity” of passion rather than the clash of ethical principles’

(p. 40). She concludes that it follows from this that ‘while
Antigone’s choices are governed by love, Hegel does not perceive
love as mere subjectivity but rather sees subjectivity as alien to
tragedy’. Thus the focus on love in his Antigone ‘does not in itself
entail a reductionist position provided it is clear that this quality
is not biologically based’ (p.40).

Easton is quite right to insist that Hegel regards Antigone’s
behaviour as informed by ethical considerations rather than
merely natural feeling or a subjective emotional reaction. Her
rebellion is not the caprice of natural wilfulness. She knows what
is her duty. But Easton is wrong to characterize this consciousness as a self-reflective rational consideration of ethical principles and their consequences if acted upon (p. 37).

Hegel associates her with the ethical substance only as it is
‘implicit’; ‘unconscious’; ‘immediate’ (i.e. unreflective), ‘the
law of weakness and darkness … of the underworld’ (p. 286). This
is explicitly contrasted with the known, accessible, positive law
of the human community, self-consciously promulgated and

So far from Antigone being rational, she simply doggedly
disregards all the arguments of Ismene and Creon. When Creon
points out that it is illogical to give equal honour to good and bad
Antigone replies ‘Who knows? In the country of the dead that may
be the law’ (p. 140). One feels that Antigone would share
Rousseau’s suspicion that reason is the enemy of true morals
(Inequality 68-69). Of course Rousseau relies on the immediacy
of natural compassion, Hegel’s Antigone on traditional culture.

This is why Antigone is assigned by Hegel to represent the
immediacy of the ethical substance. This standpoint is not a
subjective one because, although its articulation appears in actuality as an individual commitment, it is grounded in the objective
order of meanings in a (disappearing) tribal society. But equally
it is not the standpoint of self-conscious reason. Creon is assigned

that; although he does not appreciate that the traditional meanings
are still a power to be reckoned with, presupposed by the community in its essential fabric, and guarded by its gods and women.

Easton brings forward in support of her reading the following
passage: ‘ethical consciousness is more complete, its guilt purer,
if it knows beforehand the law and the power which it possesses,
if it takes them to be sheer violence and wrong, to be a contingency
in the ethical life, and wittingly, like Antigone, commits the
crime’ – and Hegel continues with the earlier-cited spurious
quotation (Easton p. 37 quoting from Baillie’s translation p. 491;
Miller p. 284).

This passage is aberrant in several respects. For a start it does
not cohere very well either with Hegel’ s earlier stress on the
necessary character of the actions, nor with the particular stress on
Antigone’s unreflective representation of ‘the law of darkness’.

Moreover, as already pointed out, Hegel’s analysis departs from
the play in that, although Antigone wittingly defies the power of
the State she never experiences guilt; nor is she assigned it by
Sophocles. She experiences only a Christ-like moment of doubt
as in the earlier-quoted passage. Indeed the very fact that Antigone wittingly defies the law disqualifies her from tragic guilt in
the Greek sense. Greek heroes do not know their fate in advance.

They live their fate without choosing it. It is the modem romantic
conception of a subjective choice of fate that Hegel inconsistently
addresses here. It is not accidental that of all Greek tragedies it is
the Antigone that appeals most to modem consciousness; we
identify with her as a figure of resistance, and perceive the
suffering of Creon subsequent to her death as a rather insignificant
coda. The Athenian audience, however, would relate strongly to
this vindication of divine law. It is noticeable, by the way, that the
indictment by the blind prophet concentrates on Creon’s treatment of the body ofPolynices; his treatment of Antigone is added
on just to fIll out the charge sheet as it were.

Precisely we modems commit an anachronism when we retell
Antigone’s story as one of heroic individualism (e;g. Anouilh).

We don’t admire her for burying dead brothers (content) but for
her moral quality (form). For the real Antigone family duty is of
the essence.

It is relevant here to remark Hegel’s distinction between
Sittlichkeit and Moralitiit. Moralitiitrefers to the form of all genuinely moral action, namely the conscientiousness of the individual agent but it is considered in abstraction from any concrete
content. Sittlichkeit, conversely, refers to ‘the concrete ethical life
of an objective social order which provides in its customs and
institutions a content for its members’ convictions. The Phenomenalo gy discusses Sittlichkeit as spirit in its immediacy, as a social
form to be historically superseded, while in the Philosophy of
Right Sittlichkeit is a fully actualised self-mediated whole within
which the moment of the family represents the ‘natural immediate
phase’ (para. 157), hence, as against the more mediated whole,
one of subjective feeling. As was remarked above, the Philosophy
ofRight (para. 166) situates Antigone at this level. But at the same
time the family is not so much a natural unit as an ethical one, as
Hegel’s stress on the institution of marriage shows. While Hegel


asks us to read into Antigone the standpoint of Sittlichkeit what we
tend to do is to celebrate her as the representative of Moralitiit, a
phase in Hegel’s system either post-(Phenomenology) or pre(Philosophy of Right) Sittlichkeit, but in either case a self-mediated rather than socially mediated ethic.

M oralitiit seeks to moralize a non-moral world (P hen. p. 365).

We like Antigone precisely because for us she represents conscience in the face of a wicked world. In the Philosophy of Right
M oralitiit is reconciled with the world in that in the ethical order
of the modem state it finds itself and has objective principles
provided to it on which to act. But in the Phenomenology Hegel
had not yet worked out such a modem version of Sittlichkeit. At
this stage in his thinking it appears only as a world of ethical
harmony pre-dating the questionings of conscience and forever
lost. This immediate identity of nature and spirit breaks down
under the weight of its own contradictions – illustrated in the
Antigone. For him – and I think he is broadly correct here Antigone’s actions are informed by this original Sittlichkeit
which is prior to the more reflective standpoint of Moralitiit,
which arises onl y in the modem world in Hegel ‘s history. He there
explains it as follows:

For self-consciousness, its knowledge … is … like the
ethical consciousness which knows its duty and does it,
and is bound up with it as with its own nature; but it is not
[a fixed] character, as that ethical consciousness is which,
on account of its immediacy, is a specifically determined
spirit, belongs only to one of the ethical essentialities, and
has the characteristic of not knowing [Le. Antigone] … (p.

364). For it is essentially the movement of the self … to
become conscious of itself as a universal … (p. 365). It is
bound only by duty, and this substance is its own pure consciousness, for which duty cannot receive the form of
something alien (p. 366) [e.g. as the will of the gods?]
In conclusion let us note that the powerful figure of Antigone
breaks through the dialectical web spun about her by Hegel. As
Hodge (p. 135) points out, so far from accepting the ‘passive’

position assigned women by Hegel (Phil. Right para. 166),
Antigone, in taking her stand, rebels against the patriarchy – to the
despair of Ismene, who chooses differently: ‘0 think, Antigone;
we are women; it is not for us to fight against man; our rulers are
stronger than we’ (p. 128). So far from internalising human law
and accepting guilt she defies the tyrant to the last. Walled up alive
‘she dares to escape that punishment by taking her own life, an act
of civil disobedience quite unlike that of Socrates’ (Hodge 152).

Interestingly, in making the same comparison Hegel reverses
all the terms of Hodge’s account: neglecting Antigone’s deviance, he presents her as passively acquiescent (and to be praised
on that account); while Socrates, for refusing to make a choice of
punishment when it is offered him, is convicted of dumb insolence (History of Philosophy Vol. I p. 441).

(Today’s Greenham woman is curiously reminiscent of Antigone. For a start, after a nuclear exchange there certainly will not
be enough people to bury the dead. This is why it is virtually
sacriligeous, and the ‘public reason’ of Mrs. T is dismissed as
sheer violence and wrong in ethical life, and the laws of the state
can be broken. The legitimation is not in terms of the shades of the
dead but of the yet unborn. Also feeling rather than reason is
appealed to in some statements, and their essential duties as
women, potential mothers, etc., rather than a universal code.)
I conclude that, although Hegel finds in Antigone a paradigm
of ethical commitment, within his scheme of ethical development
she does not achieve the level of self-conscious universal reason.

This is to be actualised in the modem state within the public
sphere by men.



One area which has suggested itself to some as peculiarly relevant
to women’s liberation is the famous analysis of lordship and
bondage in the Phenomenology. Simone de Beauvoir attempted
such a project in her Second Sex – but it has to be said that it isn’t
really Hegel’s view, butSartre’s master-slave dialectic, which influenced her. De Beauvoir has been ably criticised by Genevieve
Lloyd (1983). This has not prevented Susan Easton from reasserting the validity of the original project in her paper on Hegel
and Feminism.

Both Lloyd (pp. 298-99) and Easton (see her 1986 review of
Lloyd’s Man ofReason, pp. 73-74) say that women do not enter
into Hegel’ s account of the master-slave dialectic and that he does
not make any connection between the latter and the family. Both
seek to make such connections. But what both have missed is that,
although these discussions are widely separated in the Phenomenology, in Hegel’s manuscript System der Sittlichkeit of a few
years earlier he explicitly relates them. What I want to point out
is that when Hegel himself makes connections between lordship
and marriage it is to legitimate the subordination of women.

In this early manuscript, written in J ena in 1902-3, he conceptualises the family on the basis of the development of lordship and
bondage. The relation of master and servant is rooted in natural
facts (p. 125) but it can acquire the stability of a social form, it can
be’ ethical’ (p. 126); this is seen in the family (p. 127). The family
is ethical even though in it the man is the authority. H. S. Harris,
in his introduction to the text sums up thus:

in the household it is the ‘difference of living might’ that
makes itself evident, so that the master’s word is law. But
the obedience involved here is ethical obedience. The
family members are not the father’s servants, he gives
orders, and they obey, in the interests of the-family as a
whole (p. 42).

recognised and valued. So, in spite of the genuine objectification
involved, domestic labourers do not experience much sense of
self-worth through it. At best in some obscure way they sense the
fetishism involved in value and regard their own contribution as
more ‘real’ . Much of the present wave of feminism started from
terminally bored housewives, but if Betty Friedan and company
had a sense of self-worth it probably came from an education. In
short – no Hegelian dialectic of women’s liberation can be based
on housework. The disintegration of the family may rather be
consequent on woman’s recognition outside it, in suffrage, wage
work etc. reacting back on it.

Certainly Hegel signally failed to draw radical lessons from
his own explicit linkage in his System der Sittlichkeit of the
master-slave relation and marriage.

So internalised oppression is fine it seems. Against this ideologicallegitimation it is enough to point out that internalised slavery
is still slavery.

Easton (1987) argues that Hegel’s master/slave dialectic is
very relevant to the situation of the woman condemned to domestic labour (pp. 49-50). It is precisely one ofthe defects of Sartre’s
appropriation of the Master/Slave that he leaves out the mediation
of labour, she points out (1986), following Lloyd (1983, p. 300).

In fact Hegel himself failed to develop the idea of objectification of the slave in his work in the Encyclopaedia version of this
dialectic. He speaks only of ‘fear of the lord’, and ‘community of
need’, holding the relationship together. This latter rather puzzling concept is perhaps based on the System der Sittlichkeit
version of the dialectic: ‘The master is in possession of a surplus,
of what is physically necessary; the servant lacks it, and indeed in
such a way that the surplus and the lack of it are not single
[accidental] aspects but the indifference [identity] of necessary
needs’ (p. 126). Hegel makes then the transition to the family but
insists that the surplus is now ‘common’. ‘Difference is the
superficial [aspect] of lordship. The husband is master and manager, not a property owner as against the other members of the
family’ (p. 127). (In the Philosophy ofRight, para 170, he goes so
far as to link the origins of marriage with property.) He forgets that
the necessity of patriarchal marriage lies exactly in the above
necessary need, namely the woman’s lack of economic independence; and this continues to shape its dynamic as long as she cannot
leave it, for the same reason.

But what of the key thing in the Phenomenology version,
namely liberation through production? According to Hegel’s
analysis a dialectical reversal takes place whereby it is the servant
rather than the master who achieves the more human being
because, whereas the master’s satisfactions are only fleeting,
albeit continual, the servant in realising himself through work
becomes aware of himself in the permanence of its results. The
analogy between slaves and subjugated women as unpaid, low
status workers is obvious. Easton has no trouble developing this
point. At the same time she finds cause for hope in the dialectical
reversal implicit in Hegel’ s analysis. Nevertheless, in so far as the
argument in the Phenomenology relies on the idea that the slave
achieves a sense of self-worth through objectification in labour,
there are problems about this model where housework is concerned. Hegel abstracts from the determinate social forms of
forced labour, but if we situate labour in its contemporary context
what do we see? Although modem wage-labourers have no
identification with their work in the capitalist labour-process they
do know that this work is worth something; it is objectified in
value, than which nothing is more permanent in the capitalist
accumulation process. But household labour is not thus socially

This gives us the occasion to consider that Hegel himself married.

How did he assume the role of lord and master? Mind-boggling
though it is to speculate about a love-affair with Hegel (der
Anstrengung des Begriffs is just not in it), he courted and won a
well-born lady named Marie in Nuremberg in 1811, when Hegel
was forty-one. Indeed we have two surviving poems sent to her.

Here is a taste:

Narrow bands dividing us fall away!

Sacrifice alone is the heart’s true way!

I expand myself to you, as you to me.

May what isolates us go up in fire, cease to be.

For life is life only as reciprocated,
By love in love is it alone created.

To the kindred soul abandoned,
The heart opens up in strength gladdened.

Once the spirit atop free mountains has flown,·
It holds back nothing of its own.

Living to see myself in you, and you to see yourself in me,
In the enjoyment of celestial bliss shall we be.

(to his fiancee April 13 181l. Letters p. 237)
However, it is worth noting that, although Hegel had become
friendly with the romantic circle in Jena when he lived there, his
views were not theirs. (Ursula Vogel, 1987, has given a fascinating portrait of this group and especially of its revolt against gender
stereotypes.) At the centre of the group was the remarkable
Caroline Schlegel-Schelling. But the leading propagandist was
Friedrich Schlegel whose novel Lucinde (1797) created a public
scandal. Hegel charges Schlegel with making marriage a superfluous ceremony if all that matters is love. Hegel argues that love
is only a feeling while marriage is a substantive ethical tie (Phil.

Right para 164 + additions pp. 262-63).

Marie seems to have expressed the typical romantic conception that where duty enters love is lost; but Hegel tried to impress
on her that marriage as a ‘religious bond’ meant more than any
earthly happiness. This sort of thing offended Marie, and he had
to write a couple of letters trying to persuade her that he wasn’t
running down their feelings in elevating the spiritual side of the

With the marriage at last on the agenda, Hegel wrote (July 13
1811) to his friend Caroline Paulus, the novelist (not to be
confused with the other Caroline whom she and Hegel disliked),
about his happiness, and Marie interjected comments in the
margin. Where Hegel refers to Caroline’s husband Professor
Paulusas ‘the lord and master’ (Lettersp. 247). Marieappends the


following fascinating comment:

Despite the length at which my lord and master goes on in
his epistle, and as humble as the little corner he assigns me
may be, I nonetheless know that the good Caroline Paulus
will not lose sight of me. I have already raised my little
voice in the course of my master’s discourse. But each time
I respectfully silenced myself again, though I would gladly
have confirmed many a thing at greater length (p. 248).

The irony expressed here captures beautifully the paradox that
marriage meant to a woman of spirit. There was no doubt that it
meant acceptance of subordination: the best that could be achieved
was an ironic acceptance of the female condition, an internal
transcendence – but in reality a capitulation to the inequality of


The figure of Antigone, and the question of gender generally, is
bound up with, and has to be situated within, Hegel’s treatment of
the arising of spirit from nature, from the life of feeling to that of
self-conscious reason (ethics). Easton (1985) argues that the
family is a fundamental mediating moment between unconscious
nature and pure self-legislating reason. This certainly accords
with Hegel’s first philosophy of spirit (1803/4) in which he
described the evolution of spirit out of the natural bases of human
existence along three fundamental dimensions: (a) the family; (b)
labour (see part 1 of Arthur 1988); (c) language.

The problem in Hegel’s understanding of the family as such
a mediating moment is that it is precisely the woman who is
assigned to represent one dimension, and the man the other (no
prizes), and, even in ethical relations (such as the family is
understood to bear) there is repeated the master-servant structure.

We saw that both the master-slave and family dynamics are given
an original role in the growth of spirit out of nature. The masterslave struggle is a lower stage than the family because although
it raises consciousness from natural desire to self-consciousness
itisn’tyetethical as it will be when translated into the family. (The
master-slave dialectic is really about consciousness in general as
against immersion in nature – it does not deal with social situations of ethical import.) But the conflation ofthe two in Hegel’s
early work facilitates gender stereotyping even in the ethical

The two ‘crunch’ quotations from the main works we are
considering are as follows:

Hegel’s dialectic. Is it a top-down or a bottom-up movement?

First we have the mystical idealist notion of the concept sundering
itself and seeking to actualise its elements. Secondly we have the
naturally given concrete difference raising itself to social significance. Hegel seems to combine the worst kind of idealism with the
worst kind of naturalism. He presents a conceptual argument for
gendered social roles while at the same time attributing these to
the two sexes in virtue of their supposed essential characteristics.

For example, it is obvious that the distribution of the ‘two laws’

is not a contingent one.

The structure of my argument has been as follows:

(a) Is Hegel’s sexism rooted in naturalistic assumptions about the
female essence?

(b) It cannot be: because in his social theory he opposes strategies
which base themselves on what is natural to man. In his theory
natural de terminations are superseded (aufgehoben) within
the realm of freedom established in the modem state through
spiritual self-determination.

(c) But in the mediations elevating the structure of reason over
nature it turns out that the moment of transcendence is
achieved mainly within the male sphere and the female
represents mainly the moment of continuity with the natural
ground of human life. This happens precisely in virtue of her
essential affinities with nature. Thus Hegel reproduces the
nature/reason split within the social, in spite of his insistence
that the social cannot be reduced to the natural.

Hegel, in endorsing the conditions of women’s oppression according to ‘the necessity of the concept’ is of course only being
true to his method of providing a rational reconstruction of the
existing order; he accommodates within the state all the contradictions of the present state of things including those involved in
the situation of women. Is this conservative prejudice to be
corrected by a more faithful, and critical, application of the
fundamental principles (Hodge)? – or must such a ‘Young Hegelian’ move be wanting (Marx)?

Throughout this discussion of Hegel ‘s sexism I have accepted
the terms of his gender stereotyping, in which the masculine is
clearl y closer to the human ideal than the feminine in virtue of the
male’s greater scope for rational self-determination in the objective realm of spirit. However, to finish, let us recall that the entire
tradition of Westem philosophy may well be defective, not just in
identifying the masculine with the human, but in identifying the
human with the masculine (Lloyd 1984, Plumwood 1988). If this
is the case Hegel’ s whole account of transcendence may presuppose a distorted vision of the human and the natural.

From the Phenomenology (280):

Nature, not the accident of circumstances or choice, assigns one sex to one law, the other to the other law; or
conversely, the two ethical powers themselves give themselves an individual existence and actualise themselves in
the two sexes.

From the Philosophy of Right:

165. The difference in the physical characteristics of the
two sexes has a rational basis and consequently acquires an
intellectual and ethical significance. This significance is
determined by the difference into which the ethical substantiality, as the concept, internally sunders itself in order
that its vitality may become a concrete unity consequent
upon the difference.

Both of these passages exhibit the extraordinary ambiguity of


Arthur, C. J., ‘Hegel’s theory of value’ in Williams, M. (ed.), Value,
Social Form arul the State, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1988.

Cullen, Bemard, ‘Hegel’s Historical Phenomenology and Social Analysis’ in Lamb (1987).

Easton, Susan M. ‘Hegel and Feminism’ in Lamb (1987) (an expansion
of her paper in Radical Philosophy 38, 1984).

Easton, Susan, Review of Lloyd (1984) in Explorations in Knowledge,
Vol. TII, No. 1, 1986.

Grimshaw, Jean, Feminist Philosophers, WheatsheafBooks, Brighton,

Hegel, G. W. F., History of Philosophy, trans. E. S. Haldane and F. H.

Simpson, Routledge, London, 1892.

Hegel, G. W. F., Letters, trans. Clark Butler and Christine Seiler, Indiana

University Press, Bloomington, 1984.

Hegel,G. W. F., Natural Law, trans. T. M. Knox, UniversityofPennsylvania Press, 1975.

Hegel, G. W. F., Phenomenology ofSpirit, trans. A. V.Miller, Clarendon
Press, Oxford, 1977.

Hegel, G. W. F., Philosophy ofNature, trans. M. 1. Petry, George AlIen
and Unwin, London, 1970, Vo!. 3.

Hegel,G. W.F.,PhilosophyofRight, trans. T.M. Knox,ClarendonPress,
Oxford, 1965.

Hegel, G. W. F., System of Ethical Life and First Philosophy of Spirit,
trans. H. S. Harris and T. M. Knox, S.U.N.Y. Press, Albany, NY, 1979.

Hodge, Ioanna, ‘Women and the Hegelian State’, in Kennedy and
Mendus (1987).

Kaufmann, WaIter, ‘Hegel on Tragedy’, in Steinkraus W. (ed.), New
Studies in the Philosophy of Hegel, New York, 1971.

Lamb, David (ed.), Hegel and Modern Philosophy, Croom Helm, London, 1987.

Lloyd, Genevieve, The Man of Reason, Methuen, London, 1984.

Lloyd, Genevieve, ‘Masters Slaves and Others’, in Edgley, R. and
Osbome, R. (eds.), Radical Philosophy Reader, Verso, London, 1985
(previously in Radical Philosophy 34, 1983).

Plumwood, Val, ‘Women, Humanity and Nature’ , in Radical Philosophy
48, Spring 1988.

Rousseau, I.-I., Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, trans. G. D. H.

Cole, Dent, 1973.

Sophocles, Antigone (441 BC), trans. Watling, E. F., Penguin, Harmondsworth,1947.

Steiner, George, Antigones, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1984.

Vogel, Ursula. ‘Humboldt and the Romantics: Neither Hausfrau nor
Citoyenne’ in Kennedy and Mendus (1987).

Kennedy, E. andMendus, S. (eds.), Women in WesternPoliticalPhilosophy, Wheatsheaf Books, Brighton, 1987.

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