1. The philosophic science of right has as its object the idea of right, i.e.,
the conception of right and the realization of the conception.
Hegel’s social philosophy does not consider the social life in its fullest sense, but only in so far as it is expressed in social institutions or more specifically in institutions of right. It is after all an exercise in the realm of the objective Spirit – i.e. the sphere of reality that the human free will gives itself.
All categories in the philosophy of right have a dual character. They are expressions of a reality and of a concept at the same time. property e.g. is not a thing, but a definite relationship to a thing or things. Without the conceopt if such a relationship, no thing will be considered a property. Without natural objects in reality and our ability to take hold of them, possess them in a realistic manner, there would be no such thing as a property. Concept and reality are joined together. A category of the philosophy of right is therefore neither an abstract concept nor a given reality. It is objective without simply being real. And it is subjective – property is an idea after all – without being an individual phantasy.
The philosophy of right considers social life in this dual aspect of realized concept and conceptualized reality. As such it deals with the reality of freedom.
A human is free when he is able to see the external world as an expression – objectification – of his own free will. When we consider man as a subject of needs, as a finite being that is basically lacking what he needs to survive and therefore oriented toward other things to satisfy his needs, man is only relatively free. He is free to give shape to the way he satisfies his needs, but he is not free with regard to his needs as such. He can satisfy his hunger by eating an apple or a bowl of porridge – he is at liberty to make such a choice if he can – but he is not free with regard to those needs themselves.
It is different with social institutions because these are both the conditions of his freedom and to some degree its limit. Maybe traffic gives us a nice analogy to understand this. It is true that traffic regulations force us to drive on the right side, stop before a red light, move within the boundaries of the road etc. But at the same time without such regulations traffic would not be possible. They allow and limit free traffic at the same time. We are not at liberty to choose which side of the road we take, and precisely because we lack that liberty we are free to drive on the right side without being in constant danger of collisions.
However, Hegel’s choice to limit his approach of social life to the categories of right does present us with a problem. It then seems that the state – the highest social institution – is the most concrete and highest form of social life. Does that mean that the state as the ultimate expression of power is also the highest sense of social life? In that case the political is the highest category of human life.
If we take Hegel seriously in the Encylcopedia where he deals with the Objective Spirit as the sedcond part of a triad –Subjective, Objective and Absolute Spirit – then it seems that above the State and the sphere of the purely political there are higher expressions of spiritual lfie that include the social: Art, Religion and Philosophy. The Absolute Spirit is then in Hegel’s system the limit of the State as it is the limit of all social life.
We need to ask two questions:
1. Is the State indeed the highest expression of the Objective Spirit?
2. How does the Absolute Spirit limit the State?