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I argue that Hegel’s concept of the modern state is formulated in such a way as to be anti-capitalist. Hegel conceives of the modern esstado as advancing the universal will of the political community, I argue that the nature and structure of capitalist social relations are anathema to this project.

Although Hegel provides a defense of modern market societies, he calls into question their corrosive effects on society as a whole. By seeing capitalism as more than simply a market-based organization of society, I argue that Hegel’s concept of the state is in contradiction with the jiliband of capital as a social institution.

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Since the logic of capital forces other spheres of society to become milihand upon it as well as integrate social agents into forms of social life that do not serve universal ends, it constitutes a contradiction with the very purpose of the rational state as Hegel conceives it. The resurgence of interest in Hegel’s political and moral philosophy over the past two decades has curiously left out a comprehensive treatment of his theory of the state. Although it stands at the apex of his political theory, Hegel’s concept of the state is now generally viewed as an anachronism, a view echoed by Axel Honneth who has recently written, “I do not believe that Hegel’s concept of the state or his ontological concept of spirit can in any way be rehabilitated today.

In the process, I believe that many of the attributes of the modern state that Hegel sees as having normative validity can be glimpsed. In addition, I want to suggest that an application of Hegel’s theory of the state to problems associated with modern economic life can help chart a path toward rethinking the state’s role with respect zociedad the economy. Indeed, the liberal structure of thought that pervades the lion’s share of our political self-understanding sees redistributional measures, to a greater or lesser extent, as the primary mechanism for ameliorating inequalities generated by market institutions.

Part of the reason for the hegemony of milibahd view has been the ascendance throughout the twentieth century of capitalisya liberal value of “justice as fairness,” where states can play a minimal role in interfering with the ends and purposes of economic actors.

The justification for further state action in shaping and organizing economic life requires milibxnd justification than liberal theory can provide. To this end, I would like to suggest that examining Hegel’s theory of the state and drawing out milibahd implications for modern socio-economic problems yields a broader and more compelling conception of state action than the more limited approach of liberal theory.

Hegel’s theory of the rational state, I contend, provides us with an alternative way of thinking through these problems and justifying an expanded sphere of capitalizta action into economic affairs and, even more, into the deeper moral and political purpose of the modern state in relation to the expansion of capitalist market economies.

The thesis I seek to defend in this paper is that Hegel’s concept of the modern, rational state is anti-capitalist in its talph essence or with respect to the inner principles that make it normatively valuable in Hegel’s own view.

Hegel’s theory of the state is anti-capitalist because he conceives the purpose of the rational state as preserving the universal in the face of the particular in all affairs of social life.

Put another way, although he allows for the existence of market institutions, Hegel reworks Rousseau’s thesis of the general will in such a way that the state can be seen as opposing the ability of capitalist interests to dominate and permeate social life as a whole. Contemporary capitalism capitlaista largely defined, as Martin Sklar has argued, by “a system of social relations expressed in characteristic class structures, modes of capitalissta, patterns of authority, and relations of power,” and which “involves a system of authority inextricably interwoven with the legal and political order as well as with the broader system of legitimacy, the prevailing norms of emulative morality and behavior, and the hierarchy of power.

If we conceive capitalism, as it should be in our own time, as a coordinated system based on private interests and aims that is predicated on shaping the common powers and interests of the community to enhance those private interests, then we must see Hegel’s rational state as opposed to such a system.

I will also argue that he does not deem capitalist institutions as worthy of our moral and political commitments – we are not obligated to recognize them as rational, in his sense, to the extent that they are not subordinated to the universal, common interest of society as a whole. The central reason for this is that capitalism needs to be distinguished from the kind of market society that Hegel had analyzed during his own time.

Although he saw the normative value of self-interest, of private property, capitalistx exchange, and of a certain degree of capigalista accumulation, he sees these as subordinate to a larger political and cultural project.

Hegel’s disparaging remarks about the economic society of England during his own time, of the nature of mechanized factory production, and his insistence that modern economic institutions serve the general interest of the society, all speak to the interpretation of Hegel as anti-capitalist. Hegel was not against markets, or the idea of a market economy.

Rather, he was critical of the tendency for the sphere of market social relations colonizing the higher, political and moral purposes of the state and its ability to orient the political community toward universal ends. In my reading, modern capitalism presents us with a contradiction within the rational state in that its imperatives, institutions, interests, and so on do not realize universal ends.

As a result, we have no duties or obligations to such institutions or the practices engendered by them. Indeed, I want to also suggest that setado a reading also means that we even have a duty to resist and to alter such institutions, to make them serve universal, generalizable ends and interests. Capitalists, far from accommodating capitalist institutions and socio-economic formations, Hegel’s theory of the state is, I contend, explicitly anti-capitalist and should be reassessed for its power to reorient contemporary political and economic life toward more common, universal social ends.

Initial reaction to this thesis will be no surprise. Was Hegel not a great champion of private property and of markets?


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I am not convinced that Hegel justifies what we understand as modern capitalist society. Certainly he was deeply critical of the estaado of civil society, of what he called the “system of needs,” in particular when economic self-interest was not properly contained but allowed to enter into the sphere of the state. He saw a normative value in market society for moderns, but he is explicit that the state repels its pathological effects and tendencies.

Hegel’s overriding concern with the universal and with the kind of rational freedom that modernity must seek to achieve is opposed to the kind of individuality and freedom that the logic of market society is able to provide. Rather, Hegel’s understanding of the role of the modern rational state is to function so as to preserve a universal will in a society that must also accommodate the existence of individual self-interest in civil society.

Therefore, capitalism becomes distinct from a society that simply possesses markets once its imperatives begin to transform and pervert the universal will and common goods of the political community and instead seeks to place its own interests as the interests of society as a whole.

When the logic of economics overrides the moral purpose and ends of politics and social policy, then capitalism becomes a distinct social formation and way of life, and it is something Hegel’s political theory distinctly opposes. To make the claim that Hegel’s conception of the state is inherently anti-capitalist immediately brings to mind the Marxian argument that the state as conceived by Hegel is an expression of capitalist class interests.

This estxdo creates a deep skepticism of the state’s capacity to mitigate the excesses of economic life and to re-orient private interests toward common, sofiedad ends.

For Marx, Hegel’s theory of the modern state is mistaken because it sees the state as estadl expression of the Idea rather than as an expression of “the mass of men existing as members of families and of civil society. The state therefore remains, in Marxist theory, allied with bourgeois class interests and is a crucial part of capktalista capitalist society.

In contrast to this, Hegel argues that the very essence of rational, modern culture is one in which its universality is embodied or objectified in the institutions of the rational state.

The very idea of rationality is crucial here since he means by this that there are universal ends that are secured toward which ,iliband other, subordinate spheres of society the family and civil society are to be oriented: For its part, the universal can be seen as having a two-fold character.

In the first place, it means that any concept, idea, practice, institution, and so on, achieves rationality because it is generalizable. In the second instance, universal means that it is to apply to capitalisra political community as a whole, not only to its parts. The basic principle is that modern consciousness grasps the ontological reality that human beings are part of an interdependence that shapes its individual members. To distort or degrade the relations that constitute that interdependence constitutes an erosion of the common interest.

Xociedad universal is therefore the insight into the contradictions of previous historical forms of social and political life. But perhaps most importantly, he believes that the normative power caapitalista modernity lies in its ability to bring to rational fulfillment the kind of universality that will be also be able to secure the development of a complete, rational individuality as well.

Modern political and social institutions need to be able to guarantee a kind of social integration that is not based on the arbitrary customs of any given community, but the universal, common interest of society itself. Rational individuals recognize in these institutions the universal ends they seek to accomplish; only in this way can they be free.

In this sense, the inability for the state to maintain, secure, and guarantee social milibwnd, processes, customs, and practices that preserve the structure of society that is necessary to allow each individual to see his own interests as milibnad to achieve a higher set of aims than particular, subjective interests.

The connection of this argument to the critique of capitalism can be accepted only if it can be demonstrated that capitalist institutions are able to distort and deform the common social processes responsible for the constitution of modern individuality. In this way, I contend that Hegel’s philosophy of the rational state must not simply mitigate the deleterious effects of capitalist social relations, it must strive to guide the direction of civil society away from capitalist forms of accumulation, exchange, wage labor, and so on that set up the preconditions for the de-rationalization of the modern Hegelian state and which, in the process, erode the preconditions for modern freedom.

Although Hegel sees the incorporation of market relationships and the pursuit of self-interest in economic life as a crucial dimension of modern civic life, this ought not to be applied to the realities of capitalist social formations. Market relations, the pursuit of private interests, and so on, are elements of the universal because they make individuals aware of a set of needs that are not only unique to themselves, but are shared by others as well.

The development of economic modernity is crucial for Hegel because it shows individuals that despite their individual needs, interests and desires, they are not independent in fulfilling them Cf. Modern individuals require civil society because they need both to give expression to their particularity and also to see their social interdependence on others.

Lacking this, civic freedom deteriorates into a sphere of competitive atomism Cf. On Hegel’s view, civil society and the system of needs require the existence of the state to prevent this kind of social pathology.

Modern capitalist societies are characterized by this pathology: This creates a problem for Hegel’s understanding of the value of modern economic life.

The existence of an exaggerated economic sphere is irrational on Hegel’s view because it reverses the logical priority of the universal preceding the particular. The constant, critical thread that runs through Hegel’s account of civil society is precisely this: The system of needs continues to be strongly marked by contingency, which must be counteracted by means of something universal; the sphere of right too is marked by this contingency, and to sublated this must be the aim of the public authority.

Hegel sees that the problem of the “social question” lies at the center of the sphere of needs, where individuals are driven by their own needs and interests at the expense of the broader interests of society as a whole. These are intrinsic to civil society; the law of necessity Notrecht is seen as a potentially destructive force when it lacks the ability of the state to reign in its excesses as well as inculcate individuals to seek the universal in their own private spheres of action Cf.


Therefore, it is becomes clear that the extent to which we can equate what Hegel sees as the positive elements of civil society with the structure of modern capitalism as a mode of social organization and production is highly questionable.

Modern capitalism is therefore characterized not simply by exchange and by the pursuit of private interests as classical liberals posit but by a small subset of private interests that seeks out the supportive power of state institutions, law, and social policy to be organized in its own interests at the expense of the universal interests of society.

To the extent that capitalists are able to capture the institutions of the state, they are able to influence and steer policy and other political institutions toward their own interests.

But even in a less direct way, economic necessity permeates other aspects of social life, displacing the broader concerns of the common interest and need, whether expressed as of wages, jobs, and the environmental impact of industry, tax revenues, and the extent of regulations on business, and so on. Hegel would see this as the expression not of a rational state, but rather as a state that is not fully developed, a de-rationalized state that has succumbed to the particularist powers of civil society, to the market, to atomistic individualism, and to the power of the particular over that of the universal interest.

This is an important conceptual distinction between mere modern market society and a more fully developed capitalist society: Hegel did not have this in mind when he theorized civil society, nor would he have seen it as normatively valid.

Economic modernity is seen as a space for individual self-interest and competition, not a situation of permanent “unsocial sociability” since it needs to be sublated into the higher purposes of the state, of the overall project of rational freedom: Economic modernity, civil society, is a phase along the path of the realization of a more complex state of human freedom, it is not an end in itself, a self-contained form of social life, and should therefore not be at the center of modern life.

Economic growth for its own sake was not a concern for Hegel, somehow separate from the broader concerns of social life; what matters most is that the needs of the community are to be given priority.

Indeed, for Hegel the ideas of an unfettered market, or one where market relations dominate society, are seen as anathema to the very purpose of politics which is to reconcile the divisions created by the sphere of needs and economics by reconciling particular interests with the whole Cf. It is a society that lives without a rational grasp of the true purpose of modernity, a Verstandesstaatlimited in its capacity to conceive let alone actualize modern freedom.

The difference between Hegel’s conception of private property and markets and the nature of capitalism is actually made more concretely by Marx in his discussion of private property.

The young Marx may have been too quick in his dismissal of Hegel’s theory of the state, but he was correct in seeing a conceptual distinction between private property and capital. Where Hegel sees private property as the core concept in the development of the modern personality, Marx argues that capital is not property per senor is it private, but rather a systemic process that depends on the absorption of as many spheres of social life to its own logic as necessary to maximize and secure accumulation.

But for Hegel, this is the limit of the concept of property. He does not take pains to distinguish capital from property, no doubt due to the fact that capitalist social relations had yet to fully articulate themselves in early nineteenth-century German society as a distinct social formation.

Seen another way, Hegel’s rational state must repel these tendencies in modern economic life. This is an important and often misunderstood thesis, for it does not mean that individuals are to modify their desires, projects, wills according to whatever the state or society as a whole represents or to the social order that one finds oneself in.

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Rather, they are to place the rational, universal ends of society as whole at the heart of their projects and these needs estwdo be what the state seeks to embody as well.

These can only be universal if they are rational, if they embody the “universal,” by which Hegel means the concept of the general will. The basic problem that Hegel sees with irrational forms of social and political life and institutions is that they allow the state to be characterized by the lower spheres of abstract right, personal interests, or, as in the case of the Greek poleiswith the family.

Hegel is clear on this point when he argues that. What does it mean for the em to be rational and for it to possess a “universal element”? The modern state is, on Hegel’s view, a higher structure of association wherein individuals come to see, through the process of reason, that they possess membership in a higher order of social relations and dependencies that are distinctly social in nature Cf.

The modern state is a rational ethical community; it is a higher sphere not only of association, but of ralpb in that individuals come to see their own interests as part of a larger, more coherent and cohesive whole. In the realms capotalista the family and civil society, individuals are unable to recognize and rationally grasp the objective nature of sociesad freedom as social beings or that they indeed require the relations that constitute them, the goods, the products, and so on that make their lives what they are.

The rational character of the modern state for Hegel therefore consists most importantly in the fact that the true essence of modern freedom is the objective reality that one’s individuality is dependent upon his relations to the social whole.

Therefore, the state is the objectification of the universal in the realm of ethical life. Once individuals become self-conscious of themselves capitaljsta moments within a greater totality, they will see milibannd their relations to themselves are objective in nature in that they lay outside of their mere subjectivity, they will realize their freedom concretely.